Publication statistics

Pub. period:1999-2014
Pub. count:20
Number of co-authors:2


Number of publications with 3 favourite co-authors:

Mark Zachry:
William Hart-Davidson:



Productive colleagues

Clay Spinuzzi's 3 most productive colleagues in number of publications:

Mark Zachry:16
William Hart-David..:10

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Clay Spinuzzi

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Has also published under the name of:
"Clay I. Spinuzzi"

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Current place of employment:
University of Texas at Austin

Associate professor of rhetoric at The University of Texas at Austin. Clay's research interests include research methods and methodology, workplace research, and computer-mediated activity. My first book, Tracing Genres through Organizations, was published by MIT Press in 2003 and was named NCTE's 2004 Best Book in Technical or Scientific Communication. My second book, Network, was published in 2008 by Cambridge University Press.


Publications by Clay Spinuzzi (bibliography)

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Spinuzzi, Clay (2014). Commentary on 'Activity Theory' by Victor Kaptelinin

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Zachry, Mark, Hart-Davidson, William and Spinuzzi, Clay (2008): Advances in understanding knowledge work: an experience report. In: DOC08 2008. pp. 243-248. Available online

Extending our ongoing investigation into the communicative practices of knowledge work, we have made recent advances on three different fronts: methodological framing, investigation of work practices and potential support tools, and application development. Each of these advances is considered in this experience report, which concludes with a brief discussion of where such research might most productively advance next.

© All rights reserved Zachry et al. and/or ACM Press

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Spinuzzi, Clay (2008): Network: Theorizing Knowledge Work in Telecommunications. Cambridge University Press

How does a telecommunications company function when its right hand often doesn't know what its left hand is doing? How do rapidly expanding, interdisciplinary organizations hold together and perform their knowledge work? In this book, Clay Spinuzzi draws on two warring theories of work activity - activity theory and actor-network theory - to examine the networks of activity that make a telecommunications company work and thrive. In doing so, Spinuzzi calls a truce between the two theories, bringing them to the negotiating table to parley about work. Specifically, about net work: the coordinative work that connects, coordinates, and stabilizes polycontextual work activities. To develop this uneasy dialogue, Spinuzzi examines the texts, trades, and technologies at play at Telecorp, both historically and empirically. Drawing on both theories, Spinuzzi provides new insights into how net work actually works and how our theories and research methods can be extended to better understand it.

© All rights reserved Spinuzzi and/or Cambridge University Press

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Hart-Davidson, William, Spinuzzi, Clay and Zachry, Mark (2007): Capturing & visualizing knowledge work: results & implications of a pilot study of proposal writing activity. In: Proceedings of the 25th annual ACM international conference on Design of communication 2007, El Paso, Texas, USA. pp. 113-119. Available online

This paper reports on a pilot study of three proposal writers conducted by the authors during late Fall 2005 and Spring 2006. In this report we discuss how well the data collection, data analysis, and data visualization methods served the interests of our project and of the participants, along with implications for future research. Among the methodological issues we address: how to capture rich accounts of fragmented work without taxing participants too much, how to filter rich datasets that result from automated recording of work sessions to focus on specific issues, and how to visualize data to elicit follow-up information from participants.

© All rights reserved Hart-Davidson et al. and/or ACM Press

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Zachry, Mark, Spinuzzi, Clay and Hart-Davidson, William (2007): Visual documentation of knowledge work: an examination of competing approaches. In: Proceedings of the 25th annual ACM international conference on Design of communication 2007, El Paso, Texas, USA. pp. 120-126. Available online

Approaches to researching and understanding knowledge work in contemporary organizations have proliferated during the last decade. Interest in this area has been particularly charged by the emergence of knowledge management as a concern for administrators and managers. One of the challenges addressed by researchers working in this area is constructing visual representations of knowledge work. This paper examines competing approaches to such visualization work, exploring trends in current research-based work.

© All rights reserved Zachry et al. and/or ACM Press

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Spinuzzi, Clay (2007): Learning our ABCs: accessibility, bottlenecks, and control in an organized research unit's website. In: Proceedings of the 25th annual ACM international conference on Design of communication 2007, El Paso, Texas, USA. pp. 201-206. Available online

In this case study, I describe an open system: a public archive of work done at the Computer Writing and Research Lab at the University of Texas at Austin. The CWRL's website has long been an important resource for computers and writing scholarship, but in 2004, it faced new challenges. On one hand, the site had to conform to new accessibility guidelines, guidelines that are sometimes difficult to follow. On the other hand, the site's users ranged from expert HTML coders to neophytes, all of whom had knowledge to contribute. These two factors had caused a severe bottleneck with the previous, static website, causing delays and leading to slow site development. The CWRL's solution was to use an open-source content management system to develop a new site in which accessibility guidelines are programmed and enforced, allowing anyone with an account to contribute accessible portions to the site while retaining centralized control over the site's web standards. I conclude with thoughts about open systems and their potential to improve accessible, distributed site development in similar organizations.

