Featured Member: Bill Hart-Davidson

Bill Hart-Davidson is an Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures and Co-Director of WIDE Research at Michigan State University. He has been a member of ATTW since 1998. He is currently serving his second year as President of ATTW. Prior to being elected to this position, he served two terms as an At Large Executive Committee Member and served as Program Chair of the 2009 ATTW Conference in San Francisco.

Alma mater/s

Bowling Green State University (B.S., M.A.)

Purdue Univeristy (Ph.D.)

Fields of interest

Technical Communication, User Experience Design, Cultural and Rhetorical Theory

What got you interested in teaching technical writing?

I have always been fascinated by the writing that people do to get things done. And I was one of those odd kids who read everything – cookbooks, auto parts catalogs, instruction manuals – as intently as fiction.

I became interested in teaching technical writing while an Education major in undergrad looking for ways to engage students in imagining audience and purpose outside the classroom as a way to both motivate and help them learn to write. I suspect many of my colleagues have similar stories in that regard.

What projects/assignments/classes are you working on currently?

This semester, I’m teaching an interaction design course, wherein our professional writing students (undergrad and Masters level) design and create functional specifications and working prototypes of mobile device applications.

In the research area, we’ve recently launched a commercial product – an online review coordination service called Eli Review – based on several years of work studying review activity and, in particular, ways of evaluating reviews within the writing process. This work is very much an example of the ways I’ve tried to bring things that I’ve learned from studying the way people write and learn to be better communicators in workplace settings back to the classroom. Eli’s review workflow is something technical communicators would find familiar. What is new are the analytics we’ve developed to help evaluate review and aggregate review feedback to show trends related to specific learning goals for writers.

What do you value most about the technical writing profession?

My colleagues in technical communication are among the most dedicated and versatile academics I know. They can work with humanists, with social scientists, with engineers, and even with administrators! They tend to blend passion for learning and teaching with a no-nonsense work ethic, too, which makes them wonderful people to work with and be around.

Other than teaching and writing, what are you passionate about?

I love spending time with my family, cooking for them and for friends. I am also an avid road cyclist and, these days, a somewhat reluctant runner. When I was younger, I was a professional juggler. I still like to juggle, but mostly for fun now with only the occasional gig here or there when folks ask really nicely. 

What do you see as ATTW’s direction in the coming years?

With ways for folks to network online – socially and professionally – more widely available than ever, professional organizations face some challenges in defining how they will best serve their members. ATTW is certainly no exception. And it means that we will need creative ideas to come from our members, and especially those new to the profession, if we want to stay relevant. 

I am optimistic about the future of ATTW though, because as the broader field of composition enters its disciplinary phase, there is more and more institutional recognition that what our organization is focused on – technical and professional communication – lies at the center of the field. How do I know this? Technical and professional writing is overwhelmingly what programs select as the focus for their four-year undergraduate major. And while all disciplines have courses that constitute their contribution to the core curriculum (such as first-year writing) or specialized areas for graduate programs, it is by their undergraduate majors that we mostly known them. Our major, in writing studies or composition studies or whatever umbrella term you might choose, is technical and professional writing.

The challenge for ATTW is whether we can successfully engage faculty and students in four-year degree programs as we have done over the years with folks teaching the TC service course and/or teaching in TC graduate programs. I believe we can. And in doing so we can imagine an exciting future for the organization and for the field.

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