Billie was already an experienced workplace writer when she left graduate school for a consulting position in a toxicology group located in a larger, government organization. Nevertheless, she found herself often discredited by scientists located at the top of the group's hierarchy who were skeptical of the role she played in their publishing efforts. She explained that until she had been hired; the scientists in the group had not "gone to a lot of trouble to publish" their research, and when they had prepared an article for publication, "the policy was to have one of the secretaries in the front office use a spell checker" on it. With their superiors in the larger organization pressing for increased scientific publications, however, the toxicology group had stepped up their efforts and hired Billie to help them make their ideas more accessible to their readers. [Click on right side of photo to advance story.]
In this regard, Billie expressed her desire to prove herself as a professional and a woman. "I realized the only way I was going to get through was to prove them wrong with my work. They had the option of going around me, so I knew I'd have to prove myself to them in order to gain credibility." In her subsequent campaign, Billie made extensive and conscious use of rhetorical problem solving. She used it to analyze the research scientists in her group and their attitudes toward her, as a professional and a woman. In so doing, she imagined them as her audience, skeptical of her as a speaker and writer.
In addition to her straightforward efforts to engage the scientists in discussions about content changes that would grow out of their own audience analyses, Billie used a metistic strategy, subterfuge, although she never described it as metistic because she had never been taught about metis. In some instances, she changed her style of speaking to secure the results she wanted.
In other instances, Billie constructed false identities, which she used to overcome resistance to her editorial authority. Particularly interesting in the following quote is Billie's awareness that she plays roles, quite self-consciously, in order to accomplish her own goals. Specifically; Billie appropriates an essentialist view of "woman" as "nontechnically minded" and uses it to persuade the scientists to make the textual changes she has decided need to be made:
Sometimes . .. and this is the funny part . .. I have to play totally stupid to get them to make the change that will improve their texts. I'll say, 'Can you explain this part because I don't know what this word means'-even though I do-and they'll say. 'Well, maybe a better way of saying it Would be. , . ' and I'm like 'Good!' If I say, 'You need to say this. and such,' they may come back at me with 'Who the hell are you to tell me that? I'm the scientist. You're just a technical writer.'
Billie's method is no doubt manipulative. However, it is not a "spurious trick" used to confuse the scientists, "but rather works to awaken in them an awareness" of other possibilities (Jarratt 22). In keeping with rhetorical practice, Billie uses what is available to her-a preconceived, if mistaken, notion of what a "woman" is to keep open the channels of communication with her co-workers in ways she could not had she insisted on maintaining strict binaries of expertise. If she had insisted, in other words, that she was the writing expert and imposed her will on the writers, they might have pushed back by pulling rank, and she would have lost her advantage. Instead, she devised a strategy that enabled her to prevail in adversity without exceptional strength. As a writer~and a woman~ Billie had little organizational credibility or clout to influence authorial decisions. Her use of problem solving thus served her well in these circumstances because it gave her the advantage of assuming the perspectives of the scientific authors with whom she was working in order to make the textual changes she believed would make a stronger piece.