English, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in Journal of Business and Technical Communication 6:1 (January 1992), pp. 5–37. Copyright © 1992 Sage Publications, Inc. Used by permission.


Rhetorical categories can and should be developed by scholars of professional writing to identify how values held within professions constrain the ways discourse is interpreted in organizational settings. Empirical research (conducted by the author and others), discourse theory, and pedagogical practice in professional writing strongly suggest that at least three categories of professional writing exist: engineering, administrative, and technical/professional writing. The author demonstrates this claim and distinguishes the characteristics of these three categories. Engineering writing is shown to respond to professional values of scientific objectivity and professional judgment as well as to corporate interests. Administrative writing reflects the locus of decision-making authority and promotes institutional identity. Technical/professional writing aims to accommodate audience needs through complying with professional readability standards. Future research should focus on defining the characteristics of these varieties more precisely. Articulated definitions of these three varieties of professional writing can help scholars and practitioners better understand how discourse is framed and interpreted in organizational settings.