Arts and Humanities

Publication Date



This literature review aims to explore different perspectives on prescriptivism with respect to perceptions of usage errors in general and dangling modifiers in particular. My objective is to use this information to generate practical guidance for technical communicators. Method: This review first provides a definition of prescriptivism and discusses its presence and history in writing resources and research, particularly in technical communication. I review arguments both for and against prescriptivism and explore the specific usage example of dangling modifiers from both perspectives. Results: Some researchers argue that grammar and usage prescriptions present obstacles to the goals to produce technical and scientific texts suited for a specific audience, purpose, and context. By contrast, other technical communication literature emphasizes the value of upholding prescriptive usage guidelines to promote clarity, readability, and a positive writer’s ethos. With dangling modifiers specifically, most people do not know what they are or how to recognize, avoid, or correct them; nevertheless, they occupy a place in books about grammar and usage as well as technical communication textbooks, and students of technical communication programs may be expected to be familiar with this usage issue despite little exposure or evidence of their practical value. Conclusion: A moderate view appropriate for technical communication might emphasize consideration of both the role of language in different technical contexts and the naturalness and inevitability of language change. Specifically, technical communicators should look to the rhetorical situation and not only to prescriptive rules when making decisions about language usage in technical documents.

Instructor’s Name

Jennifer Veltsos


Master of Arts in English, Technical Communication Option

Document Type