Technical Writing. Preparation. Objectives. Standards. Materials. Grade Level: 9-12 Group Size: Time: Minutes Presenters: 1

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1 Technical Writing Preparation Grade Level: 9-12 Group Size: Time: Minutes Presenters: 1 Objectives This lesson will enable students to: Define technical writing. Identify characteristics of effective technical writing. List differences between technical and creative writing. Write step-by-step instructions. Standards This lesson aligns with the following National Standards for the English Language Arts: Standard 4: Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes. Standard 5: Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes. Materials What is Technical Writing overhead (Appendix A) Characteristics of Effective Technical Writing overhead (Appendix B) What is Technical Writing handouts (App. A and App. B two sided) mouse traps x 5 index cards (or Appendix C, pg. 2 copied on cardstock and cut apart) bite-sized chocolate candy bars for bait Mouse Trap final draft cards with illustration (Appendix C) Mouse Trap Instructions handout (Appendix D) Technical Writing examples: Revision Date: 8/9/ Micron Technology Foundation, Inc. All Rights Reserved

2 Preparation Set up the "What is Technical Writing" and "Characteristics... overheadsfor the introduction. Make handouts of the overheads (Appendix A & B). Students should have pencil and paper and sit at a desk so they have a solid surface to set the trap on for research. You may use 3x5 cards or print the cards on Appendix C (on cardstock) and cut them out for the editing exercise. The purpose of the smaller work area is to force the students to limit the number of steps and the number of words. The cards in Appendix D should be printed on cardstock and cut for the final draft. Introduction Introduce yourself and explain briefly your job or the job of technical writers. Today we are going to discuss technical writing and its importance in the work place. Q: What is technical writing? Q: Have you been doing any technical writing in your classes? Q: What kinds have you tried? Show students the What is Technical Writing overhead (Appendix A). Here is one definition of technical writing: What is Technical Writing? Technical writing conveys specific information about a technical subject to a specific audience for a specific purpose The words and graphics of technical writing are meant to be practical: that is, to communicate a body of factual information that will help an audience understand a subject or carry out a task. Michael H. Markel Director of Technical Communication Boise State University Q: Keeping this definition in mind, what are some examples of technical writing? A: Encourage responses from the students and comment on their answers. Answers will vary but may include: user manuals, instructions and training materials, maintenance manuals, software documentation, online help for games and software, advertising copy, data books and catalogs, instructional posters, speeches and presentations, presentation materials, press releases, newsletters, cookbooks and clothing patterns, scripts for training and promotional videos, business letters, resumes and cover letters, contracts, proposals, grants, feasibility reports, training materials, questionnaires and forms, research and scientific papers. 2

3 Show examples of Technical writing (samples can be found at As you are showing the examples explain the types of writers for each example. I.e. , suggestions any employee; exploded diagram engineer, technician; specifications engineers, department technical writer. Let s discuss the characteristics of effective technical writing. Show the Characteristics of Effective Technical Writing overhead (Appendix B). Characteristics of Effective Technical Writing: Clarity easily understood by intended audience Accuracy factual, correct, free from bias Comprehensiveness all necessary information included Accessibility headings, indexes, table of contents Conciseness clear without excess verbiage Correctness grammatical and follows conventions We are going to compare technical writing to creative writing. Today we are going to practice technical writing writing instructions. Probably more technical writers write some sort of instructions than any other type of technical writing. And quite often the writer does the research, the writing, the editing, and often even the illustrating and formatting. Technical Writing - First Draft Although some companies can afford to hire a team of technical writers with graphic artists to help them, many companies expect a single writer to do it all. Today you will be working independently of each other in order to experience the whole process. You are all working for a company that manufactures mouse traps. As a writer are given the project of writing instructions for setting a mouse trap. I have a trap and some bait for each of you to do your own research. I want to assure you that these traps have never been used for catching mice, only for writing about it. Pass out the mousetraps. If you have new traps, be sure you remove the wrapper or any instructions that are included. Pass out index sized cards to the students for writing the instructions. 3

4 For bait, I am giving you little chocolate candy bars. Mice love chocolate almost as much as people do. Pass out the candy. Because of the time constraints the company is under you have 10 minutes to complete your first draft. Frequently with technical writing, the writers are the last to know about changes in the process, equipment, or materials. Because of this, deadlines often totally unreasonable deadlines are a fact of life for technical writers. Please work quickly and quietly. As students are working, walk around and observe what they are doing so that you will be able to comment on it later. Refrain from giving any instructions or helping individuals. When the time is up, you might want to pick up 2 or 3 of the instructions students have written for illustrations as you discuss the process. The comments in the discussion are just suggestions. You will have other observations based on what the students are doing. Discussion Your time is up. Let's talk about what you have written keeping in mind the characteristics of good technical writing we talked about earlier. Refer to the Characteristics of Effective Technical Writing handout. I noticed a few of you did not "research" your project. You simply started writing instructions based on observation rather than trying it yourself. Q: Why do we need to research? A: Answers should include "to see how it is done," "to become a user so we know how to write for a user," "to discover what problems a user might have." To be sure we have clarity and accuracy, we need to research. In your research, some of you skipped the baiting part, choosing to eat the bait yourself! And some of you set the whole piece on the bait pedal. Q: Have you ever set a trap and had the bait disappear with the trap unsnapped? A: You only need a bit of the candy, but if the bait isn't pressed into the pedal firmly, the mouse will be able to get it without getting caught. I also noticed a few of you got your fingers snapped! 4

