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

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

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

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using visuals to illustrate complex processes or pieces of data

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including a directive takeaway

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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.

Content, Strategically: Teacher Response to Homework #3

Business Keeping

Grades on Blackboard.

Please remember to put your link to your website posts in your homework assignments on Blackboard.

Takeaway #1: Your posts for homework assignments are exercising in blogging

Blogging is one of the hallmarks of professional writing for public audiences. Blog posts show search engines you have fresh content, gain you followers on social media, and gain you subscribers to your blog feed. They allow you to include new keywords in your website without peppering existing pages with them (which can get you penalized by search engines).

The most important part of a blog post is the title. Without a catchy title, no one is going to read your post, especially if they encounter it over social media.

Tips for effective blog titles:

  1. Don’t bury the lead. Include the juiciest part of the story in your title.
  2. The main keyword for your title should be the first part of your title.
  3. Don’t use non-specific filler words like “something.” Tell your readers what that something is.
  4. Use a number whenever you can, i.e. 3 Tips for Effective Blogging.
  5. Think about your title as a value proposition. What value are you providing to your reader that would induce them to read your blog post?
  6. Make it unique to your blog post. Don’t rip off titles from other bloggers. You can use keywords from other bloggers, however, especially if you link to their post.
  7. Your title should be no more than 70 characters (including spaces), or it won’t display correctly in search engine results.

Example pretty good title:

Surviving Senior Year of College

Better version:

5 Tips for Surviving Your Senior Year of College

You’ll learn more about blogging as we go along, but in the meantime: try to improve the title of your next post to the website using the above guidelines.

Take-Away #2: CONTENT STRATEGY IS TO WEB DESIGN AS SELLING A CAR IS TO MANUFACTURING A CAR

Just like all industries: some people make websites and some people make websites good.

Consider the following project team for my consulting business:

  • Me: Content Strategist and UX Specialist
  • Neil: Graphic Designer
  • Thomas: Web Designer

Very rarely are websites built by a single person anymore. They typically involve teams of people working together who have different forms of expertise.

Code is just one part of the equation.

Takeaway #3: PEOPLE WANT TO INTERACT WITH ORGANIZATIONS ONLINE

Whether you’re running a retail store or a medical practice or a professional society: today’s consumers want to interact with organizations online.

Not all of them. Just most of them.

Here are just some of the ways consumers now want to interact with organizations (all of which involve writing):

  • Asking questions over social media
  • Making purchases on an organization’s website
  • Setting up appointments on an organization’s website
  • Signing up to receive updates like e-mail newsletters and notifications when new blogs are posted
  • Accessing post-purchase content on blogs, social media, and discussion forums
  • Searching for specific types of products or services on search engines
  • Searching for how to videos regarding specific types of products or services on search engines
  • Looking at reviews by other consumers before making a purchase
  • Looking at what other people in their social network have said about a product or service

Explaining Complex Stuff Simply: Final Steps for Module #1

Executive Summaries

Your executive summaries should give a complete rundown of your entire technical report in as short a space as possible (no more than 3-5 sentences, if possible). They are not introductory paragraphs to the report itself.

You need to include all the following

  • What the overall purpose of your technical report is.
  • Any trends or patterns you will be highlighting in your report.
  • Any important differences between possible audience perceptions of your topic and what you will be explaining.
  • Key take-away

Example of a good executive summary:

Small business owners are often behind the curve when it comes to digital advertising to grow their business. Almost half of all small business owners don’t have a website and a third to one half of those that do produce substandard content or don’t utilize it to its full extent. This technical report is designed to highlight the unmistakable value that a copywriter can provide for a small business owner and alleviate their concerns about the digital shift in their business practices.

Findings

Findings in technical reports can vary. Sometimes you’re trying to teach someone how to do something. For instructions, be sure you explain each step in a process and warn readers of potential consequences of taking the wrong action:

Before feeding, make sure to assess your kitten to ensure they are healthy enough to eat. You can check to see if they are swallowing by putting a drop of formula on the tongue and feeling the neck. If your kitten is healthy, you’re ready to get started. First, prepare the bottle. Kittens should never be fed cows milk or any dairy products as they can cause illness. Kitten milk replacer (KMR) should be used. You can purchase this at any pet store. Prepare the formula according to the instructions on the label. Next, place the kitten on its belly. Kittens should never be fed while laying on their back. Gently hold the kittens head with one hand, and place the nipple in its mouth. Lift the bottle so the formula flows into the kitten’s mouth. The kitten should begin to swallow the formula. Feeding can take a while to get the hang of, so be patient. If you want more information, visit www.kittenlady.org/feeding

Other times, you’re explaining a very complex process or product. When trying to explain a complex product or process, even to educated readers, avoid the use of jargon:

English as Second Language (ESL) certified educators work with English Language Learners (ELLs), or students who do not speak English as a first or native language. ESL teachers’ aim to assist ELLs in acquiring fluency in speaking and writing English, and bridge cultural differences between native and new culture. Unlike popular belief, ESL educators are not foreign language teachers because they do not share a common language with their students. Therefore, the teaching methods and certification differ.

