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book: Technical Communication
John M. Lannon; Laura J. Gurak
EN360 Technical Communication
Directions: Be sure to save an electronic copy of your answer before submitting it to Ashworth College for grading. Unless otherwise stated, answer in complete sentences, and be sure to use correct English, spelling and grammar. Sources must be cited in APA format. Your response should be four (4) double-spaced pages; refer to the “Assignment Format” page located on the Course Home page for specific format requirements.
Part A: Written and Oral Communication Skills
Locate a website for an organization that hires graduates in your major. Besides technical skills, what writing and communication skills does this organization seek in a job candidate? Write a one-page essay on what they say directly on this subject. Include reasons why each skill is important, and any additional written/spoken skills that you believe would give a candidate a competitive advantage.
Part B: Effective Writing Teams
a. What types of projects require collaboration?
b. What are four primary attributes of an effective writing team? Provide an example for each.
Part C: Internet Source Distortion/Misrepresentation
From media, personal experience, or the Internet, identify an example of each of the following sources of distortion (faulty causal and/or statistical inference) for the following:
a. A study with questionable sponsorship or motives
b. Reliance on insufficient evidence/hasty generalization
c. Unbalanced or biased presentation
d. Unexamined assumptions
e. Faulty causal reasoning
Part D: Checklist for Style – Local Newspaper
Using the “Checklist for Style” on the following page (also found in Chapter 11 of your textbook), rewrite the following letter to a local newspaper.
Text Readings
Technical Communication, Chapters 1, 2, 3 and 4
Additional Readings
Required Readings
Basic Etiquette of Technical Communication
Writing Toward Readers’ Better Health: A Case Study Examining the Development of Online Health Information
Freelance Technical Writers: Does Temporary Work Promote Ethical Issues?
The Association of Teachers of Technical Writing: The Emergence of Professional Identity
Lecture Notes
This is far more than a technical writing course. In fact, this class is designed to help you improve your thinking to meet all manner of work and life-related challenges. We are constantly evaluated on our ability to select, organize, and present information coherently and persuasively. Even when preparing an oral presentation, we first create a written outline. So, you will find it of great professional and even personal benefit to gain competence in writing effective documents in widely varied formats for different audiences.
Technical communication is the exchange of information that helps people interact with technology and solve complex problems. To interact successfully with technology, we need information that is not only technically accurate but also easy to understand and use.
The term “technical” is often misunderstood. It is one thing to discuss a technical subject (a specialized subject, usually mechanical or scientific); it is another to discuss any subject, technical or not, from a technical point of view (an informed and precise perspective from which the writer sees the related particulars of a subject). Even the most abstract subjects are discussed from a technical point of view if interpretations and conclusions are based on demonstrable evidence and if the writing has utility beyond self-expression; literary criticism is an example. Technical writing contrasts with expressive or mood pieces from popular magazines or newspaper feature articles that are purportedly objective but too often subjective and lacking in evidence-based information.
Because of its concrete subject matter, technical writing encourages analytical thought. In this lesson you will learn how to better pose imaginative questions, to answer them by precisely interpreting factual evidence, and to communicate their findings in a “professional” format. The approach is empirical, not mechanical. You will see that you are writing for a reason, and that good writing is the product of a good plan and a clear sense of the specific reader’s specific needs. Written assignments, oral reports, and class discussions about analogues in the real world—e.g., evaluating your college’s internship program, establishing a student-operated food co-op, comparing four popular wood-burning stoves, analyzing safety devices at a local nuclear power plant—all have practical translations, are easy to justify, and are carried out with enthusiasm.
Consider Your Audience
Americans are often perceived as culturally insensitive. In any form of communication, written or oral, you need to understand and respect the culture of your audience, whether that audience is halfway around the globe or a domestic demographic with its own subculture. You need to ask yourself the following.
What are their underlying values?
Is their organization hierarchal or collaborative?
Are their decisions made democratically or via a set command structure?
Do they prefer a formal or informal, direct or indirect style?
What for your audience constitutes “loss of face”?
Many years ago I was a Peace Corps university English program instructor in the Middle East. On one occasion a student’s disruptive behavior resulted in my expelling her from class. After class, she complained to me bitterly, trembling with rage, that in her culture such a reprimand was considered a terrible loss of face. As she (and others in the class) saw it, her “acting out” in class did not warrant the severity of my response. Fortunately, I subsequently learned more culturally acceptable ways of dealing with disruptive students in the classroom. A similar cautionary cross-cultural dynamic applies to all forms of written communication.
Your organization has its own unique culture that sets parameters for document tone, format, and medium (if digital, e.g., what form?). Past history, including real or perceived grievances, will heavily influence their receptivity to any call to action and/or change in behavior you’d like to initiate. There are, in fact, limits to what your audience will be willing to accept.
The most persuasive arguments are those that offer convincing, evidence-based supporting information and leave people challenged but not threatened. Also critical: your audience’s level of knowledge/expertise; the nature of your relationship with the audience; the primary and supportive purposes of your document; and, when/whether recipients need to take immediate action.
