Preface to the 11th Edition Instructor’s Manual

This edition of the manual retains much of the material original to David A. McMurray’s manual
for the 9th edition of Reporting Technical Information and all of the sections added by Nancy
Small to the 10th edition, including the introduction, which remains unchanged except for
updating the syllabus material to match the 11th edition of RTI (the first person speaker in this
introduction is Ms. Small).

I have updated the manual to reflect changes made to the 11th edition of the textbook and added
additional Computer Classroom activities and Distance Learning Assignment prompts to each
chapter. In addition, I have changed the page design of the manual, included additional
overheads, upgraded their look, and added discussion questions for each one. I have also updated
and expanded the online references in each chapter.


Many thanks to Nancy Small of Texas A&M University for recommending me for the manual
rewrite, to Dr. Elizabeth Tebeaux for her support and confidence, and to my husband for his
encouragement and project-saving technology!

                                                    Elizabeth Robinson
                                                    Texas A&M University
                                                    January 2004
If you are about to teach your first course in technical writing, this instructor's manual is
primarily for you. You may have taught plenty of composition and literature courses, but
technical writing may be something new. This introduction will help you with some of the
fundamental steps necessary to planning your course and to becoming comfortable with the
materials and concepts. Following these sections are chapter-by-chapter assignment and activity
ideas, overheads, and worksheets. At the back of the manual is a collection of instructor quizzes
and a quiz key.

What’s in This Instructor’s Manual

An instructor's manual ought to be as close to a complete teaching resource as possible: that
perfect file drawer labeled Technical Writing, stocked with files nicely organized for
every unit and every assignment, each containing an assortment of great in-class activities. All
you do is reach in, grab the right file, do a bit of review, and head for class. Perhaps none of us
will ever have such an idyllic file drawer--even the most experienced and organized veteran
teachers of technical writing. But this instructor's manual does contain the following information
and materials:

 A discussion of basic, issues surrounding any tech writing course
 Syllabus advice, including four sample schedules
 Advice on connecting with other professionals (teachers and writers)
 An introduction to different learning styles and how to address them
 An overview of using computers in the classroom
 Some general advice on planning Web-based distance courses
 Information on designing and conducting peer critique workshops
 A discussion of planning and using grading rubrics, including examples
 Chapter-by-chapter materials:
       Objectives
       Overheads, worksheets, and checklists
       Ideas for classroom activities
       Ideas for writing projects
       Example assignment prompts
 Chapter quizzes and a quiz key

Good departments encourage teachers to rely on each other, sharing materials and curriculum
development ideas. While a set of beginner files is great, nothing can substitute for having a peer
to go to when you need to plan and develop your course, even if you’ve already been teaching for
a while.

Issues for Teaching Technical Writing

Probably some of your first concerns as you start out teaching technical writing include: Just
what is technical writing and how do I get it across to students? How do I convince students of
its importance? How do I reassure students that it won’t be too “technical”? How do I position
myself as an authority even though I have little or no “technical” background?

What Is Technical Writing?

For the first two questions—what is technical writing and why is it important—chapter 1 of
Reporting Technical Information, in fact, the entire book, provides a wealth of ideas. See the
workshop activities in chapter 1 of the instructor’s manual for ideas on exploring the scope of
technical writing. For some additional discussion of the field of technical writing, see the Web
resources in the “Connecting With the Profession” section of this manual.

Who Are Your Students?

You should know that a certain subset of your students will be a bit intimidated by the notion of
a technical writing course. They may imagine that in it they will have to write about
microprocessors, brain surgery, microbiology, and other scary things.

The best reassurance for these students might be to conduct a simple exploration of the term
“technical.” It’s not electronics or high-tech medicine, but any information about specialized
processes or about specialized concepts that is not common knowledge. Most of your students
do have specialized knowledge that they can draw upon for the course—and they need to
understand its value.

It will also help if you will discuss the point made in the first chapter of the textbook that we use
the phrase “technical writing” in its broad sense to mean any writing done in the
business/professional context. Thus, much technical writing deals with business, management,
personnel, financial, legal, and any of a myriad of issues that businesses, corporations,
governments, and other organizations deal with on a daily basis.

Another form of reassurance is to let your students know that much of what they write must be
understandable by a non-specialist audience. You can require that whatever technical subject
matter students choose, they must make it understandable for a non-specialist audience.

And finally, students need to understand that, while accuracy is critical in technical documents, a
technical writing course is a great place to explore exciting new technology and fascinating
natural phenomena. Encourage students to take some risks and explore these new worlds—they
don’t have to defend a thesis at the end of this course.

Here’s a very informal review of the sorts of students who may walk into your technical writing

   The clueless: Some of your students may have no clue as to what a course in technical
    writing involves. For some, it will be “just another English course,” “just another writing

   The resistant: For others, technical writing will represent something that has nothing to do
    with their careers or professional focus. These students will see technical writing as
    something done only by a specialized few and as having little to do with their future work.

   The apprehensive: Other students will view technical writing as writing about electronics or
    computers. These students will be apprehensive about the term “technical writing” and will
    need some help in understanding that “technical” refers to any specialized knowledge area.

   The angry: There will also be those who’ve hated their past writing courses and will come
    in with chips on their shoulders. Right or wrong, these students often end up loving technical
    writing courses because of the practicality and concreteness that they find in these courses.

   The healthy: Of course, some students walk in with a healthy attitude toward writing,
    enjoying the activity and appreciating its importance in the world and their careers.
    Typically, they also have a genuine fascination for scientific and technical matters and write
    some of the most interesting technical reports you’ll receive.

   The precious few: One other group of students—and a group that is growing—will be those
    who are interested in the field of technical communication as a profession, as a career. Some
    will be English majors looking for practical ways to apply their language skills. That’s right,
    not every last one of your students will be there because of degree requirements!

Why Are You Teaching Technical Writing?
But what about your standing in the technical writing classroom? Depending on your college or
university, you may be surrounded by engineering students, science majors,
vocational-technology students, and the like--students with rapidly increasing skill sets and
knowledge bases in advanced technologies. That can feel scary if, like most of us, you come to
technical writing teaching with a background in literature and languages. It's natural and normal
to think, "I have no technical background--I'm not the least bit technical--What am I doing in a
room full of budding engineers?" A student or two may even challenge you on this issue, or at
least question the extent of your technical background.

Remember, the definition of “technical”—specialized knowledge. Your knowledge of writing
skills, language, rhetoric, literature, teaching, and related subjects is certainly “technical” by that
standard. Importantly, this confrontation recreates what goes on in industry every day. Technical
people often do not understand the skills that communication experts, like you, bring to a
technical project. They often need some educating as to the specialization, training, skill, and
expertise that goes into producing effective technical documents. Communications experts often
must struggle to enable their technical colleagues to appreciate the value of the communication
skills that they bring to a project. In that sense, you the technical writing teacher, the
communications expert, bring to the classroom expertise that is every bit the equal of any
engineer, programmer, developer, scientist, or technician. You might be interested to know that
technical communicators at IBM Corporation struggled for a number of years for equal status
with product developers. One of the victories in that struggle was for technical communicators
to be called “information developers,” a title that echoes “product developer.”

             Creating & Designing Your Syllabus
This section provides some thoughts about scheduling a technical writing course, some example
schedules, policy statements, and grading standards. While it’s just not possible to provide you
with a complete "course-in-a-box," the following should give you plenty of ideas and tools to
design your own syllabus. To see a wide range of syllabus-design ideas, 'see "Connecting with
the Profession" for information about the RTI Web site and on generally establishing a network
of support.

Ideas for Scheduling

Here are some issues that may influence how you design the schedule for your technical writing

Balance Concept and Practice

The problem with designing a syllabus for a technical writing course--and probably for any other
writing course--is that everything seems like it must be done at once. How can you have students
write anything if they haven't studied audience analysis, writing process, readable style,
document design, graphics, tables, collaboration, organization, information-gathering strategies--
in other words, the whole of Reporting Technical Information?

Obviously, this problem can't be solved--some units just have to wait until later in the semester,
however pedagogically unsound it may seem. For example, you may have to save writing style
(chapter 4) for later in the semester when students are hard at work on their technical reports. To
prepare for the in-class workshop on sentence-style problems, all students have to do is read the
chapter before coming to class; no homework assignments result from these meetings. But what
about the writing projects that students have done earlier in the semester? It's just too bad--you
just can't cover everything at once. Of course, you can split some chapters, like the one on style,
and cover the concepts in "chunks." For example, you would cover active and passive voice
during your unit on instructions.

Another problem with syllabus design for technical writing courses is the delay. It's tempting to
load the beginning of a course with presentations on what technical writing is, how the writing
process works, what writing in the workplace is like, how to analyze an audience, the common
writing-style problems, how to apply good document-design principles--and before you know it,
half the semester has passed before any real writing has happened. See the four sample syllabi
and their accompanying descriptions for more.

