A directory of resources inthe field of technical communication.


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America the Beautiful

Writers of English have choices. Most every word we commit to paper (or its electronic equivalent) has a synonym

Wenger, Andrea. Carolina Communique (2007). Articles>Writing>Grammar>Tropes


The Creation of Metaphor: A Case for Figurative Language in Technical Writing Classes   (peer-reviewed)

It may perhaps seem strange to speak of metaphor in the same breath as instruction in technical writing. But based on Professor Mary Rosner's observations about changes in technical writing, as they are reflected historically in textbooks since the 1920s, and on my own perceptions of directions in technical writing today, I could justifiably assert that we have nearly come full circle.1 In the beginning was the word. When technical writing first began to be separated from other advanced writing courses, it retained many of the strategies and approaches of Advanced Exposition courses—the study of rhetoric, logical organization, conventions, formats. Early texts show this connection. Later, as technical writing teachers began to pursue their own directions in research, their teaching approaches and the textbooks they created began to reflect new discoveries and directions: psycholinguistics crept in; more materials on audience analysis began to show up in texts; management psycholoy of Abraham Maslow and others appeared; conventional report formats were reflected; readability formulas became a staple of textbooks. But for a while, rhetorical approaches still held sway. Today, of course, only a few commentators will argue for some return to the older liberal arts traditions, myself among them. But these few are a vocal lot.

Catron, Douglas M. JAC (1983). Articles>Education>Rhetoric>Tropes


Discovering User-Generated Metaphors Through Usability Testing

A post-hoc analysis of data collected from a usability test on the Fluke ScopeMeter 97â (a diagnostic instrument for analyzing electrical signals) revealed that subjects miss-hit certain interface keys significantly more than other keys. Comments that subjects made during the usability test through the thinking-aloud protocol led us to the hypothesis that miss-hits were caused by subjects' internal metaphors (user-generated) that were unsupported by the design of the keys. A review of literature revealed a lack of research in the area of user-generated metaphor and its effects on user performance. With further analysis we found aspects of the ScopeMeter keys and subject characteristics that provide a strong foundation for this hypothesis. We conclude that formal experiments should be set up to test this and other hypotheses that address the role user-generated metaphors play in building mental models and influencing user behavior.

Schulz, Erin Leanne, Judith A. Ramey, Maarten van Alphen and William Rasnake. City University of Hong Kong (1995). Articles>Usability>Testing>Tropes


Disrupting the Computer Lab(oratory): Names, Metaphors, and the Wireless Writing Classroom   (peer-reviewed)

Considers metaphors that may be created or carried over from wired, face-to-face, and non-academic experience as names for wireless writing places. Ultimately, it suggests that names for wireless sites have the potential to enhance writing instruction’s status on campus and provides a naming heuristic for those seeking to accommodate local complexities.

Zoetewey, Meredith W. Kairos (2004). Articles>Education>Mobile>Tropes


The Emergence of a Root Metaphor in Modern Physics: Max Planck's 'Quantum' Metaphor   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

The two purposes of this article are: 1) to use metaphorical analysis to determine whether or not Max Planck invented the quantum postulate and 2) to demonstrate how metaphorical analysis can be used to analyze the rhetoric of revolutionary texts in science. Metaphors often serve as the basis of invention for scientific theories. When we identify these metaphors in Planck's original 1900 quantum paper, it is clear that Planck did consider the quantum postulate to be important. However, we also see that he does not consider the quantum postulate to be revolutionary. A New Scientific Truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.

Johnson-Sheehan, Richard D. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication (1997). Articles>Scientific Communication>History>Tropes


Figures of Speech as Persuasive Strategies in Early Commercial Communication: The Use of Dominant Figures in the Raleigh Reports About Virginia in the 1580s   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

During the mid-1580s Sir Walter Raleigh, operating under letters patent of Queen Elizabeth, supported two major voyages to establish an initial colony in Virginia. These two voyages produced three major commercial reports that evaluated the economic potential of the region for English colonists and merchants. The reports, written by Arthur Barlowe, Ralph Lane, and Thomas Hariot, represent the beginnings of American commercial communication in English. Using Kenneth Burke's idea of the four major tropes, this article develops the notion of the 'dominant figure'--a figure of speech that serves to focus a report's rhetorical power--to analyze the persuasive effects of these reports.

