Mark Werner-Department of English - Carnegie Mellon University

The Collaborative Landscape of a Software Development Project

Author: Mark Werner
Degree: Ph.D. in Rhetoric, Carnegie Mellon University, 1998

The claim that technical writers should be involved early and throughout a software development project echoes throughout technical writing listservers, conferences, journals, and books. The authors of these claims often take a Process approach, describing communicative transactions between technical writers and software engineers; or an Artifact approach, describing how technical writers use artifacts such as documents to exchange information with software engineers and end-users.

This case study broadens the focus of both the Process and Artifact approaches by describing technical writers in a richer communicative context than previous studies. It describes the communication among technical writers, software engineers, clients, and advisors over an entire software development project using a broad range of communication channels.

This case study illustrates the importance of problem-solving, and language- and tool-learning as core skills for both technical writers and software engineers. It illustrates the importance of boundary spanners on a software development project--people who will exchange information with other stakeholders in the software project. This study also illustrates how artifacts like scenarios and prototypes can make design ideas and requirements understandable and present to a variety of stakeholders in the project.

This case study extends the Process approach by describing how information was exchanged among the JEWEL 1995 project stakeholders (the dependencies among them, the learning challenges they faced, the boundary spanning actions they engaged in, and the channels through which they communicated). This case study also describes the process model used on the JEWEL 1995 project and offers a new process model for future client- and project-based courses in technical writing and software engineering.

This case study extends the Artifact approach by describing how scenarios, prototypes, and documents helped facilitate communication on the JEWEL 1995 project and how they facilitated the production of further artifacts on the project.

This study also extends existing research on teaching technical writing and software engineering courses by providing recommendations for further research and for teaching courses in which technical writers and software engineers provide code and documentation for a client.