AL 841 Documents

Forum Analysis: SIGDOC, Special Interest Group in Design of Communication

SIGDOC is an association within the ACM, the Association for Computing Machinery that specializes in the “design of communication”. The group was originally founded in 1975 as a special interest group in Systems Documentation (later Computer Documentation), as an alternative to the Society for Technical Communication that would be focused on the needs of writers working in the growing computer industry (Rigo 2001). In 2004, the group underwent a change in name to better represent the shift in focus that they had experienced over time. Clay Spinuzzi explains the process that lead to the change in the June 2007 issue of the SIGDOC newsletter. As documentation became a more specialized field, supported by graduate degree programs of study and with a broader interest, the scope of the work done by SIGDOC members became much wider than writing computer manuals:

They focused on the technologies that allowed people to communicate that documentation; they examined ways that people used multiple communication sources; they described field studies that included but did not revolve around computer documentation…Their focus had moved, in short, to the design of communication: how communication patterns and technologies develop and function, and how people intervene in order to improve them. (Spinuzzi 2007)

Thus, “DOC” became an acronym for Design of Communication. The exact definition and scope of that term is considered problematic within the association, and a conversation has been ongoing in the group’s newsletter over what exactly is design of communication. However, the organization continues to distinguish itself from other ACM subgroups (such as SIGCHI) by its focus on the study and critical analysis of interactions between the user and the screen, or the user and the text, rather than studying what goes on programming-wise inside the computer (many ACM groups publish very code-heavy journals and proceedings, while such a paper is much less common in SIGDOC).

Presently, SIGDOC publishes only their newsletter and the proceedings of their annual conference. The organization used to publish a journal on computer documentation, but ceased in 2002. They are currently in the process of starting a new journal, ACM Transactions on Design of Information and Communication to address “the specific concerns of practicing, researching information designers” (Albers 2008). This journal is situated in space not filled by journals like Technical Communication (which they see as too broad), academic journals about technical writing (which they see as too focused on writing and pedagogy) and usability studies journals (which they see as useful but often too narrow to publish SIGDOC’s members work).

The organization’s website lists the following “Areas of Special Interest” to its members:

In the article cited previously, Spinuzzi suggests five papers given at the 2006 SIGDOC conference and publication in its proceedings that, in his opinion, represent the range of topic of study in this field and help to define what “design of communication” can mean. I analyzed these five articles to discern their general approach and methodology. They include:

A very broad range of methodologies and topics of study are accepted in this forum and the membership explicitly interdisciplinary, ranging from ethnography to theoretical propositions to formal logical proof. Feminist and critical cultural studies perspectives on design of communication are also evident. The call for proposals for the upcoming 2009 conference problematizes this breadth, making it an explicit topic and devoting the first two bullet points of the suggested paper topics list to it:

Important areas of study within SIGDOC, ascertained from the general topics present in their conference proceedings, include information design and learning, aesthetics, information systems and architecture, knowledge management, usability, accessibility, modeling, and not least, documentation and design. Despite their name change and shift in focus, documentation theory, research, and practice remain an important area of study within the organization. Suggested topics for special issues of the journal they are developing include game design, social networking, writing for podcasts, and the semantic web (Albers 2008).

SIGDOC is of clear significance to the field of professional writing. While “rhetoric” is not an often-used term (it does come up in their conference’s 2008 CFP), writing certainly is, and the study of writing in the workplace in digitally-mediated environments is a topic taken up multiple times in their conference proceedings. The origins of the group, as John Rigo relates, are from a period where technical writers were needed badly in the computing field and so people with writing skill were being hired to document machines that they only shakily understood. This is not currently the case, and the membership appears to be approximately two-thirds academics and one-third professionals, but the group strives explicitly to remain relevant to both scholars and people working in the field. While not every paper published in their conference proceedings may be interesting or relevant to the field of professional writing (I frankly do not understand about twenty percent of the SIGDOC papers I looked at for this report), the heterogeneity of the group allows for representatives of many different fields to interact with each other and exchange information in a productive way.


Final Project Abstract and Preliminary Bibliography

Project Description and Purpose:

Stuart Whittemore does great work in our field connecting workplace writing to memory, kairos, and the classical canon, but more connections need to be built between writing and organizational memory as well as personal memory.  This paper will call for a more complete view of the idea of memory in the workplace, that goes beyond the personal and considers the memory practices that organizations engage in, and their implications for the creation of documents.  This paper seeks to further complete our view of the memory work done by and done on and with workplace texts.

I will explore the concept of organizational memory through a review of the literature in management studies, library science and archival studies, and technical communication.  Using an approach influenced by C. Trace and K. Gracy’s respective works published in Archival Science, I want to develop a methodology for the study of how an organization’s memory is shaped, transcribed, and transmitted (with intention or not) through the production of documents.  Furthermore, I want to elaborate on the implications of recognizing this process in the process of doing professional writing.  How might professional writers attitudes or processes change with cognition of how past texts are currently used by their organization, and how their texts might be used in the future?

