Taskmastery: Final steps for module #2

General Business

Drafts are overall looking good. Below is some stuff to work on in revision.

Make Sure Your Specifications Have Something to Do With Your Task

As Pringle & O’Keefe point out, specifications are never written in a vacuum. They aren’t just a list of product features, but rather give necessary information to a particular audience, such as someone trying to use a product in a particular way. Make sure your specifications are necessary for your target audience. Ask yourself: do they give information the audience needs? Are they understandable to the audience? Do they provide important background information for the procedure they’re about to undertake?

Make Sure Your Tasks Are Usable

Before handing in your final draft, go through the actual tasks in your procedure and try them out. Better yet: have someone completely unfamiliar with the tasks try them out. This is the only real way to test a procedure: to see if someone can complete it with just the instructions given!

Worst case, though: go through your tasks step-by-step yourself and try them out. Make sure you haven’t missed anything!

6) 9/22/20 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.

Post your Cover Letter and a final draft of your Technical Specification and Procedure Document to Canvas.

TECHNICAL WRITING IS MORE THAN JUST WRITING: TEACHER RESPONSE TO HOMEWORK #2

General Business

Grades are always posted to Canvas. Check for them there.

Technical Writing Is All Around Us, But Is Rarely Done Well

One thing I want you to take from this class is that technical writing is all around us. Any time we seek to break down complex information to simpler terms for an audience or try to teach someone who to do something, we are doing technical writing. Doing it well, however, is another matter. There is a reason why technical writers are highly-paid professionals who only get more valuable as they gain experience. Companies that hire them know that someone who can communicate complex information in an understandable manner to core audiences, both internally and externally, is worth the money.

Prior to reading this text, I thought that technical specifications were basically just the specification of the hardware. For example, if I build a computer, the specs would be the processor speed, type of RAM, video card specs, etc. If I installed a game on the computer, the specs for the game would be the system requirements to run the game. After reading this, I see that I was a little bit on the right track, but the term actually encompasses much more than I thought it did. The specs also include component illustrations and information about those components, lists, features, and even schedules for the product. A spec can be beneficial because of all the information it provides, but they are also rarely accurate because they are not updated often. Apparently really good specs are so rare that if you find one, you’ll be so rich that you won’t have to work again. – Tamara

Technical Writing Is All About Cross-Functional Teamwork

Another thing I want you to get is that technical writers never work alone. They are jacks and jills of all trades that work with SMEs, developers, managers, editors, and other writers. They are good at interviewing, writing, editing, audience analysis, and a host of other skills. They are proof that writing is inherently social, in other words, despite what the mythos of literary history tells us about the lone writer composing the next great genre by him or herself.

Developers and subject matter experts (SMEs) are important in the technical writing process because they are going to be the most familiar with the subject/product being writtenaboutand are able to provide information about the productthat the technical writer may not otherwise be privy to. Interviewing them is crucial for technical documentation to maintain accuracyon product specifications and functionality, as well as knowing when to write specific sections of the technical documentation based on where the product is in development. – Gabriella

Symbolic-analytic work is the process of problem-solving for given information (also known as distributive work). Technical writers can help with the understanding of this form of work. Along with how individuals process this kind of work by examining the study of writing. Coordination of symbolic-analytic work is also key to the understanding. Technological and rhetorical skill are also key components of technical writing that corresponds with this kind of works. – Emily

What We Call “Technical Writing” Is Actually a Zillion Little Sub-Genres

Another difficult thing to grasp about technical writing is that it is best described as a large collection of sub-genres. Organizations employ technical writers because they provide a wide variety of sub-genres of writing. Whereas once upon a time, this might have simply been procedural manuals, the field has now exploded to cover everything from functional specifications to blog posts. Technical writers are responsible for such a wide array of genres of writing, in fact, that it’s impossible to describe all of them. Some are very short-lived and exist within specific organizations. Some, like procedures, are more global but are still driven by the goals of individual organizations.

The different types of content found within technical documentation are:

a.) Interface Information- explains the function of a particular part on a product.

b.) Reference information- data readers need to look up or reference.

c.) Conceptual information- Providing the “why” behind a feature.

d.) Procedural information- steps that tell a user how to perform a task. – Jennifer

Making the case for tech comm: teacher response to Module #1

Business Keeping

Grades will always be posted to Canvas. Check for them there. You also receive individualized feedback on modules, so be sure to log in to check your feedback to avoid future grade penalty.

