}fڶvĒ2GeU_ z<7[mSz}_Kʭu잕xς'ou(okv%o#h%^mq]ۆ_"_?h?V|4񗆼3;?Mr?sWݺEmX? ;z/M&O-cfoOn~/|\>!4="o-B>Robert L. Root, Jr.
Abstract
   

        Of recent contributions to the study of writing in the workplace, one that has been particularly useful to me has been the distinction made by Barbara Couture and Jone Rymer between two different sets of people engaged in writing trade texts.  Couture and Rymer applied the term "professionals who write" to such people as "engineers, general managers, scientists, accountants, and health technologists" who have been trained in a specific profession but are required to write as part of their employment in that profession (77); "career writers", by contrast, are employed solely on the basis of their writing ability, regardless of their own background, interest, or training, to create certain kinds of documents deemed necessary by their employers.  It is a valuable distinction, because it suggests differences in background, expertise, and training which impact the composing processes.  Research which focuses on writing in the professions (including that cited throughout this article) has largely centered on professionals who write, but the individual whose composing processes are discussed here is a career writer, a role which may account for distinctive approaches to such elements of her composing as the acquisition of both topic knowledge and genre knowledge, the development of recursive strategies for discovery and presentation, and the nature of her interaction with others.
         Connie Leas was one of several writers contacted for an extended study of what I identified as "the composing processes of professional expository writers."  The study involved a diverse population--columnists, critics, and a business journalist all participated--but employed a standard method regardless of the writer's circumstances.  I read widely in recent representative work of the writer and then conducted a interview centering on the writer's composing processes in general and the most recently completed work in particular.  When possible I would also examine notes, drafts, and revisions of at least one recent project.  Tapes of the interviews were transcribed and a transcript of the interview sent to each writer for emendation, correction, or expansion.  Research thus was based on textual analysis, retrospective interviews, and comparison of textual and interview evidence (Root, Working, x).
         Prior to our interview, Connie Leas sent me both a copy of the instruction manual she had recently completed and also a copy of the earlier manual her version was meant to supersede.  My interview questions were based on a comparison of those two items as well as on a prior list of questions drawing on earlier research into cognitive composing processes, particularly the work of Flower and Hayes.  I focused not only on the prewriting, drafting, and revising strategies of my subjects but also on such aspects as their task environments, their understanding of the rhetorical problems their composing addressed, and the extent to which they had stored knowledge of topic, genre, and writing strategies upon which to draw.  These concerns guided the interview I recorded with Connie Leas at her workplace.  I then transcribed the taped interview and mailed her a transcript, which she reviewed thoroughly and revised in places where she felt her initial responses had been unclear, inaccurate, or incomplete.  That edited interview transcript is the source of the quotes that are given throughout the article.
         When I interviewed her, Connie Leas had been a technical writer for about four years and had come to it in her mid-forties.  She had no background in either technical writing or industry; her master's degree was in entomology, the study of insects, and her employment prior to turning to technical writing included being a stringer for a local newspaper writing features on, as she says, "such things as gardening or...people who heat their homes with wood."  She had also been employed by the Cooperative Extension Service to "teach low income residents of Detroit how to garden."  She recalls putting together a manual on gardening for 4H kids and claims, "I seem to look at all problems as if the solution were, 'What they need is a manual'."  Although she had no technical training, she did have an affinity for expository writing; of her education she says: "I always did a lot of writing in school.  I always got A's on my reports.  I found that I could organize material well...I was the only person I ever knew at school who liked doing reports...I don't need to do creative writing.  Writing about how to do things is fine with me." She assumes that these report-writing experiences prepared her in some way to do technical writing later on.
         Her first tech writing job was at XMCO, "developing military training programs on how to fix trucks and some projects for Jet Propulsion Labs."  At the time of the interview she was the sole technical writer for the Interactive Personnel and Payroll department program at ADP, a data processing firm.  She had recently completed a user's guide for the IPP computer program, which lets "businesses keep track of their personnel and payroll information in a single data base," and was working simultaneously on three more manuals for the same program: one to serve as a demonstration package for the firm's salespeople, another to serve as a guide to the sales tracking program for regional managers, and a third as an internal reference manual for account executives.  The three manuals are essentially variations of the initial user's guide directed at specific populations within the firm.
         The projects Connie Leas has worked on at ADP typify the experiences of career writers in the professions.  She begins with a specific assignment created by her employers, who decide the rhetorical situation, including the topic, the audience, and the exigencies.  She may also begin with minimal knowledge.  At ADP her first assignment required her to "learn the whole IPP program," a data processing system with which she was entirely unfamiliar, and also to "learn an obscure text-entry system called 'Cypher-Text'" as her word processing program.
         The acquisition of what Linda Flower calls "topic knowledge" may be different for the career writer than for the professional who writes.  Roundy and Mair, surveying seventy professionals who write, found that their prewriting activities often involved analyzing audience, purpose, and format.  As they point out, "none of our interviewees considered searching for or inventing knowledge or choosing a topic," and they ascribed this to the "situational" nature of the subjects' writing--"the writer is assigned a topic or one is dictated by an organizational problem he or she has explored...which also provides the content for composing" (95).  The career writer is unlikely to have that "content for composing" in her background, at least not initially, and need to have strategies for acquiring topic knowledge.
