After Class Writing: Hart-Davidson’s “On writing, technical communication and information technology”

For your final after class writing assignment, please post a comment of at least 250 words to this blog post summarizing your reading and lecture notes on Hart-Davidson’s “On Writing, Technical Communication, and Information Technology.” Be sure to note the link to the previous reading by Derrida.


13 thoughts on “After Class Writing: Hart-Davidson’s “On writing, technical communication and information technology””

  1. William Hart-Davidson is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures at Michigan State University. He has an interdisciplinary background, having a background in technical writing and experience architecture as well as computer software and computational rhetoric. In class, we read his article entitled, “Writing, Technical Communication, and Information Technology: The Core Competencies of Technical Communication,” in which he breaks down Jacques Derrida’s thoughts on communication as they pertain to the technical communication field.

    He examines “Signature Event Context” in which Derrida had contended that writing isn’t constrained by any one context and that writing exists and flourishes even in the absence of the writer. Hart-Davidson is drawing on those ideas to illustrate how, in 2001, when desktop publishing became popular, technical writers can still succeed as technical communicators.

    He notes that technical writers used to just be focused on their craft of writing and editing and were quite static- and were actually content to be so. However, when the time came that businesses could buy the software to do their own desktop publishing, employers also required technical communicators wear more hats, such as computer technologists, desktop publishers, and information technologists. Employers simply expected that their technical writers could begin using these new tools, and not have to hire additional workers that would add to overhead. And some writers didn’t want to adapt. They were afraid for their jobs and for the future of their field- not realizing it was their refusal to adapt that was making them expendable.

    Hart-Davidson says technical communicators must learn to use desktop publishing software as well as perform normal duties as technical writers. This not only makes sense in terms of expanding their technical knowledge and enhancing their resumes, but it will ensure that they are not dispensable in the workplace. Because he recognized that computers and their applications are here to stay, he is saying that it’s either sink or swim: adapt to the evolving computer age or potentially lose your job.

    There are two concepts that Hart-Davidson outlines in his article on computers’ presence in technical writing, which are derived from Derrida’s ideas that signs are infinitely iterable and capable of being interpreted in a multitude of ways by readers.

    1. While computers do erase traditional aspects of technical communication, such as the identity of the writer, the technical communicator can still use computer technology to develop and maintain a “slippery” identity. This means an identity that is capable of reiteration and adaptability in response to job needs and the tools at hand. We as humans are dynamic and can learn to be invaluable as long as we continue to learn and seek new skills.

    2. Technical communicators use flexible strategies, similar to hypertext, that use contextual linkages of signs to make meaning. Computers just offer another means to do that: technical communicators can still provide the contexts that they wish readers to know. Technical communicators can also use flexible strategies to display their added value in the workplace. This will give them opportunities to show how they add value to their work, allow for promotion and advancement opportunities, and ensure that they aren’t expendable. He is saying, again, one must be flexible and dynamic in an ever-changing workplace.

    Hart-Davidson believes that technical communicators must use their knowledge of symbolic manipulation and analytical know-how to apply to new kinds of work in information technology, which will open up more career opportunities for them. It just makes good business sense to be adaptable so that one can always demonstrate his or her value and employability.

  2. As an assistant professor of technical communication and human-computer interaction at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute William Hart-Davidson wrote: “On Writing, Technical Communication, and Information Technology.” With a Ph.D. in English and specializes in professional writing, Hart-Davidson understands that technical communication is beyond creating information.

    His work, just as Walter Ong, views writing as a technology that should be universally functional for all individuals. Hart-Davidson understands that technical communicators are responsible for multiple phases the creation of work. Technical communication deals with the creation of ensuring user information are functional. Therefore, technical communicators often expand beyond just creating information. There are numerous boundaries and media platforms in which technical communication goes through. Technical writers must be able to create effective work for all users. Often not recognized by other experts in the technology field, this career focus on display, distribution, production and even the storage and memory of information. The field of technical communication is often the voice of the user. The design of all work must ensure that the user’s needs are satisfied. Technical communicators can create videos, diagrams, websites and myriad other forms of information on demand, with online access and more.

    There are two aspects that writing should contain: practice and theory. Practice is hands-on in which writers present knowledge of writing and doing things. Theories represent ideas that can build upon such as how language or technology work in relation to other concepts. Hart-Davidson’s work represents the dynamic interdisciplinary value a technical writer can apply to their career. Technical writers often express the flexibly that they have in information development. These aspects ensure that a technical communicator provides an enormous value to a company.

