Davis Making an Impact on Technical Communication Profession

Marjorie Davis, Ph.D., professor of Technical Communication and founding chair of the TCO Department in the School of Engineering, recently scaled back her role in the department, stepping aside as chair. However, the change has not meant a slow down. The recent recipient of a prestigious award recognizing her accomplishments, she has continued her work to refine the Technical Communication field and has been working on the Academic-Industry Leaders Summit for the Society of Technical Communication (STC), which is working to align the academic and professional portions of the field.

Technical communication is an ever-evolving field that documents technical information in a useful way, from diagrams of Roman aqueducts to technical manuals for modern systems. The field initially focused on technical writing and editing, but as computers became increasingly common it expanded to include numerous fields, such as Web design, instructional design and training, information architecture, usability, interactive multimedia, and knowledge management, Davis noted.  

“The more the public uses technology, the more we need good technical communicators,” said Davis, who has been a thought leader in the field for nearly 20 years. “Technical communicators help design more user-friendly products, develop effective training for electronic or face-to-face delivery, design and maintain complex Web sites for companies of all kinds, and participate in the global communication integrated into nearly every business today.”

Mercer School of Engineering recognized the increased need for technical communication and, in 1991, drafted Davis to build a degree program within the School of Engineering. Davis served as department chair through July 2007. During Davis’ tenure, Mercer’s bachelor of science in TCO, which she helped to design, was cited as a model in M.L. Keene’s book, “Education in Scientific and Technical Communication: Academic Programs That Work” (STC 1997).

In addition to her work with the STC, the largest organization of technical communicators in the world, Davis is a prominent contributor to IEEE Professional Communication Society, another influential professional group, where she participated s in similar efforts to define the profession. Davis has also published several journal articles about the field and won a number of awards for her contributions. Recently, Davis won the Ronald S. Blicq Award for distinguished contributions to technical communication education, presented by IEEE Professional Communication Society.

“A number of changes in STC’s mission and purpose have occurred in the last few years,” Davis noted. “In the process of offering input into the changes, a group of us were invited to the Academic-Industry Leaders Summit last year. The goal was to propose how academics and practitioners might engage in mutually beneficial efforts through the STC organization. An important task is to develop consensus on the body of knowledge for the profession.”

Davis was one of 12 academics from leading programs to be named to the Summit, which was chaired by Hillary Hart, Ph.D., of the University of Texas-Austin. The group also included about a dozen technical communication practioners from a wide variety of industries. The Summit convened in Houston, Texas, in September 2007 after several months of electronic information sharing. The group split into several task forces, including: Academic-Industry Connections, Job Skills and Needs, Integrating Research into the Workplace and Academe, STC Support for Academe and Defining the Body of Knowledge. Davis was named to the Body of Knowledge Task Force.

“The goal of the task force is to create a body of knowledge that will give academics access to expectations or standards, and industry leaders will have reasonable expectations for the capabilities of recent graduates,” Davis said.

This Academic-Industry Liaison group is working on the first draft of its finding, which will be presented in an interactive forum in Philadelphia June 1-3 at the 55th annual international STC conference. The group will invite feedback and make additional revisions, working toward an agreement to propose the body of knowledge.

“No profession advances without creating common minimal standards to guide both academics and industry,” Davis said. “It is my hope that this group will be able to push through difficult barriers to reach a consensus, thus advancing our profession.”


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