[Academic-discuss] new to Academic SIG - question

Dufresne, Michael mdufresne at devry.edu
Sun Jul 15 22:15:06 UTC 2018

Paula, just as a tech writer sees different styles/languages/forms/genres when moving from manufacturing to financial to medical clients, you are realizing that the world of education has its own approaches to communication that are arguably both highly refined and significantly flawed.

Academic writing has roots of tradition centuries deep. As I prepare for my comprehensive exams in writing and rhetoric, I have realized how slowly this tree moves. As in Lord of the Rings, the trees in the tangled Forest of Academia are enduring and powerful but hard to shift. Composition and communication faculty, like tech writers, have struggled for half a century to establish a foothold of respect and acceptance within the ivied halls despite the essentiality of communication skills in all aspects of our research, all levels of our teaching and all individual's personal endeavors.

I suspect that too few academics or even K-12 teachers have taken more than the required first year composition and grad school research methodology courses. Writing across the curriculum exposes students to somewhat diverse discourse communities, but it too often reinforces only the sterile academic writing you have found. Having experienced nothing else, students-cum-educators simply follow the models of successful predecessors in their own quest for sunlight in the publish-or-perish jungle.

While you will find many articles in professional English journals remain impenetrable, I encourage you to explore the fresh air on the outskirts of Academia. Check out Technical Communication (the scholarly journal of the Society for Technical Communication) and Kairos, an entirely online and appropriately modern journal.

Saul Carliner's "The Three Approaches to Professionalization in Technical Communication" (Technical Communication Online, 59.1, 2012) might help you to see that you are not alone in feeling undervalued and unwelcome as a member of the knowledge-generation team.

While you may feel yourself a farmer trying to encroach on the dark and mysterious depths of academic writing, know that your nurturing, pruning and removing of undergrowth will not go unnoticed. You will eventually be accepted as an essential caretaker who will clear a path of light and air that welcomes all into the forest's richness.

Write on!

Michael Dufresne | Assistant Dean of Academic Excellence, Tinley Park/Merrillville

P 708.342.3747[cid:c93bf680-1038-4925-9abc-fc1a88f2180d] | M 630.486.7548| E mdufresne at devry.edu

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From: academic-discuss-bounces at mailer.stc.org <academic-discuss-bounces at mailer.stc.org> on behalf of FineLines via Academic-discuss <academic-discuss at mailer.stc.org>
Sent: Sunday, July 15, 2018 1:48 PM
To: academic-discuss at mailer.stc.org
Subject: [Academic-discuss] new to Academic SIG - question

Hello academic types!  I am definitely not “one of you”…

that is, I’ve never trained for nor worked in education, until three years ago when I took a job as Sr. Editor (Programs) with Project Lead The Way (pltw.org). We produce curriculum for pre-K through 12 in the STEM subjects, specifically Engineering, Computer Science, and Biomedical Science. I’m the first real, professional editor to look at their content, which previously got only copyedit from a contractor if anything. Astonishing, right? Hm, maybe I shouldn’t have identified my company…

While a large part of editing is editing, regardless of the subject matter, I came up against a mindset that’s foreign to me. (My experience is largely in user doc for software.) And I often sense an attitude that conveys, “You’re not one of us. You don’t need to know xxx.”

I have always contended that the editor is not a commodity whose services get tacked on at the end. The editor should be part of the content writing/development team and have the opportunity to give input throughout the process. The editor (or this editor) has certain expertise and can add value that no one else can. At least that’s the way I was trained. I’ve made little headway in getting this point across to anyone and am almost resigned to the fact that this is how I’m going to spend the rest of my career – being undervalued, not considered a part of the team, with my “arguments” unabsorbed.

OK, you can respond to that part if you like, but my real question for you is this:  Why do academics/educators insist on writing—regardless of audience demographics—in the same style they were required to write for their dissertations and the like?  I get that you were trained to write that way through the course of your training (actually we all were, those of us who are around my age), but why is there such a disconnect when it comes to writing something instructional to teachers and students?

Have the ideas of “people first”, active voice, “less (words) is more”, and “plain or universal English” just not pierced your professional ranks? These “tenets” have long been part of technical writing best practices.  So I struggle with how we seem to be so far apart from each other in writing style for a lay audience.  The academics I’m talking about are those I work with (don’t mean to point the finger at anyone here), but I’m hoping you can give me a little insight into why this is the case.  Granted, none of my colleagues were trained to write using the best practices of tech com, rather they probably didn’t get any training in how to write (except by example)!

When I came on board, I quickly noticed the stiff, wordy, formal language and have been rewriting it ever since. I’ve created numerous job aids—some requested, but most at my own initiative—to help steer the writers, but I see little evidence that anybody even refers to these resources.  I can’t make the horse drink.  Can you tell I’m really discouraged?  I believe they think of me as the “fixer” and if subconsciously, make no effort to change their behavior because I’ll suggest all those types of changes.  (There’s always the excuse that timelines are too tight, which is the fault of management…)  Sorry I’ve gotten off on a tangent.

So back to my main question, do you have any idea why education has not really adopted the best practices of tech com?? (although it’s in the Standards for the students to learn!)

Thanks for listening.  Maybe we can stir up some discussion, as I’ve heard nothing from or about this SIG since I joined.  How many members are there?  Is this SIG in danger of being shut down?

Feeling defeated,

Paula Robertson, STC Associate Fellow

dba FineLines

Technical Editor, Writer, Designer



You have no idea what it's like to be a "just between you and me" person in a "just between you and I" world.

– William Haefeli, The New Yorker 8/30/2010

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