Skip navigation
All Places > The English Community > Bedford Bits > Blog > Authors Traci Gardner
1 2 3 Previous Next

Bedford Bits

134 Posts authored by: Traci Gardner Expert

Black student working at laptop outsideFor students to do well in the courses I teach, they have to understand how the course software works. Since the courses are 100% online, the spaces that our course software creates become the classroom where we interact. If students cannot get to those spaces or do not fully understand how they work, they can fail the course.

Given this potential, I make time for software instruction, no matter how packed the course is with subject area content and related work. Generally, I approach software instruction as needed to complete activities in the course. For instance, I talk about how to use banded rows to increase table readability as students work on an assignment that requires creating a table. The software instruction is directly tied to doing well on the activity, so students are motivated to learn the related technical skills.

The challenge is knowing when students will need help with the software that doesn’t relate to specific assignments. Students come to the course with a variety of experience, so I cannot assume that they all need the same instruction. I encourage students to help themselves by linking to the documentation from course materials. Beyond that, I’ve relied on two strategies:

  • Wait until someone asks.
  • Look for patterns that suggest students need help.

In both cases, I either provide a link to the documentation or provide a customized explanation with video or screenshots. These techniques work, but I’d like to do more.

This term, I decided to focus on software instruction from the first day of classes. I gave students a curated list of links to the student guide to the software. Focusing on the commands and tools that I knew students needed for the course reduced the number of documentation links 90%, from 241 to 24 links. No longer do students have to search through pages and pages of information to find what they need—and I benefit from linking to the official documentations, which I don’t have to maintain.

I asked students to read through the entire list. I don’t expect them to memorize the list or click on every link. I just want them to remember there was a resource that listed the main tools they need to use in the course. After skimming through the list, they chose at least one software task to learn more about. I asked students to read the details in the documentation and then try the tool.

For extra points, students could post a reply describing what they found in their exploration. To my happy surprise, the activity yielded 75 replies. Students explored a variety of tools, focusing on whatever interested them. Repeatedly, students explained that they had found some capability in the software that they never knew existed.

Will students remember everything they read? Undoubtedly not, but they do know where to find details on the key commands they need for the course. Since this was the first activity in the course, students and I can draw on it for the entire term. Overall, it seems like a successful strategy that I hope to continue using.

How do you make time for software instruction in your courses? What resources do you share with students? Tell me about the strategies you use by leaving a comment below. I look forward to hearing from you.

Photo Credit: _MG_3783 by VIA Agency on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

This week, I have a short post on a great resource (and one related class activity) that I found on Twitter as I was reading through messages with the #womeninTC hashtag. The TC stands for Technical Communication. The hashtag is a great source of ideas, articles, and support for those of us who teach technical writing.

Here’s the Tweet from Dr. Amelia Cheley (@plaidsicle) that inspired this post, with a transcript following:

Image of Chesley's Tweet, transcript follows

Transcript, with capitalization consistent with the original:

dr. amelia chesley (@plaidsicle): for the first day of class this week, I had my tech com students analyze several random, real memos (including this one lettersofnote.com/2010/08/star-t...) and then each compose a random, imaginary memo themselves. I am loving what they've come up with so far! #womenintc [3:26 PM 16 Jan 2019]

The activity sounded like fun, so I immediately clicked through to see the STAR TREK/Casting memo. Not only did I find an entertaining memo, but I was sucked into the website’s assortment of letters, memos, and other notes from the famous, the infamous, and the unknown. It is a rich collection of primary material that could be used in many classes, not just in technical writing.

My imagination is spinning with the options. I’m sure I will have some specific writing activities to share in the coming weeks, but for now, I’m going to end with a list of ten favorites from the site:

  1. SEVEN LITTLE MEN HELP A GIRL
  2. Subject: Toilet Paper
  3. SPECIAL INSTRUCTIONS TO PLAYERS
  4. Gee whiz, that master alarm certainly startled me
  5. On bureaucratese and gobbledygook
  6. IN EVENT OF MOON DISASTER
  7. Is there a space program which we could win?
  8. The Tiger Oil Memos
  9. To All Potty-Mouthed Inbetweeners
  10. I was ready to sink into the earth with shame

As you wander through the site, I am sure you will find something entertaining. Let me know what you find, and share any ideas you have for using the site. Just leave me a comment below.

Six warning signs, all stating 'Keep Out - Zombie Infected Area'I kicked off Spring semester with some discussion questions meant to work as icebreakers. Two of the prompts are fairly typical: one asks students to talk about an object significant to their careers, and the other asks students to brainstorm characteristics of technical writing based on their experience and observations.

As an alternative to those two fairly customary discussion topics, I devised this third, more playful prompt, “Your Career and the Zombie Apocalypse”:

Imagine that the Zombie Apocalypse is upon us. The walking dead are bearing down upon your part of the country, and everyone in the world is working to stop them and preserve life in the world as it was before the zombie awakening. As a way to introduce yourself to the class, write a reply that tells us the following: 

  1. your major and career goal (i.e., what do you want to be when you graduate?).
  2. what one thing people in your career can do right now* to stop the zombies.
  3. how that one thing will be effective.

*In other words, this one thing needs to be a capability that your career already has. You cannot make up some solution that does not exist. That would be too easy :)

I’m delighted to report that the Zombies Discussion has been the most popular by far. Even more significant to me, students’ responses are showing a wonderful level of creative and analytical thinking. For instance, one computer science major suggested creating programs that analyze live video streams, comparing appearance and movements to what zombies look like and the ways that zombies walk in order to determine when zombies are near. Not a bad solution, I think. Even better, however, were the replies . One student asked how the program would tell the difference between zombies and people in zombie costumes. Another wondered how the program would differentiate between zombies and people with mobility issues, like senior citizens or people with injuries or disabilities.

Other students have talked about military drone strikes, protecting information systems, security of the water supply, crowdsourcing reports of outbreaks, social media survivor networks, cures and vaccinations, DNA modification, landscape barriers, and more.

Zombies aren’t really my thing, but the success of this icebreaker has convinced me that they have a place in this course. I am even wondering about an all-Zombie section of technical writing. Imagine the assignment opportunities:

  • Technical Description of a Zombie
  • Instructions for Trapping a Zombie
  • Directives for Zombie Safety
  • Zombie Sighting Field Report
  • Zombie Incident Reports
  • Recommendation Report on a Zombie Apocalypse Solution

There are so many options—and a good bit of fun to be had. I swear I would try this next term if we had a way to advertise a special focus section of technical writing on my campus. Who knew that an icebreaker would be so inspiring?

What kinds of icebreakers do you use? More importantly, are there zombies in your writing classroom? Leave me a comment below to tell me about your classes. I’d love to hear from you.

 

Photo Credit: Zombie Zone by Michel Curi on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

Sad Kitten, with its head leaning on its paw, and the caption, What a Cat-astrope! Why did I plagiarize?!Every term, I end up turning in a few students for violations of the Honor Code. It sucks. I don’t like filling out the paperwork. I don’t like the feeling that students try to trick me. The students involved are all definitely unhappy.

The most typical violation has been copying passages from sources word-for-word without any citation—without even quotation marks for that matter. When challenged, most students have responded that they didn’t realize citations and quotation marks were required. I certainly understand errors in bibliographic format. That kind of error is easy to make, especially when citation styles change every few years. It concerns me, however, that students can get to Junior and Senior standing at college without understanding how basic documentation of quotations works.

Given what I have been seeing, I have stepped up my documentation lessons to take on the issue directly. Students read the information on research and documentation from their textbook. In my case, that includes the following from Markel & Selber’s Technical Communication:

  • Chapter 6: Researching Your Subject
  • Chapter 7: Organizing Your Information
  • Part A: Skimming Your Sources and Taking Notes
  • Part B: Documenting Your Sources

I also have students review the resources available on the Virginia Tech Honor System website:

In addition to this basic instruction, I asked students to discuss the intricacies of academic research in the class’s online forum. To get the conversation started, I asked students to read through the questions and answers on the Academic Honesty Quiz from the University of Rochester. After reviewing the quiz, I asked students to consider these questions, noting that they did not need to address every quiz question in their responses:

  • Do your agree with their results?
  • Would you offer a different answer?
  • Are there more options than the quiz suggests? What are they?
  • What would you do if you were the teacher involved?
  • What questions about plagiarism (or other academic dishonesty) do you have that aren’t discussed in the quiz?

Some of the situations in the quiz are relatively straightforward, but others led students to question policy and academic responsibility. The questions related to notes falling out from under a desk and failing to log off a computer in particular resulted in engaged conversation.

I will definitely use this discussion strategy again next term. I may also add some infographic representations of some of the basic principles that students should follow. The textbook and Honor System readings are long and dense. Highlighting some of those points in a more visual format should help emphasis the concepts. What do you do to help students understand the principles and ethics of academic research? How do you demonstrate and discuss documentation? Tell me about your practices or leave a question in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you!

 

Image credit: Meme generated on the ICanHasCheezburger site.

People examining research posters at a poster sessionThe last assignment in my Incubator series is a research poster, designed to test students’ understanding of document design and audience. The activity focuses on the same topic as the White Paper Assignment students worked on for the penultimate writing project. The assignment has two underlying goals:

  • Students will recast the information from their white papers for a different audience and purpose.
  • Students will focus on visual design to communicate their messages.

As with previous assignments in this series, the assignment below has some minor changes to remove specific information that is relevant only to the students in my classes. References to “Markel & Selber” in the assignment refer to chapters in Technical Communication.

Research Poster Assignment

Background

You will design a poster presentation, based on the details in your white paper. Your poster will be part of a poster session that the incubator sponsors for the local community. Like the white paper, the presentation will focus on the incubator goal of public outreach and education. As an extension, additional investors and clients also attend the session, so you have the potential to make critical connections for your business.

The Scenario

This week, you received the following memo explaining details on your company’s participation in the December poster presentation event:

Ut Prosim Incubator logo Ut Prosim Incubator

   1872 Inventors Way, Blacksburg, Virginia 24060

 

   Interoffice Memo

 

 

 

To:December Poster Presentation Participants
From:Traci Gardner, Ut Prosim Director
Manolito Reyna Bautista, Manager of the Public Outreach Office
Subject:Preparing Your Research Poster
Date:October 29, 2018

 

Now that you have your white papers well under way, it’s time to begin work on your research posters for the December poster presentation. We have invited 250 local business, university, and community leaders to the upcoming event. Members of the general public can also attend.

Your poster presentation (like your white paper) is due by November 26 [Portfolio 2 due date].

Research Poster Purpose and Audience

Your research poster focuses on the same purpose as your white paper. As explained in the call for proposals, your research poster will inform non-expert readers about a technical topic relevant to the work and mission of your company. These documents will share what we do and why we do it with the university, alumni, and local community. Your poster will contribute directly to our goal of public outreach and education.

As an objective research poster, your document will either provide knowledge or information about a subject relevant to your company or provide solutions to a problem or challenge that relates to your company—or even a combination of both goals.

The audience for your poster presentation differs slightly from that of your white paper. You will communicate your research to the general public, university community, and potential investors and clients who will attend the session.

Poster Content

Your research poster will define or explain your topic and discuss it with the goal of informing your readers about it fully and with relevant, specific details. To follow the customary poster presentation structure, you need to shape the information into a Problem-Solution organization. Imagine that your topic either is a problem or a solution to a problem, and then discuss how to solve it or how it solves the problem.

For instance, for a white paper that focuses on best password management strategies, the problem for your research poster would be password hacking and security. The solution would be your password management strategies.

You should focus on this structure for your poster:

  • Introduction
  • Problem Discussion
  • Solution(s)
  • Conclusions & Recommendations
  • Works Cited

You should present the information in your report objectively; that is, without letting opinion shape what you have to say. Its goal is to provide a response to the question "What is [your subject] all about?" This doesn't mean you can't present opinions about it, but those opinions must come from experts in the field. For example, Expert A thinks the subject of your article is a fantastic option for reducing the need to irrigate crops, but Expert B is sure it won't work as planned. You can present these opposing viewpoints, and draw conclusions about why one option is preferred.

