Week 4 – Manuals for Ford and Chevrolet

———. “Chapter 6: The Emergence and Development of a Technical Communication Genre, the Instruction Manual (Part 2. Ford and Chevrolet: 1912-1988).” In From Millwrights to Shipwrights to the Twenty-First Century: Explorations in a History of Technical Communication in the United States, 223-69. Cresskill, New Jersey: Hampton Press, 1998.

Brockmann continues in the next chapter of his book with his focus on the social roles of men and women as necessary for understanding audience during the development of the automobile industry.  Because the automobile manuals were targeted toward men, the authors of such manuals shifted from presenting information as “instructive” to suggestive; this change reflected how the writers “no longer demand a reader’s attention” (226).  This new relationship with the readers prevailed in both Ford and Chevrolet manuals during the 1900s and directly impacted not only the language in the manuals but also its organization.  In addition to the characteristics of brevity and profuseness of illustrations, automobile manuals also began to incorporate  page-level organization, chapter-level organization, and manual-level organization.  Additionally, extraneous information was categorized into a new “subgenre” of manuals such as shop manuals to keep the focus of the Ford and Chevrolet manuals on the most important aspects of car maintenance.

Interestingly enough, the disparity that existed between sewing machine manuals in the 1800s as well as between mower-reaper during the same time period did not continue with the automobile industry; in fact, the manuals within the automobile industry were quite consistent regarding profuseness of illustration.  This consistency may have occurred because “the 20th century automobile authors began writing within an established genre and understood that manuals should have  a large percentage of instruction and be relatively profusely illustrated” (239).

Today’s manuals are designed to ensure optimal “selective reading.”  The idea that someone would take the time to read an entire manual cover to cover is ludicrous; the quote from the beginning of the chapter indicating the “…only mutants do that” reinforces this idea which has continued to shape the genre of technical writing.  Without this shift in thinking from “writing for Ma” to “writing for Pa,” we would not have elements such as paragraph labels, heading, typographic hierarchy, or whole-manual-level structure.  However, as important as the changes were that occurred from the sewing machine industry, Brockmann notes that “the instruction manual genre changed most rapidly and most dramatically from extra-textual influence” (261).  In the case of the automobile industry, these events consisted of lawsuits and published works “beyond the reader-author-genre-negotiations” (262).

If extra-textual influence welds such power in shaping a genre, what current or future extra-textual influence may dramatically shape the future of technical communication?

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