Thursday, March 15, 2012

How can academia make a difference to document quality research?--Spilka

Rachel Spilka, TCQ, 2000, 9(2), 207-220: The Issue of Quality in Professional Documentation: How Can Academia Make More of a Difference?

This article recommends strategies academics can use to contribute to an issue of great interest in industry: how best to define, measure, and achieve quality documentation. These strategies include contextualizing quality definitions, advocating the use of multiple quality measures, conducting research to identify specific heuristics for defining and measuring quality in particular workplace contexts, and partnering with industry to educate upper management about those heuristics and the benefits of promoting technical communicators to the strategic role of organizational "gatekeepers of quality."

Spilka says:
  • Academic research of workplace documentation ignored by industry.
  • This is an issue which matters to industry but less to academia is how best to define, measure, and achieve quality in workplace documentation.
  • STC has a specialty group on quality; the STC journal Technical Communication has articles and a special column on quality.
  • STC funded a year-long study of quality by Janish Redish and Judith Ramey which was published in a special issue of the 1995 journal.
Definition of documentation quality
  • The consensus in industry literature is that defining quality of documentation across organizational contexts is an elusive and impossible goal, but, contextualizing quality definitions--that is, customizing them to particular work sites--has the potential to be a useful exercise.
  • Authors in the journals TC and STC Quality SIGDOC newsletter DocQment agree that achieving a single definition of quality would be impossible and undesirable.
  • Karl Smith's definition.
  • Other definitions
Measuring documentation quality
  • Multiple quality measures--quantitative (no. of errors) + qualitative (usability testing)
  • Using a single measure can be inadequate and detrimental 
  • Redish says "numbers don't tell the whole story" and that it is important to examine processes along with products

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