The above author defines two key terms: ESL and ELL. This is essential for any term you use that is not immediately understandable to a lay audience.

Jargon is defined as specialist terms that don’t communicate outside of a highly-educated minority. Think about your audience with each piece of jargon you include. Ask yourself: would this type of person understand this term? If not: remove or define it.

Most of your report should be in plain language. Plain language is something we will discuss in future modules, but can defined as language that anyone with a basic knowlege of the language you are writing in could understand.

Here is a jargon-laden paragraph from a past class:

LC instruments work by separating the components of the compound into polar and nonpolar phases, known as stationary and mobile phases. The separation of the individual components results from the relative difference in affinity for the stationary phase. To do this, the machine is set up with a high boiling point liquid at the base of the path of the instrument, referred to as the stationary phase, which will attract the polar components of the compound. When the sample is injected into the machine, certain components of the compound will remain in the solvent, known as the stationary phase, while other components will go on through the path of the machine, exhibiting nonpolar qualities and becoming part of the mobile phase.

Where plain language can be included in the above section:

LC instruments work by separating the components of [specific, descriptive noun, i.e. liquids, solids, or waste materials] into [only inlcude additional phrases when absolutely necessary for the meaning of the sentence and define all terms an audience might be unfamiliar with, i.e. two different types of phases. These phases include…]. The separation of the individual components [avoid passive verbs, which detract from concrete understanding; use active verbs that are descriptive of the action… i.e. LC instruments separate liquids, solids, or waste materials based on…]. To do this, the machine is set up with a [break compound nouns and adjective phrases into their components, i.e. a liquid with a high boiling point] at the base of the path of the instrument, [avoid redundancy; use phrases to push meaning forward only, i.e. The instruments achieve this separation through the use of a high boiling point liquid…]

The above section edited for plain language without bracketed comments:

LC instruments work by separating the components of liquids, solids, or waste materials into two different phases. One phase is called polar and refers to I have no idea because I’m not a chemist. The other phase is called nonpolar and refers to I still have no idea. LC instruments separate liquids, solids, or waste materials based on the whosiwhatsit of the materials being noideaed. The whosiwhatsit of each material is defined as wow chemistry is really hard. In order to ensure the whosiwhatsit state is achieved, a liquid with a high boiling point is employed at the base of the instrument. The materials being chemistried are then noideaed until all they reach cold fusion and save humanity from our energy crisis.

User Visuals to Illustrate Complex Processes

Visuals help readers grasp difficult concepts at a glance. Be sure you explain the purpose of the visual and what readers should take away from it:

An example graphic from Dylan's report showing an illustration of Steve Jobs's resume

If you haven’t already, be sure to include at least one visual in your report.

Take-Aways

Take-aways are important sections and should be directive. You don’t want to use language like this, which is too general:

After reading this particular technical report, a reader should simply be able to understand that there is an increasing trend in the number of infants being born before their due date, making them premature, and elders are living and continuing to live longer and longer lives.

A take-away is what you feel the audience should focus on after reading your report:

Because of reluctance to deal with unfamiliar aspects of digital marketing, a large proportion of small business owners either don’t have a website or don’t use their online presence to its fullest potential. These business owners would have much to gain from hiring a copywriter, even part-time or freelance by project, due to the low cost compared to vastly increased potential revenue, customers, and market expansion. Most small business owners aren’t aware of how critical high-quality copywriting is to modern business growth, especially when it comes to digital marketing. These business owners often write their own content or don’t pursue extensive advertising. This will largely devalue their brand image, and a professional writer will be able to almost guarantee a highly positive ROI for these small business owners. Using their experience in SEO, clean and appealing web design, cross-format campaign coordination, consistent output for branding, and proficient research and utilization of market research, hiring a copywriter will give small business owners tangible results over their target audience and competition.

Cite Relevant Sources in a Further Reading Section

Footnotes or endnotes are typically the way that many technical reports cite sources, but it strongly varies by field. A variety of citation systems exist for different fields (APA, Chicago, MLA, etc.) and many organizations adopt their own internal citation systems.

