Casting a Wider Research Net: Using Research Tools

Overhead shot of a white woman doing research on a library computerWhen I create an assignment, I intend the information I include about research requirements to suggest starting points and to encourage exploration. Instead, students probably use that information to determine the bare minimum required, doing only the research described instead of jumping off into deeper exploration.

Alison J. Head and Michael B. Eisenberg (2010) examined “How Handouts for Research Assignments Guide Today’s College Students,” finding that students use assignments less as a guide and more as a road map. If the assignment handout calls for three sources, students use only three sources. Directed by the assignment handout to use at least two books and an online site, students meet the requirement and find little or no more.

In an earlier study, Head and Eisenberg (2009) reported that “Almost every student in the sample turned to course readings—not Google—first for course-related research assignments. Likewise, Google and Wikipedia were the go-to sites for everyday life research for nearly every respondent” (3).

I’m left with a conundrum: I want students to look beyond the course textbooks, Google, and Wikipedia, but I don’t want to prescribe the kinds and number of resources they should consult. My ultimate goal is to teach students how to thoroughly research a topic on their own, choosing the best tools to use and gathering relevant sources for their research projects.

I designed the following activity to kick off students’ research. In it, I ask students to evaluate the available research tools and then plan how to use those tools to conduct their research project.

The activity below has some minor changes to remove specific information that is relevant only to the students in my classes. I took the six kinds of research tools from a list from the course textbook, Markel and Selber’s Technical Communication (12th edition). You can easily customize the activity for your class by using the list of resources from your own textbook. Any textbook that covers writing research projects will include a similar list.

Finding Useful Research Tools for Your Project

The section on “Understanding Research Tools” (pp. 121–122) in Markel and Selber’s Technical Communication discusses the following six kinds of resources you can consult when you conduct research:

  • Library catalogs
  • Online databases
  • Newspaper and periodical indexes
  • Abstract services
  • Web search engines
  • Reference works

For each of the six research tools, provide the information below. Your answer will map out how you will conduct research for your project.

Step 1: Determine the Usefulness of the Research Tools

Indicate how each of the six research tools is (or isn’t) appropriate for your research project by responding to the following questions.

  1. What specific research tools in the category are available for your topic? For example, name the online databases that are appropriate for your topic.
  2. What kind of information are you likely to find using the particular tool?
  3. How relevant is the information to your research project?
  4. Based on your evaluation, how appropriate is the kind of tool for your research project?

Step 2: Plan Your Use of the Research Tools

For each tool that is appropriate for your research project, explain specifically how you will use the tool.

  1. What keywords will you use with each tool?
  2. What kind of research sources will you look for with each tool?
  3. How will you manage the sources that you find? In other words, indicate how you will save or borrow the sources.

The answers to these questions may be similar for the different research tools. Try using a table to organize the information to simplify your response. You do not need to use full sentences for Step 2.

I’ll supplement this activity with links to some specific resources from the campus library, such as these Research Guides for Various Subject Areas. I will also suggest that students consult a librarian for help.

I think my assignment meets my goal. It encourages students to research beyond the familiar sources like their textbook and Google. At the same time, it guides students toward easily accessible resources without telling them exactly what to do. Next week, I will share a follow-up activity that asks students to report on the specific resources they have discovered.

Do you have an activity to share that helps students engage in deeper exploration when they conduct a research project? I’d love to hear from you. Tell me about it by leaving a comment below.

Photo credit: All She’s Armed With Is Research. by Markus Binzegger on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

This post originally published on the Bedford Bits blog.

Great Writing Resources from UNC-Chapel Hill

Recently I needed a resource to help students understand brainstorming. I knew that they generally understood the idea, but I wanted to encourage them to try some new strategies and stretch their invention skills a little. After a few disappointing Google search results, I found myself at the “Tips & Tools” page of the UNC-Chapel Hill Writing Center site.

There, I found perfect resources to share with students, including a Brainstorming tip sheet and this Webbing video:

I quickly realized that the site had much more to offer. The “Tips & Tools” page features nearly a hundred resources, organized into four categories:

  • Writing the Paper
  • Citation, Style, and Sentence Level Concerns
  • Specific Writing Assignments for Contexts
  • Writing for Specific Fields

The handouts range from ideas on Thesis Statements to basic strategies for working on a Dissertation. Some of the resources focus on general writing advice, such as dealing with Procrastination and Writing Anxiety. Others address topics frequently heard in the writing classroom, like how to use Gender-Inclusive Language and ways to work with Writing Groups effectively.

Perhaps one of the best things about the site is that the handouts are published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 License. That means, as the site explains in the footer, “You may reproduce it for non-commercial use if you use the entire handout and attribute the source: The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.” If you need a supplement for your class or a specific student, these “Tips & Tools” have you covered.

Have you found an online resource that is particularly helpful in the writing classroom? Please share your recommendations in the comments below. I’d love to see the sites you use with students.

This post originally published on the Bedford Bits blog.

Persuading Students to Think Visually with Infographics

Screenshot from Practical Strategies in Technical Communication showing a Thinking Visually featureI love the “Thinking Visually” resources in Mike Markel’s Practical Strategies for Technical Communication (2nd ed.). The example shown in the screenshot on the right outlines the six major characteristics of a technical document.

As you flip through the pages of the textbook, these full-page graphics stand out, catching students’ attention with their strong contrast and reader-friendly presentation of the information explored in more detail in the text.

