Let’s Talk Shop

My previous posts have established by now the idea that the automotive industry is highly technical, an idea that I think is not generally contested. I discussed in my last post some of the diverse communities I tenuously belong to by virtue of simply having regular contact with them. Though much of this contact is verbal (face to face personnel share a more social aspect of the discourse) the majority of inter-industry communication is done in writing, whether it be mailed letters, e-mails, catalogs, price schedules, etc. Because I had mentioned that I have to be Hazmat certified I thought it would be interesting to include a snapshot of an MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) to demonstrate how written communication works in a community whose regulations are extreme. However the shortest MSDS I can find is for basic motor oil and it is four pages long. This may seem excessive, but the Data Sheet has all the information needed to handle the material in the event of an accident, information that is only useful if the person who has temporary custody of the material is familiar with the language. That language is so highly technical, however that I thought something a bit lighter would… how do I say this… not put you to sleep.

hazmat-s1-2
It’s all downhill from here.

The area that would best demonstrate how writing is fundamental to the automotive industry is the parts cataloging system. The reason this is such a crucial example of writing is that, in order to be effective, it must be universally understood. The nomenclature for auto parts is interesting, but only insofar as the terms that were arbitrarily selected in some distant past are the commonly accepted terms community-wide. This has the benefit of allowing fairly open access to the automotive genre, because if someone unfamiliar with the part they’re presently concerned about discovers the “proper” name for it, he or she can go to almost any professional facility and get more efficient assistance (especially in the rare, but very real, case of a shop attempting to bilk a customer out of money for unnecessary repairs). A simple, organized system for auto parts names reduces the power imbalance between experts and customers, but it also helps make repairs quick and efficient.

A systemic vocabulary is only as useful as it is available. The point of access for these classifications is the parts catalog, which can be an irreplaceable resource for those in my position. The most interesting part of a parts catalog (and I can only really speak for those within General Motors’ scope, which is a genre-related discussion better left for another time) is that is primarily text based. A conception (if imagining such things is indeed common… which I highly doubt) is that the way to find a part is to look at exploded illustrations of vehicles and “point where it hurts.” Such a practice is not an effective tactic, and gets less effective as automotive technology advances. The reason for this is that the average vehicle is comprised of thousands of parts participating in a dozen separate systems, each of which gets more complex as technology improves. A simple exploded view of a vehicle would be incomprehensible and certainly unnavigable. Add to this the fact that every vehicle is different and the possibilities for each kind of part grow to staggering proportions. This is where the written text helps. Each vehicle is produced with specific attributes which are encoded in the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) and much of the guesswork can be taken out of finding correct components if that number is available.

That only makes things easier. Often times the VIN number is not available and a consultant must be fluent enough in the coding language to still locate and procure the correct part. In many cases there are pages and pages of information to be poured over in the pursuit of the truth. If this is starting to sound more and more academic then I am worse at subtlety than I thought. Research habits are the same for the automotive technician and the parts consultant and anyone who is confronted with the need for information gathered across all boundaries, geographic and chronological. Just as in any other professional field, growth and progress only come on the shoulders of collective collaboration, and such collaboration is what comprises the parts catalog. Learning the language of that system and thereafter contributing to it establishes the user as a member of that collective effort and the genre of automotive taxonomy is exposed as both cause and effect. In short, the rhetorical situation that caused the catalog is reinforced and perpetuated by every participant in the genre it helped to produce.

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5 thoughts on “Let’s Talk Shop”

  1. I thought your writing was both interesting (once again) and informative! I love how you tie it in with collaboration at the end of your blog. I think in the way of critique I would only say that the image you give does not really tie with the rest of your information. It might be better to be able to visualize some of the catalog you discuss as a collaborative effort.

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  2. Justin, I’m happy to see that your “shop” focused blogs are still staying true to the genre. As the main commenter for your blogs, I feel like I am learning something every week. For example, I had never considered the lengthy and technical process that comes with hazardous materials. My own work experience has primarily been in customer service, so its great to see a hands-on job like yours from someone that actively participates in your particular discourse community.