         In the case of Connie Leas' composing, the acquisition of topic knowledge was a constant activity of her writing.  Usually, she sets out to get what she calls "the big picture" by gathering and consulting whatever data is available and trying to bring herself to a clear understanding of the topic.  She says,

In this instance, she decided to use all the commands of the program to learn it herself by engaging in it, problem-solving difficulties she encountered and consulting with experienced personnel when she was unable to overcome a stumbling block herself.  In another instance, when she needed to "write the principles of operation" for a project at XMCO, she relied less on direct engagement and more on research materials.  She says, Even there the project eventually demanded some hands-on work; for another part of the project, she "took a steering column apart and put it back together again."  In either circumstance the prewriting that she engaged in to "get the big picture" was not the limit of her search for topic knowledge--it continued throughout the composing process.
         In their study Roundy and Mair confirmed that the professionals who write whom they surveyed went through stages of composing but noted that the time allotted to specific stages depended on the projected length of the text and its format.  For projects likely to run ten pages or more, they "spent more time on pre-writing and re-writing activities and separated the stages of the composing process more distinctly"; for shorter texts, they "spent less time on the stages and also distinguished among them less sharply" (91).  Moreover, if the document to be produced demanded a highly structured format (their example is a progress report), less activity took place; if the format were to be more flexible (such as a journal article or proposal), more activity took place.  In Linda Flower's terms a highly structured format gave greater power to the writer's genre knowledge, while a flexible format demanded greater manipulation of material and greater skill at rhetorical problem solving.
         Among professionals who write, genre knowledge arises out of constant reading and repeated composing of generic documents; career writers may have to generate more direct ways of acquiring that genre knowledge.  Leas's sense of instruction manual format arises out of her own composing and the reactions of the people to whom she shows it in progress; she may have had experience writing manuals (on subjects as diverse as gardening and fuel systems), but, as she says, "each manual has different requirements--the users are different, the subject is different.  I doubt that you can apply a stock style or format to any one that you do."  Her sense of a flexible format demands greater manipulation of material.
 Because of these considerations Connie Leas's composing process is highly recursive.  She describes her process thus:
 my system would consist of: get an idea of the big picture, make an outline, then learn-write-revise-learn-write-revise until it's done.  With this one I had a list of the commands and I just went through and tried them all.  I'd just plug in the command and see what would happen and be surprised.  If I had problems I'd stop what I was doing and research it.
The big picture for her often grows out of background reading, but it isn't a complete picture; as she says, "You have to start with a picture of what you're trying to communicate and then fill in the details."  To get a sense of the picture she would use an outline, but the outline is merely a starting point.  She says: The outline was a way of organizing topic knowledge and genre knowledge as she acquired them.
         The use of writing for discovery is vital to her composing.  She says: Without this recursive activity Leas would have great difficulty completing her projects.  She starts at the beginning not because of a desire to follow a linear line of development but "because it kind of forces you to get going."  She wrote an introduction first but then completely rewrote it after she finished because along the way she "decided to stick more sections up front and then go back" to the section to which she had worked her way, changing things as she went along.
         The question of the recursiveness or linearity of the composing process is one that surfaces frequently in research on writing in the professions.  Roundy and Mair, for example, reported that most of their respondents relied on a recursive or reflexive process and "that they frequently discovered and added information while composing, content which they had not intended to use and perhaps had not fully articulated" (92).
        Moreover, revising and editing--"adding, rearranging, substituting, and deleting material...correcting mechanics and usage problems"--were often carried on during the drafting, rather than in a discreet later stage.
         But others have claimed that technical writing in particular encourages a composing process more linear than recursive.  Broadhead and Freed claimed to find no evidence that their subjects' "rhythmic alternations of generating and revising texts were truly recursive" and asserted that "the writers did not go back to revise one section in preparation for writing a subsequent one" and "the revision of one section did not alter the overall plan or the goals for the subsequent section" (123).
         Similarly Selzer concluded that "it may be appropriate to describe the writing process of engineers as more linear than recursive"(185) after studying the composing process of an engineer, a professional who writes.  According to Selzer, for his subject In both of these studies part of the key to the linearity they observe lies in the generic format of the texts the writers must produce--texts which usually have clearly distinct sections that are added onto one another rather than embedded in one another.  The cumulative progression of the text almost demands staged composition, although it should also be noted that Selzer and Broadhead and Freed were studying professionals who write, people steeped in the context of their fields, rather than career writers without extensive prior topic and genre knowledge.