Poster Presentation Expectations

  • Size: 48" X 36", presented in landscape orientation (horizontal). The size is absolute, based on our display boards.
  • Document Design: Use a polished, professional layout that relies on design strategies that increase the document’s readability. Must use appropriately-sized headings, text, and images. People need to be able to see your work.
  • Graphics and Visual Elements: Include as many relevant graphical elements (e.g., photos, illustrations, graphs, tables) as necessary to present your ideas. Avoid clipart (which typically looks unpolished or unprofessional), and use only graphical elements that directly relate to the information in the presentation. All graphical elements must be your company’s intellectual property, or you must provide complete documentation. Graphical elements that are not your own intellectual property must meet fair use guidelines.
  • Research Support: Information must be supported by fully-documented research, including short, relevant quotations. In addition to citing published research studies, you can take advantage of the campus community by tapping university experts on the topic you are discussing.
  • Documentation Format: APA citation style (or the appropriate style for your field, if desired—for instance, an electrical engineer can use IEEE).
  • Submission Format: *.ppt, *pptx, or Google Slides link.

Deadlines

To ensure that we have time to review and edit your submission, please submit your research poster by 11:59 PM on Monday, November 26. If additional time is necessary, you can take advantage of the grace period, which ends at 11:59 PM on Thursday, November 29.

Any Questions?

If you need any help with this project, please let either of us know or contact Traci’s assistant, Leslie Crow <lcrow@utprosimincubator.org>.

Relevant Details

Note: These details apply to all of the projects you include in your portfolio.

Your company’s address is [Your Company Name], Ut Prosim Incubator, 1872 Inventors Way, Suite #[you choose a number], Blacksburg, Virginia 24060. Your company’s phone number is 540-555-5555. You may create a fictional Internet domain for your company, and use that domain for a web page address and your email addresses. If you’d like, you may create other information (including a logo) for your company as appropriate. Be sure that you use the information that you create consistently across all of your projects.

The Project Assignment

Step 1: Review your notes on the topic and audiences, as established in your proposal.
Your proposal should have the basic starting information that you need to begin work on your research poster.

Step 2: Examine the information about research posters in the readings.
Review the following readings for specific details on the information and details to include in your research poster:

Step 3: Examine the information about presentations in the readings.
The textbook provides complete details on how to write proposals. Follow the textbook as you work on your project. In particular, be sure that you do the following:

  • Use “Figure 18.1 A Problem-Solving Model for Recommendation Reports” (on page 474 of Markel & Selber) to structure your information.
  • Follow the advice in the “Ethics Note: Presenting Honest Recommendations” (on page 477 of Markel & Selber) to ensure your poster meets the ethical requirements of your field.
  • Review the “Checklist for Preparing and Presenting an Effective Research Posters” [sic] (starting on page 326 of Miller) to determine the information to include on your poster.
  • Follow the extensive advice in “Best Practices for Effective Scientific Posters” to arrange your content, design your work, and polish your presentation.
  • Use the details in “Appendix Part B: Documenting Your Sources” for information on APA citation style (starting on page 622 of Markel & Selber) and information on IEEE citation style (starting on page 639 of Markel & Selber) to gather relevant details for your documentation and citations. Note that you may alternately use the citation style that is relevant for your field if you prefer.

Step 3: Write and design your poster.

Work steadily on your poster for the entire two-week period. Do not leave the work until the last minute!
Create your research poster, as requested in The Scenario above, with all of the details you have gathered in your research. Remember that your poster should be a factual and objective document. Do not include fictional information about your topic. Review the assessment guidelines below to ensure you have met all the requirements for the instructions.

 

As you work, also keep the following points in mind:

  • Use plain language to make the ideas easy to find and read. Refer to the resources from Module 2 as needed.
  • Follow all relevant ethical guidelines as you work using the Writer’s Checklist at the end of Chapter 2 (on page 40 of Markel & Selber).
  • Follow the suggestions for emphasizing important information, using the Writer’s Checklist for Chapter 9 (on page 211 of Markel & Selber) to check your work.
  • Use the Writer’s Checklist for Chapter 11 (on page 288 of Markel & Selber) to ensure that your document takes advantage of design principles to make it reader-friendly.
  • Make a good impression with accuracy and correctness. Your document should be polished and professional.

Step 4: Check your draft against the Writer’s Checklist.
Be sure that you include the required features for your research poster. Review your project, using the Assessment Criteria below.

Step 5: Review your draft for design and basic writing errors.
Everything you write should use accurate/appropriate image editing, grammar, spelling, punctuation, mechanics, linking, and formatting. These are important basic writing skills that you should have developed in high school. Review your project, using the Writer’s Checklist at the end of Markel & Selber, Chapter 10 (on page 242 of Markel & Selber).

You can also consult the information on “Sentence-Level Issues” in Markel & Selber, “Appendix, Part D: Guidelines for Multilingual Writers (ESL)” (on page 683 of Markel & Selber). While the section is labeled for multilingual writers, it is useful for everyone. It includes explanations and examples for many common mistakes writers make.

Step 6: Submit your draft to your Writing Group in Canvas.
Post a rough draft of your research poster to your Writing Group in Canvas in the 11/08 Draft Feedback Discussion in Canvas. Additional instructions are in the Discussion. Post a draft of your research poster by November 9. If you are late submitting a draft, your group may not have time to provide feedback.

Step 7: Provide feedback to your Writing Group in Canvas.
Provide feedback to the members of your writing group in the 11/08 Draft Feedback Discussion in Canvas, by November 12 (end of the grace period). Use the information on the Writing Groups page to provide constructive feedback that will help your group members make concrete improvements to their drafts. 

Step 8: Revise your draft.
Use the feedback that you receive from your group members to revise and improve your document. You can share your draft again with your Writing Group, if you desire. As you revise, keep in mind the advice in the steps above, as well as the Assessment Criteria below.

Step 9: Include a polished version of your project in Project Portfolio 2, due November 26.
Have your Research Poster finished and ready for submission in your Project Portfolio 2, which is due Monday, November 26. The grace period for Project Portfolio 2 ends at 11:59PM on Thursday, November 29.

Assessment Criteria

For All Technical Writing Projects

All technical writing projects should meet the following general criteria:

  • Makes a good first impression as a polished and professional document.
  • Meets the needs of the intended audience.
  • Demonstrates how to emphasize important information.
  • Uses layout and formatting that makes information easy for readers to find and read, and that follows the standards you have set for your company.
  • Is written in plain language, which communicates the ideas clearly.
  • Follows all relevant ethical guidelines.
  • Uses accurate/appropriate grammar, spelling, punctuation, mechanics, linking, and formatting.

For Research Posters

Your project should meet the following criteria for effective instructions:

  • Has a clear, compelling title that is specific to the poster.
  • Adopts a tone and approach that will appeal to readers.
  • Demonstrates a clear understanding of the research literature on this topic.
  • Provides details and explanation of the information arranged in this structure:
    • Introduction
    • Problem Discussion
    • Solution(s)
    • Conclusions & Recommendations
    • Works Cited
  • Relies on sources that are accurate, unbiased, comprehensive, appropriately technical, current, and clear.
  • Uses quotations from research sources to support and strengthen the project.
  • Includes presentation graphics that meet these five characteristics (see Markel & Selber, pp. 587–589):
    • It presents a clear, well-supported claim.
    • It is easy to see.
    • It is easy to read.
    • It is simple.
    • It is correct.
    • It is either your own work or meets fair use guidelines.
  • Provides accurate and complete in-text citations for all information that is not the author’s own work (including information that is paraphrased, quoted, and summarized).
  • Includes a Works Cited section (e.g., bibliography) that does the following:
    • identifies each source cited in the poster
    • contains complete and accurate information for each citation.
    • uses either APA citation style or the preferred citation style for your major.
  • Demonstrates a clear relationship between the graphics and the accompanying text.

 

Students were generally successful with this assignment. Aside from errors in the size or shape of the posters, the most typical challenges related to the balance between words and visual elements and the design issues such as the font size. When I teach the genre again, I will spend more time on design, to help students learn how little changes can make a significant difference. I am thinking of an activity where students are given the content for the poster and work on how to design the piece as a possibility.

Now that the term has come to an end, students have worked their way through all of these assignments. The different activities connected relatively well, but the projects had the typical issues that I see when assignments are not as authentic as possible. Specifically, the imaginary companies that students created were not always an exact match for the projects. Additionally, students were required to make up information for some of the writing projects. In more authentic writing scenarios, all the details would be established and known. There is still value in the Incubator idea, but I need to do some more development to help ensure students succeed. If you have any ideas that will help me revise any of the assignments, please leave me a comment below.

 

 

Photo credit: Digital humanities poster session by Quinn Dombrowski on Flickr, used under a CC-BY-SA 2.0 license.

Asian woman working at a macintosh commercialThis term, I designed a new assignment for the major report in my technical writing course. Students focus on communicating a technical subject to an audience unfamiliar with their fields. Additionally, they must integrate readability features in their document design to give their documents a polished, professional appearance.

As with previous assignments in this series, the assignment below has some minor changes to remove specific information that is relevant only to the students in my classes. References to “Markel & Selber” in the assignment refer to chapters in Technical Communication. 

White Paper Assignment

Background

You will write an informational report for non-experts (a white paper) that presents details on a specific issue related to your company and the work that it does. Your white paper will tie directly to the incubator goal of public outreach and education. Specifically, the incubator founders want to provide a library of documents that inform readers about how science, technology, and engineering work.

You proposed the topic for your White Paper Project in your Short Proposal. Your Poster Presentation Project will provide an alternate presentation of the information in your White Paper Project.

The Scenario

This week, you received the following memo, accepting your proposal for the Incubator’s December White Paper Publication:

Ut Prosim Incubator logo Ut Prosim Incubator

   1872 Inventors Way, Blacksburg, Virginia 24060

 

   Interoffice Memo

 

 

 

To:December White Paper Authors
From:Traci Gardner, Ut Prosim Director
Manolito Reyna Bautista, Manager of the Public Outreach Office
Subject:Preparing Your White Paper
Date:October 8, 2018

 

Congratulations! We are pleased to accept your proposal for a white paper and research poster for December publication. We look forward to learning more about your topic and working with you to share the information with the public on our website.

Your white paper and poster presentation are due by November 26 [Portfolio 2 due date] and will ultimately be published as PDFs in the December 2018 release on the Incubator website.

Today, we are sharing details on the expectations for your white paper. We will send details on the research poster later this month.

White Paper Purpose and Audience

As explained in the call for proposals, your white paper will inform non-expert readers about a technical topic relevant to the work and mission of your company. These documents will share what we do and why we do it with the university, alumni, and local community. Your documents will also contribute directly to our goal of public outreach and education by adding to our growing library of documents that inform website readers about how science, technology, and engineering work.

As an objective white paper, your document will either provide knowledge or information about a subject relevant to your company or provide solutions to a problem or challenge that relates to your company—or even a combination of both goals.

The audience for the white paper is the general public and the university community Readers with no background in your field should be able to fully understand your white paper.

White Paper Content

Your report will define or explain your topic with the goal of informing your readers about it fully and with relevant, specific details. You should focus on answering questions such as these:

  • What is it?
  • When was it invented or discovered and by whom?
  • Where did it originate and why?
  • What does it involve?
  • How does it work?
  • What is its possibility or potential impact on the future?

You should present the information in your report objectively, that is, without letting opinion shape what you have to say. Do not draw conclusions, make recommendations, argue for one side or the other, or in any way take a position on the subject. Its goal is to provide a response to the question "What is [your subject] all about?" This doesn't mean you can't present opinions about it, but those opinions must come from experts in the field. For example, Expert A thinks the subject of your article is a fantastic option for reducing the need to irrigate crops, but Expert B is sure it won't work as planned. You can present these opposing viewpoints, but you must remain objective and let readers make their own decisions.

White Paper Expectations

  • Length: 25 pages or less. The length typically depends upon the document layout. If your white paper looks like a double-spaced research paper, it will be longer than a white paper that is formatted in single-spaced columns and sidebars (more like an industry magazine or journal article).
  • Document Design: Use a polished, professional layout that relies on design strategies that increase the document’s readability. You are encouraged to use a non-traditional format that incorporates sidebars, columns, and other visually-interesting design strategies. Do not include a cover page.
  • Graphics and Visual Elements: Include relevant graphical elements (e.g., photos, diagrams, graphs, tables). Avoid clipart (which typically looks unpolished or unprofessional), and use only graphical elements that directly relate to the information in the white paper. All graphical elements must be your company’s intellectual property, or you must provide complete documentation. Graphical elements that are not your own intellectual property must meet fair use guidelines.
  • Research Support: Information must be supported by fully-documented research, including relevant quotations. In addition to citing published research studies, you can take advantage of the campus community by tapping university experts on the topic you are discussing.
  • Documentation Format: APA citation style (or the appropriate style for your field, if desired—for instance, an electrical engineer can use IEEE).
  • Submission Format: *.doc, *.docx, *.pdf, or Google Document link. While your document will be published on the Incubator website, it will be published as a PDF (not as HTML).

