Published on December 4, 2019

This issue of the IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication is a special issue on User-Generated Content and Its Effect on the Profession. The issue and its guest editorial User-Generated Content and Its Effect on Technical Communication by J. Walwema, H. Sarat-St. Peter, and F. Chong asks, “What might professional technical communicators do with user-produced documentation?” The question is both descriptive—what can technical communicators do with user-generated content (UGC)?—and normative—what should technical communicators do with UGC? Answering it requires taking stock of the multiple roles that technical writers play within and outside organizations.

Research Articles:

Writing for Patients on the Participatory Web: Heuristics for Purpose-Driven Persona, by A. Bakke

Professional communicators can better reach their audiences by understanding individuals’ purposes for using e-health. In-depth interviews were conducted with seven e-health users. They were asked about their larger health information-seeking practices, specific instances of using e-health, and website preferences. Participants use e-health among other sources including medical professionals. They use an array of e-health sites, including professional and user-generated sites, and have diverse purposes in using those sites. The results suggest that professional communicators deepen their audience analysis to account for informational context, emotional context, and the diverse and shifting purposes of their users. Heuristics for professionals are provided to develop purpose-driven personas.

Finding Stories in the Threads: Can Technical Communication Students Leverage User-Generated Content to Gain Subject-Matter Familiarity?, by C. Lam and E. Biggerstaff

Previous research on user-generated content in technical communication focused primarily on non-traditional forms of technical communication outside of traditional institutions and organizations. User-generated content from the forum StackOverflow provides rich knowledge and stories behind problems faced by web and software developers. This study explores how technical communicators engage in this knowledge-rich content specific to web and software developers. The findings provide insights into how researchers, instructors, and practicing technical communicators might leverage user-generated forum content in their work.

Case Studies:

Boycotting the Knowledge Makers: How Reddit Demonstrates the Rise of Media Blacklists and Source Rejection in Online Communities, by L. Potts, R. Small, and M. Trice

This article addresses the use of metatags as a form of community knowledge formation and gatekeeping within digital platforms. To better understand the destructive behavioral patterns of KotakuInAction, the researchers coded the frequency of certain behaviors such as linking and tagging, as well as the shift in keywords and vocabularies between the predetermined and the user-customized or admin-altered tags. They also examined the changes in tags over time and user domination of particular tags. They found a hybrid culture that applied Chan culture values and flaming, but increasingly localized the behavior rather than directing readers out of the site. They also found key shifts in topics away from gaming and activism toward broader complaints about social justice. They also found that a very small group of nine influencers accounted for 20% of the top conversations.

Caveat Emptor: How Lay Technical and Professional Communicators Sell Technical Products in C2C E-commerce, by V. D. Robles

Consumer-to-consumer (C2C) e-commerce involves consumers re-selling products to other consumers using online platforms. Research identifies trust as a major factor in this exchange and concludes that seller-generated product descriptions can mitigate mistrust. A total of 1900 product descriptions were collected from four C2C platforms over six weeks. The analysis found that sellers mostly provide product information and sales procedures, and rarely give benefits and goodwill to the buyer. The platform design seems to encourage this content because of the content-entry process, the content-entry options, and the required and unrequired content entry.


“Hey, Such-and-Such on the Internet Has Suggested . . .”: How to Create Content Models That Invite User Participation, by G. Getto and J. T. Labriola

Few frameworks exist for building content strategies around user-generated content. This article presents a framework for building content strategies that enable user participation in the development and delivery of content. That framework specifies three main practices: 1. Developing a content strategy that enables interactions among administrators, moderators, users, types of content, and technologies within a given network; 2. building content models within technologies so that all interactions flow seamlessly; and 3. using content moderation to ensure that users are empowered to contribute content while respecting quality guidelines.