(Week 00, Period A)
I have a few beginning announcements.
- 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.
- Contact me if you
have any questions.
- 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 —
- The first downloads the mp3 to your device.
- The second is an iTunes link;
- the third a Stitcher link.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
REVIEW the syllabus.
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
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.
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.
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
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?