Deadlines

To ensure that we have time to review and edit your submission, please submit your white paper by 11:59 PM on Monday, November 26. If additional time is necessary, you can take advantage of the grace period, which ends at 11:59 PM on Thursday, November 29.

Any Questions?

If you need any help with this project, please let either of us know or contact Traci’s assistant, Leslie Crow <lcrow@utprosimincubator.org>.

Relevant Details

Note: These details apply to all of the projects you include in your portfolio.

Your company’s address is [Your Company Name], Ut Prosim Incubator, 1872 Inventors Way, Suite #[you choose a number], Blacksburg, Virginia 24060. Your company’s phone number is 540-555-5555. You may create a fictional Internet domain for your company, and use that domain for a web page address and your email addresses. If you'd like, you may create other information (including a logo) for your company as appropriate. Be sure that you use the information that you create consistently across all of your projects.

The Project Assignment

Step 1: Review your notes on the topic and audiences, as established in your proposal.
Your proposal should have the basic starting information that you need to begin the research for your white paper. Be sure that you have a strong, well-focused topic before you begin your research.

Step 2: Examine the information about white papers in the readings.
Review the assigned readings for specific details on the information and details to include in your white paper.

Step 3: Begin your research, taking notes and paying attention to documentation and citation details.
The textbook provides complete details on how to conduct your research and keep track of your notes and sources. Follow the textbook as you work on your project. In particular, be sure that you do the following:

  • Follow the instructions in the “GUIDELINES: Researching a Topic” list (starting on page 119 of Markel & Selber) to gather information.
  • Identify the best kinds of sources for your research by exploring the examples in “TABLE 6.1 Research Questions and Methods” (starting on page 120 of Markel & Selber).
  • Assess your sources with the “GUIDELINES: Evaluating Print and Online Sources” (starting on page 128 of Markel & Selber) to ensure your sources meet the evaluation criteria listed in the text (e.g., that they are accurate, unbiased, comprehensive, appropriately technical, current, and clear, as stated above the guidelines). You should also consult the web resource Evaluating Web Resources: The CRAAP test from North Carolina A&T.
  • Use the “GUIDELINES: Conducting an Interview” (starting on page 137 of Markel & Selber) if you talk with experts in your field (on campus or off) who provide information for your projects.
  • Review the information in “Appendix Part A: Skimming Your Sources and Taking Notes” (starting on page 613 of Markel & Selber) to be sure that you use the notetaking strategies of paraphrasing, quoting, and summarizing accurately.
  • Use the details in “Appendix Part B: Documenting Your Sources” for information on APA citation style (starting on page 622 of Markel & Selber) and information on IEEE citation style (starting on page 639 of Markel & Selber) to gather relevant details for your documentation and citations. Note you may alternately use the citation style that is relevant for your field if you prefer.

Step 4: Write your white paper.

Work steadily on your report for the entire three-week period. Do not leave the work until the last minute!
Compose your white paper, as requested in The Scenario above, with all the details you have gathered in your research. Remember that your white paper should be a factual and objective document. Do not include fictional information about your topic. Review the assessment guidelines below to ensure you have met all the requirements for the instructions.

 

As you work, also keep the following points in mind:

  • Use plain language to make the ideas easy to find and read. Refer to the resources from Module 2 as needed.
  • Follow all relevant ethical guidelines as you work using the Writer’s Checklist at the end of Chapter 2 (on page 40 of Markel & Selber).
  • Follow the suggestions for emphasizing important information, using the Writer’s Checklist for Chapter 9 (on page 211 of Markel & Selber) to check your work.
  • Use the Writer’s Checklist for Chapter 11 (on page 288 of Markel & Selber) to ensure that your document takes advantage of design principles to make it reader-friendly.
  • Make a good impression with accuracy and correctness. Your document should be polished and professional.

Step 5: Check your draft against the Writer’s Checklist.
Be sure that you include the required features for your white paper. Review your project, using the Assessment Criteria below.

Step 6: Review your draft for design and basic writing errors.
Everything you write should use accurate/appropriate image editing, grammar, spelling, punctuation, mechanics, linking, and formatting. These are important basic writing skills that you should have developed in high school. Review your project, using the Writer’s Checklist at the end of Markel & Selber, Chapter 10 (on page 242).

You can also consult the information on “Sentence-Level Issues” in Markel & Selber, “Appendix, Part D: Guidelines for Multilingual Writers (ESL)” (on page 683 of Markel & Selber). While the section is labeled for multilingual writers, it is useful for everyone. It includes explanations and examples for many common mistakes writers make.

Step 7: Submit your draft to your Writing Group in Canvas.
Post a rough draft of your technical description to your Writing Group in Canvas in the 10/25 Draft Feedback Discussion in Canvas. Additional instructions are in the Discussion. Post a draft of your technical description by September 20. If you are late submitting a draft, your group may not have time to provide feedback.

Step 8: Provide feedback to your Writing Group in Canvas.
Provide feedback to the members of your writing group in the 10/25 Draft Feedback Discussion in Canvas, by September 24 (end of the grace period). Use the information on the Writing Groups page to provide constructive feedback that will help your group members make concrete improvements to their drafts. 

Step 9: Revise your draft.
Use the feedback that you receive from your group members to revise and improve your document. You can share your draft again with your Writing Group, if you desire. As you revise, keep in mind the advice in the steps above, as well as the Assessment Criteria below.

Step 10: Include a polished version of your project in Project Portfolio 2, due November 26.
Have your Technical Description Project finished and ready for submission in your Project Portfolio 2, which is due Monday, November 26. The grace period for Project Portfolio 2 ends at 11:59PM on Thursday, November 29.

Assessment Criteria

For All Technical Writing Projects

All technical writing projects should meet the following general criteria:

  • Makes a good first impression as a polished and professional document.
  • Meets the needs of the intended audience.
  • Demonstrates how to emphasize important information.
  • Uses layout and formatting that makes information easy for readers to find and read, and that follows the standards you have set for your company.
  • Is written in plain language, which communicates the ideas clearly.
  • Follows all relevant ethical guidelines.
  • Uses accurate/appropriate grammar, spelling, punctuation, mechanics, linking, and formatting.

For White Papers

Your project should meet the following criteria for effective instructions:

  • Has a clear, compelling title that is specific to the document.
  • Adopts a tone and approach that will appeal to readers.
  • Demonstrates a clear understanding of the research literature on this topic.
  • Provides details and explanation of the information that
    • Presents an objective summary of the facts.
    • Discusses the importance of these facts.
    • Forecasts the importance of these facts in the future.
  • Relies on sources that are accurate, unbiased, comprehensive, appropriately technical, current, and clear.
  • Uses quotations from research sources to support and strengthen the project.
  • Provides accurate and complete in-text citations for all information that is not the author’s own work (including information that is paraphrased, quoted, and summarized).
  • Includes a references section (e.g., bibliography) that does the following:
    • identifies each source cited in the white paper.
    • contains complete and accurate information for each citation.
    • uses either APA citation style or the preferred citation style for your major.
  • Demonstrates a clear relationship between the graphics and the accompanying text. 

 

This assignment was challenging for students, who were less familiar with the genre than they typically are with more generic technical reports. The demands of an audience of non-experts complicated the assignment for some students who were unaccustomed to explaining the concepts and technical lingo of their field. Those aspects made for a rewarding project. When I use the assignment again however, I want to have more supporting resources for students to draw on. Specifically, students would benefit from more examples and some explicit instruction on document design for this genre.

Based on these white papers, students next work on research posters. I’ll share that assignment in my next post, so be sure to come back for the details. If you have any feedback on this assignment or useful resources on white papers, please leave me a comment below.

 

 

Photo credit: Dawa deep in pixel thought by Juhan Sonin on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

Typing content by Search Engine People Blog on FlickrThe last three assignments in the Incubator series of assignments that I have designed for my technical writing courses are directly related to one another. Students write a Short Proposal for the White Paper and the Research Poster projects that they will complete during the second half of the term. In today’s post, I will share the assignment for the Short Proposal.

Because I want them to focus their energy on the major report (the white paper), I ask for a short, memo-based proposal, rather than a longer document. The assignment gives students very specific guidelines to follow so that the more in-depth coverage from the textbook does not lead them to do more than they need to. My underlying goal for the activity is two-fold: I want them to learn to write a proposal, but just as importantly, I want to spot-check their topics for the white paper and research poster before they get too far into the project.

As with previous assignments in this series, the assignment below has some minor changes to remove specific information that is relevant only to the students in my classes. References to “Markel & Selber” in the assignment refer to chapters in the class textbook Technical Communication by Mike Markel and Stuart Selber.

Short Proposal Assignment

Background

You will write a short proposal that presents the topic you will explore for your white paper and poster presentation. Your proposal should explain not only what the topic is but how it relates to your company (and therefore your career field and major) and the incubator goal of public outreach and education.

The Scenario

Today, you received the following memo, asking you to submit a proposal for a white paper and related poster presentation:

Ut Prosim Incubator logo Ut Prosim Incubator

   1872 Inventors Way, Blacksburg, Virginia 24060

 

   Interoffice Memo

 

 


To: All Incubator Companies

From: Traci Gardner, Ut Prosim Director

Subject: RFP: White Papers and Poster Presentations for December Publication

Date: October 1, 2018

Our Public Outreach Office is requesting proposals for white papers and research posters that will inform non-expert readers about a technical topic relevant to the work and mission of your company. These documents will share what we do and why we do it with the university, alumni, and local community. Your documents will also contribute directly to our goal of public outreach and education by adding to our growing library of documents that inform website readers about how science, technology, and engineering work.

As an objective white paper, accepted documents will either provide knowledge or information about a subject relevant to your company or provide solutions to a problem or challenge that relates to your company—or even a combination of both goals. These white papers will also be the basis of a presentation that will be part of the quarterly poster session we sponsor for the local community in December. As an extension, additional investors and clients also attend the session, so you have the potential to make critical connections for your business.

These white papers and poster presentations are due by November 26 [Portfolio 2 due date] and will be published in the December 2018 release on the Incubator website.

White Paper Expectations

  • Length: 25 pages or less.
  • Document Design: Polished, professional layout that relies on design strategies that increase the document’s readability. You are encouraged to use a non-traditional format that incorporates sidebars, columns, and other visually-interesting design strategies. Please do not include a cover page.
  • Graphics and Visual Elements: Include relevant graphical elements (e.g., photos, illustrations, graphs, tables). All graphical elements must be your company’s intellectual property, or you must provide complete documentation. Graphical elements that are not your own intellectual property must meet fair use guidelines.
  • Research Support: Information must be supported by fully-documented research, including relevant quotations. In addition to citing published research studies, you can take advantage of the campus community by tapping university experts on the topic you are discussing.
  • Documentation Format: APA citation style (or the appropriate style for your field, if desired—for instance, an electrical engineer can use IEEE).
  • Submission Format: *.doc, *docx, *.pdf, or Google Document link.

Additional criteria and examples will be provided once proposals are accepted.

Poster Presentation Expectations

  • Size: 48" X 36", presented in landscape orientation (horizontal).
  • Document Design: Polished, professional layout that relies on design strategies that increase the document’s readability. Must use appropriately-sized headings, text, and images.
  • Graphics and Visual Elements: Include as many relevant graphical elements (e.g., photos, illustrations, graphs, tables) as necessary to present your ideas. All graphical elements must be your company’s intellectual property, or you must provide complete documentation. Graphical elements that are not your own intellectual property must meet fair use guidelines.
  • Research Support: Information must be supported by fully-documented research, including short, relevant quotations. In addition to citing published research studies, you can take advantage of the campus community by tapping university experts on the topic you are discussing.
  • Documentation Format: APA citation style (or the appropriate style for your field, if desired—for instance, an electrical engineer can use IEEE).
  • Submission Format: *.ppt, *pptx, or Google Slides link.

Additional criteria and examples will be provided once proposals are accepted.

