Mirel: "Writing and Database Technology: Extending the Definition of Writing in the Workplace"

Mirel, Barbara. “Writing and Database Technology: Extending the Definition of Writing in the Workplace.” Central works in technical communication. Ed. Johndan Johnson-Eilola & Stuart A. Selber. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. 381-393. Print.


Originally published as:


Mirel, Barbara. “Writing and Database Technology: Extending the Definition of Writing in the Workplace.” Electronic literacies in the workplace : technologies of writing. Ed. Patricia Sullivan & Jennie Dautermann. Urbana Ill.: National Council of Teachers of English, 1996. 91-114. Print.



Claim: "if data reports are to serve readers'' needs for recordkeeping and problem solving, then writers'' technological skills must serve their rhetorical aims and strategies" (383).


Process: framework for understanding dimensions of data reporting; study results; links to rhetorical strategies; proposes general approaches to teaching.


Data Reporting as Communication


Often perceived as "objective fact giving" (383). Argues for relationship-based view of constructing knowledge applied to databases etc. (usually only applied to word processing, etc.). Cites Selfe, Hawisher, etc. to develop claims (three following subsections).


Key Rhetorical Strategies Inform the Searching For, Retrieval of, and Reporting of Electronic Data


Cites Sullivan: "knowing the meaning of the ''invisible'' data that are stored in the system (discovery); focusing on what is at issue in a communication situation (stasis); and determining the most effective topical orientation of a particular purpose (topoi)" (384).


Importance of invention, experimentation with differnent formats.


Zmud''s qualities necessary for effective data reports: "quality of information (selecting appropriate and relevant data); accuracy and sufficiency of information (selecting the right scope and detail); quality of format (sequencing, ordering, and chunking information effectively); and quality of meaning (evoking emphasis, patterns, and relations through logic and layout)" (384)


Skills in Rhetoric and Database Technologies Support and Shape Each Other


studies show links "Researchers find that unless people know (or in rhetorical terms, invent) (a) the meaning of electronic data, (b) the signficance of data relationships, and (c) the right level of detail for a question, they will have difficulty understanding the basic program logic of search principles and data structures" (384).


Designs for Functionally Effective Tables Must Facilitate Readers'' Strategies


Bertin-- "identifies three distinct levels of questions and answers. in the ''elementary'' level, readers'' questions are answered by finding a single element in a table; in the ''intermediate'' level, by relating two or more elements; and in the ''overall'' level, by seeing the overall trends suggested by the data reduced to and represented by a single element" (384).


Tufte-- give big and small view of info.




analyzed readers'' reported responses to data reports received / use at work.




I-viewed 25 project administrators. Twelve scientitic specialists; 13 full-time administrators.


The Report and Its Uses in Context


gathered responses to Detailed Charge Report. Respondents can create and order customized versions of report using a program.


Interview Questions and Analysis of Responses


i-views semi-structured, lasted about an hour. respondents id''d purposes for reading the report, strategies fo assessing and analyzing data; evalute content and form in relation to needs and purpose; discuss ways that they derive info when report doesn''t meet needs (385). Analyzed responses looking for patterns.


Respondents "uniformly" dissatisfied with report, but only 1/3 try to customize report to meet needs.


Results: Readers'' Responses to Data Reports


6 criticisms: info overload, overly narrow content, random data, unprocessed data, unintelligible data, and unpresentable data (386). While some respondents customize report, other respondents feel they lack tech skills.


Discussion: Strategies for Effective Data Reporting


tech is a stumbling block. "They need to know how to translate their rhetorical aims into a technologically produced document" "To develop effective data reports, writers must learn the database capabilities that enable them to achieve their rhetorical aims for invention, arrangement, and delivery" (387).


The Aims and Processes of Invention in Data Reporting


"data-report writers should understand readers'' actual questions" (388). Need to know everything from audience, needs, to tech proficiency in structuring the search (another form of invention).


The Aims and Processes of Arrangement in Data Reporting


logic of organization. draft process. rhetorical purpose. 


The Aims and Processes of Delivery in Data Reporting


References Table 26.4 (Strategies for Delivery 389). Aims, Rhetorical Strategies, and Technological Strategies. Importance of design.


Implications for Teaching and Further Research


Undergrads-- "rhetorical orientation to data tables and reporting" (390). Analyze diverse audiences for reports. Technology may be the obstacle. Collaboration between writing and computer teachers. Understand how functions of db apps "enhance or constrain rhetorical choices" (391).