Summary of Chapter 5 from Solving Problems

Porter, James E. 2013. “How Can Rhetorical Theory Inform the Practice of Technical Communication?” In Solving Problems in Technical Communication, 125–45. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


Chapter 5 of Solving Problems introduces rhetoric theory to technical communication. For those studying rhetoric and composition it seems only natural. However this book is directed towards undergraduates and the author of the chapter, James Porter, is attempting to persuade them that theory isn’t “merely and academic enterprise” and with an example problem from “Max” introduce how this might be so.

The first thing that Porter does is define theory. I appreciated how he defined it for multiple contexts. He then poses the question: what does theory do? The answer as I parsed it out is that one theoretical piece read by itself cannot be understood. In order to fully understand you have to reread, research, learn context, and ultimately for Porter, we arrive at inventio to find and to create.

Next Porter tackles how broad and complex the term writing itself is. Theory can, he reasons, help us to better understand and use writing. Or, as I understood from his student anecdote, we will communicate and design information poorly without the theoretical framework (best case scenario) or if we do get it right it will be much less efficient.

So my question is, is Porter simply theory in practice a tool for analysis that later leads to refining the skill that the theory analyzing?

And my next question is, how to make sense of what does indeed seem obvious?I guess I am just thinking that with learning tech writing, learning to teach it too, it’s not that it’s easy it’s just that it isn’t looking to have a Derridian or Foucaldian delivery. In fact, nothing would ever get done or communicated if we communicated like that. The theory of communicating effectively and efficiently. I like it here.