Proposal Requirements

Your proposal should be in memo format, be no more than four pages in length, and provide the following information to help us gauge the appropriateness of the topic for December publication:

  • Background (or Introduction)
    Give some background on your topic, your experiences with it to date, what you already know, etc. Then clearly state, “[We, OR your company name, OR similar] would like to produce a white paper and poster presentation on [your topic] for the following reasons: . . . .” In your statement, explain your motivations for sharing information about the topic with the public.
  • Areas to be Studied
    Provide more details on the proposed topic for your white paper and poster presentation so that the Public Outreach Office understands the approach you will take. Consider the following questions:
    • What are the key points you will explore or explain?
    • What are some questions you will ask and try to answer in this white paper and poster presentation?
    • How do the areas to be studied relate to your company’s mission?
    • What ethical and/or intercultural and global issues will you consider as you examine the topic you have chosen?
  • Methods of Research
    Explain how you will gather the information that you present in your white paper and poster presentation. Tell the Public Outreach Office your research strategy by outlining exactly how are you planning to gather information and find answers to your questions explored in the white paper and poster presentation.
  • Timetable
    Share a calendar that includes the target dates for various milestones that will lead to completion of your white paper and poster presentation. Be sure that your schedule allows you to finish by the white paper and poster presentation due date, November 26 [Portfolio 2 due date].
  • Qualifications
    Explain why you are qualified to do this research and outline the skills you have that will help you deal with this topic effectively.
  • Request for Approval
    Ask for approval; ask for guidance, articulate your biggest concerns at this point; ask for suggestions about next right steps; provide contact information.

Due Dates

October 8, 2018: Proposal submitted as a memo, addressed to me and to Manolito Reyna Bautista, Manager of the Public Outreach Office

November 26, 2018: Finished White Paper and Poster submitted [in Canvas, as part of Portfolio 2]

Any Questions?

If you need any help with your proposal, please let me know or contact my assistant, Leslie Crow <lcrow@utprosimincubator.org>.

Relevant Details

Note: These details apply to all of the projects you include in your portfolio.

Your company’s address is [Your Company Name], Ut Prosim Incubator, 1872 Inventors Way, Suite #[you choose a number], Blacksburg, Virginia 24060. Your company’s phone number is 540-555-5555. You may create a fictional Internet domain for your company, and use that domain for a web page address and your email addresses. If you’d like, you may create other information (including a logo) for your company as appropriate. Be sure that you use the information that you create consistently across all of your projects.

The Project Assignment

Step 1: Decide on the focus for your white paper and poster presentation(which you will write as future projects).
Your focus will be to inform non-expert readers about a technical topic that is related to your company (and therefore, related to your career field and major). Try to limit yourself to topics with which you have some expertise (or at least some experience) to simplify the research process. These example white papers may help you think of appropriate topics and/or approaches:

Step 2: Examine the information about proposals in Markel & Selber.
The textbook provides complete details on how to write proposals. Follow the textbook as you work on your project. In particular, be sure that you do the following:

  • Follow the “GUIDELINES: Demonstrating Your Professionalism in a Proposal” (starting on page 430 of Markel & Selber) to ensure you adopt the appropriate tone.
  • Use the “ETHICS NOTE: WRITING HONEST PROPOSALS” (starting on page 430 of Markel & Selber) to make your proposal professionally acceptable.
  • Work through the “GUIDELINES: Introducing a Proposal” (starting on page 432 of Markel & Selber) to gather information for your proposal’s Background section.
  • Explore the information in the “Tech Tip: Why and How to Create a Gantt Chart” (starting on page 436 of Markel & Selber) to see an effective strategy for explaining your timetable.

Step 3: Write the proposals for your white paper and poster presentation.
Compose your proposal, as requested in The Scenario above, with all the details you have gathered. Review the assessment guidelines below to ensure you have met all the requirements for the proposal. As you work, also keep the following points in mind:

  • Use plain language to make the ideas in your proposal are easy to find and read. Refer to the resources from Module 2 as needed.
  • Follow all relevant ethical guidelines as you work using the Writer’s Checklist at the end of Chapter 2 (on page 40 of Markel & Selber).
  • Follow the suggestions for emphasizing important information, using the Writer’s Checklist for Chapter 9 (on page 211 of Markel & Selber) to check your work.
  • Use the Writer’s Checklist for Chapter 11 (on page 288 of Markel & Selber) to ensure that your document takes advantage of design principles to make it reader-friendly.
  • Make a good impression with accuracy and correctness. Your document should be polished and professional.

Step 4: Check your draft against the Writer’s Checklist.
Be sure that you include the required features for instructions. Review your project, using the Writer's Checklist for Chapter 16 (on page 439 of Markel & Selber) and the Assessment Criteria below.

Step 5: Review your draft for design and basic writing errors.
Everything you write should use accurate/appropriate image editing, grammar, spelling, punctuation, mechanics, linking, and formatting. These are important basic writing skills that you should have developed in high school. Review your project, using the Writer’s Checklist at the end of Markel & Selber, Chapter 10 (on page 242 of Markel & Selber).

You can also consult the information on “Sentence-Level Issues” in Markel & Selber, “Appendix, Part D: Guidelines for Multilingual Writers (ESL)” (on page 683 of Markel & Selber). While the section is labeled for multilingual writers, it is useful for everyone. It includes explanations and examples for many common mistakes writers make.

Step 6: Submit your draft to your Writing Group in Canvas.
Post a rough draft of your Proposal to your Writing Group in Canvas in the 10/04 Draft Feedback Discussion in Canvas. Additional instructions are in the Discussion. If you do not post your draft by noon on Sunday, October 7, your group may not have time to provide feedback.

Step 7: Provide feedback to your Writing Group in Canvas.
Provide feedback to the members of your writing group in the 10/04 Draft Feedback Discussion in Canvas, by October 8 (end of the grace period). Use the information on the Writing Groups page to provide constructive feedback that will help your group members make concrete improvements to their drafts. You are not obligated to provide feedback for any drafts posted after noon on Sunday, October 7.

Step 8: Revise your draft.
Use the feedback that you receive from your group members to revise and improve your document. You can share your draft again with your Writing Group, if you desire. As you revise, keep in mind the advice in the steps above, as well as the Assessment Criteria below.

Step 9: Include a polished version of your project in Project Portfolio 2, due November 26.
Have your Proposal finished and ready for submission in your Project Portfolio 2, which is due Monday, November 26. The grace period for Project Portfolio 1 ends at 11:59PM on Thursday, November 29.

Assessment Criteria

For All Technical Writing Projects

All technical writing projects should meet the following general criteria:

  • Makes a good first impression as a polished and professional document.
  • Meets the needs of the intended audience.
  • Demonstrates how to emphasize important information.
  • Uses layout and formatting that makes information easy for readers to find and read, and that follows the standards you have set for your company.
  • Is written in plain language, which communicates the ideas clearly.
  • Follows all relevant ethical guidelines.
  • Uses accurate/appropriate grammar, spelling, punctuation, mechanics, linking, and formatting.

For Proposals

Your project should meet the following criteria for effective proposals, based on the checklist at the end of Chapter 16 of Markel & Selber:

  • Meets the guidelines established in the request for proposals (see The Scenario, above).
  • Demonstrates professionalism and honesty.
  • Includes an introduction that indicates the following:
    • the problem or opportunity.
    • the purpose of the proposal.
    • the background of the problem or opportunity.
    • your sources of information.
    • the scope of the proposal.
    • the organization of the proposal.
    • the key terms that you will use in the proposal.
  • Provides a clear, specific plan for research and justifies that methodology.
  • Describes the qualifications and experience clearly outlining
    • relevant skills and past work.
    • relevant equipment, facilities, and experience.
  • Includes full documentation for all ideas, words, and visuals that the work of others (see Part B, “Documenting Your Sources,” in Markel & Selber).


This assignment has gone relatively well. The most frequent issue has been confusion about memo format. Students either didn't follow the instructions and used other formats, or they did not follow the format accurately. The most serious issue that has come up has been failure to provide enough details and development of the proposal. I wonder if the emphasis on a “short” proposal has misled some to think that general and underdeveloped ideas were adequate. When I use this activity again, I will work to address both of these issues.

My next post will share the instructions for the white paper, which is the next project students worked on. Be sure to come back to read more about that activity, and in the meantime, if you have any feedback to share, please leave a comment below.

 

Photo credit: Typing content by Search Engine People Blog on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

Wrong Way Street SignWhat happens when your plans for a term suddenly don’t work? How do you adjust? This fall, I’ve had to do some hard thinking about these questions.

If you follow this blog, you know that I disappeared in mid-October. On the evening of October 14, I fell, after tripping over a small baby gate that we use to separate the dogs when they are eating. I ended up taking an ambulance ride to the emergency room. After many x-rays, I was diagnosed with a severe hematoma and sprained knee. I was sent home with prescriptions for pain killers and instructions to use a walker for the foreseeable future.

That night, I didn’t think a knee injury would upend my teaching plans. I am teaching fully online, so I didn’t need to get to a classroom. I had everything for the week of October 14th already queued in Canvas (our LMS), so there was nothing to worry about. Wow, was I wrong!

When I attempted to get out of bed the next morning, I realized how badly injured I was. Just getting my leg off the bed was a major adventure. I had to loop a rolled sheet under my foot, like a stirrup, and then lift my leg onto the floor. I found that sitting at the computer for any length of time was impossible. Without my usual time at the computer, I couldn’t keep up with students, prepare materials for future classes, or grade their work.

Coping Strategies

  1. Let the department stakeholders know ASAP. Even though I didn’t need my department to do anything to help me, I wanted them to know what was going on in case students came to them with questions.
  2. Let students know next. If I were teaching in an on-campus classroom, students would have noticed immediately if I were to hobble into the classroom with a walker and a bandaged knew. My online students had no way to know. I not only told them what happened, but I also told them what kinds of delays to expect as a result.
  3. Look for shortcuts. I have a cache of daily posts that tie to various topics I teach, and I raided that collection for discussion and instructional ideas. I normally try to write several new things each week. With the injury, I had to take the shortcut of using what I already had.
  4. Get ahead on whatever you can. Since I could only sit at the computer for short sessions, I had to find a way to use that time effectively. I found that I could copy over one or two of those daily posts, revise lightly, and queue them to publish later during those short sessions. I was able to set up daily posts for a few weeks in advance this way.
  5. Change what you need to. After a few days of struggling to get work done, I knew that the original plan was not going to work. I reworked the course schedule so that I could drop a major writing assignment. I hated giving up the activity, but it was the right choice. Ultimately, the change gave me some extra time to grade and let students have more time to write their longer reports.
  6. Realize that it’s okay to lower your expectations for yourself. Probably the hardest task for me was recognizing that I simply couldn’t be the teacher I wanted to be this term. Last spring I used screencast feedback on students’ projects. They loved it, and I planned to use it again this fall. Unfortunately, that kind of feedback takes two or three times as long to produce, so I had to lower my goals and go back to a combination of annotations and end notes for feedback.

Fortunately, the term is nearly over, and I am doing much better. I can even sit at the computer for as long as I want to again! It’s been a challenging term, but I think I will make it through just fine. Perhaps more important, I gained a lot more sympathy for students who suffer major setbacks during the term. I certainly don’t want to fall again any time soon, but all in all I may have improved a bit as a teacher as a result this fall (pun intended).

 

Photo Credit: WRONG WAY by David Goehring on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license

I've done assembly and teardown of inline-4 combustion engines in my life you think I can do this?#ikeaThe fourth assignment in the Incubator series of assignments that I have designed for my technical writing courses connects directly to the STEM-Based Technical Description Assignment I shared in my last post. In this project, students write a an instructional document related to their field, which will be part of a diversity initiative to interest local students in STEM careers (STEM = Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math).

The instructions project pairs with the Technical Description Assignment, which described an object, mechanism, or process common in the student writer’s career field. This assignment asks students to write an instructional document that relates to their technical description document. In the scenario for the paired assignments, the technical writing students discuss a task that local middle and high school students will complete as they shadow someone in the companies that students have created for the course. They will provide step-by-step details on how to complete a simple and appropriate task that will help local students learn more about what someone in their career does.

The assignment below has some minor changes to remove specific information that is relevant only to the students in my classes. References to “Markel & Selber” in the assignment refer to chapters in the class textbook Technical Communication by Mike Markel and Stuart Selber. Additionally, the scenario memo that sets up this week’s assignment is identical to that included in last week’s post. So that the assignment is complete, I have repeated it this week.

Technical Description Assignment

Background

You will write a user document (instructions) related to your field. The instructions will be part of a diversity initiative to interest local students in STEM careers (STEM = Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). The user document will relate to a task that local middle and high school students will complete as they shadow someone in your company. You will provide step-by-step details on how to complete a simple and appropriate task that will help local students learn more about what someone in your career does.

