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Summary:

  • This paper asks two research questions:
    1. To what extent do technical communicators in Ireland operate as a community of practice?
    2. What steps are Irish technical communicators taking towards professionalization?
  • This study uses a theoretical framework that combines symbolic interactionism and CoPs theories
  • They use a mix of research methods – survey, focus groups and interviews
  • The findings indicate
    • that Irish technical communicators exhibit traits of CoP
    • they identify with their job title and practice
    • some irish technical communicators have a keen appetite for community involvement
  • This study analyses technical communication in Ireland using four prominent intersections between symbolic interactionism and communities of practice theories:
    • practice
    • education and training
    • status and legitimacy of the field
    • professional and community structures that support practitioners
  • The symbolic interactionism perspective relies on the symbolic meaning that people develop and rely upon in the process of social interaction.
  • Symbolic interactionism aligns with communities of practice theory which foregrounds how people interact with one another in their practice
  • communities of practice foster professional consciousness with a diversity of professionals (Kline and Barker)
  • communities of practice provide support, enable cross-functional interactions, foster new ideas and enable technical communicators to network (Redish)
  • communities of practice are important to technical communicators because they help to realize knowledge transfer, to facilitate communication and to enact changes (Ilyasova and Birkelo)
  • This study is exploratory with the aim to provide strategic knowledge rather than scientific knowledge
  • The survey was designed using an online survey design tool and was distributed to respondents via a link in an email invitation to participate
  • The aims of the online focus group discussions were to cross validate survey data and to seek richer attitudinal and beharioural information about different areas of technical communication in Ireland, e.g. their professional interactions
  • the sampling procedure followed was non-probability convenience sampling – technical communicators for whom they have contact details for and technical communicators who subscribe to mailing lists and recipients of the message were asked to pass it on to their technical communicator colleagues (snowball sampling) –  a total of 114 participants
  • they nine semi-structured interviews for this study
  • the data was analysed using interpretative content analysis strategy
  • Findings:
    • themes which emerged include – diversity of roles and career paths, the impact of changing technologies, the relevance of certification, education, and training to the field, the value and status of the role, the importance of community, whether corporate or occupational and the perceived challenges that face the field
    • the type of organisation the technical communicators work for can affect their experience and perspectives of the role
    • the findings point to many indicators of the formation of a CoP including – shared repetoires, symbolic interations with colleagues, mutual engagement and a shared understanding of the requirements of the role
    • no professional organsation for irish technical communicators in ireland exists but some participants understand the value of professional supports and are eager to get more involved in CoPs
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