Karen Gulbrandsen


Karen Gulbrandsen, PhD

Associate Professor

English & Communication



Liberal Arts 338


Iowa State UniversityPhD
Northeastern UniversityMA
University of Wisconsin, MadisonBA





Introduction to the technical communication skills used in business and industry. Students practice techniques for creating, managing, and presenting information in written, oral, visual, and electronic forms and use a variety of tools to research and collaborate on projects that relate to many audiences, purposes, forms, and formats of technical communication.

The proliferation of computers has led to the rampant growth of documentation requirements and an increased demand for writers capable of addressing various audiences with clarity and precision. In this course, we will concentrate on documentation standards and guidelines, documentation management and control and document preparation. Among the topics covered will be documentation requirements in the design, development and life cycle of a system; forms management and design considerations; software documentation requirements and the techniques used to prepare effective and efficient documents.

This practicum includes an eclectic survey of theories, tests, and strategies, the supervised teaching of an undergraduate course, and weekly colloquia to assess classroom practice and to share approaches. In addition, each student will complete a related research project (e.g., a comparative analysis of leading textbooks, course structures, or writing needs in local businesses).

Students will work as writers, editors, or special consultants for organizations or companies producing technical documents, computer programs, or technical memos and reports. Emphasis will be placed on the quality of the student's work and on the problems of collaborating with specialists to produce work for a range of audiences.

Students will work as writers, editors, assistants, or special consultants in business, industry, or nonprofit organizations. Writing might include public relations pieces, such as press releases, advertising copy or unsolicited sales letters, and house organs; background papers for managers or executives; and memos, letters, and short reports. Emphasis will be placed on the quality of work produced by the student at the field sites.

Students will work in teaching or teaching-related activities in the field of writing, including tutoring programs or writing centers in public or private schools or special summer programs, under the supervision of an on-site supervisor and the direction of a faculty sponsor who teaches ENL 630, ENL 631, or ENL 632. Emphasis will be placed on the quality of instructional materials produced by the student; programs created, updated, or redesigned; and written report of goals. No student shall receive credit for this course for work done as a teaching or graduate assistant, unless in connection with a project assumed in addition to the regular duties of that position.


Research interests

  • Technical Communication
  • Technology Transfer
  • Rhetoric of Science & Technology

Karen Gulbrandsen received her Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Professional Communication from Iowa State University and her Masters in Technical and Professional Communication from Northeastern University in Boston. She holds a BA in English from the University of Wisconsin Madison.

Her research focuses on technology transfer — the movement of intellectual property from a university or private research lab to its development in industry — and the rhetorical figures that describe and stabilize the practice in historical and cultural contexts. Current discussions about technology transfer often address the "valley of death," a metaphor used to describe the problems associated with technology transfer, and hover around the tension between the traditional role of the public university and a more entrepreneurial one characterized by partnerships with industry. Her dissertation was a case study of a new university institute that received public financing to develop partnerships with industry leaders as a way to bridge the "valley of death," analyzing the ways in which the public good was described and understood by various stakeholders.

In addition to teaching classes in rhetoric and professional communication, she has more than twelve years of professional experience, working on publications and grant proposals for nonprofit organizations and state government.