Your user document that students will pair with the Technical Description Project that you worked on last week.

The Scenario

Note: We will use this scenario for two projects: Technical Descriptions (this week) and User Documents (next week).

Last week, you received the following memo, explaining your responsibilities for the Incubator’s annual Try-It-Out Day:

Ut Prosim Incubator logo Ut Prosim Incubator

   1872 Inventors Way, Blacksburg, Virginia 24060

 

   Interoffice Memo

 


To: All Incubator Companies

From: Traci Gardner, Ut Prosim Director

Subject: Preparing for Try-It-Out Day

Date: September 10, 2018
 

RDECOM Scientist and Engineers bring their special skills and enthusiasm  to STEM Night at Fallston Middle SchoolOn Try-It-Out Day, students from Montgomery, Giles, Pulaski, and Floyd Counties will spend most of the day working one-on-one with employees from every company in the Incubator to learn about what careers in STEM involve. We will match students with the company that fits their interests, and then you will determine the employees who will work with those students.

What Happens on Try-It-Out Day?

Try-It-Out Day will take place on Wednesday, September 26, from 8AM to 4PM.

Students will arrive at the Incubator at 8AM and spend the entire day with their assigned company, following this general schedule:

TimeActivity
8:00 AMWelcome assembly for all students and company representatives
8:30 AMStudents tour their assigned company, learning about what the company does and how it works
9:00 AMStudents pair off with employees, who tell the students about their specific careers
10:00 AMRefreshments in the Incubator Atrium
10:30 AMStudents learn to complete an activity that their employee-hosts do in the normal course of work
12:30 PMLunch in the Incubator Cafeteria
1:30 PMSTEM Challenge (a competition, students and employees collaborate in teams based on the schools students attend)
3:30 PMRefreshments in the Incubator Atrium and Closing Comments
4:00 PMStudents board buses to return home

What Do You Need to Do to Prepare?

From 10:30 to 12:30, employees from your company will teach students about some activities that they do in the normal course of their work. To prepare for this portion of the day, please choose a specific activity that students can safely complete in 15–30 minutes. Ideally, choose an activity that students can complete more than once, such as examining and sorting specimens as shown in the image above.

Once you have chosen an activity, create two documents that students can take home and share when they return to their schools:

  • A technical description of an object, mechanism, or process that relates to the activity students will complete.
  • A user document that includes instructions the student can follow to complete the activity.

Any Questions?

If you need any help with this project, please let me know or contact my assistant, Leslie Crow <lcrow@utprosimincubator.org>. You can also talk with Incubator members who participated in the event last year.

Relevant Details

Note: These details apply to all of the projects you include in your portfolio.

Your company’s address is [Your Company Name], Ut Prosim Incubator, 1872 Inventors Way, Suite #[you choose a number], Blacksburg, Virginia 24060. Your company’s phone number is 540-555-5555. You may create a fictional Internet domain for your company, and use that domain for a web page address and your email addresses. If you’d like, you may create other information (including a logo) for your company as appropriate. Be sure that you use the information that you create consistently across all of your projects.

The Project Assignment

Step 1: Review your notes on the focus and audiences for your two projects.
You are using the same focus for your User Document that you choose for the Technical Description that you worked on last week. Review the audience analysis that you completed last week to remind yourself of the characteristics and needs of the middle and high school students who will be following the instructions in your user document. Be sure that you have chosen a workplace task that they could believably complete and that will not place them in a dangerous situation.

Step 2: Examine the information about instructions in Markel.
The textbook provides resources on how to write instructions. Follow the textbook as you work on your project. In particular, be sure that you do the following:

  • Work through the questions for “Designing a Set of Written Instructions” (on page 560 of Markel & Selber) to make final decisions about how to adapt your instructions to meet the needs of your readers.
  • Keep your readers safe by following the advice in the section on “Planning for Safety” (starting on page 562 of Markel & Selber).
  • Follow the “GUIDELINES: Drafting Introductions for Instructions” (starting on page 566 of Markel & Selber) to ensure you include the proper level of specific information.
  • Use the “GUIDELINES: Drafting Steps in Instructions” (starting on page 566 of Markel & Selber) to make the activity easy to understand and complete.
  • Explore the examples in the section “A Look at Several Sample Sets of Instructions” (starting on page 568 of Markel & Selber) to see some of the options for layout and formatting as well as the details to include.

Step 3: Write the user document for students to follow.
Compose your instructions, as requested in The Scenario above, with all the details you have gathered and created. Review the assessment guidelines below to ensure you have met all the requirements for the instructions. As you work, also keep the following points in mind:

  • Use plain language to make the ideas easy to find and read. Refer to the resources from Module 2 as needed.
  • Follow all relevant ethical guidelines as you work using the Writer’s Checklist at the end of Chapter 2 (on page 40 of Markel & Selber).
  • Follow the suggestions for emphasizing important information, using the Writer’s Checklist for Chapter 9 (on page 211 of Markel & Selber) to check your work.
  • Use the Writer’s Checklist for Chapter 11 (on page 288 of Markel & Selber) to ensure that your document takes advantage of design principles to make it reader-friendly.
  • Make a good impression with accuracy and correctness. Your document should be polished and professional.

Step 4: Check your draft against the Writer’s Checklist.
Be sure that you include the required features for instructions. Review your project, using the Writer's Checklist for Chapter 20 (on page 576 of Markel & Selber) and the Assessment Criteria below.

Step 5: Review your draft for design and basic writing errors.
Everything you write should use accurate/appropriate image editing, grammar, spelling, punctuation, mechanics, linking, and formatting. These are important basic writing skills that you should have developed in high school. Review your project, using the Writer’s Checklist at the end of Markel & Selber, Chapter 10 (on page 242 of Markel & Selber).

You can also consult the information on “Sentence-Level Issues” in Markel & Selber, “Appendix, Part D: Guidelines for Multilingual Writers (ESL)” (on page 683 of Markel & Selber). While the section is labeled for multilingual writers, it is useful for everyone. It includes explanations and examples for many common mistakes writers make.

Step 6: Submit your draft to your Writing Group in Canvas.
Post a rough draft of your technical description to your Writing Group in Canvas in the 09/20 Draft Feedback Discussion in Canvas. Additional instructions are in the Discussion. Post a draft of your technical description by September 20. If you are late submitting a draft, your group may not have time to provide feedback.

Step 7: Provide feedback to your Writing Group in Canvas.
Provide feedback to the members of your writing group in the 09/20 Draft Feedback Discussion in Canvas, by September 24 (end of the grace period). Use the information on the Writing Groups page to provide constructive feedback that will help your group members make concrete improvements to their drafts. 

Step 8: Revise your draft.
Use the feedback that you receive from your group members to revise and improve your document. You can share your draft again with your Writing Group, if you desire. As you revise, keep in mind the advice in the steps above, as well as the Assessment Criteria below.

Step 9: Include a polished version of your project in Project Portfolio 1, due October 1.
Have your Technical Description Project finished and ready for submission in your Project Portfolio 1, which is due Monday, October 1. The grace period for Project Portfolio 1 ends at 11:59PM on Thursday, October 4.

Assessment Criteria

For All Technical Writing Projects

All technical writing projects should meet the following general criteria:

  • Makes a good first impression as a polished and professional document.
  • Meets the needs of the intended audience.
  • Demonstrates how to emphasize important information.
  • Uses layout and formatting that makes information easy for readers to find and read, and that follows the standards you have set for your company.
  • Is written in plain language, which communicates the ideas clearly.
  • Follows all relevant ethical guidelines.
  • Uses accurate/appropriate grammar, spelling, punctuation, mechanics, linking, and formatting.

For Instructions

Your project should meet the following criteria for effective instructions, based on the checklist at the end of Chapter 20 of Markel & Selber:

  • Demonstrates a clear relationship between the graphics and the accompanying text.
  • Has a clear title that is specific to the instructions.
  • Opens with an introduction that
    • states the purpose of the task.
    • describes the safety measures or other concerns that readers should understand.
    • lists the necessary tools and materials.
  • Includes step-by-step instructions that are
    • numbered.
    • expressed in the imperative mood.
    • simple and direct.
    • accompanied by appropriate graphics.
  • Ends with a conclusion that includes
    • any necessary follow-up advice.
    • if appropriate, a troubleshooting guide.

 


Image Credit from Memo: RDECOM Scientist and Engineers bring their special skills and enthusiasm to STEM Night at Fallston Middle School by U.S. Army RDECOM on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license


I supplemented the assignment and the textbook information with some short videos and other materials that discussed how to decide between arranging instructions in a sequence and breaking instructions out in steps. Class discussion focused on students’ experience with following instructions. They offered many examples of instructions that didn’t give the end user enough details, primarily from instructions for building furniture.

Things have not been all smooth with this assignment, however. Some students were confused about the connections between the technical description and the instructions. I thought that breaking the activity into two separate pieces would help them focus on one genre at a time. Instead, I complicated the projects. I will likely use one assignment, combining the two projects, in the future.

Next week, I will share details from the portfolio submission assignment, including an infographic I created to help them understand the process. Students have completed half of the writing projects, so they will turn in their collected works. Until next week, let me know if you have any questions or suggestions by leaving me a comment below.

 

 

 

 

Photo credit: I’ve done assembly and teardown of inline-4 combustion engines in my life you think I can do this?#ikea by Joey Navera on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

Jared Taylor, 16, scans a package under the guidance of Senior Airman Nolan Luna-Chavez at the RAF Mildenhall post office Aug. 3, 2012This week I am sharing the third writing assignment in the series of assignments I designed for my technical writing course. The series focuses on tasks related to a fictional business incubator, the Ut Prosim Incubator. In this week’s assignment (which is a revision of an activity I shared in the past), the fictional companies students have been working with are participating in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education initiative.

At this point in the course, students have established a company and given it an identity by designing visual and writing guidelines for the ways that their companies use the different kinds of correspondence. This week’s assignment asks students to turn to a short document that focuses directly on a technical task, describing an object, mechanism, or process for an audience of middle- and high-school students.

The assignment below has some minor changes to remove specific information that is relevant only to the students in my classes. References to “Markel & Selber” in the assignment refer to chapters in the class textbook Technical Communication by Mike Markel & Selber and Stuart Selber.

Technical Description Assignment

Background

You will write a technical description related to your field (such as of a tool that is typically used or a process that is part of your industry). The description will be part of a diversity initiative to interest local students in STEM careers (STEM = Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). The description will relate to a task that local middle and high school students will complete as they shadow someone in your company.

You will also write the user document that students will use in the diversity initiative described above. You will provide step-by-step details on how to complete a simple and appropriate task that will help local students learn more about what someone in your career does.

The Scenario

Note: We will use this scenario for two projects: Technical Descriptions (this week) and User Documents (next week).

This week, you received the following memo, explaining your responsibilities for the Incubator’s annual Try-It-Out Day:

Ut Prosim Incubator logo Ut Prosim Incubator

   1872 Inventors Way, Blacksburg, Virginia 24060

 

   Interoffice Memo

 


To: All Incubator Companies

From: Traci Gardner, Ut Prosim Director

Subject: Preparing for Try-It-Out Day

Date: September 10, 2018
 

RDECOM Scientist and Engineers bring their special skills and enthusiasm  to STEM Night at Fallston Middle SchoolOn Try-It-Out Day, students from Montgomery, Giles, Pulaski, and Floyd Counties will spend most of the day working one-on-one with employees from every company in the Incubator to learn about what careers in STEM involve. We will match students with the company that fits their interests, and then you will determine the employees who will work with those students.

What Happens on Try-It-Out Day?

Try-It-Out Day will take place on Wednesday, September 26, from 8AM to 4PM.

Students will arrive at the Incubator at 8AM and spend the entire day with their assigned company, following this general schedule:

TimeActivity
8:00 AMWelcome assembly for all students and company representatives
8:30 AMStudents tour their assigned company, learning about what the company does and how it works
9:00 AMStudents pair off with employees, who tell the students about their specific careers
10:00 AMRefreshments in the Incubator Atrium
10:30 AMStudents learn to complete an activity that their employee-hosts do in the normal course of work
12:30 PMLunch in the Incubator Cafeteria
1:30 PMSTEM Challenge (a competition, students and employees collaborate in teams based on the schools students attend)
3:30 PMRefreshments in the Incubator Atrium and Closing Comments
4:00 PMStudents board buses to return home

What Do You Need to Do to Prepare?