Start with Something New

It’s a good idea to confront students with something distinctly new in the early stages of a
technical writing course. Some students may be quietly thinking to themselves that this technical
writing is English composition by another name. For example, you might consider starting with
the application letter and resume—writing applications that your students are keenly interested in
but may not yet have been created. This sets a practical, real-world, professional focus for your
course from the very beginning.
To further accentuate the new, you may want to emphasize headings, lists, notices, graphics, or
tables. Again, this will vividly demonstrate to students that this is not just another English
composition course (even though the essential core concepts such as audience, process,
organization, coherence, sentence clarity, and economy are certainly the same).

You should also emphasize that the writing projects students will do in your course will be
similar to those done by working professionals. While your course probably can’t be field-
specific, it can focus on documents that are typically produced across fields and professions:
letters, memos, proposals, progress reports, instructions, various reports, informal and/or formal,
Web pages, etc. Your students should be able to see the immediate relevance to their future

Decide on the Pace and Intensity of Assignments

One concern you may have is the amount and intensity of writing assignments that you observe
in other technical writing courses. For example, an aggressively scheduled technical writing
course can consist of the following: application letter, resume, proposal, instructions, definition,
description, recommendation report, complaint letter, progress report, abstracts, oral report, and
final report. With some combining and consolidating, this works out to substantial assignments
due every ten days to two weeks in a long semester. If you decide to keep a rigorous schedule
like this, or if your program or department requires it, how can you justify such a schedule—both
to yourself and to your students? One way is to look at the pace professionals maintain. Sure,
anyone, given a month to write a three-page set of instructions, should be able to do just fine.
But can that same person handle an aggressive two-week turnaround time? By scheduling a lot
of writing assignments, we challenge our students to produce a higher quality of written work
than they ever have before and to produce that work in a shorter amount of time than they ever
thought they could. We challenge our students to work faster, smarter, and better. We mirror the
fast-paced, contemporary workplace in our classrooms.

If you schedule numerous writing assignments, you'll need to think about pacing (and your
subsequent grading!). Recommendation reports, resumes, proposals, and formal research reports
are demanding. Consider interlacing less demanding writing projects between these heavier
hitters--for example, the oral report, progress report, or business letter.

You can also vary the pace by interspersing classroom-only activities. Be ready with classroom
activities for those times when students are working on a big assignment, for those times when
you need something that does not spill out into additional out-of-class assignments. These are the
right moments for in-class activities: have activities ready on sentence-style problems,
punctuation, outlining, documentation of borrowed information, library strategies, numbers,
hyphens, headings, lists, warning notices, graphics, and tables. Using class time to workshop
drafts (see p. 28) of a major project is also very productive.

Notice that in some of the sample syllabi, the technical report, due at the end of the semester, is
actually explored and assigned toward the beginning of the semester. You get your students
thinking about the report early by having them write a proposal for it and then encourage them to
work on it steadily by having them write a progress report.

Consider the Overall Logic of the Assignments

There are several useful ways to think about the overall logic or progression or structure of a
technical writing course. One approach is to recognize that every writing project that students do
in your course in some way involves presentation of technical information:

   The application letter and resume present a certain amount and level of technical detail about
    the student's work experience or education.

   The proposal provides a technical look at a problem and the theory and procedures used to
    solve that problem, but to an executive audience that may not have the expertise (or the time
    or the need) to understand the full technical detail.

   The feasibility or recommendation report also provides a technical look at a problem and
    then technical comparisons of options for solving the problem, along with conclusions and
    recommendations. Again, the audience is likely to be non-technical executives.

   Instructions provide technical information needed to build, operate, or repair something. The
    audience in this case is the technician or the lay person.

   The business letter may be 1) a complaint letter that provides a technical narrative or
    description of a problem as a basis for requesting compensation 2) an inquiry letter that uses
    technical detail to request information or services, 3) a letter for an international audience
    that must tailor style and tone to communicate technical information in a manner that the
    reader may understand and accept. The audience is quite likely to be non-technical, but the
    purpose is often persuasive.

As you can see, every writing project in a technical writing course channels technical information
in some different way—different audiences, different purposes, different types of reports,
different contexts, and so on.

Another organizing principle you can use for your technical writing course is to view the early
units of the course as practice, as a series of dress rehearsals for the formal report, which is
usually due at the end of the semester. In fact, there are a lot of new things that students will
need to practice:

       Headings
       Lists
       Special notices
       Graphics and tables
       Numbers
       Abbreviations and symbols
       Writing executive summaries (abstracts)
       Writing with technical content

You can structure the early portions of your course to give students ample practice in these and
other concepts and techniques. By the time they get to the final report, they have had good
exposure to the skills and concepts they need.

An ingenious approach to the design of technical writing courses is to make the writing projects
interlocking pieces of one unified narrative. For example, students begin by writing an
application letter and resume to get hired on at a technical research firm in their major. Next, as
it so often happens, they have to sink or swim by writing a proposal bidding on a feasibility
study. Along the way, they must write a progress report, an inquiry letter, a complaint letter, or a
letter to a foreign reader, a site-inspection report, and anything else your imagination can work

Another approach to syllabus design for technical writing courses is to build in team projects
(collaboration) as a structural part of the course. Students get into teams, develop a product idea,
write a group proposal for that product idea addressed to management, and work together to
develop specifications, installation and user guides, and other documentation to support their
product. Along the way, students can write related documents such as progress reports.

Cover the Essentials

Whatever you include in your technical writing course, and however you structure those contents,
the following essentials provide a solid background for students of all professional interests:

   Professional Correspondence: Students will have to have some experience with the
    documents that allow a business to run smoothly and efficiently on a daily basis.

   Instructions: Students must have some experience with this ultimate, bread-and-butter
    commodity of technical writing.

   Reports, perhaps especially, the formal report: Students need the experience of researching a
    technical topic and then putting together a report, preferably a formal report with all its front
    and back matter and making the result as professional looking as they can.

   Resume and application letter - The resume and letter are expected components of our
    technical writing courses. Sometimes, ours is the only course students take in which they are
    formally expected to create these important job-search documents.

   Electronic documents: More and more, students find themselves needing experience using e-
    mail, developing Web pages, researching online, and demonstrating comfort using the
    Internet. Consider converting some of the assignments listed below into Web documents (for
    instance, instructions can easily be made into html documents and/or pdf files).

Sample Syllabi

In the following pages are sample syllabi for technical writing courses, all based on a 15- to
16-week semester. You can use extra time near the end of the semester for sentence style work or
peer workshops (p. 28) on their technical reports, or you can reserve it for individual student
conferences. Consider adding a preliminary draft due date to your technical report assignment

Schedule 1--Focus on One Formal, Technical Report: What is called a "technical report" here
can be a recommendations report or an empirical research report, depending up your students'
interests and future fields. Notice that the proposal in week eight plans the technical report to be
submitted at the conclusion of the semester. The progress report fits into this sequence as well.
Rather than having you, their technical writing teacher, as the audience, students should target
these proposals, progress reports, and formal reports towards professionals in their fields. All
assignments in this semester are either in complement to (proposal, progress report) or
subordinate to (instructions set rather than a manual) the report. Encourage students to apply
skills used in one assignment on future work as well, for example they should use their resume
tailoring skills to write their qualifications section for the proposal.

Note: The prompts referred to in these sections are from the “Writing Projects” sections of the
chapters in this manual, not from the textbook.

Schedule 1 Suggested Project Prompts: CH 20 #1; CH 16 Proposal #1; CH 9 #1 or 2; CH 17 #1;
CH 12 #1 or 2; CH 16 Progress Report #1 or 2; CH 19 #1 or 4; CH 15 #1 or 3 or CH 14 #1, 2, 3,
4, or 5.

Schedule 2-- Focus on Recommendations Report and Instructions Manual: Rather than one
large report, you can also break the semester into two midsized projects. This one is divided
roughly in half, covering instruction manuals and recommendations reports with a section on job
applications in the middle. The goal is to teach all of the fundamentals through the lens of these
two larger projects. For example, you can hand out the instructions for the manual assignment
during the first week and have them analyze/brainstorm manual audiences during week two. If
you want to incorporate peer critique workshops, the latter halves of weeks seven and fourteen
are perfect opportunities to have drafts of the manual and the report due.

Schedule 2 Suggested Project Prompts: CH 17 #3; CH 20 #1; CH 16 Proposal #1; CH 16
Progress Report #1; CH 19 #1; CH 14 #1, 2, 3, 4, or 5.

Schedule 3—Focus on the Fundamentals: This approach covers a large amount of material but
does so through much shorter assignments. While the final recommendations report should be
five to seven pages long, the remaining assignments should all be one to two pages long. While
students in this course will get a good feel for the development of such brief documents, make
sure to reinforce to them that this is not a realistic view of professional writing, which may
involve much lengthier and more complex documents written in teams. The fundamentals
approach can also give you the chance to really hone their basic writing, style, and design skills
through feedback, more frequent (though less intense) workshops, weekly emphasis on
style/mechanics, etc.

