Author Archives: Gina Rae

Can’t Believe I Made It

Well, we’ve reached the end of this semester and, honestly, in these last couple weeks I wasn’t sure I was going to get everything done! But, I did and I’m so excited to have the next couple weeks to spend not thinking about school ūüėČ

Overall, I’m really glad I took this course, as it has been an excellent addition to my previous knowledge on social media and its uses in TPC. Here is a look at my final project for the course (which ended up being way longer than I anticipated):

Social Media’s Use in Employment

The topic I wanted to research  for this project(all uses of social media in employment decisions) ended up being far to broad to fit into the scope of this paper, so I had to narrow my focus a bit. I ended up focusing my paper on the use of social media in employee selection (screening) decisions Рlooking at the advantages and disadvantages for both the employer and the applicant.

This topic is of interest to me because, as I’ve mentioned repeatedly, I currently work for a pre-employment screening firm so the area¬†of screening applicants is somewhat familiar to me (although we do not use any information we obtain from social media profiles in our reports, we often look at them). Additionally, as I was finishing up my undergraduate career (when social media was blowing up), I was constantly told horror stories of how social media profiles could prevent you from getting jobs, and the strange and seemingly inappropriate methods for gaining access to profiles (for example, requiring applicants to provide login information so employers could look at all aspects of a profile, even that which is password protected). These two areas, along with the fact that social media use is often delegated to the technical communicator in an organization, led me to choose¬†about this topic.

What I found is essentially common sense (at least to me) – don’t post inappropriate things on the internet, carefully monitor privacy settings and what other people post about you, etc. Additionally, organizations should create specific procedures if they are using social media profiles for decisions to deny employment to an applicant, to avoid discrimination and bias. Some of the legal cases I read about were exceedingly interesting, but too long and complicated to retell in this format (though I did talk my husband’s ear off about them on several occasions).

Conclusions

This course was extremely interesting and provided me with a great deal of experience in creating quite a lengthy report and a case study (which I really enjoyed creating). Though quite challenging, I think I am leaving this course with not only a wider base of knowledge on the use of social media and its connections to technical communication, but also a better grasp of creating different kinds of documents (blog posts, case study, etc.) that will no doubt be useful to me in the future.

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Social Media and the “Real World”

An overarching theme in this week’s reading was the use of social media in the “real world” of technical communication, and how that can be translated to students in technical communication programs. I think this is an excellent area to look at, to see both how social media are becoming increasingly utilized in the field and how introducing students to the professional use of such media is highly effective.

Social media tend to get a bad rap – many see the various popular social networking sites as encouraging narcissism and inflating individuals’ sense of importance. In a sense, this is true – they provide users with a “public” platform on which to display personal information and opinions openly. However, this is not necessarily a bad thing… I’ve seen social media bring people together and help others increase self-confidence. Often times social media can be a huge benefit.

This explains why it is also utilized by professionals, technical communicators in this case, though I’m sure most professions have similar usage. The ability that this media provides to collaborate and connect individuals has been immensely beneficial to many. Not only does it allow colleagues and people from the same or similar fields to connect, it also provides a way for (in the case of technical communicators) the writers/creators to communicate and interact with the consumer/user. This interaction can help strengthen technical communication in a way that was not possible prior to these technologies.

Incorporating social media and its myriad of professional uses into the classroom is an excellent way to help students learn to use these media and appreciate their strengths and shortcomings. Although many students are already utilizing at least some variety of social media in their private lives, providing a look at the professional use of such technologies can help shine a different light on them. Using such social media to provide a platform for students to connect and share their ideas in a “professional” way, helps to highlight the potential uses for these media in their future fields as well as drawing attention to the difficulties they may face with them. As Longo (2014) points out:

If lively and robust discussions result, all parties can learn from each other. But even in situations where discussions are fitful and sparse, classes can learn about the difficulties of establishing trusted and meaningful communication channels. (p. 31)

In this way, students will learn how to navigate social media in a productive and professional manner.

The “intent” of the internet

Of the assignments for this week, I found the video of¬†Jonathan Zittrain‚Äôs talk on the ‚ÄúIs The Internet Taking Us Where We Want to Go?‚ÄĚ panel to be the most intriguing. He brings up a good question about the responsibility of the internet – especially the more widely utilized social media like Facebook and search engines like Google. It is an interesting idea to think about – how much do we consider Google and Facebook and the like to be our “friend” and how much do we consider them “tools”, and should this arrangement change?

This dilemma reminded me of Rheingold’s chapter on “crap detection” in¬†Net Smart.