From 10:30 to 12:30, employees from your company will teach students about some activities that they do in the normal course of their work. To prepare for this portion of the day, please choose a specific activity that students can safely complete in 15–30 minutes. Ideally, choose an activity that students can complete more than once, such as examining and sorting specimens as shown in the image above.

Once you have chosen an activity, create two documents that students can take home and share when they return to their schools:

  • A technical description of an object, mechanism, or process that relates to the activity students will complete.
  • A user document that includes instructions the student can follow to complete the activity.

Any Questions?

If you need any help with this project, please let me know or contact my assistant, Leslie Crow <lcrow@utprosimincubator.org>. You can also talk with Incubator members who participated in the event last year.

Relevant Details

Note: These details apply to all of the projects you include in your portfolio.

Your company’s address is [Your Company Name], Ut Prosim Incubator, 1872 Inventors Way, Suite #[you choose a number], Blacksburg, Virginia 24060. Your company’s phone number is 540-555-5555. You may create a fictional Internet domain for your company, and use that domain for a web page address and your email addresses. If you’d like, you may create other information (including a logo) for your company as appropriate. Be sure that you use the information that you create consistently across all of your projects.

The Project Assignment

Step 1: Decide on the focus for your two projects (this week’s Technical Description and next week’s User Document).
Your focus will be to talk about a simple task that someone in your career field would complete. As you decide on your focus, think about activities that will meet these goals:

  • give the students an idea of what someone in your career does.
  • excite the students about the prospects of a career like yours.

Try to limit yourself to topics with which you have some expertise (or at least some experience). Since middle and high school students will be following the instructions, choose something that they could believably complete and that will not place them in a dangerous situation.

Step 2: Analyze the audiences for your two projects.
You will write a technical description and user document that middle and high school students can use as they complete an activity on Try-It-Out Day. Use the information from Markel & Selber, Chapter 5 to decide how the characteristics of the audiences will influence your writing. Consider the questions in Figure 5.2: Audience Profile Sheet and/or the Writer’s Checklist at the end of the chapter to guide your analysis.

Step 3: Examine the information about technical descriptions in Markel & Selber.
The textbook provides step-by-step details on how to write a technical description. Follow the textbook as you work on your project. In particular, be sure that you do the following:

  • Incorporate definitions for unfamiliar terms and ideas, following the “GUIDELINES: Writing Effective Sentence Definitions” (on page 539 of Markel & Selber) and the related information in the textbook.
  • Use the questions in “TABLE 20.1: Questions To Answer in Introducing a Description” (on page 550 of Markel & Selber) to gather the relevant details for your description.
  • Follow the “GUIDELINES: Providing Appropriate Detail in Descriptions” (on page 551 of Markel & Selber) to ensure you include the proper level of specific information.
  • Explore the examples in Markel & Selber to see some of the options for layout and formatting:
    • Figure 20.4: Inside Asimo
    • Figure 20.5: How Our Solar Electric System Works
    • Figure 20.6: Drivetrains
    • Figure 20.8: Turning Biomass into Fuel

Step 4: Write the technical description for students.
Compose your description, as requested in The Scenario above, with all the details you have gathered and created. Review the assessment guidelines below to ensure you have met all the requirements for the description. As you work, also keep the following points in mind:

  • Use plain language to make the ideas easy to find and read. Refer to the resources from Module 2 as needed.
  • Follow all relevant ethical guidelines as you work using the Writer’s Checklist at the end of Chapter 2 (on page 40 of Markel & Selber).
  • Follow the suggestions for emphasizing important information, using the Writer’s Checklist for Chapter 9 (on page 211 of Markel & Selber) to check your work.
  • Use the Writer’s Checklist for Chapter 11 (on page 288 of Markel & Selber) to ensure that your document takes advantage of design principles to make it reader-friendly.
  • Make a good impression with accuracy and correctness. Your document should be polished and professional.

Step 5: Check your draft against the Writer’s Checklist.
Be sure that you include the required features for technical description. Review your project, using the Writer's Checklist for Chapter 20 (on page 576 of Markel & Selber) and the Assessment Criteria below.

Step 6: Review your draft for design and basic writing errors.
Everything you write should use accurate/appropriate image editing, grammar, spelling, punctuation, mechanics, linking, and formatting. These are important basic writing skills that you should have developed in high school. Review your project using the Writer’s Checklist at the end of Markel & Selber, Chapter 10 (on page 242 of Markel & Selber).

You can also consult the information on “Sentence-Level Issues” in Markel & Selber, “Appendix, Part D: Guidelines for Multilingual Writers (ESL)” (on page 683 of Markel & Selber). While the section is labeled for multilingual writers, it is useful for everyone. It includes explanations and examples for many common mistakes writers make.

Step 7: Submit your draft to your Writing Group in Canvas.
Post a rough draft of your technical description to your Writing Group in Canvas in the 09/13 Draft Feedback Discussion in Canvas. Additional instructions are in the Discussion. Post a draft of your technical description by September 13. If you are late submitting a draft, your group may not have time to provide feedback.

Step 8: Provide feedback to your Writing Group in Canvas.
Provide feedback to the members of your writing group in the 09/13 Draft Feedback Discussion in Canvas, by September 17 (end of the grace period). Use the information on the Writing Groups page to provide constructive feedback that will help your group members make concrete improvements to their drafts. 

Step 9: Revise your draft.
Use the feedback that you receive from your group members to revise and improve your document. You can share your draft again with your Writing Group, if you desire. As you revise, keep in mind the advice in the steps above, as well as the Assessment Criteria below.

Step 10: Include a polished version of your project in Project Portfolio 1, due October 1.
Have your Technical Description Project finished and ready for submission in your Project Portfolio 1, which is due Monday, October 1. The grace period for Project Portfolio 1 ends at 11:59PM on Thursday, October 4.

Assessment Criteria

For All Technical Writing Projects

All technical writing projects should meet the following general criteria:

  • Makes a good first impression as a polished and professional document.
  • Meets the needs of the intended audience.
  • Demonstrates how to emphasize important information.
  • Uses layout and formatting that makes information easy for readers to find and read, and that follows the standards you have set for your company.
  • Is written in plain language, which communicates the ideas clearly.
  • Follows all relevant ethical guidelines.
  • Uses accurate/appropriate grammar, spelling, punctuation, mechanics, linking, and formatting.

For a Description of an Object or Mechanism

Your project should meet the following criteria for effective technical descriptions, based on the checklist at the end of Chapter 20 of Markel & Selber:

  • Indicates the nature and scope of the technical description clearly.
  • Opens with an introduction that explains these major components:
    • what the item is.
    • how it functions.
    • what it looks like.
    • what its parts are.
  • Includes a graphic in the introduction that identifies the principal parts.
  • Uses an appropriate organizational principle.
  • Includes a graphic for each of the major components.
  • Summarizes the major points in the part-by-part description in the conclusion.
  • Includes (if appropriate) a description of the item performing its function.

For a Description of a Process

Your project should meet the following criteria for effective technical descriptions, based on the checklist at the end of Chapter 20 of Markel & Selber:

  • Indicates the nature and scope of the technical description clearly.
  • Opens with an introduction that explains the following:
    • what the process is.
    • how it functions.
    • where and when it takes place.
    • who or what performs it.
    • how it works.
    • what its principal steps are.
  • Includes a graphic in the introduction that identifies the principal steps.
  • Discusses the steps in chronological order or some other logical sequence).
  • Makes the causal relationships among the steps clear.
  • Includes graphics for each of the principal steps.
  • Summarizes the major points in the step-by-step description in the conclusion.
  • Discusses, if appropriate, the importance or implications of the process.

 


Image Credit from Memo: RDECOM Scientist and Engineers bring their special skills and enthusiasm to STEM Night at Fallston Middle School by U.S. Army RDECOM on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license

 

In addition to this assignment, I shared information on readability statistics with students. While I believe such statistics have definite limitations, tools such as the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level help students determine if they are writing too far above or too far below their audiences’ comprehension level.

The second part of this assignment focuses on writing the instructions that the middle and high school students will follow on Try-It-Out Day. I’ll share that activity next week. Until then, if you have any questions or comments about the assignment, please leave me a comment below. I’d love to hear from you.

 

 

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Ethan Morgan, from “Summer hire program offers students multiple benefits” on the Royal Air Force Mildenhall website, used under public domain.

Yellowed business letter, written in 1925 by a Rivets companyThis week I am sharing the second writing assignment in the series of assignments I designed for my technical writing course. The series focuses on tasks related to a fictional business incubator, the Ut Prosim Incubator. The first assignment asks students to share the basic information about their company in a memo.

Once they establish a company name and focus, students are ready to undertake messages related to their companies. In the scenario for the second writing assignment, students deal with changes they need to make to support an influx of new employees, hired with the investment funds provided by the incubator.

The goal of this assignment is to help students learn about the differences between letters and memos by designing guidelines for the ways that their companies will use the different kinds of correspondence. Specifically, in order to fulfill the assignment, students have to be able to explain how letters are different from memos.

The assignment below has some minor changes to remove specific information that is relevant only to the students in my classes. References to “Markel & Selber” in the assignment refer to chapters in the class textbook Technical Communication by Mike Markel & Selber and Stuart Selber.

Background

You will create guidelines that your employees will use as they communicate with others inside and outside the company. The goal is to ensure that your company’s letters, memos, and emails have a uniform appearance and style.

The Scenario

Using the investment funds from the Ut Prosim Incubator, you have just expanded your company by hiring 20 new people. When there were just a few of you, it was easy to make sure everyone presented a consistent message. Now that there are nearly two dozen people making contacts, you will need to be more proactive to ensure that your company correspondence with clients, vendors, local regulators, and the public represents your company consistently and professionally.

To address this need, you will write a memo to all employees that explains the letter-writing style and format that your company follows and include a sample letter that illustrates the style and format as an attachment.

For your assignment, write the related documents:

  • the memo explaining your letter-writing style and format
  • the letter illustrating the style and format

Relevant Details

Your company’s address is [Your Company Name], Ut Prosim Incubator, 1872 Inventors Way, Suite #[you choose a number], Blacksburg, Virginia 24060. Your company’s phone number is 540-555-5555. You may create a fictional Internet domain for your company, and use that domain for a web page address and your email addresses. If you’d like, you may create other information (including a logo) for your company as appropriate.

The Project Assignment

Step 1: Explore the characteristics typical of correspondence in your field.
Think about the documents that you have seen from businesses in your field as your own. You can search the Internet and the textbook for examples as well. Consider characteristics of these documents such as the following:

  • Are they formal, informal, or somewhere in between?
  • How is the company’s contact information conveyed in/on the document?
  • Does the document take advantage of any special features to establish a company brand?
  • What sets the documents apart from those that would be created by people in a different field?
  • What sets the documents apart from those of competitors in the same field?
  • What strategies does the correspondence typically use to emphasize important information?

Step 2: Decide on the general style your business will follow.
Decide on the expectations you will set for your company’s correspondence. Brainstorm a list of required information, details on the typical look and feel, and other features you want employees to include in the letters that they write. Include everything from how to open the letter to the closing and expectations for signatures. If there is specific information that should always be included in letters, model how that information should be included and demonstrate it in your example.

Be sure to consider how to emphasize important information and create organizational structures in your letters (relying in particular on Markel & Selber, Chapter 14). Additionally, create a letterhead format for your company, using appropriate details.

Step 3: Analyze the audiences for your memo.
You will write a memo to all employees in your company that explains your company’s style and format for letters. Use the information from Markel & Selber, Chapter 5 to decide how the characteristics of the audiences will influence the writing that you do. Consider the questions in Figure 5.2: Audience Profile Sheet and/or the Writer’s Checklist at the end of the chapter to guide your analysis.

Step 4: Compose a letter illustrating the style and format your company will follow.
Use the information your gathered in Steps 1 and 2 to write your example letter. Be sure to demonstrate how to emphasize important information and how to organize the letter in a way that makes it clear and easy to read.

For the content of the letter, you can use placeholder text. See the article, How to Use Lorem Ipsum Dolor Placeholder Text, for examples. If you prefer, you may use real letter text that you write as well. Despite the use of placeholder text, be sure that the required layout and format is clear and that any specific details required (such as the signature expectations) are demonstrated.

