Category Archives: Teacher Responses to Student Writing

A Million Channels: Final Stuff for Final Project

You Are Responsible for Making Sure Your Final Project Follows Best Practices

Here is the final grading criteria I will use:

Genre (30%) THE WHAT

  • Project utilizes best practices common to its specific type of writing (i.e., should have an executive summary, should be written in third-person, should include images that depict specific processes, should use minimal amounts of text in slides, etc.)

Purposes (40%) THE WHY

  • Project does something to an audience that makes sense, given the type of writing it is (i.e., persuade a prospective employer to higher you, inform colleagues of a new trend in your field, educate a generalist audience about an important topic, entertain visitors to a website or social media channel, etc.)

Audiences (30%) THE WHO

  • Project clearly identifies a target audience that makes sense, given the type of writing it is. It also provides clear value to that audience (e.g. technical writers looking to improve their project management, business managers looking to build better rapport with their employees, people with disabilities seeking accommodations at work, etc.)

If You’re Not Sure What Best Practices Look Like For Your Genre, Do Some Research

The best thing you can do to ensure your final project is using best practices is to review successful examples of your genre (i.e. blog, social media profile, etc.).

Homework #6 has links to many such examples.

Otherwise, your best bet is to Google the specific genre you’re working on with the adjective “best” (i.e. best blogs about nursing, best whitepaper template for engineering, etc.).

To Complete This Project (Suggested Workflow)

1) 11/30/18-12/7/18 by midnight >>

Don’t forget to follow the best practices you have researched throughout this class. Continue this research by looking for examples of the genre you’re producing to help you create the best version of it you can.

2) 12/7/18 by the start of class >>

The following must be presented in class on Friday, 12/7/18 at 11:00 AM:

  • Brief 5-minute presentation to your classmates

3) 12/7/18 by midnight >>

Final project due to Blackboard, including cover letter and link to or copy of final draft.

  1. Cover Letter, which should answer the following questions a) what was your writing process for creating this final project? b) what have you learned about the processes of business writing in this class? c) what have these processes taught you about your roles as a future writer within a specific career?
  2. A link to or copy of your final project

Grading criteria for final project

Now Make the World More Usable: Teacher Response to Module #4

Business Keeping

Grades and individual feedback on Blackboard.

This is a good time to start looking at your overall grade on Blackboard if you haven’t yet. Don’t wait until the end of the class to come to me with any concerns.

Key learning from this module

identified tasks users should perform

+ usability testing

+ showing clear evidence gleaned from usability testing

+ identifying trends from your testing

+ giving clear direction for improving the application you tested

= effective usability report

The need for usability is all around us

If you learned nothing else from this module, know that usability is one of the greatest challenges for technical communicators working today. Current estimates are that up to 97% of websites fail at basic usability. This means that as many as 97% of people experience frustration on a daily basis when they have difficulty, or are unable to, completing core tasks. With electronic systems penetrating all aspects of our lives, from healthcare to education to business to politics, this is a dangerous trend.

People often ask me: if UX experts exist, then why are there so many unusable websites out there? My response is: most people creating websites today, even in the year 2016, don’t consult UX experts. They launch and hope for the best.

If you’re interested in learning more about usability, and the broader field of user experience (UX), I highly recommend joining this organization, which I am affiliated with: http://triuxpa.org/. They’re annual membership fee for students is something around $20.

TriUXPA Logo

Your UX SUX: Final Steps for Module #4

Use Your Executive Summary to Demonstrate You Know the Website and to Forecast Design Recommendations

This is a great example of how to do this:

The following usability test was conducted on November 10th, 2018. The following report aims to evaluate the pros and cons of the company’s website (https://www.aldi.us/). The company’s website allows users to browse various types of food goods. This includes produce, dairy, meats, etc. The page features food that is appropriate for the season (for example, when this usability test was set into motion, the website presented the viewer with images of Thanksgiving food). Other aspects to the site includes links to Grocery & Goods, Be Inspired, About ALDI, Weekly Specials (Aldi, 2018).

Based on the findings, the analyst suggests the five recommendations:

  1. Reduce the amount of links

  2. Organize different types of food groups (such as vegan and gluten free) in an easier and accessible location.

  3. Make the website easier for older people to understand.

  4. Include a home office number.

  5. Reduce the number of pictures.

Here, the author starts by giving a date for the usability test, stating the purpose of the website tested, and then gives design recommendations. Do those things in your executive summary.