Rheingold essentially argues that the internet is a tool (in Zittrain’s words) and it is¬†the responsibility of the user to determine what is accurate and most serves his or her needs. I tend to agree with this stance. While Zittrain makes some excellent points about the potential benefits of such sites as Google and Facebook to become even more in-tune with each users’ preferences, and to cater to those along with the “absolute” truth. However, it is impossible for there to be one “absolute” truth. He mentions the fact that when searching “Jew” Google’s top results are anti-semitic sites and Google even acknowledges this fact but will not change their algorithm to prevent such results. While this is an extreme case and I certainly wish those were not the results at the top of Google’s list, I don’t really think that it is fair to stifle the freedom of speech and differences in opinion of internet users. If we start doing that in extreme cases of prejudice (where it is understandable and encouraged) where do we draw the line? And if each person receives different results in everything based on their prior behavior and opinions, how can anyone ever expand their knowledge or develop new and different opinions?

I think that a decent dose of “crap detection” is the right way to go. Let Google and other sites spit out what their “algorithm” thinks is right for all users and let each of us determine what we want to read or believe. It is an imperfect system, definitely, but it is one that allows for more freedom and free-will.

A Networked World

I found Howard Rheingold’s (2012) chapter on networks in¬†Net Smart to be interesting and extremely applicable to the discussion of social media’s use in the professional world. While it seems obvious that social media (especially sites like LinkedIn) has been beneficial in extending and utilizing networks to obtain professional opportunities, what Rheingold makes clear is that social media can also be very effective in use by companies and organizations to communicate with their users/buyers.

Although he does not specifically mention the use of social media by organizations, his discussion of “social capital” clearly can be applied to such uses. Social capital is the trust and reliability one creates (in this case online) through acts of goodwill, reciprocity, compassion, etc. This could be an extremely useful tool for companies and organizations to use to improve their image and create a “network” of satisfied customers. By using social media to quickly and compassionately respond to concerns or criticisms, organizations can build “social capital” with the public, which will directly correlate to a better image and more revenue.

This has been my argument for the use of social media by businesses for a while; my paper for Rhetorical Theory last semester focused on utilizing social media in just this way. One way in which social media could become more of a hindrance for companies, however, is the idea of user-generated content. Some people are advocating for ¬†the ability of users to create their own documents “on behalf” of the company – much like a wiki. The danger of this was examined a bit in Rheingold’s discussion of Wikipedia; there is a distinct possibility and danger of “trolls” and those who would (either on purpose or unintentionally) post incorrect or damaging content.¬†This possibility has poses a bigger risk when discussing the documents for an organization versus Wikipedia. The incorrect or misleading information could¬†end up decreasing their social capital, as the reader may not know where the information came from.

There are probably many people out there who would still advocate for such content, but in my opinion, social media should be used by businesses to create a conversation with their users/customers, not to let the public create for them. By creating social capital for themselves by promptly responding to their consumer base and maintaining a positive ethos for themselves, businesses (especially big companies) can certainly benefit from utilizing social media.

Using Social Media the RIGHT Way

Last night, my husband and I were out eating dinner before a concert we were attending. My husband was on his phone (as always). I’m giving him the stink-eye, he looks up at me, then back down at his phone – completely ignoring my blatant irritation at his phone use. In a fit of rage, I reach across the table and grab the phone away, hiding it beside me, much as a mother might have to do with an unruly child.¬†

This story is fairly typical of many of my interactions with, not only my husband, but many of my friends and family as well. I am one who avidly utilizes themti5otiwoda5mtc4nde3mtyy internet and my phone, but I have learned that there is a time and place for it. Sitting at dinner with your spouse or friend is¬†not the time for it. When someone is trying to carry on a conversation with you, that is¬†not the time for it. It has become an endless frustration that so many people seem unable to look away from their devices and connect with the real world – and I’m sure I am guilty of it as well. It can be hard to separate yourself from the nagging urge to check your texts/Facebook/email. I have experienced it as well, but much like Howard Rheingold (2012) outlines in “Net Smart” I have learned to focus my attention when necessary.

I am a huge advocate for the social abilities that technology has made possible. As someone who suffers from (at times debilitating) depression and social anxiety, the ability to “connect” while not being physically close to someone is something that has helped me tremendously. Additionally, there is such support out there (on the web) for people who suffer similar challenges, the communities that the internet and social media make possible can be endlessly beneficial. However, as Rheingold eloquently put it, “the same activity can be a lifeline for one person and a distracting compulsion to others” (2012, p. 8). This entirely sums up the differences in the evolution of use of social media between my husband and myself.

As a young adult I, like many other young adults, thought myself to be exceedingly important and felt the urge to post even the most mundane and uninteresting things to social media. As I learned to navigate these media, I began to see their propensity for good as well as their pitfalls. That was when I began to change the way I used such technologies, creating communities of trust and comfort while eliminating the more banal and unimportant posts from my profiles. This has helped me immensely in building a sense of belonging and allowing me to more easily cope with my circumstances.

