Writing for Your Readers

This is the post for the September 4, 2014 class meeting.

Great work in the forums again yesterday. You’ve made some excellent observations about the bio statements you reviewed, and I think you’re prepared to work on your own drafts.

Class Work for September 4

These are the tasks to complete for today’s work:

  • Read about how to adapt your writing to the needs of your readers (chapter 6 of Markel).
  • Post details on the audience(s) and purpose(s) you have chosen for Project 1.

Important Dates

  • Tuesday, Sept 9 by noon: Project 1 Rough Drafts Due for Peer Feedback
  • Thursday,  Sept 11 by 11:55 PM: Project 1: Professional Biography Statement Due
  • Thursday, Sept 18 by 11:55 PM: Project 1: Professional Biography Statement Deadline (end of grace period)

Writing for Your Readers

Chapter 6 of Markel covers strategies for matching the style, tone, and design in technical writing to the people who will read what you write. This advice will help you with all the projects you work on this term. All of the information is important, but I will highlight three areas that can make a big difference:

  • Choosing Effective Organizational Patterns (pp.107–108)
    Be sure to look through the chart in the book that talks about different ways to set up your writing. You may have noticed that some of the bios you examined use chronological order, but other options could work as well. For example, some of the bios also move from “More important to less important” information. Use the chart on these pages this term to remember the options available.

  • Writing Coherent Titles and Headings (pp.108–111)
    The right title can draw someone into your text, and effective headings can chunk the text into manageable sections that increase understanding as they guide people through what you write. Pay particular attention to the Guidelines on p. 111. As you look at the information think about how some of the examples used these strategies to chunk the details in the bios. The examples from “Meet the Team” Pages: Examples and Trends use the person’s name and title as headings, for instance. You might also arrange your informal bio as a kind of Q&A, with the questions as headings.

  • Using Lists (pp.117–120)
    Like headings, lists can make a remarkable difference in readability. Pay attention to the guidelines in this section for examples that show what lists contribute to a piece of technical writing. You may not use lists at all in your bios (though you can if they make sense for what you are doing). Keep the strategy in mind for future projects.

Post Your Plans for Project 1

Once you have read today’s readings, I want you to turn your attention to your own biography statements by completing these tasks:

  1. Go to the Project 1: Professional Biography Statement board in the forums, and start a new topic. Give the topic your name or your username to help keep things organized. For instance, if I were setting up a new topic, I would name it “Traci’s Bio Statements” or perhaps “Tengrrl’s Bios.”

  2. In your new topic, do the following:
    • Post details on the audience(s) and purpose(s) you have chosen for Project 1.
    • Use headings to separate information on the bios if you are writing more than one.
    • Give us enough summary of your plans to understand what you are going to write about.
    • Note that you can plan big. For instance, if you plan to write two bios but only get one done, that’s okay. You are sharing plans, not signing contracts.
  3. Once you have posted about your plan, read the plans of at least two of your classmates and add a reply with advice and encouragement.
    • Find one post that no other student has replied to (so that we can be sure everyone gets a reply).
    • Find a second post that has only one other student reply.
    • Do not count my replies when you are looking for a post that no student has replied to.
  4. Work on the drafts for your bio statement(s). Tuesday by noon, you will post your drafts in your topic in the forums, and give peer review feedback to two other students by 11:55 PM. Project 1 is due on Tuesday, September 11.

Characteristics of Technical Writing

This is the post for the September 2, 2014 class meeting.

Thanks for your work in the forums last week. I’m happy with the responses you’ve posted. You’re doing exactly the kind of work I was hoping for. If you have not done so, make sure you read the Forum Posts & Participation page, which explains how the forum work counts in your course grade.

Class Work for September 2

These are the goals for today’s work:

  • Read about the characteristics of technical writing (chapter 1 of Markel).
  • Read about the importance of audience and purpose (chapter 4 of Markel).
  • Analyze some example bio statements, based on the readings.

Characteristics of Technical Writing

Chapter 1 of Practical Strategies for Technical Communication outlines 6 characteristics of technical writing:

  • It addresses particular readers.
  • It helps readers solve problems.
  • It reflects the organization’s goals and culture.
  • It is produced collaboratively.
  • It uses design to increase readability.
  • It consists of words or images or both.

