Documenting procedures in a new usability lab facility: the role of technical communicators in capturing tacit knowledge
Bates, Whitney E
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Built in 2002, the multi-million dollar English/Philosophy/Education complex houses the usability lab at Texas Tech University (TTU). The two-room lab provides learning and research opportunities for ITU students and faculty, not only as a hands-on environment for two English Department Usability Methods courses (undergraduate and graduate levels) but also as an exploratory environment for individual research projects. As a graduate student who has taken the Usability Methods course and worked on projects in the usability lab, I decided to write a Usability Lab Manual for my Master's thesis. The underlying question that guided my work states, "Using theory and skills, how can a technical communicator create a usable, efficient usability lab manual that codifies existing knowledge accurately and facilitates the creation of new knowledge?" The result is a twenty-page policies and procedures manual, available in print and online forms. Subsequent chapters detail my design choices and offer recommendations for future versions of the manual. As I completed the project, I learned that technical communicators are not merely describers or publishers of technical information. Instead, they play a large role in capturing tacit knowledge within an organization. Specifically, technical communicators can be called efficiency workers, investigators and researchers, and knowledge activists as they pursue tacit knowledge within an organization. My work stands as concrete evidence of how technical communicators can add value to an organization; it reiterates other examples given by technical communicators who have done research on the role of technical communicators in organizations; and it can spur other researchers to examine further the role between technical communicators and tacit knowledge.