For the purposes of this assignment, include a Further Reading section at the end of your report to cite any relevant sources. Use the following simple citation format for this section:

Author Last Name, Author First Name. Title. Link.

Cover Letter

This is a document you will write for each module in this class that is a letter to me, your instructor, discussing your writing process for the module.

There is a page on the course website devoted to cover letters that explains them in more detail.

Essentially, though:

  • They are about your writing process for completing your module.
  • They are informal letters to me, your instructor, pointing out key elements of the work you did in creating your module.
  • Their purpose is to give me context for the deliverable I’m creating. Often, the work involved in a written document is not visible from the document itself.
  • They are a best practice in many industries. Project managers, bosses, and clients often want a cover letter to orient them to the documentation you have created for them. These letters tell the audience what went into the creation of the deliverable to demonstrate the value-add of the deliverable. They also orient the audience to what they are about to read.

Final Step for Module #1

6) 9/7/18 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 (and end up eventually showing to your community partner). Revise, revise, revise.

Be sure you log in to Eli to see what your 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 Technical Report to Blackboard.

Growing Communication: Teacher Response to Homework #1 and Homework #2

General Business Keeping

Grades will always be posted to Blackboard. Check for them there.

Completion rate for these two assignments was very high. Good job.

For those of you who didn’t complete the one or both of the assignments…

Statistically, those of you who didn’t hand anything in for these two assignments will not do well in this class, unless you get back on track. In my experience, students who don’t hand in smaller assignments do not do well on larger assignments. The class builds from the smaller assignments, so failure to do them will not only cost you points but key learning that will cause you to fall behind your peers. If you are having difficulty, schedule a meeting with me to discuss it.

Homework #1: Tech Comm Is Only Going to Grow in Importance

Consider the following trends:

  • WordPress represents nearly one quarter of all websites on the Internet
  • Industries that were previously offline-only are getting online: education, healthcare, manufacturing, etc.
  • It is estimated that up to 70% of CEOs fail to grasp the impact of digital technologies on their current marketplace
  • Specialized fields such as engineering, healthcare, software development, and web development increasingly need to communicate effectively with public, non-specialist audiences in order to retain clients and court public favor / funding
  • Technical communication as a specific job is estimated to grow by 20% over the next 10 years
  • Related jobs like user experience design (UX), content strategy, and digital marketing are also growing by leaps and bounds

Homework #1: Writing Is a Threshold Skill, I.e. Everyone Needs to Communicate Well

Whether you want to go full tech comm or not, chances are  your future job will involve communication, perhaps as much as 50% of the time. This communication will quite probably involve one or more of the following:

  • Desktop publishing (Microsoft Office)
  • Email
  • Social media
  • Content management systems (like WordPress, Joomla!, Drupal, etc.)
  • Article writing
  • Report writing
  • Blog writing
  • Filling out specialized forms
  • Creating documentation specific to your field (i.e. manuals, technical reports, empirical or experimental research reports, etc.).

Homework #2: Poor writing hurts you in the workplace

I think we’ve all gotten the message that being a poor writer hurts you professionally. Hiring managers may judge you based on the grammar in your resume. Co-workers may look down on you if they can’t understand your quarterly report to the department. Bosses may pass you up for a promotion if you can’t write effective project memos.

Homework #2: How to become a better writer: Practice, practice, practice

There’s an assumption out there that some people are just naturally poor writers, however.

This could not be further from the truth.

In fact: none of us are born to be good writers. We all have to work at it. And diagramming sentences isn’t going to teach us anything about actually being a writer.

Writing is a skill, just like swimming, computer programming, and architecture. And the only way to master a skill is through practice.

Homework #2: Ways to practice writing

We’ll be practicing ways to practice writing throughout this class. Here’s a brief preview of some of the ways you can practice writing in this class and beyond it:

  • Peer review: Reviewing the writing of others often teaches you more about your own writing. Volunteer to help your peers with their own writing whenever you can.
  • Write every day: Keeping a journal or other long-form document that you record important reflections in can help you improve the way you express your thoughts.
  • Talk to experts: Know a good writer? Pick their brain whenever you can for tips.
  • Find good examples of the genres you’re trying to write: Writing is always genre-specific, meaning you wouldn’t write a poem the same way you would write technical report. Whenever you’re writing a new genre, find examples of it to imitate so that you can learn the Who, the What, and the Why before you ever start writing.
  • Organize peer review sessions in your organization: Something you can do in current and future workplaces to improve writing is organize regular peer review sessions on every document you produce. Encourage your co-workers to help each other become the best writers they can be.

