After doing this assignment, you should be able to:
- Understand some of the basic elements of the field of technical communication
- Perform a case study of technical writing documentation
- Understand that genres of documentation are actually complex social interactions amongst people, texts, and technologies
- Use case study research to improve documentation
On this module, you are encouraged to use any technologies that you personally own, including word processors, web browsers, and online applications (e-mail, chat, blogging, etc.). We will cover some of these technologies as we go along, but you can use any that you are proficient with or want to experiment with on this module.
You will definitely need access to the following technologies to complete this module:
- A working and recently-updated Internet browser (Google Chrome, Firefox, or Safari are recommended)
- A word-processing application that allows for the production of documents in standard formats (.doc, .docx, .rtf, or .pdf; Microsoft Word, Open Office’s Writer, or Apple’s Pages are recommended)
- A reliable email client (Outlook, Apple’s Mail, or Gmail are recommended)
This is a class in technical communication, but before we can “train up” as writers who work in a specific industry, we must first understand what we are doing, or, in other words, what technical communication is. As we will learn throughout this class, though, technical communication is a lot of things. The goal of this module, then, will be to introduce the idea of doing a case study on a particular form of technical documentation, a professional practice that will pay off in dividends any time you need to create a form of documentation for the first time.
You are encouraged to work in groups on this module. If you do so, there should be some logical reason, such as the fact that you are all interested in the same industry context, organization, or form of documentation. You may wish to form a group in order to pool interview data you have all collected, for example, or because you and some of your peers wish to study the same genre of documentation, or because you all are interested in the same organization.
If you decide to work in a group on this module, or any modules, all group members are still responsible for submitting individual documents required by the module (in this case, a Cover Letter and Case Study Report).
Documents You Must Produce for this Project (Media and Modes)
The following must be posted to Canvas by the following dates / times:
- 8/14/20: Homework #1 is due to Canvas by the start of class
- 8/31/20: Cover Letter and a final draft of a Case Study Report is due to Canvas by midnight ET
The following writing and review tasks must be completed in this course website by the following dates / times:
- 8/26/20: Draft of Case Study Report is due to this course website by midnight
- 8/27/20: A comment on the posts of each of your peers is due to this course website by midnight
The primary audience for your module is your peers, who will receive valuable information about primary contexts, issues, and concerns regarding technical writing through reading drafts of your Case Study Report. You should keep them in mind when compiling your report. Your instructor is an important audience member as well, however, who will evaluate your report based on the grading criteria for this module.
To Complete This Project (Workflow)
1) 8/14/20 by midnight >>
Do Homework #1
3) 8/14/20 – 8/26/20 >>
Do some brainstorming about what form of documentation you want to do research on for this module.
The point of this project is to do a case study of a form of technical documentation and/or an organization that makes use of technical documentation. Below are some possibilities for how to do go about this:
- Read through the websites of one or more technical writing professional organizations (i.e. http://stc.org/, http://sites.ieee.org/pcs/, http://uxpa.org/, http://www.iainstitute.org/, http://www.ixda.org/, http://www.amwa.org/, https://www.nasw.org/, etc.) and try to identify the some of the values, goals, and professions they promote.
- Read through a wiki (i.e. https://www.ifixit.com/, http://fallout.wikia.com/wiki/Fallout_Wiki, http://stackexchange.com/, etc.) and try to identify one or more specific types of articles within the wiki and describe their conventions (or the rules that allow people to use them).
- Interview three professionals you personally know who use writing frequently in their careers and try to understand how they perform specific types of writing tasks such as research, drafting, revising, and publishing.
- Interview three individuals you personally know who use a specific type of documentation on a regular basis and try to understand why.
- Search jobs sites (i.e. https://www.linkedin.com/, http://www.indeed.com/, http://www.monster.com/, etc.) for jobs involving technical writing, user experience, and content strategy, and try to identify specific trends you notice, such as skill sets they have in common, terms they all share, or types of professionals they identify as good candidates.
- Locate several examples of technical documentation (i.e. handbooks, manuals, websites, mission statements, by-laws) within an organization you work for, volunteer with, or otherwise have access to and see what you can learn about the way the organization functions from these various documents.
- Read through all online documents you can find by a particular organization (i.e. websites, social media accounts, blogs, etc.) and try to understand what values and goals the organization is trying to promote through this documentation.
Choose a research question from the following that you want to answer through your case study, or come up with your own:
- What is a specific professional context for technical writing and how is writing/communication used in that context?
- What is a specific job description that is associated with being a technical writer?
- In what professions or professional locations do people use technical writing?
- What are all the ways that technical writers deal with a problem specific to a particular industry (being a service discipline to ‘real’ careers, keeping abreast of latest developments in their content area, etc.)?
- What kinds of problems does a technical writer within a particular industry work to solve?
- What types of documents/writing are technical writers within a particular industry usually responsible for creating?
- What kinds of skill sets/credentials do you need to become a technical writer within a particular industry?
- What is an important subset of the term ‘technical writer’ (such as strategic or corporate communicator, science communicator, usability expert, user experience designer, content strategist, etc.)? What does this person do exactly and why?
4) 8/26/20 by midnight >>
Draft of Case Study Report is due to this course website
Compile your findings from your research into a draft of a 3-5 page report with the following sections and then upload this document as an attachment to this course website:
Executive Summary: Provide a brief, 1-2 paragraph summary of your findings from your research including:
- What research question you were trying to answer and why you think this research question is important for technical writers to know about (i.e. “Technical writers need to be aware of the impact of emerging technologies like content management systems and their role in curating online content”).
- Any trends or patterns you noticed in your research (i.e. “All the articles devoted to character creation on the Fallout wiki follow these conventions when explaining the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. attributes”).
- Any important differences you noticed in your research (i.e. “The tone of the organization I studied shifted significantly between their website, blog, and social media accounts, indicating they may be trying to apply to very different audiences…”)
Findings: Describe your findings from your research in detail, being sure to use examples such as screenshots, quotes, or links to illustrate your main points.
Take-Away: Tell your audience what they should understand about the specific context or form of documentation you researched. What is the most important thing for them to understand about this context/documentation and why?
5) 8/27/20 by midnight>>
A comment on the posts of each of your peers is due to this course website by midnight
Do a review of your peers’ documents on this course website. Remember: the key to a good review is to indicate what is successful and also what needs work. Doing only one of these things will not help the people you review. Look at the grading criteria for the module to help you with your review.
I will also look through the drafts and make class-wide comments on the course website.
6) 8/31/20 by midnight ET >>
Revise all documents you’ve created. The point of these reviews is to help you improve your writing. Revise, revise, revise.
Be sure you review what your reviewers said about your draft as you work on your final draft, as well as my class-wide response. Listen to your reviewers and make critical choices to improve your documents based on what they say.