[UPDATE] Technical Communication Beyond Belief

full name / name of organization: 
Association of Teachers of Technical Writing


The Association of Teachers of Technical Writing (ATTW) invites proposals for papers, posters, and workshops to be given at its annual conference immediately preceding the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC). The sixteenth annual ATTW conference will be held in Las Vegas, NV, on Wednesday, March 13, 2013. The full-day event includes concurrent sessions, poster presentations, workshops, book exhibits, and opportunities for exchanging ideas and networking in an academic environment.

The theme for this year's conference is "Beyond Belief." It is prompted in part by Peter Cardon's (JBTC 2008) critique of Edward Hall's distinction between high- and low-context cultures. Cardon documented the extent to which our field relies upon this distinction, going so far as to call it "the most important communication theory" in international business and technical communication. And yet, as Cardon demonstrated, numerous studies "nearly all fail to support [the] relationship" between low-context, high-context, and communication. Moreover, Cardon found that Hall "provided no explanation of the method or analysis he used in creating his contexting model." It turns out that a widely cited distinction may not explain much at all.

Consider another example: Geoff Hart (Technical Communication 2000) examined ten commonly held beliefs held by technical communicators. Among them, he examined one propagated by George Miller's 1956 discovery of the "magic number 7." Generations of technical communicators have relied on this magic number to determine the optimum number of steps in a procedure to be five to nine (seven, plus or minus two) without examining Miller's actual thesis. Miller's original thesis suggested that the magic number 7 actually represented "the number of cognitive tools typical readers can hold in their mind's hand (so to speak) and use to attack a problem" rather than the number of discrete steps that they can process in a procedure.

Studies by scholars such as Cardon and Hart demonstrate that we sometimes base practices on theories, beliefs, or habits that deserve to be examined. This ATTW conference, we hope, will provide teachers and researchers in our field with a venue to explore diverse perspectives on these issues. More specifically, proposals for conference presentations and poster sessions are encouraged to explore the following:

• What misunderstood or untested myths do we rely upon as a field? What are the origins of these myths and how might we test them?
• Why do we find these beliefs, myths, and habits so compelling? Why do we rely on them in our classrooms? Will they stand up to scrutiny?
• What kinds of evidence are used to support theories, beliefs, and habits common to professional and technical writing? Why do we assume these kinds of evidence are valid?
• Are there beliefs that we hold as teachers that our students do not? What is the nature of this discrepancy?

By calling for an examination of theories, beliefs, and assumptions, we do not intend to privilege empirical studies exclusively. Although we certainly welcome empirical evidence, we also welcome papers regarding theoretical discrepancies. Such papers might explore the following:

• Does our field espouse seemingly incompatible theories?
• Does a relatively new theory (actor-network theory or activity theory, for example) throw other theories or practices into doubt? Why?
• Is there a place for anecdotal evidence in our field? If so, what is that place?

Proposals that explore these and related issues are welcome, although we also may accept proposals that address issues that fall within the broad category of technical communication. All submissions must specify one of the following three formats for their proposals:

1. Regular Session: Individuals may submit proposals for 15-minute talks on panels created by the conference organizers. These proposals should be no more than 300 words. Groups may submit proposals for 75-minute panel presentations. These proposals should be no more than 200 words per presentation plus a 150-word contextualization/justification of the panel (800 words max).
2. Poster Presentation: Posters will be on display throughout the day with special times dedicated for conversations about this work. Proposals for poster presentations should be no more than 300 words.
3. Workshop Sessions: The conference will include two 90-minute workshops concurrent with the regular sessions. Workshops that would help newcomers enter the field are especially welcome. Workshop proposals should be no more than 1500 words.

Proposals should remove all identifying information from the proposal itself, including the names and institutions of presenters. Proposers will have the opportunity to include this information when they register on the conference website.

Proposals should be submitted no later than October 15, 2012, at the link for proposal submission available at http://www.attw.org/?q=node/add/conference-proposal. All proposals will be peer reviewed.

All teachers and researchers interested in technical communication are welcome. New teachers of technical communication, as well as graduate students, are especially encouraged to attend the conference.

For any additional information concerning this CFP and the conference, please contact the conference co-chairs, Stuart Blythe at Michigan State University (blythes@msu.edu) and Ryan Moeller at Utah State University (rylish.moeller@usu.edu).