Describe How Users Behaved to Illustrate Pain Points

The power of usability testing is demonstrating to owners of websites and other applications how users actually behave when they’re not around. Note how this writer describes what users did during their test:

For the first task, All three users took over two minutes to complete it. I noticed that users tend to begin this task by browsing the menu bar at the top of the homepage. When they could not find email updates here, two out of three users began scrolling to the bottom of the page and one used the search bar. This user found that when “email” was entered in to the search bar, the results consisted of watches and not a link to sign up for emails. Once this user realized they were unsuccessful, they returned to the home page and also scrolled to the bottom. Once the users reached the bottom, two of the users found the link immediately and one overlooked it once before looking again and locating it.

Be sure you describe what users actually did for all of the pain points you identified in order to help the client understand each issue you observed. 

Add Callouts to Screenshots to Illustrate Features

It is often hard for clients to understand the exact interactions users have with their websites, even when you describe it for them. Notice how this writer uses a brief callout to indicate the exact issue:

A screenshot of the Froggs website with a callout box that says "types of membership not visible"

This helps the client understand the exact element on their website that is in need of improvement, visually. Add callouts to all your screenshots to indicate the exact feature that needs improvement for all of your pain points.

Make Design Recommendations Sound Helpful and Doable

Clients can easily get overwhelmed when reading a usability report about their website, especially if they start the report with the perception that their website is perfect. You can soften the blow of the report by making your design recommendations sound like something that is within their power:

You could improve this website by making it easier for students to find study abroad programs. I would recommend putting the map on the front page instead of a video promo for study abroad. Anyone visiting the website is already most likely interested in study abroad, so you should grab their attention with what programs they could participate in. The video can remain on the page, but it should be the only thing on the page. It can be smaller and on the right-hand side.

The website needs to have sections, so students can see what study abroad options are available for their major. Students aren’t going to pay $4,000 or more for classes that aren’t in their degree plan. If you want to get more students to study abroad, you need to show them programs available to them for their major.

Note how this writer focuses on actions the users want to take, how to make these actions easier for users you take, and what needs to be changed about the website to accomplish this. Be sure you illustrate all of those things in your design recommendations section.

What’s Due Monday at Midnight

5) 11/19/18 by midnight >>

Revise all documents you’ve created. Remember that the point of these reviews is to help you improve your writing. This process will be negated if the draft you submit to Eli is the same as the draft you hand in as your final (and end up eventually showing to your community partner). Revise, revise, revise. Listen to your reviewers and make critical choices to improve your documents based on what they say.

Post your Cover Letter and a final draft of your Usability Report to Blackboard.

PITCHING WITHOUT THROWING BALLS: TEACHER RESPONSE TO MODULE #3

General Business Keeping

Grades on Blackboard, as per the norm. You also receive individualized feedback on modules, however, so be sure to check for that and make changes to future documents based on my feedback to avoid future grade penalty.

Key learning from this module

An effective blog post =

Using an effective keyword +

Placing this keyword strategically throughout your post +

Using an engaging, eye-catching image +

Using engaging language that doesn’t sound like a sales pitch +

Including a solid call-to-action

The most important part of a blog is providing useful, engaging information

A blog is a great way to generate website traffic. Still one of the best ways, actually. But you need to write blog posts that people will actually read and find useful. You need to draw people in, to charm them into coming back for more.

Mastering the Pitch: Final Steps For Module #3

The Best Way to Sell Something Online Is to Avoid Sales Language

The primary purpose of a blog post is to inform your readers. The secondary purpose is to sell them something. These two aims are in direct tension with one another. Notice how this writer starts out their introduction with the clear intent to provide free information to their audience:

Many people are clueless when it comes to revising and editing their own writing. But it doesn’t have to be this way. This article will explain how to do so effectively. It will go through the most common mistakes and give some helpful tips.

This makes the audience feel that you don’t have ulterior motives. Even though you kind of do.