Moran, Michael G. Technical Communication Quarterly (2005). Articles>History>Reports>Tropes


The Limits of the Apprenticeship Models in WAC/WID Research

One of the most significant developments in writing research over the last twelve years has been the large number of naturalistic studies of writing in the disciplines (college-level) and in the professions (non-academic writing). A number of these are based on the metaphor of apprenticeship, most recently the theory of 'cognitive apprenticeship' drawn from research in situated cognition. The learning and teaching of students in schools or colleges, as well as workers in non-academic settings, is compared to the learning and teaching of apprentices in pre- or early-industrial societies, who learned on the job while doing progressively more complex and central tasks, under the watchful eye of a master or expert. A central advantage of the apprentice metaphors is that it allows us focus on actions and motives that the official school curriculum and traditional theories of education (and their metaphors of 'banking' or 'transmission') find it difficult do discussthe 'hidden curriculum' that many have studied. Yet metaphors of apprenticeship--drawn from earlier versions of capitalism--are, I would argue, severely limited in their capacity to explain the ways newcomers learn new genres in late capitalist work environments, to theorize, in other words, the relation between formal schooling and industrial society. I want to suggest here three basic ways that theories based on the apprentice metaphor are limited.

Russell, David R. Iowa State University (1998). Articles>Writing>Writing Across the Curriculum>Tropes


Meaning in Organizational Communication   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

The authors propose an alternative to the postmodern way of viewing metaphor primarily as an instrumental and functional rhetorical tool designed to influence members of an organization through ideological appeals, a view that depicts rhetoric as merely subjective and manipulable. Our alternative draws from the "aesthetic side of organizational life" and argues that communication exceeds the theoretical reach of the postmodern perspective, which requires a new conceptualization of metaphor as epistemic and capable of signaling meaning that is inseparable from its unique and discrete form.

Hogler, Raymond, Michael A. Gross, Jackie L. Hartman and Ann L. Cunliffe. Management Communication Quarterly (2008). Articles>Rhetoric>Organizational Communication>Tropes


Metaphor-Based Design of High-Throughput Screening Process Interfaces   (PDF)   (peer-reviewed)

This paper describes work on developing usable interfaces for creating and editing methods for high-throughput screening of chemical and biological compounds in the domain of life sciences automation. A modified approach to metaphor-based interface design was used as a framework for developing a screening method editor prototype analogous to the presentation of a recipe in a cookbook. The prototype was compared to an existing screening method editor application in terms of effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction of novice users and was found to be superior.

Kaber, David B., Noa Segall and Rebecca S. Green. Journal of Usability Studies (2007). Articles>User Interface>Rhetoric>Tropes


Metaphorical Analysis

Every UX designer faced with a 6-inch stack of research notes and a looming deadline has wanted to take a nap and wake up with the most important insights neatly tagged. While we can’t offer that exactly, there is an incredibly powerful and fun shortcut that many designers aren’t using: working with metaphor.

Harrell, Cyd and Jodi Leo. UX Magazine (2013). Articles>User Experience>Methods>Tropes


The Missing Metaphor   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

To determine the metaphor that represents cloning, a contemporary scientific revolution, this study examines articles published in Nature, Nature Biotechnology, Science, and Time that describe the cloning of the sheep Dolly. A plethora of figurative language may be garnered from these articles, and this study describes a number of them: metaphor (dead, natural, and technical), simile, hyperbole, personification, irony, cliché, paronomasia, antithesis, metonymy, anthimera, oxymoron, the rhetorical question, and analogy. The significance and relationship to cloning are explicated. The article concludes that the figures do not support a central metaphor. Further research is suggested to determine if the lack of a metaphor is a fluke or a trend in the development of scientific research and what the difference may be between scientific and technical metaphor.

Giles, Timothy D. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication (2001). Articles>Scientific Communication>Biomedical>Tropes


Review: Nardi and O'Day's Information Ecologies: Using Technology with Heart   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

Information. The word has become ubiquitous with the computer and the so-called revolution that has occurred as a result of this electronic gizmo so many of us use on a daily basis. We have linked the word with many other terms to describe how information functions in this new electronically-driven world: information technology, information management, information superhighway. Nardi and O’Day (1999), however, have hitched information to another term—--ecology--—that provides us with another way to think through what it means to work, learn, and play with and through the computer-mediated medium. As with any descriptor that has metaphoric possibilities, inventive minds can conjure a seemingly infinite number of ways to probe the expanded meanings that a metaphor can provide.

