Nonacademic Writing: Social Theory and Technology

By Ann Hill Duin; Craig J. Hansen | Go to book overview

these studies, the study of everyday writing practices on the job strives to understand how social structures affect and are affected by people's purposes in an increasingly technological world. Thus, research on nonacademic writing is also exciting because it demonstrates how the concerns of writing researchers articulate with the concerns of researchers across the humanities.

For me, however, the most exciting thing about research on nonacademic writing is the way it problematizes the traditional assumptions about writers and texts that have been developed in studies of literary and academic writing, assumptions that, indeed, have already become problematic within these fields. Defining nonacademic writing as writing that occurs within settings of consequence reveals its essentially pragmatic function: Nonacademic writing is writing that gets something done, as opposed to writing that serves an aesthetic, cognitive, or affective function. Nonacademic writing excludes literature, personal essays, scholarly writing, writing in popular magazines and newspapers -- all that writing that makes us think or feel or believe something; all that writing that can be, and often is, separated from the realm of social, political, and economic interaction; all that writing that finds its essence in the unique individual expression of a unique, individual writer in a unique, individual text. In its focus on getting something done, nonacademic writing subordinates the role of the writer and the status of the text to the job at hand: The writer says what needs to be said in the situation, often borrowing from any other relevant writing and often collaborating; the text is often not stable or permanent or even very consequential in its content. Nonacademic writing is a form of social action in its purest sense, writing whose textual and authorial aspects dissolve (almost) completely into its pragmatic purpose.

Writers working in settings of consequence very often do not sign their writing, and, when they do, it is usually their position that matters rather than their individuality. An enormous amount of nonacademic writing consists of institutional documents -- reports, manuals, policy books, product and position descriptions, promotional materials -- that are written collaboratively, often in conformity to set outlines and language and make heavy use of boilerplate. Bills introduced in legislatures have sponsors, but the sponsors have not usually written them. Memos and letters very often are not signed by the person who wrote them, but by the person from whom the message is supposed to have come. Memos and letters must always clearly indicate the status of the person from whom they come; letters from constituents to governmental representatives, for example, must claim this relationship to achieve rhetorical effectiveness, for opinions of people who do not live within a representative's assigned district can be disregarded.

Furthermore, nonacademic writing is characteristically incomprehensible

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