The textbook’s “Preface for Instructors” explains the goal of this new feature:

Reflecting the increasingly visual nature of today’s learners and of technical communication itself, the Second Edition includes new “Thinking Visually” graphics, developed with feedback from instructors. This feature provides an accessible, modern take on key principles and concepts throughout the text.

The feature this quick summary presents definitely stands out, even in a highly visual textbook like this one.

[NOTE: The “Thinking Visually” infographics mentioned in this post are available in the short version of the text (mentioned above), Practical Strategies for Technical Communication.They are not included in the full version of the text, Technical Communication.]

I decided to create my own infographic resources to persuade students to think visually about the concepts in Technical Communication. I’m starting with documentation. Students struggle typically struggle with that topic, and its coverage in most textbooks is dense and text-heavy.

I began with this page (shown as an image) on the question, “Why Use Documentation?” It is also available as a Google Doc or a PDF to provide full accessibility to students.

Image of the Why Use Documentation? page

The three reasons that documentation is important listed in the resource come from the Appendix on “Documenting Your Sources.” The infographic is rather simple, but I hope clear and direct—just like those from Practical Strategies for Technical Communication. Tell me what you think. I plan to make several more before students begin their major research projects in a few weeks, so I can definitely use some feedback. Just leave me a comment below.

NOTE: Practical Strategies for Technical Communication has just been published (2019) in a third edition, but I only have access to the second edition presently. The “Thinking Visually” are included in the third edition as well.

This post originally published on the Bedford Bits blog.

Making Time for Software Instruction

Black student working at laptop outsideFor students to do well in the courses I teach, they have to understand how the course software works. Since the courses are 100% online, the spaces that our course software creates become the classroom where we interact. If students cannot get to those spaces or do not fully understand how they work, they can fail the course.

Given this potential, I make time for software instruction, no matter how packed the course is with subject area content and related work. Generally, I approach software instruction as needed to complete activities in the course. For instance, I talk about how to use banded rows to increase table readability as students work on an assignment that requires creating a table. The software instruction is directly tied to doing well on the activity, so students are motivated to learn the related technical skills.

The challenge is knowing when students will need help with the software that doesn’t relate to specific assignments. Students come to the course with a variety of experience, so I cannot assume that they all need the same instruction. I encourage students to help themselves by linking to the documentation from course materials. Beyond that, I’ve relied on two strategies:

  • Wait until someone asks.
  • Look for patterns that suggest students need help.

In both cases, I either provide a link to the documentation or provide a customized explanation with video or screenshots. These techniques work, but I’d like to do more.

This term, I decided to focus on software instruction from the first day of classes. I gave students a curated list of links to the student guide to the software. Focusing on the commands and tools that I knew students needed for the course reduced the number of documentation links 90%, from 241 to 24 links. No longer do students have to search through pages and pages of information to find what they need—and I benefit from linking to the official documentations, which I don’t have to maintain.

I asked students to read through the entire list. I don’t expect them to memorize the list or click on every link. I just want them to remember there was a resource that listed the main tools they need to use in the course. After skimming through the list, they chose at least one software task to learn more about. I asked students to read the details in the documentation and then try the tool.

For extra points, students could post a reply describing what they found in their exploration. To my happy surprise, the activity yielded 75 replies. Students explored a variety of tools, focusing on whatever interested them. Repeatedly, students explained that they had found some capability in the software that they never knew existed.

Will students remember everything they read? Undoubtedly not, but they do know where to find details on the key commands they need for the course. Since this was the first activity in the course, students and I can draw on it for the entire term. Overall, it seems like a successful strategy that I hope to continue using.

How do you make time for software instruction in your courses? What resources do you share with students? Tell me about the strategies you use by leaving a comment below. I look forward to hearing from you.

Photo Credit: _MG_3783 by VIA Agency on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

This post originally published on the Bedford Bits blog.

Inspiration in Letters of Note

This week, I have a short post on a great resource (and one related class activity) that I found on Twitter as I was reading through messages with the #womeninTC hashtag. The TC stands for Technical Communication. The hashtag is a great source of ideas, articles, and support for those of us who teach technical writing.

Here’s the Tweet from Dr. Amelia Cheley (@plaidsicle) that inspired this post, with a transcript following:

Image of Chesley's Tweet, transcript follows

Transcript, with capitalization consistent with the original:

dr. amelia chesley (@plaidsicle): for the first day of class this week, I had my tech com students analyze several random, real memos (including this one lettersofnote.com/2010/08/star-t…) and then each compose a random, imaginary memo themselves. I am loving what they’ve come up with so far! #womenintc [3:26 PM 16 Jan 2019]

The activity sounded like fun, so I immediately clicked through to see the STAR TREK/Casting memo. Not only did I find an entertaining memo, but I was sucked into the website’s assortment of letters, memos, and other notes from the famous, the infamous, and the unknown. It is a rich collection of primary material that could be used in many classes, not just in technical writing.

