Characteristics of Technical Writing

This is the post for the July 10, 2014 class meeting.

Thanks for your work in the forums yesterday. I’m quite happy with the responses you’ve posted. You’re doing exactly the kind of work I was hoping for!

Class Work for July 10

These are the goals for today’s work:

  • Read about the characteristics of technical writing (chapter 1 of Markel).
  • Read about the importance of audience and purpose (chapter 4 of Markel).
  • Analyze some example bio statements, based on the readings.

Characteristics of Technical Writing

Chapter 1 of Practical Strategies for Technical Communication outlines 6 characteristics of technical writing:

  • It addresses particular readers.
  • It helps readers solve problems.
  • It reflects the organization’s goals and culture.
  • It is produced collaboratively.
  • It uses design to increase readability.
  • It consists of words or images or both.

We’ll return to these six characteristics a lot during the term. We’ll use them to analyze examples of tech writing, including the texts that you write yourself. Read chapter 1 for all the details on how they work. Of these six characteristics, the one that causes the most questions is that tech writing is produced collaboratively. Think of it as a very wide idea of collaboration, and read that part of the chapter closely.

Importance of Audience and Purpose

We will talk about audience and purpose for every project that you work on in this class. The concepts of audience and purpose are vitally important in every kind of writing (in fact, any kind of communication) that you do because they determine the information you include and the tone and style that you use.

For audience, chapter 4 identifies four key questions to answer for any writing project:

  • Who are your readers?
  • Why is your audience reading your document?
  • What are your readers’ attitudes and expectations?
  • How will your readers use your document?

Pay attention to the details on those questions in your reading, as well as the idea of primary, secondary, and tertiary audiences. As you read about purpose in the chapter 4, be sure you understand the details on these four questions:

  • Why is the reader reading your document?
  • How will the reader read your document?
  • What is the reader’s reading skill level?
  • What is the physical environment in which the reader will read your document?

These questions will help you make decisions about the information in writing projects as well. For instance, the reading skill of your reader will help you decide if you technical jargon is appropriate.

At the end of the chapter, be sure to notice the “Writer’s Checklist” (pp. 76-77). You will find a checklist at the end of nearly every chapter in the book. These lists are a nice summary of the important concepts in the chapter. For some of the projects we will work on, we will use the checklists for peer review and feedback on what you write.

Analyze some example bio statements

Once you have read the information in the readings for today, I’d like you to apply them by analyzing some example biography statements.

  1. Read several of the biographies on the sites below. I gathered a range of biographies from different kinds of sites. Please be sure to read at least one from the first three sites (which are more formal company/academic bios) and one from the last three sites (which are more informal).


  2. Go to the Analyzing Example Bio Statements post in the forums and talk explain what you can tell about audience and purpose for the bio statements based on the information they include and the tone of the biography. There are some questions there to help you get started.

  3. (Optional) Once you have posted about your readings, read through what others had to say, and reply to one or more of the ideas or questions that your classmates have posted.

  4. If you don’t yet have a copy of the textbook, do the best you can. The concepts from these first readings are fairly straightforward, so go ahead and reply to some of the posts in the forum. You can catch up on your reading this weekend, and come back and add something if you want to.

Overview of Project 1: Bio Statement

This is the post for the July 9, 2014 class meeting.

Thanks to everyone who has logged into the forums and dropped by the online chatroom. Nearly everyone is accounted for, so I should be able to set up office hours in the next day or so.

Class Work for July 9

These are the goals for today’s work:

  • Share some resources to help you keep up with the course website.
  • Talk about some due date/time issues.
  • Go over the assignment for Project 1.
  • Read some resources for Project 1 and discuss them in the forum.

Keeping Up with the Website

I am using the hashtag #3764su14 to post Twitter updates when I add something to the website. If you use Twitter, you can follow that hashtag for details whenever I post something. You can also see that feed in the sidebar on the side, so even if you don’t use Twitter, you can scroll through the list in the sidebar to see what has been added.

I also added a “Subscribe Via Email” option in the sidebar. Use this option to get an email message whenever I add a new post to the course website. The process is simple: Add your email, and click subscribe. You’ll have to confirm your subscription. That’s it. The email messages will have information on how to unsubscribe if you decide you want to.

Adjusting the Time for the Due Dates

A few people still need to fill out the survey to tell me when they will probably do most of their work. Once I have everyone’s information I can make a permanent change. For the next week, that is through July 15, forum posts and your other work will be due by 11:59 PM in YOUR timezone. If you are not in the Eastern timezone (that is, Blacksburg time), let me know. If this policy won’t work for you, let me know about that too, and I’ll try to work out something else for you.

Getting Started on Project 1

I have tried to design assignment for this course that you will have some real-world use for, if not now, at some point in the future. You can find an overview of all the projects by clicking on the Project Assignments menu at the top of the page.

