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Andersen, Rebekka. “Rhetorical Work in the Age of Content Management: Implications for the Field of Technical Communication. JBTC 2014, Vol. 28(2), 115-157.  ***SELECTIONS***

  • Following her previous research, Andersen analyzes content management (CM) discourse to identify what trends and best practices for content strategy businesses are implementing . . . and how TCers and rhetoricians might participate. Specifically, the author highlights how “rhetorical work is located primarily in the complex activity of building content strategy frameworks that govern text-making activities” (115). She goes on to argue for a practice-based, collaborative model of TC research and education.
  • The author begins by highlighting the move toward granularity/single-sourcing in TC, emphasizing how processes, methodologies, and technologies have reconfigured he workplace for TC. She characterizes this, following Dicks, as a “topic-based approach” to TC.
  • Intelligent content (Rockley & Cooper 2012): “content that is structurally rich and semantically categorized, and is therefore automatically discoverable, reusable, reconfigurable, and adaptable” (16).
  • The author argues that the field of TC hasn’t done a good job keeping up with the discourse in TC as opposed to the discourse about TC from the academy (117). This is the gap she intends to explore.
  • The author argues that rhetorical work occurs in the development and deployment of an organization’s content strategy framework. This is the “symbolic-analytic” work that TCers are doing in content management settings.
  • The author identifies a very useful binary in this piece: 1) document-based TC: the kind of TC where agency is located in the author(s) and is akin to artisanal production. Typically involve FrameMaker, Word, Flare, etc. One person sees document management from the beginning to the end of the process. Rhetorical agency lies with these authors; 2) Topic-based approach to TC is more akin to a manufacturing model of production wherein strategic decisions concerning content design, creation and resuse aren’t made in the document design phase but are actually decided upon when the content frameworks are being designed (119).  The shift to topic-based TC work has two consequences: 1) The imposition of strict rules and hierarchies means that TCers more more bound to standards than before. These are enforced via quality management tools and data definitions (e.g., DITA); and 2) The standardization process has made non-expert TCers better able to create content . . . this has resulted in massive offshoring in the TC market (121).
  • To combat this, TCers are encouraged to participate in more “symbolic-analytic work” to demonstrate their worth. This includes using skills like abstraction, experimentation, collaboration, and system thinking to work with information across a variety of disciplines and markets” (Johnson-Eilola, 1996, 248) to remain relevant. As Andersen notes, the symbolic-analytic work that Johnson-Eilola (via Reich) is “precisely the kind of work that is required to design, integrate, and manage CM systems in organizations” (122). [1.  You’ll find a justification for this kind of work in Hart-Davidson (2009) “Content Management: Beyond Single Sourcing”.]
  • She issues this call later in the article: “We need new descriptions that map Reich’s (1992) proposed skills for symbolic-analytic work – abstraction, systems thinking, experimentation, and collaboration – onto the content strategy practices used in industry. This mapping would help us articulate in concrete, action-oriented terms how technical communicators can move into leadership positions that afford them opportunities to orchestrate, coordinate, and negotiation CM tasks and practices” (123-124). There’s so much here for folks researching database architectures and data modeling that I can’t even begin.
  • The author goes on to highlight that the shift to mobile consumption and web-based instruction (in tiny tidbit sized b[y]ites) is radically changing the ID (information design) landscape. Organizations are shifting their practices to accommodate these shifts. This includes 1) seeing content as a critical asset; 2) total information experience (the development and implementation of a enterprise model for customer focus, engagement and involvement. This occurs through many, many different methods; however, what is key here is to recognize the importance of the customer/user in developing everything.
  • Typically, a good way to try and shift toward the total information experience model is to shift from static to dynamic content (132). This includes customer recognition, feedback loops, subscriptions, rolling updates, and an intelligent engine that customizes content to you.
  • There’s some key stuff about building a content strategy framework on 134-5.
  • Content strategy framework: Requires skills in abstraction, systems thinking, experimentation, and collaboration and the ability to analyze and model an organization’s content corpus based on extensive user- and business-needs research and the anticipation of all possible audiences, assemblages, displays, and use of contexts of content topics (139). [2. What you are trying to encourage in this particular facet of the enterprise data architecture process. This sums it up.]
  • There is a lot of content that I didn’t cover here; namely, the implications of this research for work in teaching and researching TC. Overall, this is just a really, really fantastic and amazingly generative

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