My imagination is spinning with the options. I’m sure I will have some specific writing activities to share in the coming weeks, but for now, I’m going to end with a list of ten favorites from the site:

  1. SEVEN LITTLE MEN HELP A GIRL
  2. Subject: Toilet Paper
  3. SPECIAL INSTRUCTIONS TO PLAYERS
  4. Gee whiz, that master alarm certainly startled me
  5. On bureaucratese and gobbledygook
  6. IN EVENT OF MOON DISASTER
  7. Is there a space program which we could win?
  8. The Tiger Oil Memos
  9. To All Potty-Mouthed Inbetweeners
  10. I was ready to sink into the earth with shame

As you wander through the site, I am sure you will find something entertaining. Let me know what you find, and share any ideas you have for using the site. Just leave me a comment below.

This post originally published on the Bedford Bits blog.

Zombies in the Writing Classroom

Six warning signs, all stating 'Keep Out - Zombie Infected Area'I kicked off Spring semester with some discussion questions meant to work as icebreakers. Two of the prompts are fairly typical: one asks students to talk about an object significant to their careers, and the other asks students to brainstorm characteristics of technical writing based on their experience and observations.

As an alternative to those two fairly customary discussion topics, I devised this third, more playful prompt, “Your Career and the Zombie Apocalypse”:

Imagine that the Zombie Apocalypse is upon us. The walking dead are bearing down upon your part of the country, and everyone in the world is working to stop them and preserve life in the world as it was before the zombie awakening. As a way to introduce yourself to the class, write a reply that tells us the following:

  1. your major and career goal (i.e., what do you want to be when you graduate?).
  2. what one thing people in your career can do right now* to stop the zombies.
  3. how that one thing will be effective.

*In other words, this one thing needs to be a capability that your career already has. You cannot make up some solution that does not exist. That would be too easy :)

I’m delighted to report that the Zombies Discussion has been the most popular by far. Even more significant to me, students’ responses are showing a wonderful level of creative and analytical thinking. For instance, one computer science major suggested creating programs that analyze live video streams, comparing appearance and movements to what zombies look like and the ways that zombies walk in order to determine when zombies are near. Not a bad solution, I think. Even better, however, were the replies . One student asked how the program would tell the difference between zombies and people in zombie costumes. Another wondered how the program would differentiate between zombies and people with mobility issues, like senior citizens or people with injuries or disabilities.

Other students have talked about military drone strikes, protecting information systems, security of the water supply, crowdsourcing reports of outbreaks, social media survivor networks, cures and vaccinations, DNA modification, landscape barriers, and more.

Zombies aren’t really my thing, but the success of this icebreaker has convinced me that they have a place in this course. I am even wondering about an all-Zombie section of technical writing. Imagine the assignment opportunities:

  • Technical Description of a Zombie
  • Instructions for Trapping a Zombie
  • Directives for Zombie Safety
  • Zombie Sighting Field Report
  • Zombie Incident Reports
  • Recommendation Report on a Zombie Apocalypse Solution

There are so many options—and a good bit of fun to be had. I swear I would try this next term if we had a way to advertise a special focus section of technical writing on my campus. Who knew that an icebreaker would be so inspiring?

What kinds of icebreakers do you use? More importantly, are there zombies in your writing classroom? Leave me a comment below to tell me about your classes. I’d love to hear from you.

Photo Credit: Zombie Zone by Michel Curi on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

This post originally published on the Bedford Bits blog.

What Counts as Academic Dishonesty?

Sad Kitten, with its head leaning on its paw, and the caption, What a Cat-astrope! Why did I plagiarize?!Every term, I end up turning in a few students for violations of the Honor Code. It sucks. I don’t like filling out the paperwork. I don’t like the feeling that students try to trick me. The students involved are all definitely unhappy.

The most typical violation has been copying passages from sources word-for-word without any citation—without even quotation marks for that matter. When challenged, most students have responded that they didn’t realize citations and quotation marks were required. I certainly understand errors in bibliographic format. That kind of error is easy to make, especially when citation styles change every few years. It concerns me, however, that students can get to Junior and Senior standing at college without understanding how basic documentation of quotations works.

Given what I have been seeing, I have stepped up my documentation lessons to take on the issue directly. Students read the information on research and documentation from their textbook. In my case, that includes the following from Markel & Selber’s Technical Communication:

  • Chapter 6: Researching Your Subject
  • Chapter 7: Organizing Your Information
  • Part A: Skimming Your Sources and Taking Notes
  • Part B: Documenting Your Sources

I also have students review the resources available on the Virginia Tech Honor System website:

In addition to this basic instruction, I asked students to discuss the intricacies of academic research in the class’s online forum. To get the conversation started, I asked students to read through the questions and answers on the Academic Honesty Quiz from the University of Rochester. After reviewing the quiz, I asked students to consider these questions, noting that they did not need to address every quiz question in their responses:

  • Do your agree with their results?
  • Would you offer a different answer?
  • Are there more options than the quiz suggests? What are they?
  • What would you do if you were the teacher involved?
  • What questions about plagiarism (or other academic dishonesty) do you have that aren’t discussed in the quiz?

Some of the situations in the quiz are relatively straightforward, but others led students to question policy and academic responsibility. The questions related to notes falling out from under a desk and failing to log off a computer in particular resulted in engaged conversation.

I will definitely use this discussion strategy again next term. I may also add some infographic representations of some of the basic principles that students should follow. The textbook and Honor System readings are long and dense. Highlighting some of those points in a more visual format should help emphasis the concepts. What do you do to help students understand the principles and ethics of academic research? How do you demonstrate and discuss documentation? Tell me about your practices or leave a question in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you!

Image credit: Meme generated on the ICanHasCheezburger site.