Reporting Patterns in Data Is an Essential Element of Tech Comm

Each module, I will be giving you practice in something that I consider to be an essential element of this field. Sifting through data and reporting patterns from the data is one such element. Whether looking at documents, websites, or videos of users, technical communicators use various types of information as data to do their work. Typically this involves collecting it, analyzing it for one or more patterns, and reporting on these patterns to a non-expert audience.

I Saw a Lot of Improvement Regarding Concision

I like that you all chose to revise your style of writing significantly after my comments on the drafts. Concision is one of the most important skills a technical communicator has to learn and is also one of the hardest things to teach. We are accustomed to using lots of extra words when we communicate. Whether you think of these as “filler” words or not, they often get in the way of meaning. Using shorter sentences, eliminating jargon, and eliminating unnecessary words are all ways you can improve your concision.

Case Studies Are Useful Ways of Finding Patterns in Small Data Sets

I am continually shocked by how many professionals don’t know how to do a case study. Case study research comes from the social sciences and is used in situations where a large amount of data isn’t available. For a technical communicator, this can be because time on a project is limited or because he or she only has access to so many users. In the corporate world, where most technical communicators work, you often have hours, not days, weeks, or months to collect data to use as evidence for your claims. In a setting such as this, a case study is a great way to make limited claims about data you’ve collected quickly.

REPORTING WELL: FINAL STEPS FOR MODULE #1

Review Your Peers

Don’t forget to review your peers! Your comments are important as they are individualized feedback.

Overall

Overall, the drafts are pretty good. You are all in the ballpark of what I am looking for from this module. Consider the following as you revise for your final draft.

Your Executive Summary Needs Explain What Your Paper Is About, Not Your Thought Process in Creating It

None of you have probably written an actual executive summary before, which is a very specific sub-genre of report writing. The purpose of an executive summary is to give your audience a concise overview of your report. See the following for a good example:

The purpose of this case study is to identify the skill sets/credentials needed to be a technical writer within the field of translation and localization (language and linguistics). Often time, technical documentation needs to be translated into another language to be truly useful for its intended purpose. Without a skilled translator, highly trained in localization, either disaster or hilarity ensues. As was the case with the Hubble telescope (failure to consider imperial measurement versus metric) and The Mexican Market release of the Chevy Nova (a popular US car that, when translated to Spanish means “No Go”).

From practical education through linguistic theory, the prevailing trend in translation/localization technical writing is job placement. Organizations such as The International Symposium on Language for Specific Purposes (ISLSP) and The Center for International Business Education and Research (CIBER) place a high value on preparing students of translation/localization for real-world experiences. According to Hobgood (2020), the most challenging part of training translation/localization students is making sure the abstract processes of linguistics are understood. That translation is not merely this = that, but a dynamic concoction of cultural and regional dynamics (np).

See how you have a clear, specific understanding of the information contained in this author’s report? Make your executive summaries more like this.

Your Executive Summary Needs to Be Concise, As Does Your Overall Style of Language

Many of you are getting too wordy in your executive summaries and in your overall style. We’ll work on this throughout the class, but: technical communicators are masters of concision, of using the minimum amount of words required.

Unfortunately, the dominant form of writing we are taught in school is essayistic writing, which is a relatively verbose, personal style by comparison. See the following example I have edited down to make it more concise:

Original

I personally know a handful of technical writers; all from different career paths. I thought this would be an interesting opportunity to interview them about their work. However, the pre-written research questions did not fit what I wanted to learn. The respondents I interviewed have careers in fictional writing, being a court judge, and hosting a radio show. How does technical writing very across different industries? This is an important question for technical writer to know about because having knowledge of a topic outside of one specialty is beneficial in collaborating and provides another perspective to see any situation from. Knowing how other technical writers operate could help you solve a problem that, otherwise, you would need help with.

In my interviews, I noticed that each respondent had a specific writing process they follow for each piece of writing they do. Each person works with at least one other person at some stage in the writing and publishing process. Each of them faces obstacles that they work to overcome. Each industry has a different purpose and target audience for their work. Citations are different for each industry and the publication/distribution formats also differ. Each explained to me what they think are the qualities of their writing and even what they think could be better.