Schedule 3 Suggested Project Prompts: CH 12 #3 or 4 or sample assignment 1 or 2 at the end of
the chapter; CH 19 #1; CH 9 #1, or 2; CH 17 #1; CH 16 Proposal #3; CH 16 Progress Report #
3; CH 19 #1; CH 14 #4.

Schedule 4—Collaborative Writing: This version begins with some individual work but then
moves quickly into a substantive team writing effort. First, teams develop a management plan
that should help assign roles and head off major problems down the road. Second, teams present
oral reports to each other and act as critical audiences during a Q&A phase. Third, the class
enters the longer period of report development, during which an individual short instructions
assignment is added to break the tension of teaming. The semester ends with workshopping and
final report submission, and individually written memos or email to you regarding an assessment
of team members’ participation. You’ll notice many weeks with ICAs in this course design as
well as a hefty individual participation grade to back this up. Working together on activities in
class can help prepare students for better teaming during outside work.

Schedule 4 Suggested Project Prompts: CH 20 #1; CH 18 #3 (or #2 in the Distance Learning
Assignments); CH 16 Proposal Distance Learning Assignment #1; CH 17 #1; CH 16 Progress
Report #1 or CH 14 #5; CH 18 Collaborative Experiences Worksheet.

                    Schedule 1—Formal, Technical Report

Week #              Topic               Chapters              Assignment              Due Date
  1      Introduction to technical        1, 2          In-class activities (ICA)
  2         Audience, purpose              3, 6                   ICA
  3        Job hunt: application            20            Application letter &         1st Day,
             letters & resumes                                  resume                 Week 4
  4          Technical Reports            13-15            Technical Report           Last Day,
                                                                                      Week 15
  5        Content management                9                    ICA
  6             Proposals                   16           Proposal for Technical        1st Day,
                                                                Report                 Week 8
  7        Information searches              7                    ICA
  8                Ethics                    5                    ICA
  9        Document Design &               8, 11                  ICA
  10            Instructions                17          Short instruction set with    1st Day,
                                                                 graphic              Week 11
  11          Correspondence                12            Inquiry or Complaint        1st Day,
                                                                  Letter              Week 12
  12          Progress reports              16               Progress report          1st Day,
                                                                                      Week 13
  13     Main elements of reports           10                    ICA
  14     Oral reports; writing style       19, 4              Oral reports           Weeks 14-15
  15                                                          Final reports           Last Day,
                                                                                      Week 15

                                       Grade Determination

                         Participation                             10%
                         Letter & Resume                           10%
                         Proposal                                  15%
                         Instruction Manual with Graphics          15%
                         Inquiry or Complaint Letter               10%
                         Progress Report                           10%
                         Oral Report                               10%
                         Final Technical Report                    20%
                         Total                                     100%

       Schedule 2—Recommendations Report & Instructions Manual

Week #             Topic                Chapters             Assignment             Due Date
  1       Introduction to technical       1, 2         In-class activities (ICA)
  2          Audience, purpose            3, 6                     ICA
  3            Collaboration               18                      ICA
  4             Instructions               17          Instruction manual with 3     1st Day,
                                                                graphics             Week 8
  5                 Ethics                  5                      ICA
  6           Document design               8                      ICA
  7                Graphics                11                      ICA
  8         Job hunt: application          20             Application letter &      1st Day,
              letters & resumes                                  resume             Week 9
  9         Proposals, gathering          7, 16            Proposal for final       1st Day,
                 information                                technical report        Week 11
  10        Content management             9                       ICA
  11      Recommendation reports,        10, 14         Tech report in progress     Last Day,
               report elements                               (since week 7)         Week 15
  12           Progress reports            16                Progress report         1st Day,
                                                                                    Week 13
  13           Writing Style                4                     ICA
  14            Oral reports               19                Oral reports          Weeks 14-15
  15           Final Reports                             Final technical report     Last Day,
                                                                                    Week 15

                                      Grade Determination

                          Participation                           15%
                          Instruction Manual with graphics        20%
                          Letter & Resume                         10%
                          Proposal                                15%
                          Progress Report                         10%
                          Oral Report                             10%
                          Final Technical Report                  20%
                          Total                                   100%

                 Schedule 3 – Mastering the Fundamentals

Week #             Topic            Chapters               Assignment             Due Date
  1       Introduction to technical    1, 2          In-class activities (ICA)
  2          Audience, purpose         3, 6                     ICA
  3      Style; mechanics questions 4, App A                    ICA
  4           Correspondence            12             Inquiry or Complaint        1st Day,
                                                               Letter              Week 6
  5         Document design               8                     ICA
  6        Resumes, application          20             Application letter &       1st Day,
                  letters                                     resume               Week 7
  7             Graphics                 11                     ICA
  8            Instructions              17          Set of Instructions with      1st Day,
                                                              graphic              Week 9
  9      Content management &           9, 13        1 page report or analysis     1st Day,
                Reports                                      of a report          Week 11
  10     Recommendation reports          14           Short recommendation        Last Day,
                                                          report (3-5 pgs)        Week 15
  11             Proposals               16              Proposal memo to          1st Day,
                                                             instructor           Week 12
  12       Information searches           7                     ICA
  13      Progress reports, ethics      5, 16             Progress report          1st Day,
                                                                                  Week 14
  14     Oral reports, writing style    4, 19        Oral reports; workshop      Weeks 14-15
  15                                                       Final report           Last Day,
                                                                                  Week 15

                                  Grade Determination

                         Participation                          10%
                         Inquiry or Complaint Letter            10%
                         Letter & Resume                        10%
                         1 page report or analysis of report    10%
                         Instructions                           10%
                         Proposal                               15%
                         Progress Report                        10%
                         Oral Report                            10%
                         Short Report                           15%
                         Total                                  100%

                        Schedule 4—Collaborative Writing

Week #            Topic                 Chapters            Assignment              Due Date
  1      Introduction to technical        1, 2        In-class activities (ICA)
  2         Audience, purpose             3, 6                  ICA
  3       Application letters and          20          Application letter and       1st Day,
                 resumes                                      resume                Week 5
  4       Correspondence; in-class         12         ICA; in-class workshop
         workshop letter/resume draft
  5            Collaboration               18         Team memo to instructor       1st Day,
                                                      about expectations, roles,    Week 6
                                                          problem solving
  6       Proposal for team report         16           Team oral proposal,         Week 8
                   project                              w/presentation slides
  7         Gathering info.; oral        7, 19                  ICA
  8         Oral presentation of                      In-class oral reports, peer
          proposals to classmates,                              Q&A
  9      Recommendation reports,        5, 13, 14      Team recommendation          1st Day,
                    ethics                                    report                Week 15
  10      Gathering info., content        7, 9                 ICA
  11              Graphics                11                   ICA
  12         Document design;            8, 17           Short individual           1st Day,
                Instructions                              instruction set           Week 13
  13        Progress reports (by           16          Team progress reports        1st Day,
                   teams)                                                           Week 14
  14     Consistent, readable style;       4           Workshop report draft
           in-class workshop for
  15                                                     Final rec. report;         Week 15
                                                        participation reports

                                  Grade Determination

                          Letter and Resume                      10%
                          Team Participation                     10%
                          Team Management Plan                   10%
                          Team Oral Proposal                     15%
                          Instructions                           10%
                          Team Progress Report                   10%
                          Team Recommendations Report            15%
                          Individual In-Class Participation      15%
                          Team Participation                     15%
                          Total                                  100%
Ideas on Policies
Your department or college may already have policies and procedures that are consistent across
classes, so you should check with your supervisor or department head before handing out your
syllabus. In the case that some of or all of this information is left up to you, here are ideas and
alternatives for your policy statement:

Prerequisites: The prerequisite for this course is a passing grade in freshman composition or
equivalent workplace writing experience approved by the department head.

Plagiarism: Plagiarism includes both using other people’s writing as if it were your own and
having other people write your papers. Maximum disciplinary action as defined by the college
will be taken against people who plagiarize or collude on assignments for this course.

Grading standards: Grades on individual assignments will be based on the criteria stated in the
handout for the individual assignment and on the general evaluation standards for A, B, C, D,
and F to be handed out separately.

Grade calculation: In addition to the suggested grade determinations accompanying each
sample syllabus, here are several other ways to calculate grades:

   All short assignments (including the speech and revisions), 60%; research report, 40%
    (Because of their length and complexity, the proposal and progress report count twice among
    the short papers.).

   Final report, 40%; initial hand-in grade on all other assignments, 30%; highest revision grade
    on all other assignments, 20%; in-class work and participation, 10% (See the following for
    details on revision policies).

   For the project-team course, individual writing assignments, 50%; individual quizzes and
    professionalism, 10%; group writing assignments, 30%; document testing and reviewing, and
    revision, 10%.

Revision Options: Here are two ideas to encourage improvement.

You may revise any short assignment with a grade of C or lower for a grade no lower than the
original. Revision due dates will be marked on all assignments. The revision must reach the
instructor no later than the date indicated and must be accompanied by the original assignment.
Each revision will count as much as the original assignment grade in your final average.