© All rights reserved Spinuzzi and/or ACM Press

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Spinuzzi, Clay, Hart-Davidson, William and Zachry, Mark (2006): Chains and ecologies: methodological notes toward a communicative-mediational model of technologically mediated writing. In: ACM 24th International Conference on Design of Communication 2006. pp. 43-50. Available online

Studies of knowledge work tend to take one of two research foci: either on communication (the transactional, intersubjective exchange of information, thoughts, writing, or speech among participants, performed in serial chains) or mediation (the nonsequential, implicit aspects of artifacts that serve to guide and constrain workers' activities). In this paper, we propose a methodological framework that coordinates the perspectives.

© All rights reserved Spinuzzi et al. and/or ACM Press

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Hart-Davidson, William, Spinuzzi, Clay and Zachry, Mark (2006): Visualizing writing activity as knowledge work: challenges & opportunities. In: ACM 24th International Conference on Design of Communication 2006. pp. 70-77. Available online

Digital environments enable distributed work. Though they pose challenges for research, they also provide affordances for addressing these difficulties including opportunities to capture and visualize writing activity in significant detail. This paper surveys sources of visualizations of writing processes and practices, focusing on attempts to deal with writing as a distributed activity. We then ask: what qualities of visualizations seem desirable and help to render writing visible as knowledge work for the purpose of providing mediational support to writers.

© All rights reserved Hart-Davidson et al. and/or ACM Press

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Zachry, Mark, Spinuzzi, Clay and Hart-Davidson, William (2006): Researching proposal development: accounting for the complexity of designing persuasive texts. In: ACM 24th International Conference on Design of Communication 2006. pp. 142-148. Available online

Formal accounts of how proposals are prepared in the contemporary workplace are scarce. In particular, researchers have published very few reports based on structured studies of proposal writing. This paper offers an overview of the current state of our knowledge about proposal writing in the contemporary workplace. Drawing upon data from a case study, the paper then advances an argument for the field to develop an increasingly sophisticated understanding of proposal development as a complex information gathering and design activity.

© All rights reserved Zachry et al. and/or ACM Press

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Spinuzzi, Clay (2004): Four ways to investigate assemblages of texts: genre sets, systems, repertoires, and ecologies. In: ACM 22nd International Conference on Computer Documentation 2004. pp. 110-116. Available online

Genre theorists agree that genres work together in assemblages. But what is the nature of these assemblages? In this paper I describe four frameworks that have been used to describe assemblages of genres: genre sets, genre systems, genre repertoires, and genre ecologies. At first glance, they seem to be interchangeable, but there are definite and sometimes quite deep differences among them. I compare and contrast these frameworks and suggest when each might be most useful.

© All rights reserved Spinuzzi and/or ACM Press

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Spinuzzi, Clay (2003): Using a handheld PC to collect and analyze observational data. In: ACM 21st International Conference on Computer Documentation 2003. pp. 73-79. Available online

Observational research has become an increasingly important tool in the technical communicator's toolkit as a way of analyzing audiences, discovering problems with current documentation systems, and envisioning alternate ways to design information. Whether it is used informally, in structured design methods, or in academic workplace studies, observational research is useful for technical communication. Yet collecting, managing, and analyzing data can be laborious, time-consuming, and hard to share among team members. Thus technical communicators sometimes avoid observational research in favor of interviews, focus groups, and usability testing -- methods that have their own strengths, but that are no substitute for observational research. In this presentation, I describe two projects in which I dealt with some of these barriers by using handheld PCs (a Handspring Visor and a Sharp Zaurus) as data collection, management, and analysis tools. Consolidating various techniques to a handheld PC -- particularly on the data collection side -- leads to a number of benefits, including a reduction in laborious manual transcription; the easy transfer from raw data to research databases; the elimination of work in digitizing audio and photo data for archiving in a database; on-the-fly analysis of data anywhere, without the need for file cabinets, folders, or other bulky types of data storage; and easy sharing of data among team members. At the presentation's conclusion, I will describe how I plan to further develop this fruitful line of inquiry by developing a crossplatform qualitative research tool.

