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The relationship between academics and practitioners -- Podcast with Kirk St. Amant

by Tom Johnson on Jul 11, 2018
categories: academics-and-practitioners podcasts

In this podcast, I chat with Professor Kirk St. Amant about the relationship between practitioners and academics. Kirk recently co-authored an article about research as a unifying focus to bring academics and practitioners together. Using this article as the basis for discussion, we dive into origins of the divide, why both practitioners and academics of the same field need each other, potential solutions, and more.

Listen here:

Journal article we discuss

The journal article we discuss is Reflections on Research: Examining Practitioner Perspectives on the State of Research in Technical Communication (PDF), published in the Nov 2016 Technical Communication Journal. (If you don’t have access to Ingenta, you can view the article here.)

Here’s a brief excerpt:

“Today, technical communication appears to be a divided field, at least in terms of research. Practitioners think academic research does not apply to them, and academics think practitioners are not recognizing the importance of their research. From our position, both sides are right, and both sides are wrong; thus, the need arises to find a common ground between the two groups. After all, technical communication is one field. Some scholars … have argued research, when conducted well, can bridge this divide as both sides should have equal stakes in the results.

In the article, Kirk and his co-author interviewed 30+ practitioners to research what topics practitioners want information about. Here are a few highlights of what practitioners noted:

  • “research should focus on studying human behavior — particularly behaviors associated with how individuals use a technology for finding, creating, and revising content.”
  • “the need for more research on specific audiences—in particular, to better understand the communication expectations of younger technology users.”
  • “[H]ow to increase the credibility of our profession in industry (in many industries we are still seen as ‘clerks’ and ‘minute-takers’).”
  • “What techniques effectively communicate for different audiences (culture, age, gender, profession), different subject matters (scientific, engineering, general), and different purposes (to instruct, to report, to motivate).”
  • “The vital role of visual elements, multimedia, the web, and social media in technical communication.”
  • “How … titles affect perceptions and expectations within the field and outside of it”

Questions discussed during the podcast

Here are some of the questions we discuss during the podcast:

  • Why did you decide to go into academia? Was it a direction you always wanted, or was it unexpected?
  • What do you focus on in your research?
  • Approximately how many TC academics are there out there? What journals do they publish in?
  • Why are you drawn to this topic? Are there other academics concerned about the divide?
  • Why do you think research can be a uniting factor between academics and practitioners?
  • How do academics decide what they will research? Can you share an example for your latest research?
  • Have other academics used the research in your article?
  • Is there a source where academics can go to find out what questions practitioners want to know?
  • What kind of response do you get at conferences when you tell people you’re an academic? Do you sense disdain from practitioners?
  • Why do practitioners need academics? Do practitioners need the research from academics? Some seem to be getting along just fine without it.
  • Why do academics need practitioners?
  • Is there any way to put pressure on academics? How can we inform whether an academic article has any influence in the field?
  • Do practitioners serve on the advisory board of academic journals to provide input on which topics are accepted?
  • Who are academics writing for?

About Kirk St. Amant

Kirk St. Amant is a Professor and the Eunice C. Williamson Endowed Chair in Technical Communication at Louisiana Tech University (USA). He is also an Adjunct Professor of International Health and Medical Communication with the University of Limerick (Ireland). His main research interests are international communication and information design for global audiences with a particular focus on the globalization of online education and health and medical communication for international audiences.

For more information about Kirk, see the following:

About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm an API technical writer based in the Seattle area. On this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, AI, information architecture, content strategy, writing processes, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out my API documentation course if you're looking for more info about documenting APIs. Or see my posts on AI and AI course section for more on the latest in AI and tech comm.

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