The State of Research in Technical Communication

Ann M. Blakeslee, Rachel Spilka
2004 Technical Communication Quarterly  
There have been many attempts to assess the state of research in our field. This article is our attempt to both (1) synthesize recent analyses, opinions, and conclusions concerning the status of technical communication research and (2) propose an action plan aimed at redirecting our field's agenda for its research. We explore these questions: What are the recent research trends in our field? What is and is not promising about our recent approaches to research? Where do we need to go next? What
more » ... d to go next? What are the critical components for a new agenda for our research? The integrity and future of the field of technical communication depend on the quality and impact of our scholarship (Mirel and Spilka). However, we lack a complete perspective of the strengths and weaknesses of technical communication research. In recent history, there have been many attempts to assess the state of research in our field. Our persistent efforts in this regard underscore the need for reaching a common understanding of the questions, methods, and directions that are needed for our research. To assist with bringing about this common understanding, we have looked at a variety of recent attempts to analyze the status of research in technical communication. We have found that, although these analyses overlap considerably, it is also often the case that they focus on different aspects of research and sometimes even result in different conclusions. This article is our attempt to both (1) synthesize these recent analyses, opinions, and conclusions concerning the status of technical communication research and (2) propose an action plan aimed at redirecting our field's agenda for its research. Our overall goal is to provide comprehensive answers to the following questions: • What are the recent research trends in our field? What is promising and what is not promising about recent approaches to research in the field? TECHNICAL COMMUNICATION QUARTERLY, 13(1),[73][74][75][76][77][78][79][80][81][82][83][84][85][86][87][88][89][90][91][92] • Where do we need to go next? What are the critical components for a new agenda for research in our field? In the first part of the article, we synthesize current opinions about the quality and consistency of our research, we address the field's uses of research methodologies and the quality of our training in research methods, and we address relationships within our field (e.g., between academics and practitioners) and between our field and related fields. We also consider how research is recognized and supported within and beyond our field. As we address these issues, we consider how our recent approaches to our research have been both helpful and harmful to the integrity, vitality, and influence of our work. In the second part of the article, we propose an action plan aimed at focusing and improving approaches to research in our field. This plan involves holding a series of forums to set goals for the future of technical communication research. These forums would occur at the major conferences in the field and would encourage input from as many academic and practitioner researchers (and trainers of researchers) as possible. The next step would be to develop guidelines and standards for technical communication research and then to establish a professional mechanism for ensuring continuous sharing, support, and information exchange regarding our research. In developing this article, we have consolidated conclusions about the quality, status, and future of research in technical communication from the following sources: • A survey of group facilitators at the 2003 Research Network at the annual ATTW Conference about what impressed or concerned them about participants' research-in-progress. (Facilitators included
doi:10.1207/s15427625tcq1301_8 fatcat:merkc7seqfazxejovmxadoj3am