Edited

Technical writing is a career field focused on [x], [y], and [z]. The following report describes how technical writing varies across different industries. In order to investigate this topic, three different technical writers were interviewed: a fiction writer, a court judge, and a radio show host. The interviews revealed that each respondent has a specific writing process they follow for each piece of writing. Each respondent also works with at least one other person at some stage in the writing and publishing process. Finally, each faces obstacles that they work to overcome and has a different purpose and target audience for their work. Citations are also different for each industry and the publication/distribution formats also differ. The main takeaway of this report is that technical writing, as a field, is [x], [y], and [z].

Work to make your papers more concise throughout by removing any words that aren’t completely necessary for meaning. Again: we will be working on this throughout the class. I don’t expect you to get their in this module, but I’d like to see improvement from first draft to final draft.

Be Sure Your Findings Include Specific Information

The findings section of a technical report is like the evidence in an essay: it’s meant to detail the specific information you’ve collected. You need to include sufficient details about the information to give your audience a thorough understanding of your topic.

Here’s a good example from the drafts:

The role of the technical writer in the video game industry has changed considerably over the past few decades. One way this is seen is in the types of documentation that are included with the product. Up until about ten years ago, if you purchased a video game, it came with several inserts, including a “Getting Started” game manual and some form of “help” document. These game manuals included information such as button configuration; explanations of a game’s features, such as toolbars, status bars, menus, or other user-displays; game content introductions, such as character or story backgrounds; and trouble-shooting and frequently asked questions. Gamers, particularly fans of specific game lines, such as Final Fantasy or Fallout, treasure these manuals and keep them tucked safely in the video game case, understanding the value that this small booklet adds to the game. The current generation of young gamers will never know the joy of having a manual.

See how the above author gives specific information about their topic so that the audience gets a thorough understanding of it? Be sure your findings section is similarly detailed.

Use APA for Formatting

Technical documents are always prepared with a specific style guide in mind, even if you have to build that style guide from scratch. To practice this, be sure you are following all APA guidelines for your final draft. If you need help go here: https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/apa_style/apa_formatting_and_style_guide/general_format.html. Many of you aren’t following APA guidelines in your drafts.

What’s Left to Do

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.

Post your Cover Letter and a final draft of your Case Study Report to Canvas.

What You should be doing now

Working On Module #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 on at the Module #1 Page: http://www.guiseppegetto.com/engl6715/module-1-3/

What is tech comm? Teacher response to Homework #1

General Business

Grades are always posted to Canvas. Check for them there.

Tech Comm Is Heavily Process-Oriented

One big takeaway I want you to have from this class is that the field of technical communication is very process-oriented. It is a field where you are much more likely to spend weeks or months working on a complex communication deliverable than you are to do a lot of mundane, repetitive tasks. At its core is the process of breaking down complex information for a variety of audiences and producing a variety of media.

The authors provide a nuanced and layered definition of the term “technical writer.” Simply put, a technical writer is someone who “writes about technical topics” (p 15). Put differently, a technical writer is a “translator,” someone who can “explain complicated concepts in clear, easy-to-understand prose” (p. 15). While clear writing ability is a skill technical writers must possess, they must also possess strong organizational skills, people skills, knowledge of technology, and “investigative talent” (p. 16).

Creating a document plan will ensure that you consider all the aspects of your project, such as who your audience will be, what deliverables will be necessary, who you have to communicate with to give and receive information, what tools will be necessary, and what timeframe your project has. A doc plan will also consider legal aspects such as copyright, disclaimers, terms, and cost, all of which need to be included in order to avoid legal issues. The disclaimer seems particularly important because it seems like it takes the sole responsibility off of the writer, making the client ultimately responsible for double-checking and ensuring that the deliverables are accurate and error-free.

Tech Comm Is Heavily Tool-Oriented

Unlike other fields such as web development, technical communicators are often reliant on already-built technologies to do their work. From academic researchers to practitioners working in industry, we rely on a variety of tools provided by other companies to produce our deliverables though there are exceptions.

1. Text development tools: A word processing or publishing program. This is where most of the content will be created, and a word processing program will assist in templating and formatting this content. (Example: Microsoft Word)

2. Graphics software: Used to select, create and edit graphics to be added to a document (Example: Clip art for supporting images that do not need to be drawn exact or feature a specific product)

3. Rich media tools: For online content, these tools can be used to allow additions of animation, video, narration, interactive content, etc.

4. Help/web authoring tools: Used to develop online content, allowing for multiple outputs and cross-platform compatibility.

