Examining My Informational Backbone


While reading Toni Ferro and Marc Zachry’s “Technical Communication Unbound: Knowledge, Work, Social Media, and Emergent Communicative Practices”, I noticed some striking similarities to my own job. This article basically analyzed technical communications professionals’ workplace usage of publicly available online systems (PAOS), and I can completely relate to their findings. The table below explains this in greater detail (pg. 16):

Screen Shot 2015-11-08 at 8.18.27 PM

I’m an eCommerce Copywriter for multiple retail brands, and sites like Wikipedia, Google Docs, Skype/WebEx, and Amazon.com are literally my backbone. In order to write product descriptions, I either need a sample (which is never available), or a product description from a vendor/competitor’s site. Literally 50% of my workday is spent researching products and putting existing descriptions into my own words.

The table above mentions 60% of participants reported using Wikipedia for “learning about a topic”, and this is true for me personally as well. There are times when I’m given products for sports/hobbies I’ve never even heard of and I depend on Wikipedia to explain what they are. For example, last week I was given 100 SUP accessories to write on our company website, and had no idea what the acronym SUP even stood for. Wikipedia saved the day with a robust explanation that helped me write my product descriptions like an expert.

Google Docs is another program I couldn’t do my job without, as when writing these products, other departments like imaging and merchandising need real time visibility into our progress. Most lists of products that need copy are distributed in a Google spreadsheet, and as we complete copy, we simultaneously check products off the list for the next step that needs to be initiated by other colleagues. Google Docs is our go-to for sharing and editing documents, and its absence would make everyone’s job nearly impossible.

Ferro and Zachry went on to ask, “What is the relation between what we are designing our classes and overall curriculum to achieve, and the things students will be doing after they are with us (pg. 19)?” I had been anticipating this question from the second I read through the survey data. With the amount of rapidly changing technology we’re facing and growing increasingly dependent on, PAOS are no longer a workplace/educational distraction. I personally feel students could benefit from a course geared to helping us identify and maximize these resources. I’d even be interested in taking a course on how to create these resources.

I was also happy to see the statement in the Pedagogical Implications section, “Technical communicators today rightly express concerns about how we should teach students to write in forms that did not exist 3 years ago – and some that do not yet exist (pg. 20)”. The ability to predict, effectively navigate, and communicate in the PAOS environment can make or break an employee’s success in the workplace. Employees who can create and monitor expert Wikis, become masters of developing associations and relationships online, and internalize electronic planning/coordination are greater assets to their companies than employees with identical work knowledge/experience who lack these additional qualities. I’m very interested to see how educators will introduce this material, and how this change will reflect in the technical communication discipline.

Posted on November 8, 2015, in Digital, Literacy, Technology, Workplace. Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Hi, Natasha:

    I really liked this week’s assigned reading. All of the articles really honed in on the everyday skill set needed to navigate social media in just about any workplace. I found this article unique in that it pulled in a lot of the available applications out there and provided a practical explanation for how they are and can be used.

    I liked the Genres of Web 2.0 table shown on pg. 11 of “Technical Communication Unbound: Knowledge, Work, Social Media, and Emergent Communicative Practices.” While I am familiar with most of the sites, I found that actually seeing a “genre” tied to each site, did something to organize all of them in my head. I may know what they all do, but now I feel like there is a framework for me to sort them out so they are more readily usable when a project calls for them. I’m not sure if that makes sense. At any rate, I copied that page to keep at my desk so I can continue to use those genres as a mental filing system for the sites I run across.

  2. Hi Natasha, thank you for sharing your work experience. I am always curious about the types of jobs available to technical communicators. I agree that I think it would be a great idea for there to be classes on the more widely used social media from a business/technical communicator’s view.

    The past couple of assignments that I have had, the companies use Sharebuilder for internal spread of information. These Sharebuilder pages are outdated, and while I know how to upload and delete documents on them, I would like to know how to design/customize the page for better organization and appearance.

  3. I completely agree that I would be lost at my job without the use of Google docs, Skype or Wikipedia. Like you, we use them on a daily basis and definitely help keep work moving along.

    Even though I can understand why some companies block PAOs, I think they generally can help more than they can hurt. Yes, Facebook can be a distraction at work, but at the same time if you are connected to your coworkers it helps build a sense of community. Seeing and talking about what goes on in each others lives (outside of work) can help boost rapport and strengthen your team. Or at least that is the experience I have found with my coworkers.

    Also, I found it interesting when they listed the technologies that were relevant or popular ten years ago aren’t necessarily the ones that are commonplace today. It makes me wonder what things will look like ten years from now and what new/exciting technologies we will be using to make our lives easier.

    p.s. Great visual- it really pulled me in to your article!

  4. It does seem online systems are becoming essential. In my company, we are working toward group authoring, although we cannot use Google Docs for security reasons. We also have group communication tools such as Yammer, which is making global collaboration easier.

    Have you ran across any best practice guidelines for group or parallel authoring?

    Thanks for an insightful post!

  5. I’m curious about your use of google docs! I love using it for my personal word processing and file management, but I haven’t used it professionally. I can image that it would be a very powerful tool if used by a team. My employer has made the move to Sharepoint, but not only is it buggy on my Mac computer, but our graphics files are just too large for Sharepoint to be feasible. The idea of sharing documents and working together on a single file sounds like a great way for a team to collaborate with less digital junk (no “final file” number 1, 2, 3+).

    As for often-blocked PAOSs, today I had another great experience connecting through twitter with a stranger whose work I admire. I asked her a question that I had been curious about (whether her team used Flickr as their University’s primary photo library) and she promptly answered (Yes!) and we continued to chat for a bit. I asked her if she had any recommendations for people to follow or resources on social media in higher ed. She did, and she suggested that we meet up if we ever attend the same conference in our field. HOW AWESOME IS THIS? I still can’t get over how small the world can get if we just reach out and ask someone a question.

    • Yay Twitter connections! I have organized conference panels with complete strangers that way [a collaboration that also moved us into Google Docs] and it’s always gone smoothly given our professional interests.

  6. Natasha, this was a great post that blended your professional writing, online learning, and personal experience with tech tools. I wonder if that’s a structure you can extend into your final paper?

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