  3. William Hart-Davidson is an associate professor and associate dean of graduate education at College of Arts and Letters. He is also a co-inventor of a software called “Eli Review” and has published more than 50 articles and book chapters. In Hart-Davidson’s “On Writing, Technical Communication and Information Technology,” he points out that if the purpose of any document you create meets the needs of your audience, you will be successful. Excellent technical communicators use both praxis, the practice of doing things hands-on, and theory, the ideas of how things work. Davidson also discusses how during 2001 computers became cheaper which meant cheaper softwares for publishing purposes. This led to a problem for technical communicators because now, not only did they have to write but they had to learn how to use the software become a publisher themselves. Technical communicators eventually would do all the jobs of writing, publishing and designing. As discussed in class, Davidson, using Derrida’s concepts of the sign as infinitely iterable and interpretive argues that even though the computers may have erased the traditional aspects of a technical commutation writer, they can use computer technology to develop “slippery identity”, being dynamic depending on what needs to get done. Technical communicators can also use flexible strategies to show employers how they add value to the company. In Davidson’s conclusion, by always willing to learn new things and continuing to improve your skills as a writer, you can be a good technical communicator and always be favorable in the eyes of your employers.

  4. William Hart-Davidson is an associate professor and author who specializes in technical communication. He currently teaches at Michigan State University. At the turn of the century, he published, “Writing, Technical Communication, and Information Technology: The Core Competencies of Technical Communication,” an article where he examined Jacques Derrida’s, “Signature Event Context” and analyzed the future of technical communication. At a time where computers started to become more affordable and abundant in the workplace, many technical communicators and writers felt like they were becoming inferior to the abilities of the computer. However, Hart-Davidson took a new approach to how computers and the technical communication industry would coexist, he claimed that technical communicators should learn how to do more things through the computer to expand their skill range in their professions, he thought that by doing this they would be protecting the job title and opening new opportunities. Technical writers should embrace the role of being lifelong workers who can work in any technological industry as long they work on learning new things. Hart-Davidson also claimed that if a technical writer learns new things they could bring new strategies to the workplace and take lead on new projects that will be ultimately seen by the customers/readers. Derrida argued that what the writer’s content will always be open to new interpretation so it wouldn’t matter who the author is, but it matters if the reader can understand their content. In this case, technical writers/ communicators should embrace this and find new ways to convey their message through their content by being a lifelong learner.

  5. William Hart Davidson is the co-inventor of Eli Review and is a Dean of the graduate center at the college of arts and letters. In his essay “on writing, technical communication and information technology” he bridges Derrida’s idea into technical communication discourse in response to desktop publishing. Derrida said that the sign is infinitely repeatable while a computer erases the aspect of the technical communicators as writers themselves. The communicator can develop a slippery identity that could iterate the needs of the job. Hart observed that computers have eroded the perception of expertise welded by the technical communicator. In class professor Ellis mentioned that in order to become a successful technical communicator is to, The purpose of any document that you make as long as it’s designed to meet the needs of its audience follow this rule, you will be successful. Hart calls for more flexibility, technical commutators can use this new computer technology, so they can add to the workplace, however this means that the technical communicator would have to learn to use and manipulate this new technology. This also benefits the technical communicator more though because they can also add those skills to a resume to open up new opportunities.

  6. TO: Professor Dr. Jason W. Ellis
    FROM: Ronald C. Hinds
    DATE: May 08, 2018
    SUBJECT: On Writing, Technical Communication, and Information Technology

    William Hart-Davidson PhD., in English from Purdue University with a specialization in professional writing, frames a discussion which includes that the “Theory-makers” are the academics and the “theory appliers” are the workplace professionals. I argue for a synthesis of the two, that is the best case scenario, and a recognition of the symbiotic relationship between the two. This is my challenge.

    He talks of Dr. George Hayhoe, Editor in Chief of the IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, and former editor of Technical Communication who discusses the rise in opportunities in the information technology field. The technical communicator must always write or speak and design information to a particular audience. Hart-Davidson brigdes ideas espoused by Jacques Derrida, on technological discourse; audience and context. Hart-Davidson describes the sign as infinite or unending, iterable and interpreted in different ways by the audience i.e. the reader. Iterable meaning capable of being repeated.

