Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.



Degree Program

English Rhetoric and Composition, PhD

Committee Chair

Schneider, Stephen

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Kopelson, Karen

Committee Member

Kopelson, Karen

Committee Member

McDonald, Frances

Committee Member

Wolfe, Joanna

Author's Keywords

data visualization; workplace writing; rhetorical ecologies; circulation; activity theory; technical writing


This dissertation presents the results of an ethnographically-informed workplace observation study of a single non-profit referred to throughout as “the Metro Data Coalition” (MDC). It begins with an overview of the organization, its institutional history, the technical and technological scenes of composing, and the demands placed on the writing process by each of these variables. It considers usability studies, activity theory, and rhetorical ecologies in coming to terms with how MDC writers shape the numerical data they work with daily. The latter half of the dissertation considers how MDC writers approach their work as “storytellers,” a self-concept that is threaded throughout their writing process, and the ways in which MDC team members and those of their parent non-profit—the City-Community Partnership—shape a circulation process in a bid to measure the MDC’s rhetorical “impact.” The dissertation is divided into six parts. The introduction and Chapter 1 serve to set the scene of the MDC, their organization, their purpose, and their writing processes. I argue here that their organizational ethos is imposed by a range of structural and historical forces, and ultimately runs into conflict with their mission statement. In Chapter 2, I zoom in on the technologically-mediated data visual composing process and make a case for a vision of distributed creativity that suits technical writing scholarship. In Chapter 3, I focus on the organization’s and individual team members’ approaches to “story” and “storytelling,” and argue that “storytelling” is itself an action that is distributed across a perceived ecology of MDC work and circulation, and that the goal is a sense of “stickiness” that is ultimately fraught in our present, hyper-digitized and ecological age. Chapter 4 takes up the issue of “mission impact,” and the ways in which ecologies of work are shaped and re-shaped in a bid to prove rhetorical success of MDC work. Here, I argue that a story’s “stickiness” cannot be read by one-to-one uptake of arguments, but instead by evidence of re-telling in other organizations. In the conclusion, I emphasize external organizations and the way MDC data has been approached, ultimately suggesting that the technical, quantitative writing the organization engages with is unsuited to the rapidity with which quantitative information can be shaped and re-shaped to align with previously-held, culturally infused “stories.” Ultimately, this project is designed to provide a set of workable heuristics for understanding how quantitative information can be shaped and deployed in technical and professional writing scenarios. It is a study of the “life” of data and the many mutations that happen within that “lifecycle.” To get there, however, it is necessary to engage with real-world writers doing heavily quantitatively-informed work, and to come to terms with the non-numerical, “subjective” forces that shape how we approach “data” in the 21st Century.