This post originally published on the Bedford Bits blog.

Designing a Research Poster

People examining research posters at a poster sessionThe last assignment in my Incubator series is a research poster, designed to test students’ understanding of document design and audience. The activity focuses on the same topic as the White Paper Assignment students worked on for the penultimate writing project. The assignment has two underlying goals:

As with previous assignments in this series, the assignment below has some minor changes to remove specific information that is relevant only to the students in my classes. References to “Markel & Selber” in the assignment refer to chapters in Technical Communication.

Background

You will design a poster presentation, based on the details in your white paper. Your poster will be part of a poster session that the incubator sponsors for the local community. Like the white paper, the presentation will focus on the incubator goal of public outreach and education. As an extension, additional investors and clients also attend the session, so you have the potential to make critical connections for your business.

The Scenario

This week, you received the following memo explaining details on your company’s participation in the December poster presentation event:

Ut Prosim Incubator logo Ut Prosim Incubator

1872 Inventors Way, Blacksburg, Virginia 24060

   Interoffice Memo

To: December Poster Presentation Participants
From: Traci Gardner, Ut Prosim Director
Manolito Reyna Bautista, Manager of the Public Outreach Office
Subject: Preparing Your Research Poster
Date: October 29, 2018

Now that you have your white papers well under way, it’s time to begin work on your research posters for the December poster presentation. We have invited 250 local business, university, and community leaders to the upcoming event. Members of the general public can also attend.

Your poster presentation (like your white paper) is due by November 26 [Portfolio 2 due date].

Research Poster Purpose and Audience

Your research poster focuses on the same purpose as your white paper. As explained in the call for proposals, your research poster will inform non-expert readers about a technical topic relevant to the work and mission of your company. These documents will share what we do and why we do it with the university, alumni, and local community. Your poster will contribute directly to our goal of public outreach and education.

As an objective research poster, your document will either provide knowledge or information about a subject relevant to your company or provide solutions to a problem or challenge that relates to your company—or even a combination of both goals.

The audience for your poster presentation differs slightly from that of your white paper. You will communicate your research to the general public, university community, and potential investors and clients who will attend the session.

Poster Content

Your research poster will define or explain your topic and discuss it with the goal of informing your readers about it fully and with relevant, specific details. To follow the customary poster presentation structure, you need to shape the information into a Problem-Solution organization. Imagine that your topic either is a problem or a solution to a problem, and then discuss how to solve it or how it solves the problem.

For instance, for a white paper that focuses on best password management strategies, the problem for your research poster would be password hacking and security. The solution would be your password management strategies.

You should focus on this structure for your poster:

  • Introduction
  • Problem Discussion
  • Solution(s)
  • Conclusions & Recommendations
  • Works Cited

You should present the information in your report objectively; that is, without letting opinion shape what you have to say. Its goal is to provide a response to the question “What is [your subject] all about?” This doesn’t mean you can’t present opinions about it, but those opinions must come from experts in the field. For example, Expert A thinks the subject of your article is a fantastic option for reducing the need to irrigate crops, but Expert B is sure it won’t work as planned. You can present these opposing viewpoints, and draw conclusions about why one option is preferred.

Poster Presentation Expectations

  • Size: 48″ X 36″, presented in landscape orientation (horizontal). The size is absolute, based on our display boards.
  • Document Design: Use a polished, professional layout that relies on design strategies that increase the document’s readability. Must use appropriately-sized headings, text, and images. People need to be able to see your work.
  • Graphics and Visual Elements: Include as many relevant graphical elements (e.g., photos, illustrations, graphs, tables) as necessary to present your ideas. Avoid clipart (which typically looks unpolished or unprofessional), and use only graphical elements that directly relate to the information in the presentation. All graphical elements must be your company’s intellectual property, or you must provide complete documentation. Graphical elements that are not your own intellectual property must meet fair use guidelines.
  • Research Support: Information must be supported by fully-documented research, including short, relevant quotations. In addition to citing published research studies, you can take advantage of the campus community by tapping university experts on the topic you are discussing.
  • Documentation Format: APA citation style (or the appropriate style for your field, if desired—for instance, an electrical engineer can use IEEE).
  • Submission Format: *.ppt, *pptx, or Google Slides link.

Deadlines

To ensure that we have time to review and edit your submission, please submit your research poster by 11:59 PM on Monday, November 26. If additional time is necessary, you can take advantage of the grace period, which ends at 11:59 PM on Thursday, November 29.

Any Questions?

If you need any help with this project, please let either of us know or contact Traci’s assistant, Leslie Crow <lcrow@utprosimincubator.org>.

Relevant Details

Note: These details apply to all of the projects you include in your portfolio.

Your company’s address is [Your Company Name], Ut Prosim Incubator, 1872 Inventors Way, Suite #[you choose a number], Blacksburg, Virginia 24060. Your company’s phone number is 540-555-5555. You may create a fictional Internet domain for your company, and use that domain for a web page address and your email addresses. If you’d like, you may create other information (including a logo) for your company as appropriate. Be sure that you use the information that you create consistently across all of your projects.

The Project Assignment

Step 1: Review your notes on the topic and audiences, as established in your proposal.
Your proposal should have the basic starting information that you need to begin work on your research poster.