© All rights reserved Spinuzzi and/or ACM Press

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Spinuzzi, Clay (2003): Tracing Genres through Organizations: A Sociocultural Approach to Information Design (Acting with Technology). The MIT Press

In Tracing Genres through Organizations, Clay Spinuzzi examines the everyday improvisations by workers who deal with designed information and shows how understanding this impromptu creation can improve information design. He argues that the traditional user-centered approach to design does not take into consideration the unofficial genres that spring up as workers write notes, jot down ideas, and read aloud from an officially designed text. These often ephemeral innovations in information design are vital components in a genre ecology (the complex of artifacts mediating a given activity). When these innovations are recognized for what they are, they can be traced and their evolution as solutions to recurrent design problems can be studied. Spinuzzi proposes a sociocultural method for studying these improvised innovations that draws on genre theory (which provides the unit of analysis, the genre) and activity theory (which provides a theory of mediation and a way to study the different levels of activity in an organization).After defining terms and describing the method of genre tracing, the book shows the methodology at work in four interrelated studies of traffic workers in Iowa and their use of a database of traffic accidents. These workers developed an ingenious array of ad hoc innovations to make the database better serve their needs. Spinuzzi argues that these inspired improvisations by workers can tell us a great deal about how designed information fails or succeeds in meeting workers' needs. He concludes by considering how the insights reached in studying genre innovation can guide information design itself.

© All rights reserved Spinuzzi and/or The MIT Press

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Spinuzzi, Clay (2002): Documentation, participatory citizenship, and the web: the potential of open systems. In: ACM 20th International Conference on Computer Documentation 2002. pp. 194-199. Available online

Technical communicators have become increasingly interested in how to "open up" the documentation process -- to encourage workers to participate in developing documentation that closely fits their needs. This goal has led technical communicators to engage in usability testing, user-centered design approaches, and, more recently, open source documentation. Although these approaches have all had some success, there are other ways to encourage the participatory citizenship that is implied in these approaches. One way is through an open systems approach in which workers can consensually modify a given system and add their own contributions to the system. That is, an open system consists of an officially designed core that provides openings for workers' contributions -- a system of information in which the control and responsibility for the information are distributed among the users themselves. The open systems approach has implications for computer documentation, but also for other domains, since it moves us from a consumer model of documentation-as-product towards a citizenship model in which citizens contribute to and collaboratively develop information. In this presentation, I describe efforts at two different universities to develop departmental websites as open systems. At these sites, web developers have adapted techniques that have traditionally been used in web-based Customer Relationship Management (CRM), transforming the sites from closed systems (centrally maintained and controlled sites) to open systems in which control is distributed among participants. At both universities, the shift entails constructing frameworks in which faculty and staff participate can collaboratively develop websites. Finally, I discuss the implications for computer documentation systems.

© All rights reserved Spinuzzi and/or ACM Press

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Spinuzzi, Clay (2002): Modeling genre ecologies. In: ACM 20th International Conference on Computer Documentation 2002. pp. 200-207. Available online

The genre ecology framework is an analytical framework for studying how people use multiple artifacts -- such as documentation, interfaces, and annotations -- to mediate their work activities. Unlike other analytical frameworks, the genre ecology framework has been developed particularly for technical communication research, particularly in its emphasis on interpretation, contingency, and stability. Although this framework shows much promise, it is more of a heuristic than a formal modeling tool; it helps researchers to pull together impressions, similar to contextual design's work models, but it has not been implemented as formally as distributed cognition's functional systems. In this paper, I move toward a formal modeling of genre ecologies. First, I describe the preliminary results of an observational study of seven workers in two different functional teams of a medium-sized telecommunications company (a subset of a larger, 89-worker study). I use these preliminary results to develop a model of the genres used by these two teams, how those genres interconnect to co-mediate the workers' activities, and the breakdowns that the workers encounter as genres travel across the boundaries of the two teams. I conclude by (a) describing how formal models of genre ecologies can help in planning and designing computer documentation and (b) discussing how these models can be further developed.

© All rights reserved Spinuzzi and/or ACM Press

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Spinuzzi, Clay (2002): A Scandinavian challenge, a US response: methodological assumptions in Scandinavian and US prototyping approaches. In: ACM 20th International Conference on Computer Documentation 2002. pp. 208-215. Available online

In the early 1980s, Scandinavian software designers who sought to make systems design more participatory and democratic turned to prototyping. The "Scandinavian challenge" of making computers more democratic inspired others who became interested in user-centered design; information designers on both sides of the Atlantic began to employ prototyping as a way to encourage user participation and feedback in various design approaches. But, as European and North American researchers have pointed out, prototyping is seen as meeting very different needs in Scandinavia and in the US. Thus design approaches that originate on either side of the Atlantic have implemented prototyping quite differently, have deployed it to meet quite different goals, and have tended to understand prototyping results in different ways. These differences are typically glossed over in technical communication research. Technical communicators have lately become quite excited about prototyping's potential to help design documentation, but the technical communication literature shows little critical awareness of the methodological differences between Scandinavian and US prototyping. In this presentation, I map out some of these differences by comparing prototyping in a variety of design approaches originating in Scandinavia and the US, such as mock-ups, cooperative prototyping, CARD, PICTIVE, and contextual design. Finally, I discuss implications for future technical communication research involving prototyping.

