Theory can be thought of as a heuristic for practice. From the Greek heuriskein, meaning to discover or find, heuristics are shared problem-solving strategies within a field. In TPC this includes the rhetorical situation (medium, exigence, audience, etc.) and the network (a defined series of linkages among actors).
Theory is not synonymous with heuristic, but that is how I am encouraging us to treat it in this class: as a way to pose new problem-solving strategies for professional communication. I would argue that when theory gets entirely divorced from solving practical problems that it loses all utility. Many (most?) in our field would disagree.
If we do treat theory as a heuristic for practice, then the following premises become apparent:
- Theory and practice have a necessary, reciprocal relationship. They should constantly be in tension with one another.
- Theory is iterative meaning that it needs to constantly be tested, refined, and revised.
- Theory starts and end with specific, real problems that need to be solved.
In your cover letters for this course, you should reflect on some aspect of theory that you have explored in each module. The following concise description of aspects of theory will help you do so. If you want, you can pick a different aspect to reflect on in each module.
Aspects of Professional Communication Theory
Mapping a field: theory should help members of a professional field to locate themselves in relationship to one another. In TPC, theory should enable technical communicators to understand where they are in relation to prevailing communication theories, practices, and artifacts or objects.
Situating a field: theory should also help professionals to situate their field within a larger historical and cultural context. For TPC this means understanding what historical, economic, and cultural trends gave rise to the role of technical communicator and how new trends will cause us to rethink this role.
Creating shared approaches: theory should help professionals understand common approaches to solving problems. For TPC this means understanding some of the approaches technical communicators take when approaching problems such as UX/usability, content strategy, information architecture, web design, technical writing, and methodologies for conducting research.
Creating shared knowledge-making practices: theory should help professionals understand what counts as knowledge in their field, and how knowledge is produced. For TPC this means understanding how various activities (e.g. usability testing, writing, designing, coding, organizing information, etc.) are combined with particular artifacts/objects (e.g. people, beliefs, html, css, usability testing software, content management systems, etc.) to produce results that are meaningful and useful in particular contexts (in relation to specific identities, communities, organizations, and cultures).