Use a Story and Plain Language to Make Your Blog Post Relatable

Think of yourself as the best example that the information you’re giving your audience is credible. Notice how this writer uses a personal story to exemplify the information they’re presenting:

For instance, I have a first cousin who tried to go to community college. He tried and tried. Eventually, he stopped going and decided to work for a rock quarry. My other cousin, on my father’s side of the family, is a Princeton alumni who majored in the Classics, received her Master’s, and loves to discuss her thesis on Dante Alighieri. Meanwhile, my blue-collar cousin enjoys discussions about America and NASCAR. But what do these two individuals have in common? They are both human and they are no better than the other.

Actually, blue-collar cousin very well could go back to community college, obtain tutoring, transfer to a university, receive his Master’s, and also write his thesis. Sure, it might be the equivalent to climbing a mountain, but he could do it. Just like my Princeton cousin can put on a hardhat and drill holes into boulders all day, instead of making crafts for Instagram. My point is, when writing user friendly procedures and documents, it is important to understand that your target has potential. Also, it is important to know that you are writing for a human being. Simplifying material is a way to allow others to take the appropriate steps to progress forward.

This is informal language, but it also instructive. The exact kind of balance you want to strike with your tone.

Plain Language Means Avoiding Any And All Complex Words and Phrases Whenever Possible

We can all understand this because we are highly educated. Someone with an 8th grade reading level would struggle:

We all know that the economically disadvantaged are disproportionately and negatively affected when it comes to education and food quality, but have to ever considered how climate change affects poor communities? Fluctuations in Earth’s temperature, increased occurrences of natural disasters, and decreases in food and water quality all have the most negative impact on those who cannot afford to combat these major changes or adjust to them. Tools required to adjust to climate change can include things such as medicine, better infrastructure, and more indoor facilities to avoid breathing contaminated air.

Edited for Plain language:

We all know that many poor people suffer from a lack of education and access to food. Do we think about how climate change affects poor communities, though? These effects include changes in the Earth’s temperature, increased numbers of natural disasters, and decreases in food and water quality. These effects can have the most impact on those who have the least resources. This is why poor people often struggle to adjust to climate change.

Whenever you’re using a complex term, think if there is a simpler term you can use with the same meaning. Also use shorter sentences and phrases, which are easier to follow.

Use Eye-Catching Images That Match the Tone and Topic of Your Post AND That You Have Permission to Use

Blog posts with images get up to 60% more engagements. Notice how the following writer uses and image that perfectly exemplifies their topic and is also colorful and eye-catching:

A photo of a woman's hands writing on a notepad in front of a laptop

For the purposes of this assignment, you can use whatever images you can find on pixabay.com or flickr.com/creativecommons.

Use Headlines that Include a Quantity, if Possible + Your Keyword, Then Use That Exact Keyword In Your First Sentence, Body, and One Heading

The following is a great example of an effective headline:

3 Mindfulness Exercises for Anxiety

There is an issue, however, when we get to this writer’s opening paragraph:

Mindfulness can help calm anxiety. Mindfulness is the psychological process of bringing one’s consciousness to the present. Anxiety is the general term for disorders such as nervousness, fear, apprehension and worrying.

Be sure to use the exact same keyword you used in your title within your first sentence, body, and at least one heading:

Mindfulness exercises for anxiety can help you keep calm even when you’re experiencing anxiety. Mindfulness is the psychological process of bringing one’s consciousness to the present. Anxiety is the general term for disorders such as nervousness, fear, apprehension and worrying.

You Have One Line To Use Sales Language: Your Call to Action

Your call-to-action is the only sales language you can get away with. It should:

  • come at the very end of your post
  • be a subtle command
  • compel a specific action
  • compel an action that is easy to take
  • compel an action that is appealing to your audience

Pretty much no one had one of these that met all of these criteria ;-). Here’s an example from my blog for Content Garden:

"Are you a non-profit or small business that needs help with digital marketing? Get a free one-hour consultation."

Notice the subtle command that compels a specific action: clicking on the button. Clicking on a button is also an easy action to take and is appealing to an audience interested in this topic, because they get something for free.

What’s Due Monday at Midnight

6) 10/22/18 by midnight ET >>

Revise all documents you’ve created. The point of these reviews is to help you improve your writing. This process will be negated if the draft you submit to Eli is the same as the draft you hand in as your final. Revise, revise, revise.

Be sure you log in to Eli to see what you reviewers said about your draft as you work on your final draft. Listen to your reviewers and make critical choices to improve your documents based on what they say.

