Technical Writing Style: A Rhetorical Perspective

Technical writing style is not often discussed or examined. However, there are important benefits that can derive from reflecting on the words on the page, specifically in how writers construct style and audiences receive style. For those in professional writing practice, the benefits of considering writing style—from the levels of industry demands to genre expectations to metacognitive reflection on one’s own writing practice—are compounded by a rhetorical perspective that focuses on the classic concepts such as exigency, audience, and tone, while also offering insights from the most current theories on style within composition and rhetoric. Many participants expressed this same sentiment in a study I conducted for dissertation research in the field of composition/rhetoric in fall 2018/spring 2019.

In this session, I will focus on the findings of this study related to important reflections for the practice of technical writing in chosen styles, tones, and registers that connect with audiences. The study’s findings offer considerations for style theory within composition/rhetoric but also insights more relevant for technical and professional writers. Of specific interest is the study’s focus on the “constructs” or factors affecting the production and reception of writing style for technical writers and their audiences. These constructs relate to six key areas: audience, personal biography, language ideology, technology, embodiment/materiality, and exigent factors.

By showing these factors or “constructs” at work in review of the two main documents used in the study, I hope to offer an opportunity for those in professional writing practice to make connections to their writing process and stylistic choices at multiple levels. Such opportunity offers a fresh perspective on nuts-and-bolts matters of how the words on the page get there and how audiences receive them. Attendees can expect a lively and possibly surprising demonstration of how and why technical and professional writing demands high-level rhetorical knowledge and skill in accomplishing its purposes while meeting needs of diverse audiences through its primary form of communication, the written word.

June 8 @ 10:00

Jonathan O’Brien