Thursday, March 15, 2012

Defining Quality in Technical Communication: A Holistic Approach--Smart, et al

Smart, Karl, Kristie Seawright, Kristin Bell DeTienne. 1995. Defining Quality in Technical Communication: A Holistic Approach. Technical Communication. 42(3): 474-81.

Article describes existing attempts to define quality and puts forth the authors' approach to defining doc quality.

Discussion about doc quality
  • Serious attempt to apply principles of TQ to technical communication (Becker 1993; Fredrickson 1990; Weymouth 1990; Horowitz 1989; Jones 1989) 
  • Increased discussion of quality in TC—more than 100 presentations on quality issues in 1992 and 1993 STC conference Proceedings (pp. 185-187). May 1993 issue of Technical Communication featured a special section on quality. 
  • Quality in technical communication has come to connote everything from quality standards and customer requirements to personal perceptions of professional communicators. The lack of universally accepted definition of quality remains one of the common concerns expressed in research on quality (Dobyns and Crawford-Mason 1991).

Authors' approach
Authors adapted Garvin’s (1998) framework to TC and used the 2-dimensional model to plot 6 major categories of quality definitions:
  • Transcendent: perceived quality 
  • Design-based: conformance to specifications, process stability, defect levels, conformance to customer requirements 
  • Product-based: product features, performance, reliability, accessibility, usability 
  • Customer-based: customer satisfaction and need fulfillment, fitness for use 
  • Value-based: customer satisfaction, satisfaction at a reasonable cost 
  • Strategic: Predictability and usefulness of readability formulas is limited (Giles 1990; Redish and Seltzer 1985; Clark 1975) 
    • Design-based: Quality metrics and criterion-reference measures have become common (Schriver 1993) 
    • Product-based: in TC attributes such as usability, accessibility, and reliability used to determine quality (Fredrickson 1992) 
Quality in TC can be defined as a synthesis of those product and service attributes—including accessibility, readability, and usability—that combine to add value for customers, meeting or exceeding their needs and expectations.

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