My sources are drawn heavily from outside of the field, although my desire to consider Plato’s Phaedrus in this paper belies my positionality within rhetoric and composition.  The journal Archival Science is a goldmine of interesting social and critical approaches to the archive and memory, but from the perspective of the people who compile it and maintain it, not those who compose the texts that go into it.  Likewise, there is plenty of literature on organizational memory in Management Studies, but it lacks specific focus on the workplace writer as a critical player in the creation and documentation of such history and memory.  Through this paper, I want to bring professional writing and professional writers into this rich conversation.


Organizational Memory:

Ackerman, M. S., & Halverson, C. (1998). Considering an organization’s memory. Proceedings of the 1998 ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work, Seattle, WA, November 1998, 39-48.

Ackerman, M.S., & Halverson, C. (2000). Reexamining organizational memory. Communications of the ACM, 43(1), 59-64.

Brandon, D., & Hollingshead A.  (2004).  Transactive Memory Systems in Organizations: Matching Tasks, Expertise, and People.  Organization Science, 15 (6), 633-644.
Lewis, K. (2004).  Knowledge and Performance in Knowledge-Worker Teams: A Longitudinal Study of Transactive Memory Systems.  Management Science, 50(11), 1519-1533.

Moorman, C. & Miner, A.  (1998).  Organizational Improvisation and Organizational Memory.  The Academy of Management Review, 23(4), 698-723.

Walsh, J. & Ungson, G.  (1991).  Organizational Memory.  The Academy of Management Review, 16(1), 57-91.

Wegner, D. M. (1987). Transactive memory: A contemporary analysis of the group mind.  In B. Mullen, G. R. Goethals (eds.) Theories of Group Behavior.   New York: Springer-Verlag.

Wegner, D. M. (1995). A computer network model of human transactive memory. Soc. Cognition, 13, 319-339.

Historical/Classical Perspectives on Memory

Aristotle. (1952). On memory and reminiscence. In The works of Aristotle volume 1
(W.D. Ross, Trans.) (pp. 690-695).  In R. M. Hutchins (Ed.), Great books of the western world (Vol. 8).  Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc.

Carruthers, M. J. (1990). The book of memory: A study of memory in medieval culture.    New York, Cambridge UP.

Plato. (1995). Phaedrus.  (A. Nehamas & P. Woodruff, Trans.). Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing.

Information, Design, and Technical Communication

Brearly, L. & Darso L. (2008).  Vivifying data and experience through artful approaches.  In J. Knowles and A. Cole (Eds.), Handbook of the Arts in Qualitative Research (pp. 639-652). Los Angeles: SAGE Publications.

Johnson-Eilola, J. (2005). Datacloud: Toward a new theory of online work. Hampton

Norman, D. A. (2002). The design of everyday things. New York: Basic Books.

Ong, W. J. (1982). Orality & literacy: The technologizing of the word. New York: Routledge.  

Reich, R. B. (1991). The work of nations: Preparing ourselves for 21st century  capitalism. New York: Vintage Books.

Whittemore, S.   (2008a).  Writing Memory: A Study of Memory Tools in Invention. Dissertation, Michigan State University.

Whittemore, S.  (2008b).  Metadata and Memory: Lessons from the Canon of Memoria for the Design of Content Management Systems.  Technical Communication Quarterly, 17(1), 88–109.

Archival Studies

Alexander, B.  (2006). Excluding Archival Silences: Oral History and Historical Absence. Archival Science, 6(1), 1.  Retrieved March 17, 2009, from ABI/INFORM Global database. (Document ID: 1192307961).

Glosiene, A., & Manzhukh, Z. (2005). Towards a usability framework for memory  institutions. New Library World, 106 (1214/1215), 303-319.

Gracy, K.  (2004). Documenting Communities of Practice: Making the Case for Archival Ethnography*.  Archival Science, 4(3-4), 335-365.  Retrieved March 17, 2009, from ABI/INFORM Global database. (Document ID: 994509751).

Hedstrom, M. (2002). Archives, memory, and interfaces with the past.   Archival Science, 2, 21-43.

Huvila, I.  (2008). Participatory archive: towards decentralised curation, radical user orientation, and broader contextualisation of records management. Archival Science, 8(1), 15-36.  Retrieved March 17, 2009, from ABI/INFORM Global database. (Document ID: 1609733631).

Tector, A. (Spring 2006). The Almost Accidental Archive and its Impact on Literary Subjects and Canonicity. Journal of Canadian Studies. 40(2), 96-108.

Trace, C.B.  (2002). What is Recorded is Never Simply `What Happened': Record Keeping in Modern Organizational Culture. Archival Science, 2(1-2), 137-159.  Retrieved March 17, 2009, from ABI/INFORM Global database. (Document ID: 330928111).


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