    Hart-Davidson also talks about the phenonomen of single-sourcing. Many technical communicators adopt a single-source initiative: How to start and manage the project, which tools to use, and how to solve problems and make the technical communicator’s jobs easier. Many technical communicators are accustomed to a work day that may include writing, editing, page layout,graphic design, web development, project management, and other tasks. Single sourcing, however, separates many of these functions from the writing aspect of the document creation and encourages technical communicators to become specialists. I am fine with single-sourcing because it helps to make the technical communicator more efficient in the long run.


    Chong, A. (2015, December). IEEE Professional Communication Services.

    Hart-Davidson, W. (2001). On writing, technical communication and information technology: the core competencies of technical communication. Technical Communication, 48(2), 145-155. Retrieved on May 08, 2018 from

  7. TO: Professor Dr. Jason W. Ellis
    FROM: Ronald C. Hinds
    DATE: May 07, 2018
    SUBJECT: Limited INC

    Jacques Derrida, who was born in French Algeria, was a French philosopher. Like Marshall McLuhan he was also a Public intellectual. Ever since Plato (c.428-347 B.C.) the written word has been considered as a mere representation of the spoken word: Derrida called this the logocentric tradition of Western thought. By logocentric (centered on reason) I refer to a method of literary analysis in which words and language(s) are regarded as fundamental expressions of external reality, excluding nonlinguistic factors such as historical context.

    For Derrida it is all about writing:

    • Writing exists in the absence of the author. This sentiment was shared by Roland Barthes, in his best-known work, the 1967 essay, “The Death of the Author,” which, in light of the growing influence of Jacques Derrida’s deconstruction, proved to be quite apropos as a transitional piece in its investigation of the logical ends of structuralist thought.
    • He almost fetishizes about “context” and insists that context does not constrain the meaning of writing. He questions whether context is ever absolutely determinable. He argues that context is never “absolutely determinable” (Derrida, 1972, pg. 3). A technical communicator cannot assume that the reader (audience) will derive meaning from a presumed context.
    • Derrida talks about the state of being absent or away. Absence is implied by space but words invite the rapture of reading. He posits that signs are defined by absence; by not that which they are but by that which they are not.
    • Communication is thought of as the exchange of information between two or more people. Derrida explores and questions claims that written communication is always permanent.
    • In De la Grammatologie [Linguistics and Grammatology] Derrida talks about his concepts of deconstruction and différance. Différance refers to itself, because it breaks with the concepts of an idea expressed by a sign, as distinct from the physical form which it is expressing and of the thing that a word denotes.

    In the mid 1970s Derrida published an essay that was both an appreciation for and was critical of John Langshaw Austin “How to Do Things with Words.” J. L. Austin was a British Philosopher of language. Derrida is interested in Austin’s work because Austin appears to have an understanding of how language functions that does not invoke meanings as entities transmitted. “Very briefly, Derrida’s critique is that Austin’s account of speech acts requires appeal to the meanings he is attempting to avoid to supplement the conventions constituting speech actions” (Moati, R., Attanucci T., Chun, M., 2014, pp 138).

    J.L Austin summarizes his theory of speech as follows:
    • Locution – What the speaker says.
    • Illocution – What is meant by the speaker’s words.
    • Per locution – The results consequence of what was said.

    Jacques Derrida engages in what seems to be mind games and endless repetition but in reality he simply iterates and reiterates. By iterate I mean to utter again or repeatedly. He also simultaneously theorizes the conceptual paradox of sameness and difference. Derrida specifically examines iterability as the condition of writing, language and oral communication. For Derrida, iterability does not simply signify repetition as in ‘reiteration’; rather, every iteration is an alteration, or a modification of the same.

    I have learnt from Derrida’s writings.


    Derrida, J. (1988). Signature event context. In Limited Inc (pp. 1-23). Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press. Retrieved on 4 May 2018.
    Moati, R., Attanucci T., Chun, M. (2014, July). Derrida/Searle: Deconstruction and Ordinary Language. Columbia University Press. 138pp

    Pada, R.T.S. (2009). Iterability and Différance: Re-tracing the Context of the Text, (68-89). 6/pada December 2009.pdf. Retrieved on 04 May 2018.

    Keywords: Absence, communication, différance, iterability, polysemic, writing

  8. TO: Professor Dr. Jason W. Ellis
    FROM: Ronald C. Hinds
    DATE: May 07, 2018
    SUBJECT: Introduction: Britain’s Computer “Revolution”

    Dr. Marie Hicks tells it like it is. She talks about the inequalities that women face on a class and gender basis. She reinforces a point made in the 18th century by French philosopher François Marie Charles Fourier. He said that you can judge a society by the way it treats its women.