   You may revise any paper, as long as it reaches your instructor no later than a week after you
    received that paper back from your instructor. Highest revision grades are averaged and
    treated as 20% of the final grade (There is no penalty for not revising; the original grade is
    used for unrevised assignments). The revision must be accompanied by the original

Due dates and late papers: Assignments are due on the dates listed in the course schedule. You
may turn in an assignment as many as 3 days late, but the grade for that assignment will be

dropped a full letter. Late assignments may not be revised. Assignments later than 3 days will
receive an automatic F.

Dropping the course: Here are two separate approaches for students who get too far behind:

   Students who fall too far behind in the schedule of assignments will be dropped from the
    course on the grounds of “unsatisfactory progress.”

   It is your responsibility to drop this course if you fall too far behind. Your instructor will not
    drop you from the course.

Incompletes: Incompletes will be awarded only on the basis of severe illness documented by a
doctor’s note. Incompletes are available to students who have only the final two assignments left
to finish.

Format: All assignments for this course must be done using standard word-processing software
and printed on a quality printer, preferably a laser printer. See your instructor for exceptions.
Format for each assignment is defined in the handout for the assignment and in specified chapters
in the textbook. You must use the required margins and binding specified by the instructor. You
must use the format for titles, headings, lists, graphics, tables, and special notices specified by the
instructor. You must use the report design (format and components) as specified by the

Audience requirements: All assignments for this course must be understandable by a layperson
(non-specialist) or a non-technical executive audience. This will enable your instructor to
understand and evaluate the assignment and will be a better challenge to your skills as a technical

Team-project policies: Here are ideas for requirements on the collaborative writing syllabus:

   Group members must demonstrate professionalism in all aspects of this course, especially in
    relation to members of their project team. This means responsibility, integrity, good
    manners, appropriate language, and consideration for others.

   Each group member must sign each group document to earn credit for completing the

   Students will share photocopying expenses when providing test copies of manuals to

   Group members must exchange telephone numbers and/or email addresses with each
    member of their team to ensure effective group communication outside of class for regular

   Any group member who must be absent must notify group members of that fact-and make
    arrangements to get work to them by class time.

Sample Grading Standards
A: Outstanding
     Exceeds assignment guidelines; requires no revisions
     Demonstrates strong and consistently applied definition of audience and purpose
     Includes thoughtful and innovative adaptation of the subject to the audience’s needs
     Includes thoughtful and innovative adaptation of the subject to the audience’s needs
     Is developed and organized usefully at every level for reader comprehension
     Is concise but thorough, supported by clear, logical, and appropriate detail
     Is formatted appropriately to the audience’s needs
     Is designed appropriately to the audience’s needs
     Is cleanly written, avoiding stylistic and mechanical errors
     Optional item: Creates and uses a realistic workplace context (or uses a real workplace context) in an
        effective way

B: Very Good
     Meets assignment guidelines well; requires minor revisions
     Reflects a purpose and an audience that are clearly defined
     Provides information sufficient to audience needs
     Is concise but thorough, supported by relevant detail
     Demonstrates appropriate word choice
     Is formatted appropriately to the audience’s needs
     Is designed appropriately to the audience’s needs
     Is cleanly written, avoiding major or repetitive stylistic and mechanical errors

C: Adequate
     Meets assignment requirements; requires minor to moderate revision
     Reflects a purpose and an audience that are adequately defined
     Provides information sufficient to audience needs
     Is supported with specifics as well as generalities, but may need to be more consistently so
     Demonstrates appropriate word choice
     Is formatted appropriately to the audience’s needs
     Is designed adequately to the audience’s needs
     Is written in a style appropriate to audience and subject, but that is in need of revision

D: Poor
     Does not fully meet certain important requirements of the assignment; requires major revision
     Strays from or confuses audience and purpose
     Is generally complete but lacking in substantive development
     Is overly generalized or supported with facts that have questionable credibility
     Is formatted or designed in a way that is confusing or misleading
     Demonstrates an inconsistent or sometimes muddled style
     Demonstrates unsatisfactory mastery of standard English

F: Fails
          Fails to meet most of the stated assignment requirements; author needs to start over
          Lacks focus on a subject or appropriate audience
          Includes unsatisfactory format
          Includes content that is weak, poorly developed, inadequate
          Lacks logical connections between ideas, sentences, paragraphs
          Lacks consistency in style and tone
          Demonstrates habitually poor writing skills

                  Connecting with the Profession
As you begin teaching technical writing, consider exploring technical communication as a
profession. It will help you discuss just what technical writing is (never an easy task). It will also
give you some ideas for ingenious classroom activities and assignments, ways of finding guest
speakers for your class, and resources for helping students who want to pursue technical
communication careers. And these explorations might also give you some professional
alternatives as well.

The Internet has provided practitioners, teachers, and students of technical communication a
wonderful means for coming together around their common interests. As a technical writing
instructor, you have a rich and growing selection of resources on the Internet for teaching your
courses and for exploring the technical communication profession. You can use these resources
to learn more about the field of technical communication, to find out how others teach their
technical writing courses, and to make useful contacts with teachers and practitioners.

Resources for Technical Writing Teachers
The Web is, by far, the easiest, least expensive, and most readily available resource for any
technical writing teacher. It offers an abundance of examples, online articles, and resources for
connecting to other professionals and other teachers.

Reporting Technical Information Website

The website offers a number of very valuable options, including:

      customizable interface for instructors,
      a summary for each chapter,
      online practice quizzes,
      key terms and concepts,
      sample reports,
      interactive exercises for students,
      annotated links for each chapter,
      an online version of this manual.

Make this your first stop and explore the resources that are being constantly updated and

The Association of Teachers of Technical Writing

The Association of Teachers of Technical Writing (ATTW) is a great place to start connecting
with other professionals. Established in 1973 to encourage dialogue among teachers of technical
communication, and to develop technical communication as a discipline, it has an international
membership that includes over a thousand teachers and professional communicators.

The ATTW makes available:

       news about the profession
       faculty positions
       calls for papers
       an electronic discussion list
       information about programs in technical communication
       syllabi of individual technical communication courses
       information about technical communication books and journals
       related resources

Consider becoming a member of ATTW, receiving its journal Technical Communication
Quarterly, and joining the electronic mailing list (ATTW-L). The ATTW-L mailing list is
particularly useful: it allows you to communicate through email with other members of the

You’ll find the Technical Communication Quarterly to be a useful professional journal devoted
to the teaching, study, and practice of technical writing in academic, scientific, technical,
governmental, and business/industrial fields. Articles are both theoretical and practical and cover
a range of professional writing topics, including pedagogy, rhetoric, linguistics, organizational
communication, business/industrial communication, intercultural communication, text design,
graphics, audience analysis, and software and hardware issues as they pertain to technical
communication (

Society for Technical Communication

Another rich resource you’ll want to explore is the Web site of the Society for Technical
Communication (STC). On the Academic Programs and Research Grants page, you can get
information about internships, academic courses and programs, dissertations in the field of
technical communication, and career brochures.

You can get information about the location of the STC chapter in your area. Using the region or
chapter STC Web page, you can get the names of people from whom you can get information
about the profession or bring to your class as guest speakers.

If you join STC, you get its journal Technical Communication, a quarterly journal that publishes
thought-provoking articles on subjects of interest to all technical communicators, and Intercom, a
magazine published ten times a year providing practical examples and applications of technical
communication, promoting the efficiency and professional development of-the readership

Council for Programs in Technical and Scientific Communication

You may also be interested in the Council for Programs in Technical and Scientific
Communication (CPTSC), whose goal is to promote programs in technical -and scientific
communication, promote research in technical and scientific communication, develop
opportunities for the exchange of ideas and information concerning programs, research, and
career opportunities, and assist in the development and evaluation of new programs in technical
and scientific communication (

IEEE Professional Communication Society

Another potentially useful resource is the website of the IEEE Professional Communication
Society, one of the 37 technical groups of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers
(IEEE). IEEE is committed to enhancing the core competency of communication in its
membership by exploring the theory and application of all forms of communication technology.
At this site, abstracts from IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication are available
along with information about conferences, workshops, and courses (

TECHWR-L Mailing List

A useful electronic mailing list for the technical communication profession is TECHWR-L. This
is a list heavily used by technical communicators all over the world. Subscribers to this list are
about two-thirds practitioners to one-third academics. This mailing list has an excellent FAQ
from which you can learn much about the profession. Archives are also available, but remember
that the mailing list archives are arranged chronologically by postings and thus are not organized
by topic; use keyword searches to find what you need (

            Addressing Different Learning Styles
The traditional method of teaching--assigning reading and then repeating or expanding upon that
reading through lecture--is not the best choice for a technical writing class. Lecturing
discourages students from reading the text (why bother if the teacher is just going to repeat it?),
is passive and often boring, and wastes valuable class time you could be using to promote
document planning and practice writing. This opinion is not unique or new; however, many new
teachers fall into the lecture trap because that is what they are used to experiencing as students.
Below is a brief discussion of teaching methodologies and learning styles. It's very generalized,
serving mainly to get new teachers familiar with the issues. Plenty of excellent research is
available online and in the library.

