According to Allen and Southard, “Because research discussions necessarily (even if tentatively) evaluate findings, participants might use the information provided in the research report to reconsider their behaviors or responses (e.g., strategies, organizational goals, responsibilities, and assessments—to name just a very few possible illuminations) (139).
As a researcher I agree with Allen and Southard’s idealistic hope for audiences’ potential use of research to improve and change. However, past experience has taught me that some audiences will not appreciate research observations.
What can a researcher do when there is potential for audience dissatisfaction with the research results? Do unfavorable research observations devalue the potential of the overall usability of that research?
As I read Theresa Harrison’s “Framework for the Study of Writing in Organizational Contexts,” I was reminded of materials I have been reading about “new literacies” needed for learning and communicating in our increasingly electronic culture. Many writers emphasize the need to teach students to evaluate situations and determine appropriate communication principles and techniques. The variety of communication situations is increasing and are, even now, too numerous and changeable to prepare students for particular situations they might encounter. Thus, some theorists who are attempting to identify future literacy needs seem to support the idea that a communication context cannot be known prior to entering it.
Allen and Southard’s chapter on audiences ended with a warning that not considering audiences and their needs when doing technical communication research would lead readers to “shrug and lament” about the status of TC research. We talked about apologia in TC research earlier in the term.
I thought it might be interesting to find some way to involve the public in submitting questions/issues for research--throughout the university, not just in TC. I realize that if the public took interest in TC research they way they do in medical research, it would bring both benefits and problems. Increased interest may bring more money and visibility, but it may also bring pressures to do certain kinds of research.
My third thought was about Janel's presentation and our discussion of assigning motives to our research subjects. It is true that we cannot know, but I think as meaning makers, humans always try to figure that out. I guess that is what motivates us to do research in the first place.
The question I have stems from the concern of a relationship between audience and researcher becoming “an entanglement” that can be “controversial and even damaging” (Allen and Southard 137). My intended research on environmental sustainability in the watershed where I grew up has the potential to lead towards this “entanglement.” In looking at potential conflicts in my case, I have outlined five examples:
1. I grew up next to (DNR Fisheries Section).
2. I am related to (operators of Duschee Hills Dairy).
3. I have had previous public disputes with (Minnesota Trout Association and Trout Unlimited)
4. An operator of (Reiland Farms) was (my 4-H dairy judging coach)
5. Key political figure (Greg Davids) defeated (my uncle)
I use the examples in a “fill-in-the-blank” template to show that many more potential conflicts could be identifies (neighbors, relatives, political alliances, relation to businesses and organizations etc.). Allen and Southard argue, in the tradition of feminist methodology, that there is an ethical imperative to reveal the “forces” acting upon my research to my audience (138). I agree. The complication I see arising from a theoretical standpoint is that this “revealing” is not merely an ethical question but one that impacts my ethos. I personally have no problem intertwining the two but the question I have is does this pose a problem to the feminist technique? If my ethos is enhanced by the perception of my audience that I am a local “good old boy,” does this jeopardize the merit of the feminist technique? In academic circles, we can probably come up with elaborate explanations to say why this is not the case. If my audience is the coffee conversationalists of Southeast Minnesota, I think it does.