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Rhetorical vs. Instrumental Approaches to Teaching Technical Communication

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Survey and anecdotal evidence indicates that universities do not prepare students well for writing in the workplace. One important reason for this failure is that rhetorical theory dominates the teaching of technical communication in the academy. Though extremely influential in the academy, rhetorical theory is inappropriate for teaching some kinds of important workplace communication (instructions, online documentation, computer-human interfaces, indexes), and it does not address important skills that practicing technical communicators need. Instrumental discourse differs from rhetoric in its purpose, in its absence of reasons and argumentation, in its task-oriented approach, in its emphasis on accessibility, and in its emphasis on economics. As a result, instrumental discourse is much more appropriate for the genres and skills that practicing technical communicators use, and it offers significant advantages to students, and in the long run, to the academy itself.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: May 1, 1997

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  • Technical Communication, the Society's journal, publishes articles about the practical application of technical communication theory and serves as a common arena for discussion by practitioners. Technical Communication includes both quantitative and qualitative research while showcasing the work of some of the field's most noteworthy writers. Among its most popular features are the helpful book reviews. Technical Communication is published quarterly and is free with membership.
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