of Darold Leigh Henson
Thou had'st one aim, one business, one desire;
Else wert thou long since numbered with the dead!
Else had'st thou spent, like other men, thy fire!
. . . thou had'st--what we, alas! have not.
Matthew Arnold, "The Scholar-Gypsy" (1853)
Missouri State's mission is public affairs, and the advent of the Web affords new opportunities for employees of public institutions to reach their constituencies. Thus, as a member of Missouri State's faculty, I feel a particular obligation to articulate my professional identity to anyone interested.
This page is a new kind of document, a "professional page," which summarizes my work history, identifies beliefs that are central to my professional life, and accounts for the key sources and influences that have shaped my careers in secondary and post-secondary education. The teaching section also offers links to the descriptions, policies, and procedures of the courses I teach. The Web facilitates interaction between reader and writer, and I have provided "mail to" links in various places to invite your comments, suggestions, and questions.
In 1994 I retired after teaching English for 30 years at Pekin Community High School in Pekin, Illinois. During that time, I earned master's and doctor's degrees and taught part time at Illinois Central College in East Peoria. From 1986-1993 I was a part-time professional writer, editor, consultant, and partner in a technical publications company. In that work, I learned much about professional writing through business activity. I also taught myself how to use graphic elements in writing and how to write marketing and advertising material for industrial, high-tech, and business-to-business products and services. In 1994 I came to Missouri State to design and teach undergraduate and graduate courses in technical communication.
My Education and World View
Becoming interested in English in high school, I earned degrees in this field, first in literature at the undergraduate and graduate levels, then in rhetoric, composition, and technical communication. My education in literature, primarily occurring from 1962 to 1980, emphasized the methods of analysis and interpretation loosely associated with the New Criticism. These methods required careful reasoning from close textual analysis of primary literary works in the context of extant literary criticism (see non-published academic writing). Later, I dabbled in reader-response pedagogy. This background well prepared me for the subsequent study of rhetoric, which strengthened my ability to analyze the contexts, processes, and products of technical communication.
I believe in developing an eclectic, systematic theoretical basis for creating and teaching technical communication. Theory provides the intellectual tools needed to analyze problems, to formulate possible solutions, and to generate appropriate information for testing and revising solutions until we achieve what works. Formulating base-line theory, testing, and revising it require conceptual and empirical research.
By eclecticism, I mean a broad theoretical base of rhetorical/discourse and language principles and skills. Partly I embrace realism and positivism because language enables us to refer to material, social, and intellectual phenomena. Partly I embrace relativism because I often witness miscommunication, even among well-intentioned people. Yet, writers ply language to develop understanding for various purposes. In that vein, I embrace social construction because understanding context and audience are crucial for writers to accommodate their purposes to readers. These views inform my teaching and writing and help me to avoid becoming too passionate about individual theoreticians or "schools" of thought. Indeed, I think political concerns too often impinge on disciplinary theory. I also know that some people think politics cannot be or should not be divorced from subject-matter theory, and so my efforts to do so may seem quixotic. Thus, I suppose all of this makes me a pragmatist.
Thumbnail View of the Web
Much has been made about the difference between print and Web documents. The links on a Web page invite non-linear reading, leaving us with the impression that information is unfathomable and dissolves into "a shower of atoms." Yet, we approach both print and Web material according to fundamental principles of perception: we read with a purpose, often skimming to find a connection between what we want and what the content offers. Non-linear reading is not a new phenomenon resulting from hyperlinks. For example, we seldom read reference material one chapter or section after another. We skim reference text, looking for the key ideas and sometimes even specifics. Reading Web documents is different from reading printed documents more in degree than in kind. The boundless volume of Web material forces us to skim more often than study.
Professional/technical writers need to learn and apply the fundamental concepts of effective document design that apply across electronic and print media. In addition, the need for non-linear reading does not excuse Web developers from concern for structure. Perceiving structure expedites our reading with a purpose. A key idea of structure is division of the whole into parts.
Like traditional professional/technical writers, Web writers need to anticipate the needs of readers and select and divide the content accordingly: what do the readers need/want to know, and how can the content best be segmented accordingly? Web writers need to clarify their decisions about segmentation. They might also at least offer an explanation of the interrelationships among the major segments, thus suggesting possible reading sequences.
I have constructed this "page" by representing the principal elements that compose my professional identity. In addition, I have written this career overview to provide background and immediately follow it with the section on teaching because that is the most important part of my professional identity. The section on professional experience follows the one on teaching because my work in business and industry has greatly informed my teaching. Next, I treat research because it shows interrelationships among my graduate work, teaching, and professional writing experience. Service is presented later rather than sooner because it stems from my responsibility as a teacher. I tell a little about my personal life because it makes my professional life possible (and suggests that I am from this planet after all).
Screen] [Teaching] [Professional
Experience] [Research] [Service] [Final