Rutter, Russell. “History, Rhetoric, and Humanism: Toward a More Comprehensive Definition of Technical Communication.” Eds. Johndan Johnson-Eilola and Stuart A. Selber. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. 20-34.


Summary: Rutter argues that technical communication pedagogy emphasizes doing over being, which overlooks the important human aspects of the field that are especially important for students to have some sense of before they go into the work place. He argues in order to explore and emphasize the human aspects of technical communication, the field needs to align itself with liberal education. This emphasis on the human aspects of the field is largely motivated by concerns about the computer age and the fear that only teaching students to do the work as though they were machines runs the risk of making them interchangeable with machines and of forgetting the important role our distinctly human characteristics play in the development of culture and society.


  • Looks back at history to highlight a shift from an emphasis on being to doing. Begins with classical period where being a good rhetorician was not just a matter of skills, but of being a good person. The Renaissance marks an era of increasing pressure to produce immediate results. 19th century represents an emphasis on the practical value of science and the rejection of liberal education for not imparting useful skills.
  • Challenges an emphasis on scientific method and draws on Kuhn’s concept of paradigm shifts to argue that science and technology develop through creativity, chance, unexpected discovery, etc.
  • Technical communication pedagogies are tied to 17th century movements that believed in the objectivity of scientific language, which results in an emphasis on perfect, polished writing and the mastering of skills
  • But technical communication is rhetorical and students need to be educated to see themselves as rhetoricians
  • Ends the piece by looking at studies that argue that technical writers need to adapt to the demands of the workplace but contends that this only widens our view of what tech writers have to ‘do’ and not who they should be (which liberal education can help us realize)

Quotable Quotes:

“We need to ask more insistently what technical communicators need to know and be as educated human beings, not just as users of systems.” (22)