Johnson, Robert R. Journal of Computer Documentation (2000). Articles>Reviews>User Centered Design>Tropes


A Paradox of Navigation Metaphors for the Web

In Ambient Findability, Peter Morville has an interesting observation about visual maps. He notes that we use a lot of physical wayfinding metaphors for the web — we go to a page, we follow a path, we search for objects, we become lost, we use breadcrumbs to orient ourselves, we surf around, we use sitemaps, we design with blueprints, we practice information architecture, we navigate around, etc. These are all metaphors for using the web. All of these terms are borrowed the space of the physical world.

Johnson, Tom H. I'd Rather Be Writing (2011). Articles>Web Design>Information Design>Tropes


Re-Negotiating with Technology: Training Towards More Sustainable Technical Communication   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

Technical communicators have often defined their relationship with technology using a metaphor of 'technology as tool,' an outlook that reinforces perceptions of practitioners as 'tool jockeys,' threatens the sustainability of the field, and isolates academics and practitioners alike from design and business decision-making and from better intellectual connections with other fields. We suggest that one potential solution is a new approach to training; if technical communicators can conduct technology training in ways that shift this metaphorical focus, they can not only better connect academics with practitioners but also create new connections with other fields, outlooks, and theories, becoming the sort of profession that survives global economic shifts and succeeds in both academic departments and industry.

Clark, Dave and Rebekka Andersen. Technical Communication Online (2005). Articles>Technology>Theory>Tropes


Shakespearean Technical Writing   (PDF)

Shows how technical writers can make better use of literary devices such as metaphor and foreshadowing to produce better, and more enjoyable, documentation.

Hart, Geoffrey J.S. Intercom (2001). Articles>Writing>Rhetoric>Tropes


Toward Sociocultural Sensitivity in Rhetorical Studies of Analogy: Theoretical and Methodological Considerations   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

In their macroscopic approach to analogy, rhetorical studies project the latent assumption that sound analogical reasoning is a universal property of human consciousness rather than a socioculturally inherited practice that varies over time and place. After drawing briefly from landmark work in the social sciences to show notable cases of cultural variation in analogical reasoning, I present Lev Vygotsky's concept of internalization and Dedre Gentner's structure mapping theory of analogy as fruitful theoretical and methodological avenues through which to detect sociocultural variation in analogical reasoning practices in science.

Little, Joseph. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication (2001). Articles>TC>Linguistics>Tropes


Use Metaphors to Communicate, Not Decorate

Good metaphors emerge from the writer's experience and observation. They connect the readers' knowledge to new ideas or information through concrete images.

Writing that Works (2003). Articles>Writing>Rhetoric>Tropes


Using Adoption Metaphors to Increase Customer Acceptance

We know a product has a lifecycle, but does the language we use for that product also have a lifecycle? From TiVo to the Internet Superhighway, Rice shows us how the metaphors we use have an evoluation all their own.

Rice, Sarah A. Boxes and Arrows (2006). Articles>Language>Technology>Tropes


Visual Metonymy and Synecdoche: Rhetoric For Stage-Setting Images   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

The recent trend of incorporating more visuals into communication challenges technical communicators, who must now possess both verbal and visual literacy. Despite all the recent scholarship on visual aspects of technical communication, technical communicators lack thorough guidelines for selecting and composing effective images that convey thematic and conceptual information, or what Schriver calls "stage-setting" images. This article reviews existing literature in visual communication and reports results of a study that assessed readers' opinions of themes conveyed by specific example images. It then suggests that the rhetorical tropes of metonymy and synecdoche can be used to identify images for conveying certain themes, and that successful stage-setting images will show intrinsic, not extrinsic, relationships to their thematic subject matter.

Willerton, Russell. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication (2005). Articles>TC>Visual Rhetoric>Tropes


When Metaphors Fail to Keep Their Distance

Was I being too literal when I made the following change? I don't think so. A name-brand financial columnist wrote the following paragraph in a piece about Web-based credit cards: Most issuers mail you a plastic card, usually a MasterCard or Visa, which you also can use in stores. At Citibank, however, plastic has become uncool. Instead, it's offering ClickCredit, a virtual card (www.clickcredit.com). It acts like a credit card, but exists only in Citi's computer. You use it solely for making purchases on the Web. The problem is, I have one of these Citibank cards, and while it's true that it's not an ordinary credit card that you carry around in your wallet and use at stores, it's also true that the ClickCredit people do mail you a card, and it's made of plastic.

Walsh, Bill. Slot, The (2001). Articles>Style Guides>Marketing>Tropes

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