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Professional communication for the technical workplace : a situational analysis and practical handbook



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This thesis focuses on the ways in which theoretical models based in rhetorical studies can be used to enhance both the understanding and the practice of communication. In particular, my project shows that rhetoric and communication theory can provide a foundation for improving communication practice. Every communicative act takes place within a context, as Lloyd F. Bitzer established. This same understanding of the centrality of situation to communicative effectiveness permeates the work of several other theorists whose work is discussed in this thesis, among them Wayne C. Booth, Kenneth Burke, George L. Dillon, Barnett Baskerville, and Donald Schon. Using Bitzer’s conception of the rhetorical situation as the theoretical focus, two main concerns are addressed in the thesis: the relationship between rhetoric and the practice of technical communication, and the integration of theory and practice as the foundation of rhetorical understanding. The first three chapters present a series of theoretical models, and the practical use of this theory is tested by an exercise in writing a public speaking handbook for engineering undergraduates (presented as Chapter Four of the thesis). The audience for this handbook is specific and the purpose is narrow – to give advice on preparing, practising, and presenting design presentations to professors and clients. This experiment is then followed by a reflection on the writing process and some conclusions about the relationship between rhetorical theory and communicative practice. The key result of this research and case study is a deepened understanding of how rhetoric operates – or how it should be studied. As a rhetorician, I found it discouraging – even at times humiliating – to discover how much difficulty I had in adapting my discourse to a specific audience. This research makes clear that an understanding of theory without a solid grounding in practice is insufficient for rhetorical mastery. While my original goal was to demonstrate the usefulness of theory to improving practice, this thesis shows as well the extent to which rhetorical theory also depends on an understanding of the demands and constraints of actual practice.



integration of theory and practice, design presentations, context as writing strategy, rhetoric of technical communication, reflective analysis, reflective practice, reflective practitioner, rhetoric and technical communication, footing, student handbook



Master of Arts (M.A.)


Interdisciplinary Studies


Interdisciplinary Studies


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