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Stories from the Secret City: Ray Smith's Art of Narrative as Rhetoric

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Purpose: To help readers better understand the craft and the rhetorical power of narrative as used in corporate and community settings—and to illustrate strategies that rhetorical storytellers may employ.

Method: This article analyzes storytelling by means of a case study in the art of narrative as used in support of an organization, community, and industry. The organization is Y-12 National Security Complex, which makes parts for America's nuclear arsenal and does research and production in nuclear materials for medicine, biology, industry, and nuclear energy and propulsion. The community is Oak Ridge, Tennessee and environs. "Industry" references the nuclear industry in Oak Ridge and beyond, including its partnership with the U.S. military. The subject of the case study—the person whose narrative art is here analyzed—is Ray Smith, official historian of Y-12. The material analyzed comes from publications by Smith, notes from interviews with him on multiple occasions, and many sessions of listening to his stories both in person and via recordings (documentaries, presentations available on web sites, etc.).

Results: This study finds that Smith's stories connected with the Manhattan Project, and the years preceding and succeeding it, constitute a model set of narratives displaying the rhetorical power of storytelling in an organizational setting.

Conclusion: By studying the ways narrative is successfully used in professional settings, we deepen our understanding of rhetorical storytelling as well as our ability to use it. This skill has wide application to contexts of technical and professional communication. It can be used to elevate public opinion about a corporation, community, or industry; to breed confidence among consumers and investors; to construct leadership models for managers; to inspire and motivate employees—and in virtually any other sort of rhetorical enterprise.
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Keywords: HISTORY; NARRATIVE; NUCLEAR; RHETORIC; STORYTELLING

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: February 1, 2017

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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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