The first assignment is to work on Professional Biography Statements. At some point in your career, you will almost certainly have to write this kind of self-introduction. It might be as part of a conference proposal, a scholarship application, or for a company newsletter where you are interning. This kind of biography statement can also become part of your job application too, so you may reuse some of what you write when you work on Project 6 (the final exam).

Here’s what I want you to do:

  1. Read the assignment completely. Begin thinking about the goals you will set for the assignment and the audience you will choose. You don’t have to commit to anything yet, but start thinking about it.

  2. If you have any questions (today or in the future) about the assignment, go to the Questions about Project 1 topic in the forum and add them. You can skim through this topic for answers as well.

Discussing Readings for Project 1

The textbook doesn’t include much information on biography statements, so I have gathered a collection of websites (in no particular order) that offer advice to help you as you work on this assignment:

Here’s what I want you to do:

  1. Read through several of the resources. Most of them are short, and you should be able to skim through them quickly. Pay attention to the advice you see them repeating and anything that catches your eye (whether it’s good or bad).

  2. Go to the Readings for Project 1 topic in the forums and post your response to the articles. You will find some questions to help you get started in the forums. Aim to post two replies to the topic. I hope to get some good discussion of the advice in these columns, and I hope that you will interact with each other in writing just as you might talk if we were meeting in a classroom on campus.

  3. If you come to the forums in the morning, stop by again in the evening to see what everyone else has said. If you don’t get to the forums until the evening, read through the comments others have posted during the day and then join the conversation.

Welcome to Technical Writing

TechnicalSpec by FearfulStills, on FlickrThis is the post for the July 8, 2014 class meeting.

Welcome to English 3764, Technical Writing. This site is the official home for our Summer II 2014 course (CRN #71571). All assignments, weekly and daily activities, and related resources will be posted here. Check this site each day for the details on what to do for the course.

How This Online Class Works

Every weekday, come to this site to find details on the day’s work. Usually, you will find instructions on the reading for the day and a link to related discussion questions. You will also find an outline of specific things you need to write or do for the course and a reminder of upcoming due dates.

I aim to have the post for each day available by midnight Eastern time, though there may be occasional delays. Since this is a blog, the posts for each day appear in reverse chronological order. The most recent post will be at the top of the page. You may need to scroll down to find the post you need. You can also use the All Posts by Title link the the menu bar at the top of the page to find the post for a specific day.

The Online Tools We Will Use

Since this is an online course, we will use a variety of free tools to get our work done for the class. I will provide instructions and help for all of the tools, so there’s nothing to worry about if you haven’t used them before. Here’s an overview of the tools we will use most often:

  • Scholar: You will use Scholar to turn in Assignments and keep track of your progress in the Gradebook. If I need to make sure you see something, I will use the Announcement tool in Scholar to send you an email message.

  • Google Drive: You will compose your major projects using your Virginia Tech Google Drive. We will use the commenting features in Google Drive for peer review and other feedback. You will need to share your work with me and with others in the class.

  • Forums: You will post your response to discussion questions, rough drafts, and other work in a phpBB forum I have set up for the class. It’s similar to the Forum tool in Scholar.

  • Mibbit: You will use Mibbit if you want to meet with me online, in real time, for online office hours. Mibbit is embedded in the course website, and it’s easy to use. If you’ve sent IMs, you can use this tool.

We may also use Google Hangouts, WebEx, and YouTube videos, but I haven’t scheduled anything using any of these tools so far.

Class Work for July 7

Today is about making sure you understand the course policies, getting access to the tools we will use set up, and generally touching base with one another. If you have technical difficulty with today’s class work, don’t panic! Send me an email at tengrrl at and let me know what you need help with.

By 9 PM Eastern time, please complete these tasks:

  • Read the syllabus thoroughly and note any questions you have. All due dates and times are Eastern timezone. If the times are difficult for you (because you are in another timezone or because of your work schedule, for instance), let me know when you complete the survey (linked below). I’ll make adjustments once I know when everyone is available.

  • Complete the following in the Forums:

    1. Register on the forums. Please choose a professional, classroom-appropriate username.
    2. Go to the Syllabus board and add a reply to the “Syllabus Verification Thread” that confirms you have read the syllabus. Your post will serve as confirmation that you are enrolled in the course.
    3. If you have any questions about the syllabus, course policies, or anything related to the class, create a new topic and ask your question.
    4. If others have posted questions, you can browse those as you like.
  • Complete the online survey on office hours, and visit the online chatroom. Login and say hi. Let me know who you are. I will be there with the nickname tengrrl and/or bunny. If I’m at my desk, I’ll say hi. Otherwise, I’ll see your greeting in the log.

  • Get familiar with your Google Drive account, which is connected to your email address. (If you have forgotten your password for your VT Google Apps account, follow these instructions.) If you have never used Google Drive before, you can learn more by watching relevant portions of Google Drive Essential Training with Jess Stratton. ( resources are free to VT students.)

  • Obtain a copy of the textbook. An e-book is fine. You will begin reading and using the book on Thursday, so buy it today!