Miller, Carolyn P. “A Humanistic Rationale for Technical Writing.” Central Works in Technical Communication. Eds. Johndan Johnson-Eilola and Stuart A. Selber. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. 47-54.


Summary: This piece emerged out of a departmental debate about whether or not a technical writing class could be allowed to count for a humanities requirement. Miller argues that positivism has resulted in a view of the technical communication/writing that has divorced it from rhetoric. Challenging the “window pane” view of language that underlies positivism can help us understand that technical writing is more than a purely skills-based and has definite humanistic value.


  • Originally published in 1979
  • Miller highlights 4 features of technical writing pedagogy that illustrate problems with its positivist legacy: unsystematic definitions of technical writing that depend largely on the idea of clarity, an emphasis on style and organization at the expense of teaching invention, an insistence on an objective and neutral tone, and an analysis of audience in terms of ‘level’
  • All of these characteristics create problems for technical writing teachers and reinforce students’ orientation towards technical writing as tedious, boring work that must simply be endured
  • A communalist (rather than positivist) view of communication can help us understand technical writing pedagogy as a process of enculturation–not just about teaching students a set of skills but helping them adapt to the demands of the work place
  • This emphasis on understanding rather than skills reveals the humanist value of technical writing

Quotable Quotes:

“The most uncomfortable aspect of this non-rhetorical view of science is that it is a form of intellectual coercion; it invites us to prostrate ourselves at the window pane of language and accept what Science has demonstrated. Afterall, if we do not see the self-evident, there must be something wrong with us.” (50)

“We can define scientific writing as written communication based within a certain community and undertaken for certain reasons.” (52)

“Under this communalist perspective, the teaching of technical or scientific writing becomes more than the inculcation of a set of skills; it becomes a kind of enculturation. We can teach technical or scientific writing, not as a set of techniques for accommodating slippery words to intractable things, but as an understanding of how to belong to a community.”