Step 5: Write a memo to all your employees with the details on your company’s letter style and format.
Compose your memo, as requested in The Scenario above, with all the details you have gathered and created. Attach your example letter, and point to it as examples of your style as appropriate. You may add annotations to your letter, like the examples in the textbook, if you choose; but be sure that you connect your annotations to your memo directly.

As you work, keep the following points in mind:

  • Use plain language to make the ideas easy to find and read. Refer to the resources from Module 2 as needed.
  • Follow the suggestions for emphasizing important information, using the Writer’s Checklist for Chapter 9 to check your work.
  • Follow all relevant ethical guidelines as you work using the Writer’s Checklist at the end of Markel & Selber, Chapter 2.
  • Make a good impression with accuracy and correctness. Your correspondence should be polished and professional.

Step 6: Check the drafts for your example letter and your memo for correct use of memo style and format.
Be sure that you include the appropriate headings and expected features for correspondence. Review your project, using the Writer's Checklist for Chapter 14 (on page 386 of Markel & Selber).

Step 7. Review your draft for design and basic writing errors.
Everything you write should use accurate/appropriate image editing, grammar, spelling, punctuation, mechanics, linking, and formatting. These are important basic writing skills that you should have developed in high school. Review your project, using the Writer’s Checklist at the end of Markel & Selber, Chapter 10.

You can also consult the information on “Sentence-Level Issues” in Markel & Selber, Appendix, Part D: Guidelines for Multilingual Writers (ESL). While the section is labeled for multilingual writers, it is useful for everyone. It includes explanations and examples for many common mistakes writers make.

Step 8: Submit your draft to your Writing Group in Canvas.
Post a rough draft of your info sheet to your Writing Group in Canvas in the 09/05 Draft Feedback Discussion in Canvas. Additional instructions are in the Discussion. Post a draft of your bio by September 6. If you are late submitting a draft, your group may not have time to provide feedback.

Step 9: Provide feedback to your Writing Group in Canvas.
Provide feedback to the members of your writing group in the 09/05 Draft Feedback Discussion in Canvas, by September 10 (end of the grace period). Use the information on the Writing Groups page to provide constructive feedback that will help your group members make concrete improvements to their drafts. 

Step 10: Revise your draft.
Use the feedback that you receive from your group members to revise and improve your document. You can share your draft again with your Writing Group, if you desire. As you revise, keep in mind the advice in the steps above, as well as the Assessment Criteria below.

Step 11: Include a polished version of your project in Project Portfolio 1, due October 1.
Have your Correspondence Project finished and ready for submission in your Project Portfolio 1, which is due Monday, October 1. The grace period for Project Portfolio 1 ends at 11:59PM on Thursday, October 4.

Assessment Criteria

For All Technical Writing Projects

All technical writing projects should meet the following general criteria:

  • Makes a good first impression as a polished and professional document.
  • Meets the needs of the intended audience.
  • Fulfills the purpose or goal of the project.
  • Demonstrates how to emphasize important information.
  • Uses layout and formatting that makes information easy for readers to find and read, and that follows the standards you have set for your company.
  • Is written in plain language, which communicates the ideas clearly.
  • Follows all relevant ethical guidelines.
  • Uses accurate/appropriate grammar, spelling, punctuation, mechanics, linking, and formatting.

For Letters

Your project should meet the following criteria for effective letters, based on the checklist at the end of Chapter 14 of Markel & Selber:

  • Uses letterhead stationery for the first page.
  • Includes the date.
  • Includes the complete and correct inside address.
  • Uses the appropriate courtesy title.
  • Includes an attention line, if appropriate.
  • Includes a subject line, if appropriate.
  • Uses the appropriate salutation.
  • Capitalizes only the first word of the complimentary close.
  • Includes a legible signature legible, with the writer’s name typed beneath the signature.
  • Includes an enclosure line, if appropriate.
  • Includes a copy and/or courtesy-copy line, if appropriate.
  • Uses one of the standard letter formats.

For Memos

Your project should meet the following criteria for effective memos, based on the checklist at the end of Chapter 14 of Markel & Selber:

  • Uses the identifying information that adheres to your organization’s standards.
  • Includes a specific subject line.
  • States your purpose clearly at the start of the memo.
  • Summarizes your message, if appropriate.
  • Provides appropriate background for the discussion.
  • Organizes the discussion clearly.
  • Includes informative headings to help your readers.
  • Highlights items requiring action.

As I originally designed the assignment, it also included an email message. Students were to write an email to their co-founders, asking them to review the memo and letter and offer any advice for improving the message. I like the idea of asking students to demonstrate an understanding of the characteristics of email messages in addition to letters and memos. Given the other work in the course however, I decided that adding an email component would be too much. With more time for the unit, I would certainly consider including it.

The next assignment in the sequence focuses on technical description in a rewrite of an assignment I designed to ask students to think about diversity in the workplace. Come back next week to read more, and if you have any feedback for me, please leave a comment below.

 

Photo credit: Edwin B. Stimpson Company Rivets (Brooklyn, New York) 1925 by Paul K on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license

Black fingers typing on a computer keyboardIn my last post, I described my plan to organize a series of assignments for my technical writing course around a fictional business incubator. This week, I have the first of those assignments to share with you.

For the series to work, I need students to choose a company that they will focus on for the assignments they will write. The first assignment asks students to share the basic information about their company in a memo. In the scenario, their information will be combined with that of other new companies that are joining the incubator for a presentation at the first meeting of all the members of the incubator.

The assignment below has some minor changes to remove specific information that is relevant only to the students in my classes. References to “Markel” in the assignment refer to chapters in the class textbook Technical Communication by Mike Markel and Stuart Selber.

Incubator Info Sheet

Background

All of the projects will relate to your membership in a fictional business incubator, the Ut Prosim Incubator. The projects you will complete for your portfolios will be documents that you create as a member of this incubator. You will create a business and then write the pieces for your portfolio from the perspective as a starting business owner. You will collaborate with other members of the incubator and contribute materials to the endeavors that the incubator undertakes. You can read more about the incubator and how the projects connect on the Writing Projects Overview page.

The Scenario

During your first week as an Ut Prosim Incubator member, you receive the following memo:

Ut Prosim Incubator logo Ut Prosim Incubator

   1872 Inventors Way, Blacksburg, Virginia 24060

 

   Interoffice Memo


To: CEOs of New Incubator Companies

From: Traci Gardner, Ut Prosim Director

Subject: Your Company Info Sheet

Date: August 27, 2018

 

Welcome to the Ut Prosim Incubator! We are all so happy to have you join the Fall 2018 class of entrepreneurs.

I know you are still settling into your office, so our first all-company meeting will not take place for a few weeks. At this meeting, you will introduce your company to the other members of the Incubator.

The meeting will be informal, but we do want to prepare handouts and slides to share with attendees. We will also post the basic information that you provide on the Incubator website, for the possible research partners on campus, potential investors, and the public.

Please send the following information to me by September 7:

  • Your Company Name
  • Your Company CEO (use the name you want to appear in official documentation)
  • Your Company Mission Statement (a statement of your company’s goals and values)
  • Your Company Overview (explain what you company does, including whatever research you do, products your create, or services you provide)
  • Your Company’s Target Audience (who are the customers you serve or hope to serve)

Do not worry about formatting or design in your response. We will format the information for all the companies according to the Incubator’s branding and style guidelines.

We will send out a meeting announcement once a place and time have been confirmed. In the mean time, if you need any help settling in, please let me know or contact my assistant, Leslie Crow <lcrow@utprosimincubator.org>.

The Project Assignment

Step 1: Decide on the focus for your business.

Decide what your company will do—will you focus on products or services? You will focus on the company that you imagine for the entire term, so choose something that you know well. Sure, you can be creative, but create something doable that you have experience with (or at least strong knowledge of). Additionally, your focus must directly relate to your major.

As long as you comply with those two stipulations, you can focus on anything you want to. You have capital, staff, and resources to do whatever you set your mind to.

Step 2: Analyze the audiences for your memo.
Review the memo above and decide who the audience is for the memo you have to write and for the information that you have to gather. Use the information from Markel, Chapter 5 to decide how the characteristics of the audiences will influence the writing that you do. Consider the questions in Figure 5.2: Audience Profile Sheet and/or the Writer’s Checklist at the end of the chapter to guide your analysis.

Step 3: Determine the information that the memo requests.
Work through the memo above and find the information that you have to provide in your response. Once you find the list of requested information, decide on your responses. You are creating your business, so you get to create the answers for all the requested information. Don’t get stuck on perfectionism at this point. Compile your ideas, but know you can always come back to revise.

Step 4: Write a memo to me with the details.
Compose your memo, as requested in The Scenario above, with all the details you have gathered and created. As you work, keep the following points in mind:

  • Even though sophisticated formatting is not required, ensure that your answers are easy to find and read.
  • Check your draft for the use of plain language.
  • Ensure that you follow all relevant ethical guidelines as you create your responses, using the Writer’s Checklist at the end of Markel, Chapter 2.
  • Be sure that your memo makes a good impression with accuracy and correctness. It should be polished and professional.

Step 5: Check your draft for correct use of memo format.
Be sure that you include the memo headings (To, From, Subject, and Date). For more details on memo format, consult Chapter 14 of Markel.

Step 6. Review your draft for design and basic writing errors.
Everything you write should use accurate/appropriate image editing, grammar, spelling, punctuation, mechanics, linking, and formatting. These are important basic writing skills that you should have developed in high school. Review your project, using the Writer’s Checklist at the end of Markel, Chapter 10.

You can also consult the information on “Sentence-Level Issues” in Markel, Appendix, Part D: Guidelines for Multilingual Writers (ESL). While the section is labeled for multilingual writers, it is useful for everyone. It includes explanations and examples for many common mistakes writers make.

Step 7: Submit your draft to your Writing Group in Canvas.
Post a rough draft of your info sheet to your Writing Group in Canvas in the 08/29 Peer Feedback Discussion in Canvas. Additional instructions are in the Discussion. Post a draft of your memo by August 30. If you are late submitting a draft, your group may not have time to provide feedback.

Step 8: Provide feedback to your Writing Group in Canvas.
Provide feedback to the members of your writing group by September 4 (end of the grace period). Use the information on the Writing Groups page to provide constructive feedback that will help your group members make concrete improvements to their drafts. 

Step 9: Revise your draft.
Use the feedback that you receive from your group members to revise and improve your document. You can share your draft again with your Writing Group, if you desire. As you revise, keep in mind the advice in Steps 4, 5, and 6 above, as well as the Assessment Criteria below.

Step 10: Include a polished version of your response in Project Portfolio 1, due October 1.
Have your Info Sheet memo finished and ready for submission in your Project Portfolio 1, which is due Monday, October 1. The grace period for Project Portfolio 1 ends at 11:59PM on Thursday, October 4.

Assessment Criteria

Your project should meet the following criteria:

  • Makes a good first impression as a polished and professional document.
  • Uses memo format with the appropriate headers.
  • Meets the needs of the intended audience.
  • Uses layout and formatting that makes information easy for readers to find and read.
  • Is written in plain language, which communicates the ideas clearly.
  • Follows all relevant ethical guidelines.
  • Uses accurate/appropriate grammar, spelling, punctuation, mechanics, linking, and formatting.

 

Credit: Ut Prosim Incubator logo created with “Incubator” by lastspark from the Noun Project, used under a CC-BY 3.0 license.


So far the assignment has gone well. The biggest challenge I have had to deal with (other than the typical questions about due dates and the like) has been ill-chosen companies that do not actually relate to the student’s major. Many of the students are new to the memo format, but the peer feedback activity and the revision time they have should take care of any issues that come up.

In my next post, I will share a correspondence assignment that is the next step in the course. In the meantime if you have any comments to share on this assignment of the series in general, I would love to hear from you in the comments below.

 

Photo: Typer by Caleb Roenigk on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license

Twelve Wynadotte bantam eggs in an incubator, 6 larger white eggs on the left and 6 smaller partridge colored on the rightThis fall, I am designing new assignments for the  Technical Writing courses that I teach. During the coming weeks, I will share the different assignments and activities with you all. The first step in my process was to determine these basic kinds of assignments I would ask students to create:

  • Correspondence (to include letters, memos, and email)
  • Technical Description
  • User Documents (or Instructions)
  • Short Proposal
  • White Paper (a report for non-experts)
  • Progress Report
  • Poster Presentation

My next goal was to create an overarching theme for the assignments. In addition to unifying the assignments, the theme allows students to become familiar with one writing scenario that they work with during the entire term. This strategy enables students to jump into writing more quickly, rather than spending time figuring out the background situation for each assignment first. Naturally, there are still rhetorical parameters for students to analyze for each activity, but the information from one assignment helps them determine the details of the next.