5. File conversion/single sourcing tools: Used to convert documents for different functions (example: converting a contract made in Microsoft Word to PDF to remove the ability to edit the document). A single sourcing tool makes file conversion easier by offering different format conversions in one program. – Grabriella

Tech Comm Is Deeply Intertwined with the Information Economy

Technical communication is also inextricable from developments in the information economy, like new management styles that have put communication front and center. At the same time, power dynamics arise within companies and other organizations as communication deliverables are commodified just like other products. Because of these developments, technical communicators have had to professionalize in new ways to demonstrate their value to the organizations they work for.

Total Quality Management set the stage for the global hyper-competition that workers face today. Like Peter in Office Space, I too have dealt with too many micro-managers- yes, I got the memo! Bosses that need to reiterate things repeatedly with responses that are more automatic and less authentic. Once workers write down their ideas in various forms of business writing it can become a marketable commodity. This commodity will ultimately generate profit and will likely keep the employees writing and ideas within the company.  The goal of large-group collaboration is to develop a “collective mind”. The group maintains heedful interrelation by listening to other group members pertaining to the goals of the project. Ideally, these groups consist of five members or less to maximize productivity. In my experience, standard operating procedures are often written in the beginning of a project but rarely updated. – Jennifer

Tech Comm Involves Managing Writing Ecologies

Finally, though technical communicators ultimately are responsible for producing specifical deliverables that align with organizational goals, just like any professional, another element that sets us apart is the way we interact with systems within those organizations. These systems include networks of people, technologies, and other resources that we must marshal in complex ways during our projects. This differentiates strongly from fields like accounting or medicine that require much more hierarchical, linear-process modes of thinking. Technical communicators working writing ecologies, in other words, managing and responding to complex systems within organizations.

Writer’s interact to form certain systems by characterizing themselves within certain categories. Such as what these said writers are conforming to with ideas and notions. The “ecological system” follows these such practices. These systems are remade over and over (like the way in which ecology’s subject is constantly changing). The social environment that the writers study changes day to day, forces themselves to conform and change the way in which they are writing. However, the systems that they do conform to are “concrete”. Going on to say that these systems can be altered. These systems also allow for writers to connect and regulate their access with one another (p.369). From the system of “interpersonal interactions” to the system of “cultural norms” all allow for writers to take part in a community that too allows them to judge how they want themselves to be perceived. – Emily

What citation format should we use?

Someone emailed me this question, so I thought I’d answer it here in case anyone else has this question.

The preferred format for the academic field of technical communication is APA, so let’s use that for all assignments. I don’t expect strict adherence on things like homework assignments, but for your modules, feel free to use it. This website has a lot of good info on APA 7th edition (the current edition): https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/apa_style/apa_formatting_and_style_guide/general_format.html.

There are certainly other formats used on the academic side, such as the IEEE citation format: https://pitt.libguides.com/citationhelp/ieee

On the industry side, citation systems and style guides are numerous, and are often specific to individual organizations. Sometimes, broader systems like APA are used if they align with an organization’s goals (i.e. to provide technical information to professionals familiar with a particular citation system).

Introduction to the Course

Greetings!

Welcome to ENGL 6715: Foundations of Technical and Professional Communication!

I have been working in collaboration with folks in the technology sector, mostly as a consultant, for about ten years now. I have taught courses in technical communication and related topics at the college level for over eighteen years. I also have my Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Writing from Michigan State University.

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

In the interests of helping you acclimate to my style of online 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, small and large, and so I tend to scaffold assignments pretty tightly.

  • The best place to check for 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 deadline is 8/23/19, when Homework #1 is due by midnight ET.

Technologies

As this is an online course, it is obviously going to be technology-driven. In this regard, there are two main technologies to concern yourself with: WordPress and Canvas.

  • 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.
  • I’ll assume you’re all familiar with Canvas 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, and discussion on the course website.

    • 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 Friday, 8/14/20 at Midnight ET. Homework assignments will always be the first thing due when we start a new module.
    • Modules are larger assignments that are due every few weeks. You can see modules as they’re posted on the modules page, but like everything else, they’re included in the main schedule.
    • Finally, you are encouraged to post stuff (questions, comments, interesting news articles, whatever) to the course website 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 community with interesting content constantly being posted.

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 virtual office hours listed in the syllabus when you can talk to me via WebEx.
  • 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.

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 ;-).