Active Versus Passive Environments

The two general ways of describing a classroom environment are pretty self explanatory. A
passive environment means that the student is the passive receptor of information. A "sage on a
stage" stands behind the lectern or occasionally ventures out in a more Phil Donahue style and
imparts her knowledge to her audience. This method of learning assumes that the speaker is the
best or only source of expertise, and although you can tell by my description that I don't support
it for our purposes, some situations are much more tailored to its benefits. When no text contains
or accurately provides specialized information, then a lecture is a better means of education.

However, technical writing teachers are blessed with excellent textbooks, RTI being at the
forefront of these. If you want your students to use their textbooks, then you must give them
reason to do so. Here are several ways to do this while, at the same time, creating an active

           Quizzes (graded and discussed in class)
           In-class activities (sometimes graded, sometimes not)
           Short outside activities that are used in class
           A combination of the above.

Once students understand that they will be held accountable for understanding the text and using
that information in class, they will more consistently do the preparation for your meetings.
Making the work completed in the meetings meaningful and valuable (often this relates to
grades) encourages students to perform. The above methods of making a class active are
discussed in a bit more detail below.

In-Class Options & Their Complimentary Learning Styles

Research demonstrates that we have a variety of learning styles and that each of us typically has a
preferred style. A very simplified way of listing these styles is framed as learning by

          Seeing (graphics, examples) or hearing (spoken, written word)
          Inferring (facts provided) or deducting (conclusions provided)
          Doing (activity, discussions) or reflecting (introspection)
          Small steps (increments) or larger concepts (global)
          Sensation (sights, sounds) or intuition (insights)

Think of these as continuums of preferences. Some people may not have a strong preference in
one or more areas, and such preferences can change over time. For a more specific, thorough
discussion and for the source of my simplification, this article is a great place to start: Felder,
Richard, “Reaching the Second Tier: Learning and Teaching Styles in the College Science
Education.” Journal of College Science Teaching, 23(5), 286-290 (1993).

The point here is to reinforce that some of your students will respond well to lectures, others will
work better with samples they can examine, still others really need to practice their writing skills
in class. And students may need this practice to be concrete, such as writing a simple memo to
practice format and design; other students may prefer practice that demands reflection, such as
analyzing a document’s use of design or writing style and commenting on its effectiveness.
Some students will crave specific guidelines and others will learn more effectively if given the
chance to make their own insights.

Since you cannot form your class based on learning preferences, the best approach is to work on
varying classroom experiences. Doing so not only will address a wider variety of cognitive styles
but also will make the class experience less repetitious and more dynamic. If you are a new
teacher, don’t be intimidated; just take your class development one step at a time. Here is an
example of how you can implement a good variety of approaches.

Week One: Hand out samples of technical writing documents and let students brainstorm how
writing these would be different than writing papers for college courses (seeing, deducting,
reflecting, global, intuition).

Week Two: To practice format, have students write you a short memo about their career
aspirations; let them use the format information in chapter 12 as a guide (hearing, inducting,
doing, incremental, sensation).

Week Three: Have students do a simple document redesign outside of class. Have three
students email you their redesigns, then print them out and turn them into overheads. Spend
class time discussing their approaches (seeing and hearing, inducting, doing and reflecting,
incremental, sensation and intuition).

Week Four. Give a closed book quiz over graphic design (chapter 11) that requires students to
construct a graphic out of raw data. Grade them in class and discuss various responses (hearing,
inducting, doing and reflecting, incremental, sensation).

Week Five: Have students construct a preliminary outline for the first major project. Compare
approaches, being careful not to imply that everyone's should be exactly the same (seeing and
hearing, inducting, doing and reflecting, incremental, sensation and intuition).

Comparing these ideas back to the list of styles above, you will see how a variety of preferences
is addressed in each. Activities can also be physically active, such as field testing instructions or
descriptions, defending proposals, or role-playing in an ethics scenario. Just make sure that the
relevance and meaning behind the activities is clear. For many students, this in itself will be

motivation to participate, especially if they understand the vital nature of good communication
skills to all professions.

Grades in the Active Classroom

If you choose to create an active classroom environment, then you will need to decide what
forms of motivation will work best with your own students. Some may be intrinsically motivated
to participate and learn these writing skills for the sake of a well-rounded education; others will
be motivated by the practical usefulness of the information; still others will need the impetus of
grades to perform on the level you expect.

Grading assignments is not always necessary. If an activity directly contributes to the creation of
a larger project, then most students will work hard in class just to make sure they're on the right
track and to save time later. You can also grade in-class activities on a +, , or - system. I
usually give any student who completes the work no less than a 50% for their effort, even if the
quiz or draft is off the mark. Then, the check system roughly translates into 95 (+), 85 (), and
75 (-). I don't worry about subtle variations in grades. Note that you may want an outstanding
grade of 100 to be possible, depending upon the range of participation levels you receive.

Deciding what percentage of an overall class grade will be attributed to classroom activities,
including quizzes, discussions, and in-class projects, becomes easier with experience, as does the
task of efficiently grading to these mini-assignments. I have taught classes that had as little as 5%
and as much as 40% participation credit. See the sample syllabi for some ideas. Be wary of grade
inflation though. If your participation percentage is high, you'll want to expect a higher level of
accountability from students.

                      Using Computers to Teach

Why Use a Computer Classroom?

A major revolution over the last decade has been the implementation of the computer classroom.
Rather than using lecture and overhead projectors to facilitate learning, many institutions now
encourage or even push their instructors into using computer classrooms. This push seems to be
the greatest in the area of composition, and at least in my department, is more intensely focused
on the new instructors, particularly graduate students.

Computers can offer a wonderful avenue for the expansion of active learning. However, you
should be proactive in assessing computer integration from the students’ view as well. Are you
doing something via computers that makes more sense to explore using pen and paper? For
example, peer critique workshops work better when students can circle words and write
marginalia. And some class discussions make no sense when done using chat rooms at the same
location! Don’t impose that computer-generated sense of isolation on your class just to say that
you are technologically advanced. Instead, think creatively about how you can use the power
offered by computer networks to expand students’ understanding of communication and the
practices in their fields.

Each chapter’s activities list now ends with several Computer Classroom activity ideas. You
will see that the general theme here is to use the Web as an instantaneous information source and
to use the computer as a means for privately (anonymously) discussing issues that may be more
difficult to discuss in person.

Remember also that, if you have a computer classroom at your disposal, you can also use it
selectively for one class per month or one class per week. You may even be called upon to
develop a computer-based distance course that does not meet in person at all (see “An
Introduction to Distance Courses” later in this manual). Remember: Don’t be a slave to
technology just for technology’s sake. Do take advantage of the medium in creative,
productive ways.

How Do I Use a Computer Classroom?

Preparing for a presentation in a computer classroom is much the same as preparing for an active
learning experience in a traditional setting. You’ll want to think in terms of time constraints and
be able to discuss outcomes of what you do. You’ll also want to be prepared for technological
problems and have backup plans ready in case using the computers becomes impossible.

Almost as soon as you begin using a computer classroom, you'll notice that when the computers
are turned on, the students' attention is on the screen, not on you. Consider having students turn
to face away from the computer screens (if possible) when you want their eyes on you. Once you
are ready for them to begin working, remember that not all students will navigate the computer at
the same pace. Putting students in teams of two (where one student has more experience than the
other) can help alleviate this problem as can using a computer-projector so students can see what
you're doing as a demonstration for them to follow.

Maintaining a strict sense of order and progress in a computer classroom is much like conducting
an orchestra of orangutans. You will have moments of clarity, when everyone is on task and on
the same "page," but more often you will witness a wide range of progressions, headed all in the
same direction (if you're prepared and a little lucky!). The decentralized control of the computer
classroom--when the importance of the machines and the process of completing tasks far
outweigh the importance of the teacher--goes hand in hand with the benefits of the experience, so
be prepared to loosen up control.

How Is Preparation for Computer Classroom Different?

As stated above, preparation here is not terribly different from preparation for an active learning
experience in a traditional setting. Foremost, a clear class plan, prepared goals, and a degree of
flexibility will be crucial to making the most of the computer classroom. Here are a few
additional suggestions:

Plan for an activity that clearly needs computers in order to be successful.
     Divide your timeframe into 10 or 15 minute mini-task increments.
     Expect the unexpected and prepare for it.
     Make sure that you can perform all activity tasks before the class meets.
     Remember the space limitation in front of the computer. Teams of two are good; four
        may be too many. Everyone needs to be involved.
     For larger teams, consider subtasks that can be completed on paper (outlining, for
     Remember to relate computer exercises back to your course and/or assignment
        objectives. Take time to review and discuss.

If you hope to one day teach distance courses or if your students need a bit of a break, then try
having an occasional "distance day," during which students meet asynchronously online to post
to a message board, email you or each other search results, or (if facilities permit) meet for a

If you're feeling brave, the Peer Review Workshops can even be completed online.

