Dr. Erin Frost

FrostDr. Erin A. Frost is an Assistant Professor of Technical and Professional Communication at East Carolina University. She earned her Ph.D. in English Studies in 2013 from Illinois State University.

Dr. Frost currently teaches courses in business communication, technical communication, and feminist methods and theory at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Her research interests include feminist approaches to technical communication, health and medical rhetorics, digital media, and rhetorics of risk. Some of her recent publications are  Transcultural Risk Communication on Dauphin Island: An Analysis of Ironically Located Responses to the Deepwater Horizon Disaster” in Technical Communication Quarterly and “Apparent Feminism: Technical Communication’s Obligation to Intervene in Public Rhetorics” in the CPTSC 2012 Conference Proceedings. 

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Information visualizations in Technical Writing Classes

Information visualization, as well as rhetorical and cultural awareness, is one of the many topics taught in some of our technical writing courses here at Illinois State today. Many people think of graphs and charts when they see the words “information visualization.” However, this term has increasingly come to mean something much more.

Information designers, technical writers and other professionals realize that people often don’t “read” tables, charts and graphs. Yet, if information is presented in an interesting and culturally specific way, as well as from a rhetorical foundation, numbers can tell us a lot. One of my favorites is John Snow’s cholera map. Made in the 1800’s when many people in London were dying of cholera and no one knew why, Snow decided to take a map of London, with its water pumps identified, so that British medical workers and government officials could understand why so many deaths were occurring. He started by placing a dark line by buildings on the map where people had died of the disease. Once complete, it was clear that the deaths were of people in buildings that were all centered around a certain water pump, which was contaminated.  This was where the people around it drew their water supply. Thus, through visualization, he found the source of infection that had eluded so many officials.  Another important example is Florence Nightingale’s rose diagram, which illustrated why soldiers’ deaths in the Crimean war in the 1800’s decreased when female nurses were allowed to go to the war front and institute sanitary reform and regular record-keeping. In the course we might discuss, for instance, why money and technical resources are placed on space exploration today when there are so many pressing social issues. Many kinds of technical writing are published each year on this topic.  What if some of this information was visualized in one place? What might be learned?

In my introductory technical writing classes, I use Alberto Cairo’s book on data visualization in my classes to supplement my rhetorical-based technical writing text.  His website has many interesting articles and examples of information visualization. For basic perceptual information that informs all data design, I always refer to Rudolf Arnheim, especially his book, Visual Thinking.

Also key to designing information visualizations are rhetoric and culture.  Without understanding why one is designing an information visualization and for whom, we will fail. One must understand the importance of different cultures and how they see visual information.  For example, one information visualization may be clear in one country or culture but not in another.  Once students have both their rhetorical goal and an understanding of the culture of their intended audience, students can use both familiar and unfamiliar tools to design their infographic.  They learn, for example, that a number of different software programs–many of which we already have access to–Microsoft Word or the Adobe Suite–can be used to create information visualizations. Rough drafts or sketches begin the work and sometimes even finished visualizations are done on graph paper. Students in my classes also are required to turn in, with the visualization, an essay, explaining their rhetorical and cultural choices–both visual and verbal.

Just as our Technical Writing program at Illinois State has evolved over time, so has the presentation of visual information and visual rhetoric.  In all of our classes in Technical Writing at Illinois State, each member of our faculty is seeking new ways to work with students in this area of English Studies.

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Getting Started in Technical Writing


Above is a link to an interesting thread about getting started in technical writing. The respondents are all professionals in the field.

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Technical Writing Program History–The first 15 years

Russ Rutter, long time member of the technical writing faculty at Illinois State University has written this history of the first fifteen years of the program (1973-1988)

The Department offers its first Technical Writing course: ENG/IT 349: Technical Writing. This course was proposed by Stan Renner at the urging of Chairperson Bill Linneman. The Department of Industrial Technology [now Technology] has for some time wanted a Technical Writing course for its graduate students but has been unable to staff such a course. The Department of English wishes to offer such a course but cannot be certain it will fill. The two departments agree to cross-list the course. Joe Talkington, chair of Industrial Technology, and Carmen Richardson, Linneman’s successor as English chairperson, agree that English will staff the course when it is given on campus and Industrial Technology will staff it when it is given off campus.

Russ Rutter is hired and urged to start a Technical Writing program. Stan Renner, once a technical editor later became a specialist in Victorian and twentieth-century British literature, expresses great relief at no longer having sole responsibility for Technical Writing. In fact, he teaches ENG/IT 349 through 1990 and serves on Technical Writing thesis committees inside and outside the Department through 1990. Rutter becomes Director of Technical Writing.

Book: Russ Rutter and Karl Gwiasda. Writing Professional Reports: A Guide for Students. Dubuque, IA: Kendall Hunt, 1977.

Russ Rutter proposes ENG 249: Technical Writing I. ENG/IT 349 is renamed Technical Writing II. Over the next few years, the course is taught not only by Renner and Rutter but also by capable and dedicated adjunct faculty who should not be forgotten: George Bodmer, Leonard Butts, Laurie George, James Pidgen, and Samuel Riley.

Doctoral dissertation: Tim Duszynski, “Writing Skills in Community College Vocational-Technical Programs: A Modified Delphi Affiliation.” Chair: Stan Renner.