Course Introduction

Greetings!

Welcome to ENGL 3040: Introduction to Professional Writing! I have been working in collaboration with folks in the business world, mostly as a consultant, for about five years now. I have taught courses in business writing and related topics at the college level for over ten years. I also have my Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Writing from Michigan State University. I’m currently an Assistant Professor (meaning on the track toward tenure) of Technical and Professional Communication here at ECU.

I’m excited to share some of the insights I’ve gleaned during these various professional experiences with all of you.

In the interests of helping you acclimate to my style of teaching, here are some highlights of this course website, and thus the course itself, that you’ll want to keep an eye on:

  • Deadlines – I’m a big fan of deadlines, both hard and soft, and so I tend to scaffold assignments pretty tightly.
    • The best place to check for hard deadlines is always the schedule page, from which you can view the schedule for each course module, or learning unit, as it’s posted. All deadlines for each module can also be found within the module itself.
    • Your first hard deadline is 8/22/18, when Homework #1 is due by the start of class.
    • I will also include soft deadlines as steps within the modules. These deadlines that are not required, but you are encouraged to meet them to stay on pace with the assignment.
  • Technologies – As this is an online course, it is obviously going to be technology-driven. In this regard, there are three main technologies to concern yourself with: WordPress, Eli, and Blackboard.
    • WordPress is the Content Management System that runs our course website. If you ever have problems with it, I invite you to first be good technological problem-solvers and take a look at WordPress’s excellent documentation, both within the CMS itself and on their website.
    • Eli is a peer review technology we’ll use to share our writing with each other. They have a very robust support section on their website, so check their first if you have any problems.
    • I’ll assume you’re all familiar with Blackboard and so won’t go into that one, except to say that all you’ll be using it for is turning in assignments and downloading readings.
  • Interactions – I like to think of teaching as a series of interactions during which knowledge is made. The main interactions of this course are: homework assignments, modules, discussion in class, and small group work.
    • Homework assignments and their due dates can be found via the schedule page, under the schedule specific to each module. So, for instance, if you go to the schedule for module #1, you will see that homework #1 is due to Blackboard by Wednesday, 8/22/18 by the start of class. Homework assignments will always be the first thing due when we start a new module.
    • Modules are larger assignments that are due about every 1.5 weeks. You can see modules as they’re posted on the modules page, but like everything else, they’re included in the main schedule.
    • You are encouraged to post and discuss stuff (questions, comments, interesting news articles, whatever) on the course website and in class that you think your peers would like to hear about, and every homework assignment after the first one will require you to do so. That way we have a nice active online and in-class community with interesting content constantly being discussed.
    • Much of the work you produce in this class will be done collaboratively in small groups. Research has shown that peer interaction in classrooms of all levels is highly beneficial to learning and fosters better peer support. At the same time, the current economy requires collaboration for pretty much any profession worth having, so this small group work will also be a form of training to prepare you for the world beyond this classroom.
  • Reaching me – All my contact info is available on the syllabus page, which of course you should read through thoroughly in case you have any questions or concerns about any course policies (you’ll be prompted to do this for homework #1).
    • I’m pretty much always available via email and phone during normal business hours (M-F 9-5). I am slower to respond on weekends, but still check my email.
    • I have obviously also worked hard to build a robust course website with a lot of information and interactivity, so please do read through it before asking me simple questions like “when is such-and-such due” or “how do I access X?” If you can’t figure out how to do something or are struggling in any way, the best way to reach me is to post a comment on the course website itself. I will receive an email every time you post something to the website, so it will be the equivalent of emailing me, and often another student will beat me to the punch with an answer to your question. Most importantly: other people who have that same question will see it and the answer that gets posted, saving us all a lot of lead time.
    • Of course I have traditional office hours posted on the syllabus page. You can call or chat with me via Skype or Google during those times as well. It’s best to make an appointment with me if you want to talk outside class, just to ensure I haven’t stepped out for a moment when you stop by or call. I am also available for appointments outside of these hours.
  • Working hard – If you aren’t intimidated by the massive course website or omnibus introductory post, I should just mention that I teach a tough class. I also provide a lot of support, however, so if you’re willing to work hard, ask questions, and engage with the material, you should be fine. If you are NOT fine, reaching out to myself and your peers early and often is always the best response. If you are feeling lost in the course, which can often happen when working in online learning environments, touching base with another human being can help ground you and get you back on track. I have high expectations for students, particularly graduate students, but I don’t want anyone struggling needlessly. That’s what the assignments are for ;-).