Post your Cover Letter and a final draft of your Content Recommendation Report to Blackboard.

Conquering the Shit Sandwich: Teacher Response to Module #2

General Business Keeping

Grades on Blackboard, as per the norm. You also receive individualized feedback on modules, however, so be sure to check for that and make changes to future documents based on my feedback to avoid future grade penalty.

Key learning from this module

An effective content audit =

make use of the shit sandwich +

using the findings of your audit to educate your client +

putting analysis adjacent to examples so your client understands what aspect of their website you’re referring to +

giving your client a way out of the shit sandwich by providing concrete recommendations

The most important part of an audit is to be kind, but real

The reason the shit sandwich is so important during a content audit is that there is a tension when someone hires you to effectively critique a website they paid money for. If they have asked for an audit, they know something is wrong, but they probably don’t know the extent of the damage. Using the shit sandwich cushions their ego while allowing you to give them the low-down on where their website has gone wrong.

Teacher Response to Homework #4: Digital Marketing vs Traditional Marketing

General Business Keeping

Grades on Blackboard.

Takeaway: Digital marketing is essentially the antithesis of traditional marketing

I’ve always been a good marketer. I was the kid who could outsell everyone else when my school made me do a fundraiser. But that work always felt unethical to me, like I was trying to force someone to do something against their will.

Over the years, I’ve sold:

  • Candy bars
  • Knives
  • Kids educational books
  • Magazine subscriptions
  • Social media services
  • Websites
  • Full-blown digital marketing packages

Guess which ones I feel the best about? The thing with digital services is that there are so many to choose from that pressure sales tactics don’t work. There’s no door to knock on. The foot-in-the-door has been replaced by a digital advertisement or a search result.

Digital marketing is about making connections between consumers and products you’re passionate about. That’s it. The difference between the physical things I used to sell and the things I sell now is that I did give a crap about the physical things. I never read the magazines I was selling. They were crappy magazines. The knives I tried to sell probably couldn’t cut through quarter and then still remain sharp. They were products built on lies.

The products I sell now are the absolute best I can make them. If I make a website for an organization, it is worth far more than what they paid me. If I help an organization to reach new audiences, I better be okay with supporting that organization’s goals, because I am promoting those goals by helping them communicate more effectively.

Takeaway: People who get paid to do social media aren’t just tweeting all day

The other lesson I’ve learned about digital marketing is that it’s waaaaaay more complicated than traditional marketing. This was my process for selling a knife:

  • Travel to neighborhood with relatively new houses, indicating customers had money for “luxury” items (like knives they probably didn’t need)
  • Knock on doors with cars parked in driveway (indicating people were home)
  • Lie and say I’m not selling anything (or they would slam the door in my face), but just want to give them a free demonstration of the knives
  • About 60% of people would slam the door in my face anyway
  • The other 40% were my leads. I could probably talk them into a demonstration.
  • About 10% were my customers if I played my cards right.

This is my process for selling a digital product:

  • I’m on social media all the time talking about social media, digital marketing, UX, and related topics
  • Someone already in my professional network asks me for advice about their social media, website, or mobile application
  • I tell them I can probably help them (if I can’t, I tell them up front) and let them know I do consulting on a topic related to their problem; I offer to send them a proposal
  • I write a proposal and send it to them; about 90% of the people who get to this stage end up working with me at some point

The lesson is: social media is the new word-of-mouth. People want to buy from brands and people that were recommended by someone they personally know. Why? Because people have learned the hard way that buying a knife from a total stranger that is supposed to cut through every substance known to man is just bad business.

Auditing Can Be Fun: Final Steps for Module #2

Forrest Gump saying "Audit is like a box of chocolates; you don't never know what you gonna get"

The Shit Sandwich: Nice / Mean / Nice

Your recommendations should follow the model of a shit sandwich: nice things, followed by critical things, followed by a way out for the client. Notice how this writer starts out with something that is effective about the website, even if it is a minor thing:

After reviewing Alfred Sung’s website (www.alfredsung.com), the contrast between the background and the font color was extremely easy to distinguish between. The white background and black font color made the website very easy to follow and refrains from straining a viewer’s eyes or making the content difficult to read/understand. In addition, other effective aspects include the use of clear, detailed images displaying products, easy to read fonts, and informative information about both the designer and brand (as pictured below).