    Dr. Marie Hicks is a historian of technology, gender, and modern Europe. She is the author of “Programmed Inequality: How Britain discarded Women Technologists and Lost Its Edge in Computing.” The “Introduction: Britain’s Computer Revolution” is a thought provoking piece. It covers, purely and simply, discrimination by gender and class. It should not be only a “man’s world.” Hicks is an American woman who focuses on 20th century British history and documents the role of the British in computing; with women playing a leading role. But then British computing implodes.

    One can connect the dots and see that discrimination of women and the violation of the women’s civil rights were twin catalysts for this decline. Women, in many instances, have not reached the glass ceiling. Inequality is still a formidable adversary that is not easily conquered. I think that the profit motive is one reason why inequalities in general still exist. When women become equal in terms of gender the whole world will benefit. The feminists need to struggle not only on issues of gender equality but against the whole system of profit and exploitation. Equal pay for equal work. Dr. Marie Hicks, in “Programmed Inequality,” describes her view of why and “How Britain Discarded Women Technologists and Lost Its Edge in Computing.” She talks about how women are discriminated against in the STEM fields. These bulleted points are subjects that she touched on in a YouTube video:

    • Structural inequality (gender inequality) affects the economy.
    • How Britain lost its early dominance in computing by systematically discriminating against its most qualified workers: women.
    • This is an issue of historic proportions.
    • It is a civil rights issue.
    • Discrimination hurts the economy.
    • Everybody benefits when there is no discrimination.
    • Women of color face double discrimination.
    • She talks about and questions meritocracy: The holding of power by people selected on the basis of their ability.
    • Meritocracy seems to her to be a myth.
    • Who benefits from discrimination?
    • How can this discrimination stop? How can it be fixed, replaced?
    • She talks about the movie, “Hidden Figures” and its contribution and she pushes reading the book, Hidden Figures, to learn about it.
    • Discrimination can deny talent.

    In 1944, Britain led the world in electronic computing. By 1974, the British computer industry was all but extinct. What happened in the intervening thirty years holds lessons for all postindustrial superpowers.


    Hicks, M. (2017). Introduction. In Programmed inequality: how Britain discarded women technologists and lost its edge in computing (pp. 1-17). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Retrieved on May 05, 2018 from

    Keywords: Inequality, meritocracy

  9. William Hart-Davidson is an Associate Professor in the Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and American cultures in Michigan State University and is an Associate Dean for Graduate Education in the College of Arts and Letters. He received his B.S. in education in 1992 and his M.A. in writing and rhetoric in 1994 both at Bowling Green State University. He then received his Ph.D. in rhetoric and composition at Purdue University in 1999. In Hart-Davidson’s article, “On Writing, Technical Communication, and Information Technology: The Core Competencies of Technical Communication,” he talks about how the growth of desktop publishing has in a away forced technical communicators to learn new skills that weren’t required before in their field and how technical communicators can play a role in IT systems . In order to stand out and make themselves valuable to their work field, they would have to learn new skills and adapt to the new changes that are being presented to them. They can add more strategies and come up with new ideas that can be implemented in their work. He also discusses how our documents need to be made with our audiences in mind. Whether it’s a memo, email, a report, etc, when creating the document, we need to create it with the audience’s needs in mind. If that is done then you are successful. It’s not about you trying to show off your writing skills, but about what your audience will need and want. It will need to be formatted in a way that they can understand it.

  10. William Hart-Davidson is an Associate Professor of Michigan State University. His passage “On writing, technical communication and information technology” mentioned language signatures connects to the concept of Jacques Derrida. He demonstrates how stable identity and fluid identity plays apart from his work. Between both of them, flexible strategies and situated strategies play apart from social and political influences. He explains which drawing on Derrida concept of the signs as infinitely interpreted in different ways by the reader, argues computers have erased or one that irritates in response to the demand of job and tools in the dynamic. He states that “sink or skim,” which means you are going to lose if you don’t keep to date with computers. Also, he calls flexible strategies that hypertext are used the contextual linkages of signs to produce meaning. With such circumstances, cross-context strategies come from social, while situated strategies come from ethical. Technological communicators can use these strategies to reveal the value among their working places. All of the content needs to follow the demand of audiences with simplifications, which means to support the needs instead. Overall, William Hart-Davidson points out that as long as the purpose of documents is designed to meet the need of audiences, you are going to succeed. Praxis and theory are the combinations of the practice of doing things, and the ideas of reading relate to the linguistics of language. As a result, William Hart-Davidson states both strategies would develop a larger development with larger avenue.