My husband has a long history of becoming addicted to video-games, to the detriment of his academic and professional life at times. This is why, when he spends our dinner staring at his phone, I get afraid that it will become a compulsion he will not be able to stop. For the two of us, our technology and its social affordances creates two very different worlds.

This is why I think that Rheingold’s idea of “controlling attention” is so vital. While technology and social media can be extremely beneficial in connecting with others and creating/maintaining communities, if let run wild, they can be distractions that keep us from living our lives in the moment.

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Both photos courtesy of http://blazepress.com/2015/05/27-powerful-images-that-sum-up-how-smartphones-are-ruining-our-lives/ 

Honing in on Audience

In part III of Spilka’s¬†Digital Literacy for Technical Communication, the focus is on the relationship between technical communicators and their audience, taking a deeper look at ideas such as ethics and communicating between different cultures. The overarching theme is the emphasis that technical communicators must, and for the most part do, place on their audience.

Although I am not yet a technical communication (TC) professional, as a student of TC I have quickly learned the importance of considering one’s audience in the field of TC. It is one of the first and most highly emphasized points in many of the foundational courses for TC and it is not hard to see why – the purpose of a technical communicator is to advocate for the user/reader/audience and ensure that all associated documentation is easily accessible and understood. An important part of this user-advocate role, I believe, is understanding the rhetoric involved in communication of all kinds and attempting to write or design for the appropriate rhetorical situation. This, to me, is what sets technical communicators apart from other communicators (e.g. writers) – the emphasis placed on how the audience will perceive what is being communicated and utilizing that rhetoric in appropriate and ethical ways.

As I was reading this section, my mind kept wandering to one of the many “articles” I find linked on Facebook daily. With the uprising of so many “social news” sites (e.g. Buzzfeed), it is hard to get away from articles that use pop-psychology and serve no purpose other than entertainment. As I was scrolling through my Facebook feed this morning, I came upon this article:

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In case you want to read the article, it can be found here

Out of curiosity, I went to the page and read through it (though these sites are notoriously difficult to navigate with only one portion of the list on each page – known as “click bait”). In situations like these, I most often like to read the comments that other Facebook users have posted on these links. As usual, this post was littered with comments of offended women going on about how they don’t care what a man thinks about their hair, they will do what they want, etc. Other comments were in response to those negative ones, claiming that the article was not telling you how to style your hair, or even that you should base your hair choices on what men think, but that it was just a little bit of insight into what men’s opinions are.

Aside from the fact that I don’t trust or believe these type of “survey” articles, due to lack of substantial research or any reliable study methods, it struck me as interesting that the primary controversy of the article seemed to be (as is often the case) about what the authors were¬†actually¬†trying to say with this piece. While this type of controversy is probably encouraged in the “social news” world, it is exactly the opposite of what a technical communicator strives for.

This is what I believe sets technical communicators apart from other communicators. The goal in TC is to be clear, precise, understood and to approach the situation from an appropriate rhetorical perspective so as to convey exactly what he/she¬†means. This is not as easy as it sounds – as was exemplified by the above article, each reader’s perception is different and is clearly colored by past experiences, current opinions, and overall personality. This makes the technical communicator’s job that much more difficult to attempt to find a way to unite all those differences in opinion to convey¬†one message.

 

 

 

New Knowledge in the Technical Communication Field

User-Centered Design and User Experience

The purpose of part II of Rachel Spilka’s¬†Digital Literacy for Technical Communication was to provide insight into some new, foundational knowledge in the TPC world which all technical communicators should know about. As this book is from 2010, these ideas are likely a bit more understood now then they were at the time of publishing, but are still relevant. The overwhelming idea that I saw between the three chapters was the use of user-centered design and the importance of user experience in technical communication. Although most explicitly discussed in Chapter 4, Salvo and Rosinski’s “Information Design”, all three chapters discussed concepts that either directly or indirectly related to user experience.

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Components of User Experience, found here

Having taken a course last semester on user experience, I have studied in-depth its importance in technical communication and the use of user-centered design. All three chapters in part II of Spilka’s book emphasize the increasing importance of these ideas for technical communicators. As Salvo and Rosinski point out, when the internet first became commonly used, websites were often created without regard to traditional page design conventions, leading to websites that were difficult to navigate and unpleasant to use (poor user experience).

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Photo found here

We now know the importance of considering page design even when creating web pages. Additionally, we have to consider all aspects of documents (both online and in print) including the rhetorical situation, the user experience, accessibility, etc., when creating any documentation – these chapters emphasize the importance of the role of technical communicators as we are trained to examine documents in this way.

These chapters outline the importance of understanding and utilizing the technologies available to us as technical communicators to help readers and users in all tasks. I would argue that immersing oneself in these technologies and examining them from a critical standpoint would help all technical communicators become more effective.

