How to find academic research to back up your tech comm decisions
Last week I mentioned a bibliography project, and some readers were intrigued because they wanted to find research to validate their projects. Many practitioners want the same thing in the corporate sphere: to find research they can use to reinforce decisions they’re making.
Here’s a quick way to find research. Start by asking ChatGPT for some relevant articles for your topic, then plug those results into Google Scholar (cross your fingers that the sources actually exist). If you can find one good source on Google Scholar, try to access the content by legitimate means, but if not, the Panda Paper extension can sometimes get you the source. If you log into STC.org (whether member or not), then click the Ingenta red star button, you might also be able to read Technical Communication Journal articles from Ingenta as well.
Important: After you locate a good source, go back to Google Scholar and click the Cited by link under the article title for that source. This lets you know who else cited the article, which indicates how important the article is and clues you into related research. You can also see how others have summarized or treated the source you’re referencing. You can also browse the bibliography or works cited of the sources you find.
Finally, if you find a source but lack access to it, see if it’s on ResearchGate. ResearchGate lets you contact the author to request a copy. Many journal publishers have unconscionable paywalls restricting access, but the writers retain the copyright to their information, so they can share their article with you, often by providing the link to it on ResearchGate.
There are many academic journals out there, and access controls vary for each. Sadly, you might find that much of the research isn’t all that relevant to software documentation practitioners. Tech comm is a broad field. In the U.S. corporate space, software documentation is what most tech writers focus on. In the academic space, software documentation is much less emphasized.
About Tom Johnson
I'm a technical writer / API doc specialist based in the Seattle area. In this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, visual communication, information architecture, writing techniques, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out my API documentation if you're looking for more info about that. If you're a technical writer and want to keep on top of the latest trends in the field, be sure to subscribe to email updates. You can also learn more about me or contact me. Finally, note that the opinions I express on my blog are my own points of view, not that of my employer.