Most audiences will be receptive to balanced, objective, well-reasoned requests that appeal to their sense of team loyalty. The best strategy is to build support over time by first soliciting feedback to gain buy-in. Besides such social and psychological considerations, you also need to carefully evaluate the impact of formal and informal company rules/norms, and legal, ethical, and time constraints.
Observe Ethical Requirements
Finally, your professional credibility requires that your documents adhere to ethical standards. Do your words or visuals in any way misrepresent the truth? Are you, for example, hiding any conflict of interest, fabricating data, suppressing information, or divulging proprietary information? That’s just for starters. You have fundamental obligations to yourself, your organization, your customers, coworkers, community, and society at large that cannot be ignored regardless of whether failure to do so has legal consequences.
Of course, ethical issues are often layered and complex. That’s why it’s helpful to focus on “reasonable criteria” (standards that most people consider acceptable) when faced with ethical dilemmas. Unfortunately, this guideline does not cover all eventualities. For example, most people do not understand that taking and conflating different phrases from another source without citation is, in fact, (“mosaic”) plagiarism. Not intentional or blatant, but unethical nonetheless!
Text Readings
Technical Communication, Chapters 5, 6 and 7
Additional Readings
Required Readings
Writing Better, Shorter System Docs
Report Writing: A Tried, Tested and Successful Approach
Writing with Others: The Rhetoric of Cloud Technologies in the Workplace
Guest Editor’s Introduction: Science and Public Policy
Lecture Notes
Technical Writing is Collaborative
Writing technical documents is a collaborative process. Even when creating a short document for general distribution, it’s critical that you solicit feedback from others before you push the send button. Fortunately, modern technology allows us to work efficiently with others to compile and edit documents. Whether an IT manual is being edited by consultants in India or colleagues within your office no longer matters. What will always matter, however, is the quality of your final product.
Careful planning is indispensable in team-based technical writing projects. Begin by selecting a team leader to help facilitate the selection of project goals. Then reach agreement on a workable division of labor for members—including time lines, meeting schedules, a document review process, a group decision-making process, and agreed-upon procedures for dealing with interpersonal conflict. Concurrently set criteria for when to use email, conference calls, internet conferencing, webinars, and digital whiteboards. Finally, do in-depth research to select writing and project management software that integrates seamlessly with your project tasks and tools.
Face-to-face team meetings are still the best means for reaching agreement on critical decisions. They help ensure that all members are operating on the same information/assumptions.
What, in your experience, goes into productive meetings and successful project completion in the long term? Organizational development professionals emphasize that team training is foundational to any group effort. All members need to understand and follow strategies for making meetings productive. For example, a project leader should begin meetings with an agenda that has been distributed beforehand. She needs to assign individual team members different tasks for group report/presentation; ensure that all members have a chance to contribute; and, discourage those who would hijack the meeting by speaking over and dominating others.
Respectful, professional interaction that pivots off “active listening” is requisite for successful outcomes. With these elements in place, inevitable disagreements shift from dysfunctional to helpful and constructive. Understand that team interaction, whether face-to-face or virtual, encompasses important ethical considerations. For example, sanctions need to be in place against those exhibiting behaviors like intimidation, claiming credit for the work of others, and hoarding information.
Researching, Reviewing, and Editing Your Document
Major workplace decisions are based on careful research, with findings presented in written documents that advance your audience’s needs and support fundamental organizational goals. These decisions require that you think critically about the information you gather for your research and throughout the writing process.
You’ll often begin by sitting down with technical experts, commonly referred to as subject matter experts (SMEs), to gain access to critical baseline information, including documents that you need at the outset. SMEs are a “primary” source of information, just as are surveys and experiments. These sources are the basis for “secondary” sources of information like online wikis, websites, books, and periodicals. Most wikis and journals are dependable, some not. The same goes for “original/primary” sources.
You must be especially cognizant of your audience’s needs and expectations. Above all, ensure that your sources, whether primary or secondary, are reliable, your information accurate, and your presentation of facts unbiased.
Next, consider document review and editing. Have you noticed how writing a document without taking any breaks makes it difficult to see errors? Walk away from your desk for a few minutes and you’ll return to task with much improved objectivity and productivity. And, by all means, get input from others, especially stakeholders, who need your document to be on target in eliciting specific results among recipients. What conclusions seem to emerge? Are there alternative interpretations to your take on the information?
Look at your first draft: How might your document be revised to connect better with your audience? More specifically, could it be more accurate, well-organized, or instructive? Does your document incorporate outstanding design and organization? Have you included citations to support data? Is the formatting attractive and uncluttered? Are the means of distribution appropriate? In our next lecture, we’ll explore these subjects in greater depth.
Make sure that your sentences are clear and concise and that your grammar is impeccable. Use your search engine to get quick answers to questions that arise about such things as synonyms, spelling, punctuation, hyphenated words, etc. Be aware that getting these things right establishes initial document credibility.


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