      Considering Web-Based Distance Courses
Distance learning, typically via the Web, is booming. As technology provides a means of using
advanced methods to communicate (streaming audio, streaming video, webcams, etc.), more
busy students are electing to take courses away from the traditional classroom. Because
technical writing is typically a basic requirement and not a specialized course within a student’s
major, it is a prime candidate for this more convenient but equally challenging method of
learning. While this is no location for a complete guide to preparing and teaching a Web-based
distance course, I thought an introduction to the basic procedure and the accompanying areas of
concern may be helpful. Many teachers who find themselves new to the classroom now are
likely to find themselves teaching via computer in the near future.

Defining a Distance Course in Your Context

The first step in moving a course to the Web is to ask yourself and your department what your
intentions are. Some distance courses are offered as an option for convenience. Students are still
expected to be local and have access to campus. These courses typically run on the same
semester calendar that other, on-campus classes follow. Other Web-based courses are truly
distance and may even be truly asynchronous. Students may be separated from the teacher and
from each other by significant time and space (in other time zones, other countries). Therefore,
you must decide the scope of what you want to develop. This will make a difference in how you
approach the course (independent or interactive? Hardcopy documents or paperless?) and what
technologies are critical to implementation (fax machine, audio/video lab, etc.).

Beyond outlining the physical realities of your distance course, you must also decide what level
of interactivity you and your department expect. Do you want an online correspondence course
where students are basically isolated from each other and communicate only with you? Or do
you want an interactive course that is enriched through discussion and even online collaboration
but requires tighter scheduling and a greater time commitment from the instructor? Both have
their advantages/disadvantages to students and to faculty; both have their target audiences.
Where do you and your department’s mission fit in?

Planning and Developing a Distance Course

Once you have defined what your distance learning goals are, a substantive planning and
development stage follows. This involves gathering materials for your course and most likely,
translating them into html (Web pages) or other online media (audio, video, etc.). You must also
divide your semester into clear components that are structured and organized with the students in
mind. Here is where decisions on semester schedules and interactivity become key. For
example, if you plan to have a significant interactivity level, then you must figure it into the time
commitment for both the students and you.

A typical three-credit hour course, taught over a 15-week semester, should take approximately
145 hours of student time (45 in the classroom, 90 out). Expect your distance course to consume
about the same amount of time, but remember to figure in time for reading text, reading Web
documents, researching, discussing, drafting, revising, and submitting assignments. Also note
that teaching a distance-course, even when it is fully developed and refined, takes as much as or
more time than a traditional course. Some administrators are fooled into seeing a distance course
as a quick, cheap alternative to class space. This is not the case.

As you plan your assignments, take creative advantage of the Web and its associated
technologies to make your class more engaging. At the end of each chapter in this manual,
several Distance Learning Assignment suggestions are provided. With a little review, you will
see that almost any assignment can be taught through a Web course. Some flexibility and
patience are the only additional requirements once the initial course development is complete.

Methods for Teaching a Distance Course

Once your distance course is envisioned and your materials are gathered, you want to consider
how you will deliver your course. One option is to simply use a web-accessible server (belonging
to your department, your school, or even hosted via commercial ISP) to post your materials and
to supplement this instruction with the free chat rooms and newsboards available in plentiful
number (see FreeChatNow at, Yahoo Instant Messenger at , and WWWBoard at
for examples).

Another option is to use a course environment package like WebCT ( or
Blackboard ( These portals provide a package of distance learning
technologies. For example, WebCT provides space for online materials, content modules, an
online grade book, bulletin boards, chat rooms, internal email, a whiteboard, group work space,
online quizzes, etc. Students access the course via personalized name and password, and you, as
instructor, build the course to include only the components that you want to use. These are
convenient and relatively easy to set up. They also provide technical support online. Some large
institutions buy site licenses, so access to a portal involves no direct, additional fees. You can
also pay on a per-class basis.

Whatever options you choose, be careful to provide enough information to facilitate your class
but not so much that you overwhelm your students. I have seen classes that have paper
textbooks, online textbooks, streaming Powerpoint lectures, video course meetings, chats,
bulletin boards, notes, and assignments. These were too much—as a student, I would not know
where to start.

If you are truly interested in distance course development, an excellent book to review first is
Rena M. Palloff and Keith Pratt’s Building Learning Communities in Cyberspace: Effective
Strategies for the Online Classroom (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1999). Also look
into the opportunity to attend an online, distance seminar on developing Web courses through
LERN (Learning Resources Network, These are wonderful experiences
because they can help you understand the students’ perspectives and give you a chance to work
with other distance teachers, ranging in experience from novice to expert.

Benefits & Challenges Unique to Distance Courses

Teaching a distance course via the Web offers some clear advantages to both students and

       Time away from the classroom (students, teachers)
       Reading comprehension and application skills (students)
       Independent learning skills (students)
       Interactivity promotes real communication practice (students)

An online environment complemented via a variety of media (text, audio, interactivity, etc.) and
a thoughtful approach to assignment design can address the individualized learning styles found
in a traditional classroom and meet our students’ needs in a dynamic, refreshing, and successful
way. But this is no small task. To meet these goals, you must have stable, continual access to

       Developmental support (time, training, money, recognition) and
       Learning technologies (via the department, college, or university).

Although many early Web courses were developed solely by the enthusiasm and determination of
the instructor, with no training or support, many universities now offer at least an Office of
Distance Education or a Computer Services Department to help with training. Be wary: a well-
structured, Web-based distance course may take a full year to create, and as mentioned above,
this is a teaching medium that takes advantage of technology for the students’ benefit. It is not a
time or money saving venture.

            Designing & Conducting Workshops

What Are Workshops?

Workshops are structured meetings during which students exchange complete (preferably typed)
drafts of their major assignments. With instructor guidance, students evaluate each other's work
and provide somewhat detailed responses in terms of what is successful and what needs

Some instructors hold workshops which are relatively unstructured--students simply exchange
drafts and react. For graduate students or specialists in technical writing, this may work, but for
undergraduates whose primary interests do not focus on rhetoric and composition, this method is
not a wise choice. Students simply given free reign will generally either edit the paper for
mechanical problems or will read through it and provide very unstructured, generic feedback
akin to "This is good."

This section will describe a method for conducting structured workshops that has been proven to
work, substantially building student confidence and supporting skill development along the way:

1.     Students bring relatively complete, typed drafts to the workshop.
2.     Each attaches a review form and a copy of the grade rubric to her draft.
3.     Class conducts a preliminary Q&A session over assignment expectations.
4.     Students trade drafts (each trade is called a "round").
5.     Teacher reviews the time frame and focus for the round.
6.     Students evaluate the draft, based on the assigned focus.
7.     Students make at least the minimum number of compliments or
       suggestions on the workshop form.
8.     Students repeat the process (starting at #3), generally three or four times.
9.     Class conducts an open Q&A session as students review their comments.
10.    Students take their draft packets with them to make final revisions.
11.    Students submit their final work with the stapled draft packet for review.
12.    Teacher assigns a grade to the final product and reviews the draft packet
       for accountability.

The process is described in more detail below. Of course, you should alter this suggested method
to fit your needs.

Why Should I Conduct Workshops?

Conducting workshops for assignment drafts has a number of fundamental benefits:

Students get to see each other's interpretation of the assignment,
    Students get a chance to think critically about writing in a guided environment,
    Students can apply this experience to their own work,
    Students avoid the procrastination pitfall,
    Students see the benefit of taking time to revise,
      Teachers get a substantive chance to re-emphasize the important goals of the assignment,
      Students get to see that the teacher’s evaluation process is based on goals and logic—not
       on a mysteriously subjective reaction, and
      Teachers get to make sure that everyone is generally on the right track.

The only real drawback to workshops (when thoughtfully orchestrated) may offer is that they
take up class time, generally one day per major assignment. This may total anywhere from two
to five meetings out of the semester. If you are big on active learning and accountability for
reading the text before class, then these should easily fit into your schedule.

How Do I Plan a Workshop?

Once you get a feel for how workshops are conducted, planning for them is not a difficult or time
consuming task. Here are some basic requirements that need to be met before actually entering
the classroom for the workshop meeting:

       Have a system of accountability in place (this should be considered when planning the
        overall grading system for the course. See below for more).
       Have a method of providing feedback prepared.
       Have an organized approach to evaluating the drafts prepared.
       Have a time structure in mind.

A System of Accountability

Your workshops can be required or optional. My experience has been that optional workshops
generate very poor turnout. Having a draft prepared early and taking the time to consider it (and
to make subsequent revisions) all work against a student’s natural tendency to procrastinate and
to turn in the first draft that is fired off of his word processor. My workshops are required and I
have clear draft due dates written on the syllabus and on my assignment handouts, so students
have ample notice of their time frame and of my expectations. They may moan and groan about
this, but invariably, my workshops have been the element that has produced the most positive
response on my course evaluations. Once they see that these may directly benefit their grades
and will teach them valuable lessons about their own writing processes, students like workshops.