    One aspect of the automotive industry that fascinates me is your reliance on a universally understood lexicon. A particular part might be called something in one area but then renamed in another. However, as writers, it is imperative that we provide a clear and precise message across multiple cultures and geographic continuums. In your case, it seems that just a catalogued system and experienced staff is the solution to an otherwise complicated field. I found this part of your blog to be the strongest section though because your analysis was applicable to multiple communities and reaffirmed our past readings.

    Besides the latter elements of your blog I think you did a great job and have only a handful of items that could be improved. For example, simply by looking at the body of your blog, I think that shorter paragraphs and more detailed analysis would benefit your readers greatly. As someone that is ignorant to your field of work, I feel like the skills you implement could be complicated. Therefore, please look to explain everything like I am an ignorant reader; even if you overexplain everything, your reader will still understand your concepts. However, your voice within your blog is clear and should not be sacrificed. The small amount of humor adds style to your text, demonstrating your efficiency within the medium. Look to our readings in module four when considering how you want to sound to your audience. A blog is a form of social media and should be social. Although the questions Dr. Gruber gives us do shape our blogs, I think you can be far more creative and have fun with these assignments. Even the short line, “how do I say this … not put you to sleep,” acts as a small amount of humor, but I would prefer if it were strewn throughout your entire blog. If you have fun with your blog, an otherwise technical field can help your audience feel relevant. Lastly, you may want to consider referencing to our readings from module three. Dr. Gruber may want to see you tie your blog more to the text. Even some small quotes would support your explanation even further.

    Again, Justin, great job and keep writing ewll. I look forward to you playing around with the next blog and exploring your voice within the medium.

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  3. Justin,

    I love your writing style in this blog. You managed to take a field I know absolutely nothing about and make it an easy read. I love the line where you say, ” A conception (if imagining such things is indeed common… which I highly doubt) is that the way to find a part is to look at exploded illustrations of vehicles and “point where it hurts.” ” This is so great. I can just see the visual that would accompany it. Yes, it’s ineffective, as you pointed out, but it would be great even as an advertisement for the benefits of a catalog. Really great job.

    Stacie

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  4. Hi Justin.

    I like your sly humor in the blog. What you wrote about related to the difficulty of selecting images, and the necessity for providing text to explain reminds me of tenets I learned in the professional editing course at NAU; you may want to bookmark it as I think you would probably be engrossed in it. I agree with previous commenters on the shorter paragraph suggestion, and to make the paragraphs with more clear main ideas and clear connections between them. Your writing is subtle and sophisticated; I’m sure you can find the right balance between sharing pertinent detail that shows off your knowledge and making it relatable to the layman. I also agree that the image sticks out a bit; if you use an image it would be good to make it big enough to be legible, and make sure you reference it in the text. I do like that you’re including images and would encourage more of them. Perhaps you can select a few to break up the paragraphs and support your organization.
    It looks like you are progressing a lot in this class. I look forward to reading the next entry.
    Rhea

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  5. hi there–

    First of all, I enjoyed the clarity in your writing style, and I only list the following tidbits because I believe that you could make your points even more clear by tweaking a few things.

    Also, if you implement some pertinent scholarship to strengthen the anecdotal evidence, this piece would be that much stronger. I am not sure if that is a requirement, but even if it is not, I would consider doing so.

    All in all, this was an excellent read. Thank you for sharing.

    1. “A simple, organized system for auto parts names reduces the power imbalance between experts and customers, but it also helps make repairs quick and efficient”.

    For this sentence, you might consider omitting the concessive clause introduced by “but.” Are you trying to downplay the main clause? I ask because it seems as though you are, in fact, attempting to elucidate the points in favor of “a simple, organized system,” as opposed to prioritizing one over the other. Even if you are establishing a hierarchy, the above suggestion might apply.

    2. “The nomenclature for auto parts is interesting, but only insofar as the terms that were arbitrarily selected in some distant past are the commonly accepted terms community-wide.”

    Perhaps, here, too, you could omit the use of “but.” It seems as though you are positing a cause/effect relationship while using an adverbial phrase introduced by “insofar.”

    3. “A conception (if imagining such things is indeed common… which I highly doubt) is that the way to find a part is to look at exploded illustrations of vehicles and “point where it hurts.”

    Perhaps “it is thought that” would be better than “conception.” Are you implying that this is a faulty view, or do you agree with this “conception”? Or did you mean “misconception”?

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