Technical Writing

Generally, any genre in which someone is writing begins with three important questions.

  • What is the purpose?
  • Who is the audience?
  • How do I want to present the information?

Reports

The goal of a technical report is to clearly communicate a select piece of information to a targeted reader or group of readers for a particular purpose in such a way that the subject can readily be understood.

Writing from this perspective could require specific guidelines and formats such as traditional scientific lab reports, exposition of research, or reviews of scientific literature. However, technical reports can also be assigned as general writing assignments to promote organizational skills, content knowledge, audience awareness and clarity in any discipline.

Sample Assignments

  1. Have the students create a presentation of a famous American using Power Point©; then have a day where they share their research with the class
  2. For a mathematics class: Instructor solves a problem incorrectly on the board (or online). Students  are asked to write, in complete sentences or a paragraph, an explanation of what was done incorrectly in solving the problem.
  3. Students can be challenged the to become inventors. Ask them to create a product then have them describe in writing how their product works to prospective buyers!

Letters

Letters can be assigned to help students learn how to explain, clarify, define, and/ or instruct. They also serve as effective opportunities for students to learn the value of reflection, audience awareness, and strategies for persuasion. They can be a comfortable genre for students to write in when audiences are known personally but become more challenging when “official” and prescriptive.  In formal correspondence, audiences are distant and unfamiliar. Writers must assume these readers are less able to comprehend the writers’ purpose  and thus are challenged with a stronger need for clarity of purpose.

Sample Assignments

  1. Have students decide on someone to write  and complain about a product they have purchased. One goal is to get their money returned. After class discussion on the criteria for good persuasion, students decide the product, the most effective document design for the letter, reader characteristics, and the “story” about the product.  These letters will be written in both hard copy and electronic formats. At the completion of the assignment, students write reflections on what they see as differences and similarities in these formats. This can be as individual or group project with peer review and revision opportunities.
  2. Write a cover letter to accompany a resume for a job application. Class discusses need for clarity, detail, and good ethos.  Peer review and revision.
  3. Use letter writing to promote student engagement in current politics. They are to choose an issue problematic to them, an audience who could do something about this problem (most likely a senator or representative—state or federal) and be aware that the letter will be sent.  Peer review and revision.
  4. Team project: design a “Newsletter” to send to all participants or members of a particular organization, group, or association. Each group decides their own audience, and design the lay-out best suited to that audience. Teams also decide the goals and purposes of the newsletter, and how to utilize visuals. Several peer reviews and revisions.

Instructions

From the health care professions to industry and business management, college graduates will often get jobs in which they will eventually be in charge of others. Team Leaders in nursing, Accounting Managers in accounting firms, industrial systems managers are just a few possible positions our students will be gravitating to after graduation.

In these capacities, professionals often must design and write instructions for other employees, patients, clients, and other sorts of audiences/ users. Teaching students how to plan and design instructions according to who will use them, for what purposes, and in what contexts is an important teaching task in many classes for many disciplines.

Ideas For Assigning Instructional Documents

  1. Have students read and research activities in their discipline that relate both to managing and teaching employees.
  2. Go over criteria for “good” instructions, including safety hazards if applicable and possible audience characteristics. Get samples of “good” and “bad” instructional documents and analyze what works and what went wrong.

Note: This step is very important as it sets the parameters for any affective instructional document.

  1. After the preliminary work, students choose either “bad” or poorly written instructions and revise, have peers review the document, and revise again based on peer and instructor comments.
  2. If possible, students actually have users follow the instructions to test for successful implementation.

Presentations

Using software such as Power Point or Prezi, students brainstorm topics, audiences, purpose, and design for a presentation using both text and visuals.

Websites

  1. Using Wix or another type of web developing application, students design a website for themselves. Class discussion is imperative to help students assist each other in establishing goals and purposes for each site. Excellent project for developing review and critiquing skills.
  2. Again with a web developer software, students either design and develop a new website for a type of business needing to get its name out to the public OR redesign/ modify an established site that is not “working” in terms of its goals.

This project is well suited for giving students opportunities to work in the “real world,” and should involve real customers who need this site, real interviews with these customers, working links,  real feedback and review on the site from the customers, and revision. The project works well to develop student ability to

  • Organize
  • Interview
  • Become highly aware of audience needs
  • Conceptualize
  • Work with others
  • Develop and maintain proofreading skills
  • Combine visuals and text for best results at reaching communication goals

Feasibility Reports

Feasibility Reports represent documents that reinforce for students the necessity to provide readers with intricate detail, logical conclusions, examples, graphs and Tables, persuasive language, and any other element of good writing. These reports often are  necessary for convincing audiences that a project, piece of equipment, work strategy, system implementation, or anything that will cost money and time is either doable because its “feasible” or not worth doing because it is not “feasible.

This genre can be taught in any discipline and should be discussed thoroughly in classes before students attempt to write one. Feasibility Reports should involve a large amount of research, models to demonstrate different design strategies, team collaboration, audience analysis to determine needs and characteristics to consider, visuals, and persuasive writing. As with all these types of writing, document design must be paramount, devoted to allowing busy readers opportunities to scan the document (well placed and clearly worded headings, fully labeled visuals, etc.) and navigate through it without confusion.

For examples of this genre, see any “Technical Writing” Textbook such as John Lannon’s Technical Communication or search the web by inputting “examples Feasibility Reports” into Google.