Students required to attend workshops will disregard the workshop in one or two ways: not
preparing the draft or not attempting to provide valuable feedback. The way that I have
approached these problems in the past is to make participation in each workshop count in two
ways, each addressing one of the two problems.

In order to participate in the workshop at all, students must bring a draft. I am lenient in terms
of how good that draft has to be, but it must meet two criteria: it must be legible (preferably
typed) and it must be substantive enough to generate feedback. This stops students from bringing
in a draft that is one paragraph out of a required five pages. When students bring incomplete
drafts, I deduct up to 10 points off that assignment's grade. So, if a student brings in an
instruction manual draft that is 50% complete and later receives a grade of 85 on that
assignment, then his grade is lowered to an 80 as a penalty for not bringing the complete draft.
Once you get everyone bringing good drafts to the workshop, then achieving a high level of
 participation becomes your next challenge. To indicate how meaningful these meetings are to
 me, I assign them a portion of the final participation grade, say 10% overall (out of the 15%
 participation points) when I have four or five workshops throughout the semester. Students who
 attend the workshop and work diligently to provide good feedback get an easy 100. Those who
 attend but offer generic, repetitive, or inappropriate feedback then receive a deduction from the
 participation grade. Simply skimming over the workshop forms can give you the information
 needed to make these decisions. I do not mark on the workshop forms or formally grade them.
 Instead, I simply check to ensure that everyone is doing her fair share.

You can see that this process requires some mechanisms to award accountability--you may have
some other, creative ideas in mind for your own students. Simply recognize that these are the
two main challenges. You must also tell your students that different writers have different styles
of responding. Your structure will help generate similar levels of care and feedback, but some
evaluators will simply be more helpful than others. That's life.

A Method of Providing Feedback

While students prepare their drafts, you should prepare a method of executing the workshop. One
clear approach is to simply let students write on each other's drafts and make comments as
needed, wherever is needed. If you have a small number of students and can take the time to
recognize handwriting (or have them initial each comment), then this works fine.

If you have a larger number of students, then you may consider creating a draft "packet" that you
can later review for participation and completion purposes. Since students will want to take their
workshopped work with them, this packet becomes handy at keeping everything together for
their convenience (and later, for yours). Each stapled packet contains the following:

       One workshop form,
       One assignment grade rubric,
       One student draft.

I bring in the form and rubric at the beginning of the meeting, along with a stapler. As I take roll
and review the workshop focus list, students can quickly staple the packet in order and prepare
for the workshop.

An example form follows this description (p. 34). Note that it has spaces for the author’s and
evaluators’ names as well as two squares for each evaluator: strengths and suggestions. This
keeps the final comments together for my review later. Also following the description is a form
with sample comments (p. 35). You might show this to your students and discuss the kind of
comments you expect. Here is how I explain it:

Quantitative Comments involve mechanical issues such as punctuation and spelling. These are
fine to mark on the draft but are really too small for our overall scope.

Qualitative Comments involve substantive areas of writing—often related to the focuses I
request—that may include content, design, organization, and/or style. These are the elements
that drive a document’s success.
I also require a specified number of comments per round, typically four or five. These may be
any combination of strengths and suggestions (or all of one or the other). Having this
requirement further standardizes the process and allows me to judge accountability later. You
could also have a range of participation responses, such as 5+=A, 4=B, 3=C, 2=D, and 1>=F.

An Organized Approach to Evaluating Drafts

In addition to the workshop form, I provide each student at the workshop with a specific
assignment grade rubric. I briefly review the grade method and expectations at the beginning of
class as a reminder and as a preparation for peer review.

Once these packets are prepared, then I have them trade as I discuss the evaluation focus for the
first round. See the page three foci following this description. Providing this critical structure
helps alleviate the tendency towards quantitative comments and helps reassure students that they
are “doing the right thing” during the workshop. Remember that these are future engineers,
scientists, and doctors, not future writing teachers. Make sure your focus list covers the major
objectives of the assignment and is tied to the rubric for consistency and so students have a
record of what you did during the workshop for future reference as they revise.

The rubrics I provide also show students that I am up front about my expectations, I'm not hiding
anything or trying to trick them into lower grades. I also use the rubric to guide the focus of each
evaluation round. For more, see the section on Designing and Using Grading Rubrics (see p. 37).

A Time Structure

Once students are prepared to actually begin the workshop, you need a time structure to help
move things-along at a relatively even pace. Some students will skim through a draft and make
quick comments; others will pour over every detail, taking an hour on each draft if you let them.
My system is to time each workshop exchange. I announce how long they will have to complete
their reading and comments, then I announce when one minute is left to finish up what they are
writing. Sometimes this last minute may be drawn out longer so students can get their last
comments in. On relatively simple assignments, each evaluation round may take only seven or
eight minutes. For complex assignments, ten to twelve minutes may be required. The time limit
may also vary according to your focus. For example, reviewing page design may only take a five
minute round, while critically evaluating writing style may take ten minutes. I have included time
designations on the same focus list that follows (p. 36).

What if This Doesn’t Work Well?

Obviously different schools and different student populations have different needs. My students
like structure and want to feel guided. Yours may want more independence and may have the
skills to use it. What is clear is that preparing a draft ahead of schedule and getting feedback on it
are always valuable steps. So consider the characteristics of your classroom and tweak this
process to best fit your needs.

Remember also that the first time you do a workshop with any class, you must take the time to
explain its purpose and process. Subsequent workshops are much easier as students understand
your expectations and the reasoning behind the work.

Finally, if you are worried about workshops (and giving students the grading rubric ahead of
time) creating grade inflation, then I can tell you that after years of using these, I see no proof of
this happening. If anything, these workshops give me further support for holding my students to
the high standards set by my department and university.

                Workshop Form

Name:                  Evaluator #1:

Assignment #:          Evaluator #2:

                       Evaluator #3:

#1 Strengths           #1 Suggestions

#2 Strengths           #2 Suggestions

#3 Strengths           #3 Suggestions

                         Workshop Form With Sample Comments

Name: Holly Stewart                                Evaluator #1: Elizabeth R.

Assignment #: Progress Report                      Evaluator #2: Brynn M.

                                                   Evaluator #3: Sam C

#1 Strengths                                       #1 Suggestions

Nice specific wording (see words circled           Consider using a bit more active voice—
in paragraph 2)                                    paragraph two is almost all passive, for

Good variation of sentence structure
(see check marks on paragraph 4)                   Watch negative wording (“not
                                                   uncommon,” “not unexpected”)

#2 Strengths                                       #2 Suggestions

                                                   Use lists when describing tasks
Clear wording on headings                          completed

                                                   Consider bolding your contact info at
                                                   the end of the memo

                                                   Remember memo format doesn’t have a
                                                   signature block at the end

#3 Strengths                                       #3 Suggestions

Looks great! Wish my draft were this
far along!

Note to the Instructor: Discuss the relative uselessness of this last comment-it doesn't provide
any helpful information and will frustrate the draft author, especially if she worked hard to help
others with her workshop comments. Note the detail and reference used in the other comments
for comparison. While students should write on each other's drafts, they need to be directive in
their comments as well.

                           Sample Workshop Page
       Focus List for a Progress Report Memo
Note: These focus lists are directly related to the progress report reading,
assignment sheet, and grading rubric.

Focus 1: Writing Style                               Time Limit: 10 min.

Progress report is written using
   Concrete wording?
   Active verbs and voice?
   Positive wording?
   Concise writing (no repetition, empty wording)?
   Appropriate tone (no pompous wording)?
   Appropriate formality (relates back to audience!)?

Focus 2: Page Design                                   Time Limit: 5 min.

Progress report is designed using
   Headings?
   Spacing?
   Lists?
   Highlighting?
   An appropriate level of design (not overused)?

Focus 3: Content Thoroughness                        Time Limit: 10 min.

Progress report communicates
   Project overview?
   Work completed?
   Analysis of work to date?
   Work remaining?
   Recommendations?
   In an order appropriate to project (by phase, by time, etc)?

Minimum number of Qualitative Comments per Round: 4

                Designing & Using Grade Rubrics

What Are Rubrics and Why Should I Use Them?

Grading rubrics are simply checklists of grade criteria that you use as you evaluate student work.
They are based on the objectives found in the reading and/or in the assignment instructions (or
both). Although rubrics vary in design, all of them have the following benefits:

Good grading rubrics

Tie your expectations back to concrete issues (in the reading, instructions)
     Help ensure your grading is thorough
     Make your grading more consistent
     Help you standardize grades, across groups of students, small or large
     Demonstrate to students that your grading is not totally subjective
     Reinforce the relationship between course goals and grades.

Non-humanities students especially think that a writing teacher has tendencies to grade based on
emotion--whether he likes a topic, a student, or even a paper's aesthetics. The process of
reviewing information and assigning it a numerical grade is a mystery to those who are used to
scantron exams with black-and-white answers. In truth, grading can be an intimidating task for a
new teacher as well. Using a rubric can help alleviate that stress and can help you reassure your
students that you are providing accurate and consistent feedback.