  11. William Hart-Davidson, the author of, “On writing, technical communication and information technology.” This reading is connected with our previous class reading by Jacques Derrida in reference to the content. The purpose of any document we make as long as it is designed to meet the needs of our audience that we all want to see that specific document, the writers that we are, we will always be successful, as referenced by Professor Ellis.

    In class we began by discussing the following terms praxis and theory. Praxis is the practice of doing something, more like a hands-on practice. Theory is how the world really works, how technical communication works and how linguistics works and lastly what language is. Hart-Davidson connects Derridas ideas into technical communication discourse. The main issue is that people have spent so much time being technical communicators, where later we had the computer and printers that arrived to change our worlds, forever. Being a technical communicator is not only doing what your job title is saying you will be doing but also trying to fit in other jobs at your job while working.

    Hart-Davidson observes that computers have eroded the expertise needed by technical communication. Drawing to Derridas concepts as the sign is infinitively irreplaceable and it is interpreted in many different ways by the reader. He mentioned Slippery Identity and calls for flexible strategies that like hypertext are used for the contextual ways. People provide content that they know of the most. The needs sometimes help people add value to certain things. Being a technical communicator is giving dynamic and bringing change to the world we live in.

  12. William Hart-Davidson is multidisciplinary assistant professor of the university of Michigan States. Even though Hart-Davidson is part of the Writing, Rhetoric and American culture department at his university he has professional experience in architecture, computer science and computational rhetoric with a background in technical writing. We were delighted to read in class the article Hart-Davidson wrote named “On Writing, Technical Communication and Information Technology: The Core Competencies of Technical Communication” were he explains his prospective of Jacques Derrida’s views in her article “Signature Event Context” stating that writing content will still exist even after the writer left since writing is is not restrained to a specific condition. He used Derrida’s point of view to add the idea that technical writers can still become successful writers even with new media advances. He mentioned how after software that allowed business to help with content public having were created the focus of a technical Writer were not just to write and edit not they had to do more than one job. Those technical writers that didn’t want to accept the change of the software advance were the ones that were not able to succeed in the technical writing field. But the true of the matter is that they didn’t succeed because a computer replace them or they were not talented enough it was because they didn’t want to adapt for the time being.
    We can still take value of Hart-Davidson prospective and article even though it was written back in 2001 since we technical writer still going through new advancement on the regular basic. So instead of being stocked we just need to advance with the advancement and we will be able to succeed

  13. Hart­Davidson is an assistant professor at the University of Michigan, teaching about writing, rhetoric, and culture. He is interested in professional writing, and has a Ph.D. in English. In his essay “On Writing, Technical Communication and Information Technology, the Core Competencies of Technical Communication,” Hart­Davidson’s speaks about the notion that a written piece of work meant for an audience to read should be so well informed, and well­structured that the reader can understand it without the presence of the author. It was spoken about that when an audience is reading a piece of work, they have a numerous amount of things to vary their reading experience. One: their own experience, and two: what is actually on the page for them to read. Hart conveys the idea that: “your documents should be explanatory and as useful to understand.” This relates to Kostelnick’s idea of “unity and form,” and his idea of “integration of visual and verbal language to achieve the purpose of the documents and maximize the interaction with word and image”. Hart proposes two distinctions in his essay: praxis and theory. Praxis is the practice of doing things, “the hands­on things,” and how you format/put together a memo. Theory is the idea’s presented that the reader works with. Although these two ideas are distinct, they should be used together for a better, understandable essay. Further on, he introduces the computer into his argument. It was discussed that he speaks about the idea that “computers have eroded the perception by the expertise yielded by the technical communicator.” As discussed at the beginning of the class, in language there is a sign and a signifier. The sign can be interpreted in many different ways, and Hart­Davidson says that that is up to the reader. However, with the creation of the computer, a technical communicator can now maintain a “slippery identity” and “iterate a response to the tools and jobs at hand.” The creation of the computer has erased the traditional aspect of writing, but has also changed the perspective and skills of a technical writer; they can be dynamic, and change­not fixated.

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