Step 2: Examine the information about research posters in the readings.
Review the following readings for specific details on the information and details to include in your research poster:

Step 3: Examine the information about presentations in the readings.
The textbook provides complete details on how to write proposals. Follow the textbook as you work on your project. In particular, be sure that you do the following:

  • Use “Figure 18.1 A Problem-Solving Model for Recommendation Reports” (on page 474 of Markel & Selber) to structure your information.
  • Follow the advice in the “Ethics Note: Presenting Honest Recommendations” (on page 477 of Markel & Selber) to ensure your poster meets the ethical requirements of your field.
  • Review the “Checklist for Preparing and Presenting an Effective Research Posters” [sic] (starting on page 326 of Miller) to determine the information to include on your poster.
  • Follow the extensive advice in “Best Practices for Effective Scientific Posters” to arrange your content, design your work, and polish your presentation.
  • Use the details in “Appendix Part B: Documenting Your Sources” for information on APA citation style (starting on page 622 of Markel & Selber) and information on IEEE citation style (starting on page 639 of Markel & Selber) to gather relevant details for your documentation and citations. Note that you may alternately use the citation style that is relevant for your field if you prefer.

Step 3: Write and design your poster.

Work steadily on your poster for the entire two-week period. Do not leave the work until the last minute!

Create your research poster, as requested in The Scenario above, with all of the details you have gathered in your research. Remember that your poster should be a factual and objective document. Do not include fictional information about your topic. Review the assessment guidelines below to ensure you have met all the requirements for the instructions.

As you work, also keep the following points in mind:

  • Use plain language to make the ideas easy to find and read. Refer to the resources from Module 2 as needed.
  • Follow all relevant ethical guidelines as you work using the Writer’s Checklist at the end of Chapter 2 (on page 40 of Markel & Selber).
  • Follow the suggestions for emphasizing important information, using the Writer’s Checklist for Chapter 9 (on page 211 of Markel & Selber) to check your work.
  • Use the Writer’s Checklist for Chapter 11 (on page 288 of Markel & Selber) to ensure that your document takes advantage of design principles to make it reader-friendly.
  • Make a good impression with accuracy and correctness. Your document should be polished and professional.

Step 4: Check your draft against the Writer’s Checklist.
Be sure that you include the required features for your research poster. Review your project, using the Assessment Criteria below.

Step 5: Review your draft for design and basic writing errors.
Everything you write should use accurate/appropriate image editing, grammar, spelling, punctuation, mechanics, linking, and formatting. These are important basic writing skills that you should have developed in high school. Review your project, using the Writer’s Checklist at the end of Markel & Selber, Chapter 10 (on page 242 of Markel & Selber).

You can also consult the information on “Sentence-Level Issues” in Markel & Selber, “Appendix, Part D: Guidelines for Multilingual Writers (ESL)” (on page 683 of Markel & Selber). While the section is labeled for multilingual writers, it is useful for everyone. It includes explanations and examples for many common mistakes writers make.

Step 6: Submit your draft to your Writing Group in Canvas.
Post a rough draft of your research poster to your Writing Group in Canvas in the 11/08 Draft Feedback Discussion in Canvas. Additional instructions are in the Discussion. Post a draft of your research poster by November 9. If you are late submitting a draft, your group may not have time to provide feedback.

Step 7: Provide feedback to your Writing Group in Canvas.
Provide feedback to the members of your writing group in the 11/08 Draft Feedback Discussion in Canvas, by November 12 (end of the grace period). Use the information on the Writing Groups page to provide constructive feedback that will help your group members make concrete improvements to their drafts.

Step 8: Revise your draft.
Use the feedback that you receive from your group members to revise and improve your document. You can share your draft again with your Writing Group, if you desire. As you revise, keep in mind the advice in the steps above, as well as the Assessment Criteria below.

Step 9: Include a polished version of your project in Project Portfolio 2, due November 26.
Have your Research Poster finished and ready for submission in your Project Portfolio 2, which is due Monday, November 26. The grace period for Project Portfolio 2 ends at 11:59PM on Thursday, November 29.

Assessment Criteria

For All Technical Writing Projects

All technical writing projects should meet the following general criteria:

  • Makes a good first impression as a polished and professional document.
  • Meets the needs of the intended audience.
  • Demonstrates how to emphasize important information.
  • Uses layout and formatting that makes information easy for readers to find and read, and that follows the standards you have set for your company.
  • Is written in plain language, which communicates the ideas clearly.
  • Follows all relevant ethical guidelines.
  • Uses accurate/appropriate grammar, spelling, punctuation, mechanics, linking, and formatting.

For Research Posters

Your project should meet the following criteria for effective instructions:

  • Has a clear, compelling title that is specific to the poster.
  • Adopts a tone and approach that will appeal to readers.
  • Demonstrates a clear understanding of the research literature on this topic.
  • Provides details and explanation of the information arranged in this structure:
    • Introduction
    • Problem Discussion
    • Solution(s)
    • Conclusions & Recommendations
    • Works Cited
  • Relies on sources that are accurate, unbiased, comprehensive, appropriately technical, current, and clear.
  • Uses quotations from research sources to support and strengthen the project.
  • Includes presentation graphics that meet these five characteristics (see Markel & Selber, pp. 587–589):
    • It presents a clear, well-supported claim.
    • It is easy to see.
    • It is easy to read.
    • It is simple.
    • It is correct.
    • It is either your own work or meets fair use guidelines.
  • Provides accurate and complete in-text citations for all information that is not the author’s own work (including information that is paraphrased, quoted, and summarized).
  • Includes a Works Cited section (e.g., bibliography) that does the following:
    • identifies each source cited in the poster
    • contains complete and accurate information for each citation.
    • uses either APA citation style or the preferred citation style for your major.
  • Demonstrates a clear relationship between the graphics and the accompanying text.