We’ll return to these six characteristics a lot during the term. We’ll use them to analyze examples of tech writing, including the texts that you write yourself. Read chapter 1 for all the details on how they work. Of these six characteristics, the one that causes the most questions is that tech writing is produced collaboratively. Think of it as a very wide idea of collaboration, and read that part of the chapter closely.

Importance of Audience and Purpose

We will talk about audience and purpose for every project that you work on in this class. The concepts of audience and purpose are vitally important in every kind of writing (in fact, any kind of communication) because they determine the information you include and the tone and style that you use.

For audience, chapter 4 identifies four key questions to answer for any writing project:

  • Who are your readers?
  • Why is your audience reading your document?
  • What are your readers’ attitudes and expectations?
  • How will your readers use your document?

Pay attention to the details on those questions in your reading, as well as the idea of primary, secondary, and tertiary audiences. As you read about purpose in the chapter 4, be sure you understand the details on these four questions:

  • Why is the reader reading your document?
  • How will the reader read your document?
  • What is the reader’s reading skill level?
  • What is the physical environment in which the reader will read your document?

These questions will help you make decisions about the information in writing projects as well. For instance, the reading skill of your reader will help you decide if your technical jargon is appropriate.

At the end of the chapter, be sure to notice the “Writer’s Checklist” (pp. 76-77). You will find a checklist at the end of nearly every chapter in the book. These lists are a nice summary of the important concepts in the chapter. For some of the projects we will work on, we will use the checklists for peer review and feedback on what you write.

Analyze Some Example Bio Statements

Once you have read the information in the readings for today, I’d like you to apply them by analyzing some example biography statements.

  1. Read several of the biographies on the sites below. I gathered a range of biographies from different kinds of sites. Please be sure to read at least one formal company/academic bios and one informal bio.

    Formal bios

    Less formal bios

  2. Go to the Analyzing Example Bio Statements post in the forums and talk explain what you can tell about audience and purpose for the bio statements based on the information they include and the tone of the biography. There are some questions there to help you get started.

  3. (Optional) Once you have posted about your readings, read through what others had to say, and reply to one or more of the ideas or questions that your classmates have posted.

Important Dates

  • Tuesday, Sept 9 by noon: Project 1 Rough Drafts Due for Peer Feedback
  • Thursday,  Sept 11 by 11:55 PM: Project 1: Professional Biography Statement Due
  • Thursday, Sept 18 by 11:55 PM: Project 1: Professional Biography Statement Deadline (end of grace period)

Overview of Project 1: Bio Statement

This is the post for the August 28, 2014 class meeting.

Thanks to everyone who has logged into the forums. If you have not yet added a reply to the “Syllabus Verification Thread,” please do so immediately to confirm that you are enrolled in the course.

Class Work for August 28

These are the goals for today’s work:

  • Go over the assignment for Project 1.
  • Read some resources for Project 1 and discuss them in the forum.

Getting Started on Project 1

I have tried to design the assignments for this course that will have some real-world use for you, if not now, at some point in the future. You can find an overview of all the projects by clicking on the Assignments link at the top of the page.

The first assignment is to work on Professional Biography Statements. At some point in your career, you will almost certainly have to write this kind of self-introduction. It might be as part of a conference proposal, a scholarship application, or for a company newsletter where you are interning. This kind of biography statement can also become part of your job application, so you may reuse some of what you write when you work on your job application materials in Project 4.

Here’s what I want you to do:

  1. Read the assignment completely. Begin thinking about the goals you will set for the assignment and the audience you will choose. You don’t have to commit to anything yet, but start thinking about it.

  2. If you have any questions (today or in the future) about the assignment, go to the Questions about Project 1 topic in the forum and add them. You can skim through this topic for answers as well.

Discussing Readings for Project 1

The textbook doesn’t include much information on biography statements, so I have gathered a collection of websites (in no particular order) that offer advice to help you as you work on this assignment:

Here’s what I want you to do:

  1. Read through several of the resources. Most of them are short, and you should be able to skim through them quickly. Pay attention to the advice you see them repeating and anything that catches your eye (whether it’s good or bad).

  2. Go to the Readings for Project 1 topic in the forums and post your response to the articles. You will find some questions to help you get started in the forums. Aim to post two replies to the topic. I hope to get some good discussion of the advice in these columns, and I hope that you will interact with each other in writing just as you might talk if we were meeting in a classroom on campus.

Welcome to Technical Writing

This is the post for the August 26, 2014 class meeting.

