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Jenna Murphy

Dr. Kevin Brooks

Summary #4

3/28/17

Citation:

Miller, Carolyn. A Humanistic Rationale for Technical Writing. College English, vol. 40, no.
6, 1979, pp. 610-617.

Summary:

In, A Humanistic Rationale for Technical Writing, Carolyn Miller suggests that a re-evaluation
of the scientific and philosophic rationales that underlie attitudes toward technical writing in
composition studies is in order, contending that the common view that the undergraduate
technical writing course is a skills course with little or no humanistic value is the result of a
lingering but pervasive positivist view of science (610). According to Miller, the view that
perceives science and rhetoric as mutually exclusive, has also created a windowpane theory
of language, in technical writing in which it is supposed that objective, positivistic
observations about the world support a mechanistic and materialistic reality (611-612). Miller
describes four problems with technical writing pedagogy she understands as resulting from its
positivist legacy, including, unsystematic definitions of technical writing, emphasis on style
and organization, insistence on certain characteristics of tone, and analysis of audience in terms
of level (613). In terms of definitions, Miller suggests that appeals to clarity fall short of
providing a meaningful understanding of the field, and that emphasis on style and clarity has led
to a deficit in the canon of invention within technical writing (614). According to Miller, the
emphasis on objectivity has also led to a problematic impersonality in technical writing, as
manifested in syntactically awkward passive voice and third person constructions, and expresses
concern about the way in which the tendency to address the audience only in terms of finding
appropriate vocabulary as narrow in scope (614-615). Echoing her initial sentiment, Miller
asserts that the belief that writing is an ex post facto expression of a scientific idea is
problematic because it should be understood as an essential part of science itself, and not
separate from it (615). To conclude, Miller argues that adopting a consensualist perspective,
which promotes enculturation in community over inculcation of skills, provides a humanistic
perspective on technical writing based in communal rationality, rather than a contextless
logic so many in the fields of science and philosophy have already abandoned (617).
I appreciated Millers analysis and critique of areas in which a positivist scientific and
philosophic view limits work within technical writing specifically, and attitudes toward technical
writing in the field of composition in general. I think her case, centering around four problematic
areas of technical writing pedagogy, is well-illustrated and substantiated. At the same time, I also
see how this article was and is valuable for generating debate about pedagogy and underlying
ideologies in the field of composition studies. Perhaps its ability to generate debate is its most
valuable quality.