Students were generally successful with this assignment. Aside from errors in the size or shape of the posters, the most typical challenges related to the balance between words and visual elements and the design issues such as the font size. When I teach the genre again, I will spend more time on design, to help students learn how little changes can make a significant difference. I am thinking of an activity where students are given the content for the poster and work on how to design the piece as a possibility.

Now that the term has come to an end, students have worked their way through all of these assignments. The different activities connected relatively well, but the projects had the typical issues that I see when assignments are not as authentic as possible. Specifically, the imaginary companies that students created were not always an exact match for the projects. Additionally, students were required to make up information for some of the writing projects. In more authentic writing scenarios, all the details would be established and known. There is still value in the Incubator idea, but I need to do some more development to help ensure students succeed. If you have any ideas that will help me revise any of the assignments, please leave me a comment below.

This post originally published on the Bedford Bits blog.

Writing an Informational Report for Non-Experts

Asian woman working at a macintosh commercialThis term, I designed a new assignment for the major report in my technical writing course. Students focus on communicating a technical subject to an audience unfamiliar with their fields. Additionally, they must integrate readability features in their document design to give their documents a polished, professional appearance.

As with previous assignments in this series, the assignment below has some minor changes to remove specific information that is relevant only to the students in my classes. References to “Markel & Selber” in the assignment refer to chapters in Technical Communication.

Background

You will write an informational report for non-experts (a white paper) that presents details on a specific issue related to your company and the work that it does. Your white paper will tie directly to the incubator goal of public outreach and education. Specifically, the incubator founders want to provide a library of documents that inform readers about how science, technology, and engineering work.

You proposed the topic for your White Paper Project in your Short Proposal. Your Poster Presentation Project will provide an alternate presentation of the information in your White Paper Project.

The Scenario

This week, you received the following memo, accepting your proposal for the Incubator’s December White Paper Publication:

Ut Prosim Incubator logo Ut Prosim Incubator

1872 Inventors Way, Blacksburg, Virginia 24060

   Interoffice Memo

To: December White Paper Authors
From: Traci Gardner, Ut Prosim Director
Manolito Reyna Bautista, Manager of the Public Outreach Office
Subject: Preparing Your White Paper
Date: October 8, 2018

Congratulations! We are pleased to accept your proposal for a white paper and research poster for December publication. We look forward to learning more about your topic and working with you to share the information with the public on our website.

Your white paper and poster presentation are due by November 26 [Portfolio 2 due date] and will ultimately be published as PDFs in the December 2018 release on the Incubator website.

Today, we are sharing details on the expectations for your white paper. We will send details on the research poster later this month.

White Paper Purpose and Audience

As explained in the call for proposals, your white paper will inform non-expert readers about a technical topic relevant to the work and mission of your company. These documents will share what we do and why we do it with the university, alumni, and local community. Your documents will also contribute directly to our goal of public outreach and education by adding to our growing library of documents that inform website readers about how science, technology, and engineering work.

As an objective white paper, your document will either provide knowledge or information about a subject relevant to your company or provide solutions to a problem or challenge that relates to your company—or even a combination of both goals.

The audience for the white paper is the general public and the university community Readers with no background in your field should be able to fully understand your white paper.

White Paper Content

Your report will define or explain your topic with the goal of informing your readers about it fully and with relevant, specific details. You should focus on answering questions such as these:

  • What is it?
  • When was it invented or discovered and by whom?
  • Where did it originate and why?
  • What does it involve?
  • How does it work?
  • What is its possibility or potential impact on the future?

You should present the information in your report objectively, that is, without letting opinion shape what you have to say. Do not draw conclusions, make recommendations, argue for one side or the other, or in any way take a position on the subject. Its goal is to provide a response to the question “What is [your subject] all about?” This doesn’t mean you can’t present opinions about it, but those opinions must come from experts in the field. For example, Expert A thinks the subject of your article is a fantastic option for reducing the need to irrigate crops, but Expert B is sure it won’t work as planned. You can present these opposing viewpoints, but you must remain objective and let readers make their own decisions.

White Paper Expectations

  • Length: 25 pages or less. The length typically depends upon the document layout. If your white paper looks like a double-spaced research paper, it will be longer than a white paper that is formatted in single-spaced columns and sidebars (more like an industry magazine or journal article).
  • Document Design: Use a polished, professional layout that relies on design strategies that increase the document’s readability. You are encouraged to use a non-traditional format that incorporates sidebars, columns, and other visually-interesting design strategies. Do not include a cover page.
  • Graphics and Visual Elements: Include relevant graphical elements (e.g., photos, diagrams, graphs, tables). Avoid clipart (which typically looks unpolished or unprofessional), and use only graphical elements that directly relate to the information in the white paper. All graphical elements must be your company’s intellectual property, or you must provide complete documentation. Graphical elements that are not your own intellectual property must meet fair use guidelines.
  • Research Support: Information must be supported by fully-documented research, including relevant quotations. In addition to citing published research studies, you can take advantage of the campus community by tapping university experts on the topic you are discussing.
  • Documentation Format: APA citation style (or the appropriate style for your field, if desired—for instance, an electrical engineer can use IEEE).
  • Submission Format: *.doc, *.docx, *.pdf, or Google Document link. While your document will be published on the Incubator website, it will be published as a PDF (not as HTML).

