Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Award Date

1990

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

English

First Advisor

Charles Woodard

Abstract

Efficiently produced, clear writing for technical documents can dramatically affect the profits of today's high-tech industry. Industry management, however, often underrates the need for specific technical writing training among technical and support personnel. In addition, staff people commissioned to work exclusively on technical manuals, proposals, reports, and similar documents are rare in small industry. Today's corporate environment demands skilled writers who can produce clearly written documents that are easy to understand. While industry demands skilled writers, many of its professionals claim their academic training did not adequately prepare them for their job requirements. Because effective writing truly has a bearing on the corporate profit line, management must find ways to provide continuing education for its employees. Because academia strives to prepare its students for the real world, it must keep pace with the demands of the corporate environment and seek to provide adequate writing training. Researcher Barbara Couture suggests a direction to follow: "We can hope to solve writing problems in school, in business, and in government through the studied observation of communication in actual contexts if we design research with the aim of resolving the communication dilemmas of those whom language serves" (6). One way to achieve this is through consultations between university professors and industry. Other researchers agree with Couture and call for specific study that gives useable information to teachers and practitioners of technical writing. Technical writing instructor Mark Haselkorn says such useful information must come from the world of work: ''Research in technical writing should consist of defining, both through practical and theoretical investigations, the relevant pragmatic conventions and how they interact," he says (29). This master's thesis looks at current academic and industrial demands. It examines the historical and ethical foundation for technical writing in today's workplace. Specifically, it explores the demands of technical writing at Daktronics, Inc., focusing attention on the practical world which researchers say makes such study useful. I have chosen Daktronics not only because I spend my work day there producing various kinds of promotional and technical writing, but also because it represents a high-tech industry with writing demands no different from the universal world of work. Its corporate management refers to itself as an “engineering-based company'' involved with research, development, sales and installation of computer programmable, visual information displays. Those information display products include scoreboards, message centers, vote display systems, sports timing and judging systems, along with other smaller, diversified products. Daktronics markets its computer-controlled products worldwide to produce $20 million in annual sales. The company competes with high-tech, global industries for its profit. When much of that effort hinges on written documents, their clarity becomes paramount. My thesis examines three Daktronics manual examples for their cohesiveness. I use the technical manual as a base for discussion because that common industrial document forms a powerful tool for maintaining satisfied customers and generating new ones through user testimonies of clear, easy to understand writing. A clearly written manual can give the perception of a "user-friendly," product; ultimately, satisfied customers share, as dissatisfied customers do, their experience with others. Daktronics maintains that technical manuals become a secondary source of sales. Through this thesis examination of industrial writing skills and needs, I offer recommendations for greater efficiency in technical writing at Daktronics. The company can see better technical documents through on-site, workshop training, unified writing guidelines, team writing of documents, and systematic planning before writing. Feedback about each document's effectiveness after writing could be gained through a postage-paid, reader response [sic] card bound into the manual to make the company aware of product deficiencies which need to be addressed. I also offer recommendations for a more productive university technical writing program. Those university recommendations are directed to South Dakota State University, although their application could be made to other technical writing programs as well. The university should make technical writing coursework a requirement for completing any engineering program. The English department, which houses technical writing coursework, could strengthen its program through implementing rhetorical and linguistic strategies into course content, adding technical writing coursework to the graduate level and high school teaching methods classes, and encouraging instructor industry consultations. Students should also be encouraged to put their knowledge to use through industry internships for credit.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Daktronics
Technical writing
Business writing
Cohesion (Linguistics)

Format

application/pdf

Number of Pages

110

Publisher

South Dakota State University

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