5 Q: How many of you included a warning or caution? A: Even if a user never reads your instructions and never sees your warning, for legal reasons you need to include one if there is any possibility of someone getting hurt or causing damage. Your instructions are not comprehensive without a warning. Q: What about illustrations? A: I noticed most of you included an illustration of the mouse trap. And I realize if you were doing this on the computer, you would have drawing tools to help you do this, but for this exercise, your sketches are just fine. Q: Why do you need an illustration if they have the mousetrap in their hands? A: Answers should include the comment "to label the parts so you don't have to describe them in the written instructions." The illustration right next to the instructions allows you to be more concise and increases accessibility. Q: Did you include some instructions about where to set the trap? Q: Do you know where you should set a trap? A: Again, we need it to be comprehensive and accurate. Q: How many steps do you have? How many words in those steps? A: Wait for their responses, then hold up one of the mouse trap wrappers. Think about conciseness. This is how much space the actual instructions have 1 1/2 inch by 4 inches and they are given in three languages! They have only 3 numbered steps, for a total of only 29 words plus 3 labels on the illustration. It also has instructions for removing the staple which held down the locking bar, which you didn't know about since it had already been removed the first time they were used. These instructions, however, could be improved, as we will talk about later. We are also going to come to a consensus about what to call each part. Sometimes this is the hardest part thinking of appropriate, descriptive names. For example, to call this part (point to the bow) the "killer thing" might be descriptive, but it is not appropriate and could be considered offensive. And we probably don't need to label this part (point to the spring) because we don't need to refer to it in our instructions. Q: What did you name the various parts? A: Answers will vary. 5

6 Editing Now we are going to the next step in the process: Editing. A majority of technical writing involves revising, editing, and improving existing documents, not creating new documents. You have done your research, written a first draft, and created an illustration. I am going to ask you to edit and rewrite your instructions. This time I want you to limit your number of steps to no more than 4 and limit your number words to no more than 12 words per step. Less would be better. Your warning can be in addition to the steps. I am going to give each of you a small sheet of paper, and I want both the instructions and the illustration on one side. In fact, I have put the illustration on it for you. All you need to do is label it. And this time, since you have already done the research and you don't have to draw the illustration, you only have 5 minutes. Pass out small sheets and begin timing after everyone has a rewriting sheet. Editing Discussion Q: How did you do with the editing and revising? A: Answers will vary. Allow students to discuss their samples. Q: Were you able to stay within the guidelines: Four steps and no more than 48 words, not counting the warning. A: Wait for and encourage responses. Q: Was it difficult to cut words and still be precise and accurate? A: Wait for and encourage responses. Q: Do you think someone could easily follow your instructions? A: Wait for and encourage responses. Let s look at the instructions that came with the traps. I have enlarged them so you can see and removed the foreign languages. Pass out the instructions. 6

7 Q: Do you see some things you might change? Answers might include the following. Point out the problems they don't notice. No warning or caution. Step 1 really is two steps. It doesn't say anything about pressing the bait in firmly. The word 'engage' in step 2 may not be the best choice for a general audience. What would be better? The last step doesn't really tell us where to place the trap where signs of mice have been seen. What about the capital letters in the sentences? Are they all necessary? There is always room for improvement. Even the professionals who wrote these instructions might want to rewrite them. It isn't just professional technical writers who write. No matter what your job in the future, you will probably find yourself having to explain a process, describe a procedure, or instruct someone about something in writing. Conclusion If time allows describe a typical day for a technical writer, share samples of your work, answer any questions the students may have about technical writing. You might also discuss the difference between technical and creative writing using the information below. Close presentation and gather up mousetraps. If you have enough candy, you might share it with students. Creative Writing versus technical writing (Optional discussion) Q: Do you do any creative writing in your classes poetry, stories, and plays? Encourage student responses, elaborating on their comments when appropriate. Q: What differences can you think of between creative and technical writing? A: Answers may include the following responses. Creative writing is fictional and imaginative while technical writing is factual. Creative writing is entertaining, provocative, and captivating while technical writing is informative, instructional, or persuasive. 7

8 Creative writing can be artistic, figurative, symbolic, ambiguous, even vague, but technical writing needs to be clear, precise, and straightforward, leaving no room for misinterpretations. It needs to follow accepted standards for grammar and format, while creative writing can break the rules. Creative writing is subjective, with the thoughts, opinions, and attitudes of the writer. Technical writing must be objective. Creative writing uses a general vocabulary understood by a general audience narrowed somewhat by age group or interest. Technical writing uses specialized vocabulary dependent on the topic as well as on the familiarity of the target audience with the topic. Creative writing can be lucrative for the few who create best sellers but technical writing provides career opportunities with good salaries for thousands and thousands of writers in all kinds of businesses and industries. 8

9 Appendix A Technical Writing 9

10 Appendix B Technical Writing 10

11 Appendix C Technical Writing 11

12 Appendix D Technical Writing 12

13 Appendix D Technical Writing 13

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