Deadlines

To ensure that we have time to review and edit your submission, please submit your white paper by 11:59 PM on Monday, November 26. If additional time is necessary, you can take advantage of the grace period, which ends at 11:59 PM on Thursday, November 29.

Any Questions?

If you need any help with this project, please let either of us know or contact Traci’s assistant, Leslie Crow <lcrow@utprosimincubator.org>.

Relevant Details

Note: These details apply to all of the projects you include in your portfolio.

Your company’s address is [Your Company Name], Ut Prosim Incubator, 1872 Inventors Way, Suite #[you choose a number], Blacksburg, Virginia 24060. Your company’s phone number is 540-555-5555. You may create a fictional Internet domain for your company, and use that domain for a web page address and your email addresses. If you’d like, you may create other information (including a logo) for your company as appropriate. Be sure that you use the information that you create consistently across all of your projects.

The Project Assignment

Step 1: Review your notes on the topic and audiences, as established in your proposal.
Your proposal should have the basic starting information that you need to begin the research for your white paper. Be sure that you have a strong, well-focused topic before you begin your research.

Step 2: Examine the information about white papers in the readings.
Review the assigned readings for specific details on the information and details to include in your white paper.

Step 3: Begin your research, taking notes and paying attention to documentation and citation details.
The textbook provides complete details on how to conduct your research and keep track of your notes and sources. Follow the textbook as you work on your project. In particular, be sure that you do the following:

  • Follow the instructions in the “GUIDELINES: Researching a Topic” list (starting on page 119 of Markel & Selber) to gather information.
  • Identify the best kinds of sources for your research by exploring the examples in “TABLE 6.1 Research Questions and Methods” (starting on page 120 of Markel & Selber).
  • Assess your sources with the “GUIDELINES: Evaluating Print and Online Sources” (starting on page 128 of Markel & Selber) to ensure your sources meet the evaluation criteria listed in the text (e.g., that they are accurate, unbiased, comprehensive, appropriately technical, current, and clear, as stated above the guidelines). You should also consult the web resource Evaluating Web Resources: The CRAAP test from North Carolina A&T.
  • Use the “GUIDELINES: Conducting an Interview” (starting on page 137 of Markel & Selber) if you talk with experts in your field (on campus or off) who provide information for your projects.
  • Review the information in “Appendix Part A: Skimming Your Sources and Taking Notes” (starting on page 613 of Markel & Selber) to be sure that you use the notetaking strategies of paraphrasing, quoting, and summarizing accurately.
  • Use the details in “Appendix Part B: Documenting Your Sources” for information on APA citation style (starting on page 622 of Markel & Selber) and information on IEEE citation style (starting on page 639 of Markel & Selber) to gather relevant details for your documentation and citations. Note you may alternately use the citation style that is relevant for your field if you prefer.

Step 4: Write your white paper.

Work steadily on your report for the entire three-week period. Do not leave the work until the last minute!

Compose your white paper, as requested in The Scenario above, with all the details you have gathered in your research. Remember that your white paper should be a factual and objective document. Do not include fictional information about your topic. Review the assessment guidelines below to ensure you have met all the requirements for the instructions.

As you work, also keep the following points in mind:

  • Use plain language to make the ideas easy to find and read. Refer to the resources from Module 2 as needed.
  • Follow all relevant ethical guidelines as you work using the Writer’s Checklist at the end of Chapter 2 (on page 40 of Markel & Selber).
  • Follow the suggestions for emphasizing important information, using the Writer’s Checklist for Chapter 9 (on page 211 of Markel & Selber) to check your work.
  • Use the Writer’s Checklist for Chapter 11 (on page 288 of Markel & Selber) to ensure that your document takes advantage of design principles to make it reader-friendly.
  • Make a good impression with accuracy and correctness. Your document should be polished and professional.

Step 5: Check your draft against the Writer’s Checklist.
Be sure that you include the required features for your white paper. Review your project, using the Assessment Criteria below.

Step 6: Review your draft for design and basic writing errors.
Everything you write should use accurate/appropriate image editing, grammar, spelling, punctuation, mechanics, linking, and formatting. These are important basic writing skills that you should have developed in high school. Review your project, using the Writer’s Checklist at the end of Markel & Selber, Chapter 10 (on page 242).

You can also consult the information on “Sentence-Level Issues” in Markel & Selber, “Appendix, Part D: Guidelines for Multilingual Writers (ESL)” (on page 683 of Markel & Selber). While the section is labeled for multilingual writers, it is useful for everyone. It includes explanations and examples for many common mistakes writers make.

Step 7: Submit your draft to your Writing Group in Canvas.
Post a rough draft of your technical description to your Writing Group in Canvas in the 10/25 Draft Feedback Discussion in Canvas. Additional instructions are in the Discussion. Post a draft of your technical description by September 20. If you are late submitting a draft, your group may not have time to provide feedback.

Step 8: Provide feedback to your Writing Group in Canvas.
Provide feedback to the members of your writing group in the 10/25 Draft Feedback Discussion in Canvas, by September 24 (end of the grace period). Use the information on the Writing Groups page to provide constructive feedback that will help your group members make concrete improvements to their drafts.

