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Lecture 00A
(Week 00, Period A)


I.  Announcements

Hi, all,

I have a few beginning announcements.

  1. The class links, including the syllabus, are located at this URL: http://www2.latech.edu/~bmagee/303/303nav.shtml.  The assignments should stay as they are now, but I'm still adding lectures and links, so refresh the page from time to time.
  2. Contact me if you have any questions.
  3. I'm trying to make everything iPhone friendly.  That means my syllabus and notes should fit well on your smart phones.  I have a large backlog, so I won't get to everything this quarter.  Also, I'm posting recordings of my lectures on the notes pages. The links are surrounded by boxes
    1. The first downloads the mp3 to your device. 
    2. The second is an iTunes link;
    3. the third a Stitcher link. 
    4. The last streams the recording to your device. My goal is for you to be able to listen to the lecture while you follow along in the notes page.  iTunes and Stitcher both work on my iPhone; Stitcher is available for Android devices as well.  All of it is free.  Let me know if you hit any snags with the downloads.
  4. I number the lectures by week and period for a normal quarter Tuesday-Thursday class.  So Thursday of the second week would be 2B. Mostly you just need make sure the number of the lecture you're listening to matches the number in the notes.
  5. In 5-week summer terms, one week will equal two weeks in a regular quarter. Monday through Thursday, we will cover the assignments from two weeks. On Fridays, we'll cover whatever material we didn't have time for on the first four days, as well as do group work. 

Let me know if you have any questions,

Bruce R. Magee


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II. Syllabus

REVIEW the syllabus.

Lecture 00A -- Syllabus

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III. Technical writing


A. The History of Writing

In one sense, all writing is technical: It involves technē, and requires tools and techniques.  Vocal speech evolved naturally and is picked up by babies as part of the normal growing process, learning to read and write is not, which is why you are still working on it in your twenties and beyond. 

I've posted a lecture on the history of writing here; read & listen to it before you go on. 

B. The Elements of Technical Writing

Technical writing proper involves method of production, content, and format.  According to the Society for Technical Communication, "STC members communicate about technical or specialized topics, such as computer applications, medical procedures, or environmental regulations. They communicate by using technology, such as Web pages, help files, or social media sites. And they provide instructions for products and services."

1. Method of production

Generally speaking, you don't write technical documents by hand. Before the invention of the typewriter, there were professionals who did produce such documents: scribes in the ancient and medieval worlds, scriveners in the 19th century.  Today, technical documents are produced almost exclusively on the computer.  Some of these are printed out in color, some in black and white; others are not printed out at all but make their way in electronic form.  Documents on the Internet have to appear in a number of browsers, operating systems, and screen sizes.  That means you have to design with all these multiple devices in mind.  My shorthand for this principle is, "Doesn't suck on an iPhone." 

People use a number of software programs to produce technical documents.  Word is probably the most widely used, but there are many others.  Publisher is good for making highly designed documents, such as tri-fold brochures, posters, programs, etc.  It comes with dozens of templates, and you can also design your own.  PowerPoint is still popular for presentations, though on-line services like Prezi are gaining popularity.  I've stopped counting the number of ways people produce HTML. I personally have Aptana Studio 3, Atom, Blogger, Brackets, CKEditor, CoffeeCup, Dreamweaver, HxD, Microsoft Expression, Notepad++, SeaMonkey, NoteTab Light, PageBreeze 5, Sublime Text, Windows Live Writer, and WordPress.  I only use a few regularly, but I try out the others from time to time to see how they work.  And don't forget MailChimp for designing and sending mailouts. 

2. Content

One definition of technical writing is that it is writing about technical subjects: science, engineering, business, government, etc.  Pretty much anything your professors write for publication in peer-reviewed journals would be considered technical writing by this definition.  National, state, and local governments churn out vast amounts of technical writing.

3. Format

The easiest way to spot modern technical writing from across the room is the formatting.  Charles Dickens used to place paragraph breaks on about every fourth page, whether he needed to or not. Technical writing, by contrast, has many design features on its pages. From across the room, white space is the most obvious design element; white space is the area left blank on the page.  Other features of technical writing are headings, subheadings, charts, pictures, lists, marginal notes, columns, inserts, headers, footers, etc.  We'll go over more of these later.  Because instructions like recipes or assembly manuals use these design features, they are considered technical writing even if they are not traditional technical subjects. 


III. Three types of technical writing

TECHNICAL writing has as its goal to explain complicated subjects on the level the audience can understand clearly, succinctly, and honestly.  How well it does so places it in one of three categories that I came up with myself.

1. Good technical writing

Good technical writing succeeds in all these areas.  It is both honest and clear to the audience.

2. Bad technical writing

Bad technical writing has a good motive -- the goal of effective communication -- but fails in the execution.  The stereotype of this is the professor who talks several levels above the students, of the medical doctor who uses large medical terms talking to patients without explaining what they mean.  So bad technical writing fails its goal of communication, and leaves the audience confused.

3. Evil technical writing

Evil technical writing has bad motives.  It miscommunicates intentionally.  It sometimes hides behind a fog of big words that most people have never heard before.  Corporate budgets, for example, frequently hide the executives' pay so the stock-holders won't know how much they are overpaying their execs.  We get evil technical writing when companies and governments try to evade responsibility for the damage they do. In my youth, the Tobacco Institute existed to deny the dangers of tobacco use.  In the movie Thank You for Smoking, three lobbyists (for the tobacco, gun, and alcohol industries) are close friends because they are outcasts: they all engage in the same kind of evil technical communication, distorting the science on purpose.  To those friends we can add the climate change deniers who are paid to delude the gullible and prevent us from responding to the impending threat of climate change.  Oh, and have your planned your trip to the Creation Museum in Kentucky?


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