         Moreover, Dorothy Winsor has noted that "Selzer observed an engineer consulting numerous documents as an inventing technique" and suggested that a study of those documents might prove them to be "important points of knowledge generation . . . neglected in favor of knowledge-transmitting reports" (68).  Left unaccounted for in studies asserting linearity is the possibility of recursiveness in the knowledge generation activities, what Stephen Witte has called "pretextual revising" or "projective restructuring," the prewriting equivalent of the "retrospective structuring" which occurs in revision (Witte, 264-270).  Connie Leas's recursive "learn-write-revise" system not only generates topic knowledge but also facilitates planning.  In the course of delineating the big picture for herself she engages in prospective re-structuring until she is ready to "jump into it", but one of her reasons for making the plunge is her knowledge that the writing will help clarify issues that are still fuzzy and that without the writing she will never have the complete picture.  As Witte observes, In other words, transcription may not be merely the recording of knowledge previously prepared for transmittal; it may in fact allow discovery to occur, in James Britton's term, "at the point of utterance."  In Leas's composing it is clear that text planning and discovery of topic knowledge are inextricably bound together.  Moreover, for her, clearly delineated stages of composing are unlikely.  As she says, Moreover, not all the planning she does is observable or recorded.  As she points out, "I used to lie awake at night problem-solving with it, thinking how I was going to do this, how I was going to do that."  Such gestation periods are vital to all composing.
        Leas tends to compose at the terminal, often starting to work on something she can address immediately.  She says, She usually spends part of each day doing more research, trying out the program.  Eventually she will make a hard copy of what she's written--"I always make hard copies . . . so I can mull it over and take my red pencil and scribble all over it and change things."
         Her view of her composing supports the idea that much of the composing is directed at projective restructuring.   She says, The actual drafting is often unchallenging, "just writing what's on a screen or writing procedures: do this, do this, do that.  It's pretty straightforward."  There are sections which require "more work on the wording", such as  "introductory paragraphs or explanations about the purpose of something or how you'd use something", but the real challenge of the writing for her lies in "figuring out how to organize the whole thing plus understanding it yourself and nagging people to help you."
        Nominally Leas works alone, but throughout the process she continually interacts with others at the firm, not only through the initial assignment but also in pre-writing and revising.  In the generation of topic knowledge she uses professionals as resources and routinely defers to their judgment.  Much of her prewriting consists of questions that her investigation of the program raised and answers to these questions provided by others.  As she says: The importance of this interaction extends beyond prewriting.  Although as a general rule she insists on gaining full understanding of her subject matter, "because it's really hard to write about it if you don't," on at least one occasion when she was baffled by the automatic payroll system, she deferred to others, once she "was assured that payroll people understand it," and included a section taken from another source.  On another occasion, she says, "I made a draft manual and found myself a bunch of account executives who are out in the trenches and asked them to review it."  In the end she accommodated most of their suggestions for revision.
         This interaction with others is important for career writers in particular and typical of writing in the business professions in general.  In a study of what they call "interactive writing on the job" among both "professionals who write" and "career writers", Couture and Rymer found that, "despite differences among writing tasks and writers' professions, most writers at work interact during the composing process" (77-78); they found interaction to be especially "pervasive in the procedures of career writers" (79), both before and after writing a draft.  Their study showed that, compared with professionals who write, career writers wrote almost exclusively on assignment and tended to revise on others' advice and to be revised by others more often (81-82).  Connie Leas's composing suggests that, for career writers, interaction with others may be necessary for accurate presentation and acquisition of knowledge.
         The interaction with others is also tied to necessary considerations of audience.  Writing on the job is part of an attempt to get certain things done--information dispensed, contracts awarded, projects approved, activities reported.  The career writer, who may not be as wholly integrated into her work community as a professional who writes, needs confirmation that what she writes will affect the specified audience in ways that meet the company's aims.
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Works Cited:

Broadhead, Glenn J., and Richard C. Freed. The Variables of Composition: Process and
        Product in a Business Setting. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1986.
Couture, Barbara, and Jone Rymer. "Interactive Writing on the Job: Definitions and Implications
        of 'Collaboration'," in Writing in the Business Professions, ed. Myra Kogen. Urbana:
        NCTE, 1989.  73-93.
Flower, Linda. "Rhetorical Problem Solving: Cognition and Professional Writing," in Writing in
        the Business Professions, ed. Myra Kogen. Urbana: NCTE, 1989.  3-36.
Flower, Linda, and John R. Hayes. "A Cognitive Process Theory of Writing," College
        Composition and Communication, 32 (1981): 365-87.
Root, Robert L., Jr. "LAJM Interview: Connie Leas on Technical Writing," Language Arts
        Journal of Michigan, 4:2 (Fall 1988), 72-85.
Root, Robert L., Jr. Working at Writing: Columnists and Critics Composing. Carbondale:
        Southern Illinois University Press, 1991.
Roundy, Nancy, and David Mair. "The Composing Process of Technical Writers: A Preliminary
        Study," Journal of Advanced Composition, 3:1-2 (1982), 90-99.
Selzer, Jack. "The Composing Processes of an Engineer," College Composition and
        Communication, 34:2 (May 1983), 178-188.
Winsor, Dorothy A.  "Engineering Writing/Writing Engineering,"  College Composition and
        Communication, 41:1 (February 1990), 58-70.
Witte, Stephen P. "Revising, Composing Theory, and Research Design," in The Acquisition
        of Written Language, ed. Sarah W. Freedman. Norwood, NJ: Ablex, 1985. 250-284.
 

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