© All rights reserved Spinuzzi and/or ACM Press

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Spinuzzi, Clay (2001): Software development as mediated activity: applying three analytical frameworks for studying compound mediation. In: IEEE ACM 19th International Conference on Computer Documentation 2001. pp. 58-67. Available online

Field research in software documentation has a tradition of investigating how artifacts (from documentation to online help to interfaces to mundane equipment such as Post-It? notes) mediate or enable workers to perform complex tasks (see for instance [29]). Understanding artifacts and mediation can be key to understanding how well documentation supports work, and consequently, how we might design information to fit work patterns. Yet the field of technical communication has developed or adapted relatively few analytical frameworks for examining compound mediation, the ways that sets of artifacts work together to help workers get their jobs done. Such frameworks are important to understand because they provide us with guidance for investigating the mediatory relationships among artifacts -- guidance which has important ramifications for intelligently designing information systems and inserting designed artifacts (such as documentation) into existing systems. In this paper, I use three analytical frameworks -- contextual design's work models [4, 5, 23], distributed cognition's functional systems [1, 2, 13, 24], and genre ecologies [25, 26, 27, 28, 30] -- to examine observational and interview data from a 1997 study of software developers. The observational study is a 10-week investigation of 22 software developers at work, focusing on how artifacts (such as manuals, code comments, and the code itself) collectively mediated the developers? production and comprehension of code at three units of the same global corporation. The study provides a good case for basing a comparison of the three frameworks because it (a) involves comparing multiple artifacts and complex use of artifacts across the different sites, and (b) uses ethnographic methods similar to those often used by proponents of the three frameworks. By applying the three frameworks to the same study, I illustrate which aspects of compound mediation are illuminated and unexplored by each analytical framework. Based on the comparison, I discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each framework for exploring compound mediation, and I suggest ways in which the frameworks might be coordinated to produce different pictures of work.

© All rights reserved Spinuzzi and/or ACM Press

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Spinuzzi, Clay (2000): Investigating the Technology-Work Relationship: A Critical Comparison of Three Qualitative Field Methods. In: IEEE IPCC 2000 / ACM 18th International Conference on Systems Documentation 2000. pp. 419-432.

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Spinuzzi, Clay and Zachry, Mark (2000): Genre Ecologies: An Open-System Approach to Understanding and Constructing Documentation. In ACM SIGDOC *Journal of Computer Documentation, 24 (3) pp. 169-181. Available online

Arguing that the current approaches to understanding and constructing computer documentation are based on flawed assumptions, Clay Spinuzzi and Mark Zachry unfold an alternative approach. Using two historical case studies, they describe how viewing texts and their contexts as "genre ecologies" provides needed new insights into the complex ways that people use texts related to computers. This framework helps both users and writers take account of contingency, decentralization, and stability in the use of computer documentation. Three helpful heuristic tools arise from this genre-ecologies perspective: exploratory questions, genre-ecology diagrams, and organic engineering.

© All rights reserved Spinuzzi and Zachry and/or ACM Press

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Spinuzzi, Clay (2000): Exploring the Blind Spot: Audience, Purpose, and Context in Products, Process, and Profit. In ACM SIGDOC *Journal of Computer Documentation, 24 (4) pp. 213-219. Available online

In the second of three commentaries on Mirel, Spinuzzi argues that the inadequacy of the traditional threefold rhetorical framework (of audience, purpose, and context) lies behind the usability failures that Mirel recounts. He suggests sociologically broader approaches (activity theory, distributed cognition, actor-network theory) as better alternatives.

© All rights reserved Spinuzzi and/or ACM Press

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Spinuzzi, Clay (1999): Grappling with Distributed Usability: A Cultural-Historical Examination of Documentation Genres Over Four Decades. In: ACM 17th International Conference on Systems Documentation 1999. pp. 16-21. Available online

This paper describes a cultural-historical framework for investigating usability, based on activity theory and genre theory. Rather than investigating usability as the property of a single artifact or of a user-artifact dyad, the framework approaches usability as distributed across an entire activity network. The points are illustrated through a cultural-historical examination of an information system as it evolved over four decades.

© All rights reserved Spinuzzi and/or ACM Press

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