For the theme to work, it must support all of the assignments I had planned for students from a range of backgrounds. Students in the course are studying areas such as engineering, computer science, forestry, wildlife conservation, dairy science, and building construction. I needed to find a way that all these different careers would interact and write similar kinds of documents.

My solution was a business incubator that would bring together all these students to help them launch a new business. Not every student plans to go out into the world to create a new business; but the scenario is familiar enough that they are able to play along and imagine how they would work in the situation.

In my posts for the coming weeks, I will share the different assignments and how they relate to the theme. This week, I want to share the basic details for the theme and activities that the class will focus on this term. One local parameter that you need to know about is the Virginia Tech motto Ut Prosim, which translates to “That I may serve.” This motto drives a lot of service projects and outreach at Virginia Tech, so it was a natural addition to the incubator scenario. Students are very familiar with the motto, so I do not need to explain it in the course documents. Here is the Writing Projects Overview, which explains the overarching writing project theme to students:

Writing Projects Overview

In this course, you will write a series of connected projects that you will submit in two batches (Portfolio 1 and Portfolio 2). As explained in the Grading Policies and Standards, these portfolios are collections of the original writing that you do in the course, such as memos and reports. As we begin on these projects, I want to explain how the projects are connected. The full details on these projects will be included in the relevant Canvas modules.

What goes into the two Portfolios?

Portfolio 1 will consist of four shorter pieces:

  • Info Sheet
  • Correspondence Project
  • Technical Description
  • User Documents


Portfolio 2 will focus on research-based documents, which will be a bit longer and/or more complex:

  • Short Proposal
  • White Paper
  • Progress Report
  • Poster Presentation

So how do the projects connect?

All of the projects will relate to your membership in a fictional business incubator, the Ut Prosim Incubator. The projects you will complete for your portfolios will be documents that you create as a member of this incubator. You will create a business and then write the pieces for your portfolio from the perspective as a starting business owner. You will collaborate with other members of the incubator and contribute materials to the endeavors that the incubator undertakes.

What is a business incubator?

According to “Incubating Success. Incubation Best Practices That Lead to Successful New Ventures” (2011), business incubators are “designed to accelerate the successful development of entrepreneurial companies through an array of business support resources and services, developed or orchestrated by incubator management, and offered both in the incubator and through its network of contacts” (15).

There is much more to what an incubator does and how it works, but for our purposes you just need to understand that it is a place the provides support to help beginning companies succeed.

So what will companies in this incubator do?

Naturally, starting a company is a complex endeavor that involves many decisions, specific legal and financial work, and a significant amount of planning. For this class, we will assume that most of that work is already done. We will generally assume that your company is happily chugging along, doing whatever it is that your company does. That might be making a product, providing a service, researching innovations, and so forth.

You will define the work that your company does, but beyond that you will not need to worry about that part of the scenario. You will focus more on creating some technical writing documents that relate to the company you create.

What makes the Ut Prosim Incubator special?

Our make-believe incubator was founded by some well-established and successful Virginia Tech graduates who wanted to give back to younger graduates by helping them get started in the business world. They have created a program that supports any kind of company with the one requirement that the company participates in the special projects that the Incubator undertakes as a whole.

These special projects relate to the mission of the Ut Prosim Incubator to reach out and work in ways that support others. The founders of the incubator have extended the university’s motto, Ut Prosim (“that I may serve”) to their own mission and motto, “that I may serve through my business.” To clarify, the incubator asks that member companies participate in programs that support causes like sustainability, environmental stewardship, mentorship of young entrepreneurs, and public outreach and education.

How do the writing projects relate to the Ut Prosim Incubator?

ProjectShort Description
Info SheetYou will create a short information sheet that introduces your company to others in the incubator. There will be a specific list of information to provide, including your company name, what it does, and your company’s typical customers.
Correspondence ProjectYou will create guidelines that your employees will use as they communicate with others inside and outside the company. The goal is to ensure that your company’s letters, memos, and emails have a uniform appearance and style.
Technical Description

You will write a technical description related to your field (such as a tool that is typically used or a process that is part of your industry). The description will be part of a diversity initiative to interest local students in STEM careers (STEM = Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). The description will relate to a task that local middle and high school students will complete as they shadow someone in your company.

User Documents

You will also write the user document that students will use in the diversity initiative described above. You will provide step-by-step details on how to complete a simple and appropriate task that will help local students learn more about what someone in your career does.
Short ProposalYou will write a short research proposal that presents the topic you will explore for your white paper. Your proposal should explain not only what the topic is but how it relates to the incubator goal of public outreach and education.
White Paper

You will write an informational report for non-experts that presents details on a specific issue related to your company and the work that it does. Your white paper will tie directly to the incubator goal of public outreach and education. Specifically, the incubator founders want to provide a library of documents that inform readers about how science, technology, and engineering work.

Progress ReportYou will write a progress report that updates incubator staff on the work you have done on your white paper.

Poster Presentation

You will design a poster presentation, based on the details in your white paper, that will be part of a poster session that the incubator sponsors for the local community. Like the white paper, the presentation will focus on the incubator goal of public outreach and education. As an extension, additional investors and clients also attend the session, so you have the potential to make critical connections for your business.

 

 


So that’s the overarching plan for the term. Everything is in progress, but I’m not far enough along yet to have any feedback from students. I will share more when I do, and next week, I will share the first assignment that asks them to write a memo with the basic details about their companies. In the meantime, if you have any feedback or questions about the course, please leave me a comment below. I’d love to hear from you.

 

[Photo: Incubator-9128 by graibeard on Flickr, used under a CC-BY-SA 2.0 license]

[This post was originally published on September 25, 2012.]

 

Your average student has developed a significant collection of digital work. There are Facebook updates, Twitter posts, YouTube videos, and Flickr and Instagram photos. I’ve been thinking about how to use this collection of artifacts since Antero Garcia reminded me that there is a “huge stream of student data to look for growth in.”

 

[Photo: text message by sffoghorn, on Flickr]

 

What are positive ways to use all that data? I’m not interesting in mining that data for indications of what strategies do or do not work. Instead, I’d like students to find their growth and changes in that stream of data themselves. Happily, I’ve found inspiration for an assignment that I think will do just that. I simply need to ask students to look for the stories in their data stream.

 

Oddly, this idea came to me when I read a story in the Georgia Southernalumni magazine. I’m not an alumnus of Georgia Southern, so I almost threw the paper into the recycling unopened. It only ended up in my mailbox because I have donated to the Graduate Research Network (GRN). Curiosity got the best of me, and I decided to skim it in case the GRN was mentioned inside.

 

Instead, I found a story about Jessica Hines, a photography teacher at Georgia Southern. Hines searched through her own data stream to learn more about her brother Gary, a Vietnam War veteran who took his life. The story from the alumni magazine isn’t online, but you can read more about Hines in My Brother’s War: Professor Acclaimed for Images of War Experience.

 

Two things caught my imagination from the piece. First, my eye tripped on the title, “Hines teaches students to tell story of themselves through photography.” The grammarian in me either wanted to add the word the, change story to stories, or perhaps both. Still the idea of telling stories with photographs drew me in, since I’ve been searching for multimodal assignments recently.

 

My interest piqued, I read on and found my second inspiration. Hines talked about her teaching as an introduction to her own search to learn more about her brother:

 

“I explain to my students that the camera is a device that, by pressing a button, shows them what they are interested in,” explains Hines. “The potential for self-discovery is high if one pays attention.”

 

What would happen, I wondered, if I sent students off to look through their data stream for their stories with the intention of learning more about themselves and their interests in the process? I knew I had found a positive way to use that “huge stream of student data.”

 

The assignment I have in mind asks students to look back through their data stream for recurring themes or topics and to compose a text about how their ideas have changed over time. I want them to consider questions like these:

 

  • Has your interest in the topic or theme deepened over time?
  • Have you slowly lost interest?
  • Have you learned increasingly more over time?
  • What has influenced how you feel about the topic?
  • What have you noticed as you look back at how you’ve documented the topic or theme over time?
  • What stories have you found?
  • What discoveries have you made about yourself?

 

For now, I’m leaving the medium for the text open. The piece could be a traditional text, but the assignment also lends itself to video, photography, and multimedia compositions. I’ll also leave the places students search for these stories open, rather than limiting the activity to just photographs, for instance.

 

Finally, I am hoping that I can avoid the Creepy Treehouse effect, since students choose the stories that they tell. They will pull their stories together in an independent piece that won’t require me or the class to visit their private postings. Students will curate the collections only with data they feel comfortable sharing.

 

In addition to reflecting on their own stream of data, I hope this assignment will also help students learn more about finding and analyzing how images or themes develop in a body of work. The assignment reminds me of the skills that I use when I trace how a poet uses a specific motif through a series of poems or how a novelist develops an image over the course of a novel.

 

What do you think of asking students to explore their own data stream? Do you have ways to tap the stream of student data? Do you have an assignment to share? I’d love to hear from you. Please leave me a comment below!

[This post originally published on November 13, 2012.]

 

One of my all-time favorite assignments is to ask students to create a time capsule focusing on their writing and themselves as writers. I’m not sure if it’s because of my obsession with archives, my love for scrapbooking, or my fascination with the things that go into writing a text that draws me to the activity. Whatever it is, the assignment helps me learn more about how each student writes while at the same time encouraging students to reflect on their writing and how it changes.

 

To begin, I explain the basic assignment. The goal is for students to create time capsules for themselves as writers. The audience for the activity varies. I’ve asked students to create time capsules that they will open later in the term or at some point in the future. It can be interesting to do the assignment early in the term and then open the time capsules at the end of the term as part of their final project. I’ve also asked students to create time capsules at the end of a term as a way to reflect on the work that they have done during the course. With students’ permission, I’ve opened some of these time capsules at the beginning of the next course I teach as an overview.

 

I set up the assignment as early in the term as reasonable. If I wait too late, students may well have discarded artifacts that they would like to include. Most students will understand what a time capsule is, but to be sure, I always kick off the activity with some background. Now that Apple has a back-up solution called Time Capsule, it is crucial to make sure everyone understands what we’re talking about. Wikipedia has a Time Capsule entry, which I use as a basic explanation. I play this YouTube video of the Westinghouse Time Capsule, buried in 1939 and to be opened in the year 6939, to provide a concrete example:

 

 

I also share some news articles on time capsules, like these:

 

The assignment I ask students to complete is not as complex as the time capsules in the news and video nor do students wait as long to open them, but these examples are a good way to review the characteristics important to time capsules. If I have time capsules from a previous course to share, I open them at this point too.

After exploring the examples, we create a class list of characteristics. I like to make sure students understand these details about time capsules:

  • The goal is to show someone in the future what life was like when the time capsule was assembled.
  • It’s not meant to showcase buried treasure or priceless artifacts. Money and artifacts can be included, but they normally are not remarkable treasures at the time when the time capsule is assembled.
  • The items in a time capsule should be long-lasting. They need to survive a long time without decaying in some way.
  • The items also need to be things that will not damage one another and/or they need to be specially packaged so they won’t damage one another.
  • The time capsule can include items that predict what life will be like when the capsule is opened, like letters to a future self or messages to future generations.

 

I ask students to brainstorm a list of the items in time capsules as well, so that they have a working list of the kinds of artifacts they will gather for their own time capsules. I also review the documentation included with the Westinghouse Time Capsule, and ask students to include similar explanations and reflections with their time capsules.

Beyond these instructions, I like to leave the specifics up to the individual students. They can choose the kind of container and what goes into it. They can include digital artifacts as well as analog materials. I prefer not to dictate requirements like the number of items or the kinds of things to be included. This assignment is very personal, and I want students to reflect on themselves as writers. If I provide a checklist of what to include, the assignment won’t do what I want it to. The only specific item I require is some explanatory, reflective pieces that help identify the items and their importance.

 

Opening these time capsules is always informative. I learn so much about students every time I use the assignment. It’s tempting too to think about what my own time capsule might look like, as a writer and teacher. If I were in the position to do so, I’d love to ask new graduate teaching assistants to gather time capsules after orientation that they will open at the end of the academic year as part of a final reflection on their teaching.

 

Do you have assignments that ask students to reflect on the writing they have done in the past? What artifacts do you save from your own writing and teaching? I’d love to hear from you. Just leave me a comment below!