How Do I Design a Rubric?

Although you have a number of options for rubric design, one element is mandatory: your
rubric must reflect the objectives laid out in the assignment, whether this be through the
reading, through the instructions, or both. So, good rubric design begins with good assignment
design. Check the objectives listed in the reading. Ask yourself what course goals you want to
achieve through the assignment. Prioritize these goals as much as possible.

The next step then is to design the rubric. Here are a few ideas:

       General groups of characteristics, with point values assigned.
       Specific list of characteristics, with point values assigned.
       Either general groups or specific lists, with spaces for +, , or - notations but without
        actual point values assigned.
       Either general groups or specific lists, with space for commentary but no  or point

Each of the above has its advantages and disadvantages. For example, the point system
approaches can support a grading system that is more standardized. However, you may also find
yourself getting a “feel” for a grade and working backwards to make the points add up (“This
paper really fits a B category overall, but the points total 90 . . . I have to find areas to make a few
more deductions.”)! When using a  system, you’ll notice that not everything lends itself to a +
or -; for example, memo format is generally right or wrong. Students also may try to make a
point system out of checks. The comments approach is great but is not as handy when comparing
feedback to grades across larger numbers of students. So the choice is up to you. Following this
section is a set of grading rubrics that use specific lists but no point system.

Whichever you choose, make sure to at least provide a bit of space for an endnote that will
emphasize a strength and an area for improvement. My students especially like to know how to
apply current grade feedback to their future assignments, so I have a little note saying “When
drafting the next assignment, make sure to . . . “ at the end of the grade sheet.

How Do I Use a Rubric?

Again, this advice is meant to be tailored to your needs/philosophy and to the environment in
which you teach. I use the check system because of the temptation to work backwards with the
numerical system. So I first take a blank rubric and make notes according to which elements will
receive a yes/no response (like the memo format example above) and which elements will
receive a +, , or - notation. I then grade about ten at a time and usually don’t assign actual
grades until one or two of these groups is completed (I have about 100 students per semester).
Waiting to assign grades allows me to provide feedback and, at the same time, to get a feel for
the overall class response to the assignment.

When assigning actual grades, make note of any expectations standardized by your department.
For example, our technical writing courses have a universal set of general grade guidelines very
similar to those listed in the syllabus-writing section of this manual (see p. 16). Sticking to these
will ensure a better level of consistency across writing classes at your school.

Once you have assigned grades, then taking a few minutes to go back through them to ensure
consistency is a good idea. The rubrics give you a quick overview response so you won’t need to
flip through pages and pages of text for comparison. Rubrics can also come in handy if a student
feels a grade is unusually harsh. Make sure to generally explain your grading methods to your
students as a group, and consider having a structured means of submitting an assignment for a re-
grade/rewrite (see p. 14), as this can save you from the crying or yelling sessions a small subset
of students can bestow upon you.

                 Grade Rubric: Web Site Audience Analysis
Format :

       Uses correct memo format?
       Correctly uses page continuation headings?
       Includes a helpful, descriptive, but concise subject line?
       Uses a clear system of well-designed headings?
       Uses white space, lists, and highlighting to make information accessible?

      Contains a clear, concise, "news" announcement introduction?
      Compares two appropriately chosen sites?
      Thoroughly describes each site’s audience and purposes?
                    primary and secondary audience?
                    education, attitudes, points of view, habits?
                    short and long-term purposes?
             Analyzes sites using at least the six style and design characteristics?
             Demonstrates a good understanding of the characteristics used?
             Uses specific quotes and examples from the samples to support the analysis?
             Is well-organized?
      Includes top level printouts with project?
      Uses a clear, consistent method of referencing reader to site locations?
      Draws connections between characteristics used and audience and purpose?
      Includes a brief goodwill closing?

      Uses good mechanics?
      Is well-organized?
      Uses appropriate and consistent tone and style?
      Includes all requested documents?
      Includes clear web address label for each site?


How to Improve Your Next Assignment:

Name:                                               Project Grade:

Workshop Participation:                                      Complete Workshop Draft: Yes/No

                          Grade Rubric: Cover Letter and Resume
Cover Letter:
        Cover letter format?
        Contains all address information?
        Appropriate greeting?
        Clear, consistent spacing?
        Clear enclosure notation?
Introduction: clearly and efficiently states the news?
        Body: Uses specific examples, information?
        Clearly indicates importance of specifics?
                 Relates qualifications back to position?
                 Takes advantage of opportunity to sell author?
        Closing: Makes desired action clear?
        Uses a professional tone and formal style?
        Uses You Attitude?
        Uses clear, active writing?
        Avoids all mechanical errors?
        Makes an excellent first impression of author/applicant?
        Is printed on quality paper?

        Contains all useful address information?
        Clearly states education information?
        Clearly states all experience information?
        Contains other useful, appropriate information as needed?
        Lists skills appropriately (most to least importance)?
        Uses good verb phrases which begin with clear, accurate action verbs?
        Is grammatically parallel?
        Avoids all mechanical errors?
        Makes an excellent first impression of author/applicant?

         Clearly highlights name?
         Uses a clear system of headings?
         Emphasizes most flattering information (to left, top down)?
         Employs highlighting pattern in education/experience?
         Uses attractive margins?
         Avoids large blocks of white space?
         Avoids overusing bullets, highlighting?
         Generally promotes skimming, selective reading?
         Is printed on quality paper?


How to Improve Your Next Assignment:

Name:                                                   Project Grade:

Workshop Participation:                                                Complete Workshop Draft: Yes/No
                                 Grade Rubric: Proposal
Format, Style, and Design :

       Is in an appropriate and correct format?
       Uses clear, precise, and specific wording?
       Lacks pomposity (no empty wording, elegant variation)?
       Demonstrates good sentence structure (active verbs and voice, point of view, length,
       Avoids overusing design elements?
       Promotes selective reading (headings, subheadings, lists, highlighting, font size, spacing)

      Is concise, but consistent and informative?
              Overviews main points of proposal?
      Elaborates on project’s significance?
      Persuasively sells solution’s approach?
      Work Plan
              Addresses editor’s questions concerning topic, purpose, relevance, etc.?
              Provides and understanding of the proposed final project?
              Clearly describes the proposed project process?
      Leaves the audience without any significant questions?
      Assures the audience that product will be of high quality?
      Timeline/Task Breakdown
              Breaks project planning into thorough, organized goals?
              Assigns a specific and realistic schedule to correspond with task breakdown?
      Has clear start and completion dates, progress report date?
              Reinforces author credibility?
              Identifies anticipated “roadblocks” in proposed work?
              Provides solutions to expected problems?
              Inspires confidence for editor?
              Are well-tailored to the proposed work?
              Inspire confidence that project will be excellent?
              Are thoroughly and accurately broken down?
              Are justified by the previous proposal sections?
              Reiterates the strengths of the proposed project?
              Helps to persuade the audience to approve?


How to Improve Your Next Assignment:

Name:                                                   Project Grade:

Workshop Participation:                                               Complete Workshop Draft: Yes/No
                            Grading Rubric: Instructions
Includes subject, purpose, scope, audience
Refers to any necessary problem background
Reviews rationale behind the project
Reviews theory of operation as needed

List of Materials
Lists all necessary materials or supplies for project
Is well-organized in a logical order for the audience

Are clearly divided into steps or phases
Use imperative commands in parallel form
Demonstrate use of clear, precise wording and detail
Highlight any cautions, warnings, or other danger notations
Are designed to allow quick reference of specific steps
Anticipate and answer reader questions

Trouble Shooting/Tips
Thoroughly identify possible problems
Clearly direct reader to solutions
Are well-organized
If necessary, refer reader to source(s) for further information

Is audience appropriate
Is fully labeled (graphic parts and figure/table number) and titled
Is appropriately placed in the text
Is fully integrated into discussion or instructions


How to Improve Your Next Assignment:

Name:                                           Project Grade:

Workshop Participation:                                       Complete Workshop Draft: Yes/No

                   Grading Rubric: Recommendation Report
Includes subject, purpose, scope, plan of development
Refers to problem background
Reviews rationale behind the report

Reviews and justifies all research methods
Establishes credibility for the audience

Is clearly divided into topics
Is coherently organized
Incorporates information from all interview questions
Provides authors’ own opinions, insights, experiences, analyses if appropriate
Clearly refers to appendix documents for support/evidence
Anticipates and answers reader questions

Are thorough and justified by preceding information
Are arranged in a clear, purposeful order
Provide a logical bridge into recommendations

Recommendations (if appropriate)
Are requests/calls for action for audience
Directly correspond to the conclusions
Are arranged in a clear, logical order

Is audience appropriate
Is fully labeled (graphic parts and figure/table number) and titled
Is appropriately placed in the text
Is fully integrated into discussion or instructions


How to Improve Your Next Assignment:

Name:                                           Project Grade:

Workshop Participation:                                      Complete Workshop Draft: Yes/No

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