This makes the client more receptive to negative feedback.

Use Findings to Educate the Client

Think of your findings as directions for someone who doesn’t know what an effective website should do. Notice how this writer uses an educational tone to point out what the client could do better:

The first thing that jumps out at you when you open a web page is its visual design. This is where first impressions make a huge difference! If the web page looks appealing and is clear and appropriate for the item they are selling, then customers will remain on the site and navigate through your page rather than immediately switching to a different company site. In terms of your website, the color scheme of the font with the picture of the Juice stand against the background could be more effective. You don’t want customers to be confused or begin to doubt the credibility of the company based on the color scheme. Alternatively, you want to keep customers interested in the product that you’re trying to sell.

screen-shot-2016-09-26-at-8-33-27-pm

This is polite, but also instructive. The exact kind of balance you want to strike with your tone.

Put Analysis Adjacent to Examples

Be sure that your analysis is right next to an example, each and every time. Notice how the above writer pairs their analysis with a screenshot of the client’s website. It’s easy for clients to get confused if you’re using terms like “links” or “visuals,” which can apply to lots of different components.

Make your screenshots bigger than the above, however, so that the reader can see all the details.

Recommendations Need to Give Clients a Way Out of the Shit of Their Website

Think of the recommendations in your take-away section as the bread that cushions the shit of the shit sandwich by providing the client a way out of their shitty website. Notice how this writer tells the reader concrete steps they can take to improve their website:

Uglytub.com is a good starting point for a professional web-page. Changing to a more attractive color scheme and reducing the visual clutter would be a tremendous step in the right direction. Also, consider using photos from your company as it works as opposed to the generic stock photos on the main page, clients would prefer to see actual employees over a generic plumber/service van. The most severe problem with Ugly Tub is that the web-page offers very little interactive content, the competitor’s web-pages allow potential clients to explore their web-pages by way of drop-down tabs and lists.

You need to explain how the client can take concrete actions that will result in their website being less shitty, based on the findings of your audit.

Be Sure You Cover All Elements of Your Audit

You should include information on the following categories from your audit:

  • Visual design
  • Typography
  • Content
  • Interaction design

As discussed in class, however, you should not use any of these terms (except content). Use commonsense terms to describe each of these elements.

This also means that you need a link, screenshot, or quote for each of these elements in order to explain the situation to the client for each.

Also, Be Sure You Use Positive Examples From Your Comparators

Clients need to see that what you’re telling them is possible. Be sure you are using positive examples from your comparator website throughout your report. Anything you mention that is negative about your client’s existing website should include a positive example from your comparator.

What’s Due Wednesday at Midnight

6) 10/3/18 by midnight ET >>

Revise all documents you’ve created. The point of these reviews is to help you improve your writing. This process will be negated if the draft you submit to Eli is the same as the draft you hand in as your final. Revise, revise, revise.

Be sure you log in to Eli to see what you reviewers said about your draft as you work on your final draft. Listen to your reviewers and make critical choices to improve your documents based on what they say.

Post your Cover Letter and a final draft of your Content Recommendation Report to Blackboard.

Technical, But Fun: Teacher Response to Module #1

General Business Keeping

Grades on Blackboard, as per the norm. You also receive individualized feedback on modules, however, so be sure to check for that and make changes to future documents based on my feedback to avoid future grade penalty.

Key learning from this module

Effective technical report =

An executive summary which summarized the full report, including key trends and takeaways

+

teaching someone how to do something or explaining a complex process or product

+

avoiding the use of jargon when possible and when not possible defining each key term an audience may be unfamiliar with

+

using visuals to illustrate complex processes or pieces of data

+

including a directive takeaway

+

citing relevant sources in a further reading section or using the citation system required by report

Bold your headings

Many of you underlined your headings or centered them. Bold is the correct way to show contrast between a heading and the rest of a document, however. Anything less doesn’t tell the reader’s eye that they are looking at a hierarchy of information. This is why bolded headings are essential for readability in longer documents.

Be sure to follow the template

Many of you missed at least one element of the template provided for the report. Perhaps you misnamed a heading, forgot to include a section, or formatted something wrong. Technical reports most often follow strict guidelines in order to be publishable.