The Evolution and Future of Technical Communication

The Readings

In part I of Rachel Spilka’s¬†Digital Literacy For Technical Communication anthology (2010), the history and future of the Technical Communication field is investigated. Saul Carliner begins the section with his piece entitled¬†“Computers and Technical Communication in the 21st Century”. This piece discusses the history and evolution of the field through his experience as a technical writer in the software/technology field. The second chapter of the section is composed of a piece by R. Stanley Dicks entitled “The Effects of Digital Literacy on the Nature of Technical Communication Work”. This piece discusses not only the history of the technical communication field, but its current and projected intricacies and structure. While Carliner presents a quite interesting and compelling history of the field, Dicks provides a detailed outlook of how the field will change and what this will mean for current and prospective technical communicators.

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Carliner’s View

Carliner’s in-depth history of the technical communication field was fascinating to me, and curtailed nicely with a piece I read last week for another course I am taking this semester (ENG 700). That paper (“The Rise of Technical Writing Instruction in America”), written by a famous technical communication scholar, Robert J. Connors was also very informative on the evolution of the field.. Both pieces presented a detailed history of the field and how emerging media over the last several decades has caused the profession to change immensely – Carliner focusing on the effect on the professionals in the field at the time and Conners on the change in the academic programs and courses associated with the field. This was of particular interest to me as a prospective technical communicator, not yet in the field. I think it is important to learn the history of the career you desire, in order to respect those who have come before you and paved the way. As Carliner described the earliest methods of creating and publishing technical documents and the early days of computers, I was in awe of the way technology has changed since the 70’s. For each decade he provided a unique look at the changes in the field, technology, job titles, and viewpoints of technical communicators. This allowed me to see how far things have come in the field and gave me new perspective on how things are now.

Dicks’ View

Dicks’ piece was less historical and more future-oriented – using the past to inform the future changes in the field. Much of what he wrote had me quite nervous to enter the field. His discussion of the need for technical communicators to be able to defend their worth to their employers (and coworkers) seemed to propose a somewhat bleak¬†view of the field, one in which no one appreciates you or your work and you are in constant fear of losing your job. However, as he went on to discuss the way technical communicators are currently utilized in the workplace and as part of teams, the field seemed much less daunting and more as I had imagined it.

Much of what Dicks described when looking at the current organization and utilization of technical communicators related back to my only real source of knowledge of the field Рmy husband. As a software developer for GE Healthcare, he works in a scrum team (which includes a technical writer) to develop and improve software. His description of the type of work technical writers do was the main motivation for my interest in the field, so as Dicks began describing a position of neglect and lack of appreciation/integration I really began to wonder if I made a mistake again in my choice of future field! Fortunately my fears were lessened as I continued to read.

In Conclusion…

Both of the pieces in Part I of Spilka’s anthology gave an in-depth history and view of the technical communication field and how it is likely to progress in the future. There was not a great deal of discussion of Web 2.0 in either piece (a small section in each dedicated to the topic and the future uses), but I think that will be one of the larger game-changers in the field in the upcoming years.

Using Social Media to Teach Technical Communication

The Hurley and Hea (2014) article is one I used for my final paper in English 720 last semester:


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I really think the idea of incorporating social media into technical communication courses is extremely beneficial to the students and the professional world. Companies need technical communicators who are experienced and skilled in the use of social media! As I’m sure will be evident by the case studies later in the semester, many companies are not using social media in ways other than marketing. There is a whole world that could be opened up if social media was utilized to communicate directly with consumers to better companies’ products and knowledge of what is working or not. Additionally, social media can be used to disseminate information (and allow interaction) about troubleshooting, common issues, instructional information, etc. The benefits of companies adding these types of post to their existing social media (or adding social media if they still do not have any) could be immense. That’s what my final paper for ENG 720 was about (along with the rhetorical uses of social media for technical communicators and companies). The incorporation of social media courses into technical communication programs is essential if these changes are to be made.

My Life of Social Media

As I mentioned in my introductory discussion post, I have a great deal of experience with social media, and use it many times a day. Blogging is something I have dabbled with (still have a few accounts here and there, but I rarely use them). The main appeal to me about blogging (and social media in general) is the ability to connect with others – people who you would never otherwise have had the chance to know. I think it’s a wonderful addition to our social worlds to be able to “meet” people who may be thousands of miles away from you, and create relationships that may never have otherwise been possible.

I agree with Andrea Doucet (2013) when she emphasizes the benefit of blogging (which I believe extends to most social media) in connecting writer and reader. There is no better feeling, to me, than getting a comment on your post with an “I thought I was the only one!” or “thank you for sharing, now I know I’m not alone”. This connection in both the social and intellectual aspects is what makes social media great in my opinion.

To finish out my diatribe on my love of social media, here is a snapchat photo I took earlier of my sweet greyhound looking at the rain.

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