Welcome to English 3764, Technical Writing. This site is the official home for our Fall 2014 courses (CRNs #86653 and #86654). All assignments, weekly and daily activities, and related resources will be posted here. Check this site regularly for the details on what to do for the course.

How This Online Class Works

Twice weekly, I will post details on this site about the work you are to do for the course. You can follow Twitter updates or sign up for email notifications on when new work has been posted (more on that below).

Once you get notification that new content is available, come to this site to find the details. Usually, you will find instructions on the reading for the day and a link to related discussion questions. You will also find an outline of specific things you need to write or do for the course and a reminder of upcoming due dates.

Since this is a blog, the posts for each day appear in reverse chronological order. The most recent post will be at the top of the page. You may need to scroll down to find the post you need. You can also use the All Posts by Title link the the menu bar at the top of the page to find the post for a specific day.

Keeping Up with the Website

 I send out a Tweet using the Twitter account @HokieTengrrl when new content is published on this site. You can also see that feed in the sidebar on the side, so even if you don’t use Twitter, you can scroll through the list in the sidebar to see what has been added.

I also added a “Subscribe Via Email” option in the sidebar. Use this option to get an email message whenever I add a new post to the course website. The process is simple: Add your email, and click subscribe. You’ll have to confirm your subscription. That’s it. The email messages will have information on how to unsubscribe if you decide you want to.

The Online Tools We Will Use

Since this is an online course, we will use a variety of free tools to get our work done for the class. I will provide instructions and help for all of the tools, so there’s nothing to worry about if you haven’t used them before. Here’s an overview of the tools we will use most often:

  • Scholar: You will use Scholar to turn in Assignments and keep track of your progress in the Gradebook. If I need to make sure you see something, I will use the Announcement tool in Scholar to send you an email message.

  • Google Drive: You will compose your major projects using your Virginia Tech Google Drive. We will use the commenting features in Google Drive for peer review and other feedback. You will need to share your work with me and with others in the class.

  • Forums: You will post your response to discussion questions, rough drafts, and other work in a phpBB forum I have set up for the class. It’s similar to the Forum tool in Scholar.

  • Mibbit: You will use Mibbit if you want to meet with me online, in real time, for online office hours. Mibbit is embedded in the course website, and it’s easy to use. If you’ve sent IMs, you can use this tool.

We may also use Google Hangouts, WebEx, and YouTube videos, but I haven’t scheduled anything using any of these tools so far.

Class Work for August 26

Today is about making sure you understand the course policies, getting access to the tools we will use set up, and generally touching base with one another. If you have technical difficulty with today’s class work, don’t panic! Send me an email at tengrrl at vt.edu and let me know what you need help with.

By 11:55 PM Eastern time, please complete these tasks:

  • Read the syllabus thoroughly and note any questions you have. All due dates and times are Eastern timezone. If the times are difficult for you (because you are in another timezone, for instance), send me an email with the deatils immediately.

  • Browse around the course website to find the various resources and additional information. In particular, notice the brief descriptions of the major projects on the Assignments page and the details on the Forum Posts & Participation page.

  • Complete the following in the Forums:

    1. Register on the forums. Be sure to choose the discussion area for Technical Writing (and not the other course I am teaching).
    2. Please choose a professional, classroom-appropriate username. This is a public site, so realize that the name you choose will be publicly available. If you need to protect your privacy (say you are in the witness protection program), feel free to use a pseudonym, but please email me to tell me that pseudonym and your real name.
    3. Go to the Syllabus board and add a reply to the “Syllabus Verification Thread” that confirms you have read the syllabus. Your post will serve as confirmation that you are enrolled in the course.
    4. If you have any questions about the syllabus, course policies, or anything related to the class, create a new topic and ask your question.
    5. Also in the Syllabus board go to the “Class Introductions” and add a reply, following the instructions on the forum.
    6. After you post your intro, read through the other posts to begin getting to know your classmates.
  • Get familiar with your Google Drive account, which is connected to your vt.edu email address. (If you have forgotten your password for your VT Google Apps account, follow these instructions.) If you have never used Google Drive before, you can learn more by watching relevant portions of Google Drive Essential Training with Jess Stratton. (Lynda.com resources are free to VT students.)

  • Obtain a copy of the textbook. An e-book is fine. You will begin reading and using the book next week, so buy it today!