Doctoral dissertation: Darold Leigh Henson, “A Data-Based Pedagogy of Rhetoric for Lower-Division Technical Writing.” Chair: Stan Renner.

Russ Rutter succeeds Richard Dammers as Director of Professional Practice. Thus the Director of Technical Writing and the Director of Professional Practice are for several years the same person. The Professional Practice Program proves a good vehicle for bringing to the attention of potential employers the talents of our Technical Writing students.

The Department sends Russ Rutter and Stan Renner to a conference at the University of Minnesota-St. Paul on computer technology in the Technical Writing classroom. The intention of chairperson Charles Harris is to find out more about [1] computer applications and [2] potential staffing needs in Technical Writing. Rutter and Renner return with a laundry list of suggestions. Shortly after, they discover that [1] the University has expressed sudden interest in this technology and [2] the Department is anxious to hire another Technical Writing faculty member.

Doctoral dissertation: Ray Wallace, “English for Specific Purposes in ESL Undergraduate Composition Courses: A Rationale.” Chair: Irene Brosnahan.

Russ Rutter proposes ENG 449: Research in Technical Writing. The proposal is approved, and he offers this course in Fall, 1986. The course is intended as a bridge between ENG/IT 349 and the thesis/dissertation for those interested in a Technical Writing emphasis.

Department conducts a search for another Technical Writing faculty member.  The search fails because the Department recommendations are split.

Department reopens its search for another Technical Writing faculty member. Jim Kalmbach accepts the position.

Doctoral dissertation: Paula Pomerenke, “A Business-Based Rationale for Incorporating the Process Approach into University Report-Writing Courses.” Chair: Russ Rutter.

Master’s thesis: Kathryn Ruth Zeidenstein, “Collaborative Writing and the Changing Role of the Technical Communicator in Software Development.” Chair: Russ Rutter.

Russ Rutter and Jim Kalmbach propose a suite of courses: ENG 350: Visible Rhetoric; ENG 451: Topics in Technical Writing; ENG 452: The Teaching of Technical Writing. The courses are approved and soon begin to be offered on a regular basis.

Master’s thesis: Barbara Kasten, “Problem Solving for a Small Documentation Department Functioning in a Large Corporation.” Chair: Russ Rutter.

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Internships Still a Good Idea

In response to a new US Labor Department rules about unpaid internships, Charles Westerberg and Carol Wickersham argue for the value of internships, paid or unpaid in this opinion piece which appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Eduction. You can read their article at:


You can also read about the Labor Department rules at



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Publishing Students Students Advocate for the Value of Publishing as a Career

Caitlin Perry and August Cassens, both publishing Studies majors, have written a very nice opinion piece about the future of publishing as a career. You can read the article in th online version of the Vidette:


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The Subversive Copy Editor Offers Advice on Resumes

I realize that the above title sounds like an update of a Galway Kinnell poem, but I couldn’t resist.

Carol Saller, who wrote The Subversive Copy Editor: Advice from Chicago (or, How to Negotiate Good Relationships with Your Writers, Your Colleagues, and Yourself) has a nice blog with this excellent advice on constructing a resume.


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Remembering Dr. Stan Renner and Dr. Russ Rutter

Stan Renner and Leigh Henson

In 1976 I was among the first applicants admitted to the innovative Doctor of Arts in English program at Illinois State University (later renamed the Ph.D. in English Studies). My first advisor was Dr. Donald Ericksen, the Department’s graduate studies director (and specialist in Victorian literature). He encouraged me to take a variety of courses so that I could eventually determine a focus. One course he suggested was Technical Writing 349, and he introduced me to Dr. Stan Renner, who had taught it for several semesters. I later met Dr. Russ Rutter, who also taught technical writing at ISU for many years.

Continue reading

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Dr. Godwin Y. Agboka

Godwin Agboka

Dr. Godwin Y. Agboka is an Assistant Professor of Technical and Professional Communication at University of Houston-Downtown, where he has worked since August 2010. He obtained his Ph.D. in English Studies (Professional Writing and Rhetorics concentration) in 2010 from Illinois State University.

Dr. Agboka currently teaches courses in business and technical communication, medical writing, science writing, and editing both at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Dr. Agboka is also a journalist by profession. His research interests include intercultural technical communication, social justice in technical communication, the rhetoric of science and medicine, tensions between localization and globalization, and research methods.

Some of his publications include “Liberating Intercultural Technical Communication from “Large Culture” Ideologies: Constructing Culture Discursively” which appeared in the Journal of Technical Writing and Communication (JTWC). His most recent work, which discusses the social justice implications of technical communication in international contexts, will appear in the first issue of the 2013 edition of Technical Communication Quarterly (TCQ).

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Are Internships a Good Idea?

Why I am a big believer in the value of internships, in the link below, Joshua Foust offers a troubling counter prospective, decrying the growing trend of students who complete an unpaid internship after they graduate: what he calls the internization of the American workforce.


Don’t be part of a trend. Come see me about an internship while you are still in school.

My office hours for the fall of 2012 are:

M 3:30-4:30
T Not Available
W 3:30-4:30
R 10-12 & 2:30-3:30 by appointment only
F 12-2 in 408

Jim Kalmbach
Internship Coordinator

(Thanks to Steve Halle for the link. You can follow Steve’s posts on Twitter at https://twitter.com/PubUnit_ISU)



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