Step 9: Revise your draft.
Use the feedback that you receive from your group members to revise and improve your document. You can share your draft again with your Writing Group, if you desire. As you revise, keep in mind the advice in the steps above, as well as the Assessment Criteria below.

Step 10: Include a polished version of your project in Project Portfolio 2, due November 26.
Have your Technical Description Project finished and ready for submission in your Project Portfolio 2, which is due Monday, November 26. The grace period for Project Portfolio 2 ends at 11:59PM on Thursday, November 29.

Assessment Criteria

For All Technical Writing Projects

All technical writing projects should meet the following general criteria:

  • Makes a good first impression as a polished and professional document.
  • Meets the needs of the intended audience.
  • Demonstrates how to emphasize important information.
  • Uses layout and formatting that makes information easy for readers to find and read, and that follows the standards you have set for your company.
  • Is written in plain language, which communicates the ideas clearly.
  • Follows all relevant ethical guidelines.
  • Uses accurate/appropriate grammar, spelling, punctuation, mechanics, linking, and formatting.

For White Papers

Your project should meet the following criteria for effective instructions:

  • Has a clear, compelling title that is specific to the document.
  • Adopts a tone and approach that will appeal to readers.
  • Demonstrates a clear understanding of the research literature on this topic.
  • Provides details and explanation of the information that
    • Presents an objective summary of the facts.
    • Discusses the importance of these facts.
    • Forecasts the importance of these facts in the future.
  • Relies on sources that are accurate, unbiased, comprehensive, appropriately technical, current, and clear.
  • Uses quotations from research sources to support and strengthen the project.
  • Provides accurate and complete in-text citations for all information that is not the author’s own work (including information that is paraphrased, quoted, and summarized).
  • Includes a references section (e.g., bibliography) that does the following:
    • identifies each source cited in the white paper.
    • contains complete and accurate information for each citation.
    • uses either APA citation style or the preferred citation style for your major.
  • Demonstrates a clear relationship between the graphics and the accompanying text.

This assignment was challenging for students, who were less familiar with the genre than they typically are with more generic technical reports. The demands of an audience of non-experts complicated the assignment for some students who were unaccustomed to explaining the concepts and technical lingo of their field. Those aspects made for a rewarding project. When I use the assignment again however, I want to have more supporting resources for students to draw on. Specifically, students would benefit from more examples and some explicit instruction on document design for this genre.

Based on these white papers, students next work on research posters. I’ll share that assignment in my next post, so be sure to come back for the details. If you have any feedback on this assignment or useful resources on white papers, please leave me a comment below.

This post originally published on the Bedford Bits blog.

A Short Proposal Assignment

Typing content by Search Engine People Blog on FlickrThe last three assignments in the Incubator series of assignments that I have designed for my technical writing courses are directly related to one another. Students write a Short Proposal for the White Paper and the Research Poster projects that they will complete during the second half of the term. In today’s post, I will share the assignment for the Short Proposal.

Because I want them to focus their energy on the major report (the white paper), I ask for a short, memo-based proposal, rather than a longer document. The assignment gives students very specific guidelines to follow so that the more in-depth coverage from the textbook does not lead them to do more than they need to. My underlying goal for the activity is two-fold: I want them to learn to write a proposal, but just as importantly, I want to spot-check their topics for the white paper and research poster before they get too far into the project.

As with previous assignments in this series, the assignment below has some minor changes to remove specific information that is relevant only to the students in my classes. References to “Markel & Selber” in the assignment refer to chapters in the class textbook Technical Communication by Mike Markel and Stuart Selber.

Background

You will write a short proposal that presents the topic you will explore for your white paper and poster presentation. Your proposal should explain not only what the topic is but how it relates to your company (and therefore your career field and major) and the incubator goal of public outreach and education.

The Scenario

Today, you received the following memo, asking you to submit a proposal for a white paper and related poster presentation:

Ut Prosim Incubator logo Ut Prosim Incubator

1872 Inventors Way, Blacksburg, Virginia 24060

   Interoffice Memo

To: All Incubator Companies

From: Traci Gardner, Ut Prosim Director

Subject: RFP: White Papers and Poster Presentations for December Publication

Date: October 1, 2018

Our Public Outreach Office is requesting proposals for white papers and research posters that will inform non-expert readers about a technical topic relevant to the work and mission of your company. These documents will share what we do and why we do it with the university, alumni, and local community. Your documents will also contribute directly to our goal of public outreach and education by adding to our growing library of documents that inform website readers about how science, technology, and engineering work.

As an objective white paper, accepted documents will either provide knowledge or information about a subject relevant to your company or provide solutions to a problem or challenge that relates to your company—or even a combination of both goals. These white papers will also be the basis of a presentation that will be part of the quarterly poster session we sponsor for the local community in December. As an extension, additional investors and clients also attend the session, so you have the potential to make critical connections for your business.

These white papers and poster presentations are due by November 26 [Portfolio 2 due date] and will be published in the December 2018 release on the Incubator website.

White Paper Expectations

  • Length: 25 pages or less.
  • Document Design: Polished, professional layout that relies on design strategies that increase the document’s readability. You are encouraged to use a non-traditional format that incorporates sidebars, columns, and other visually-interesting design strategies. Please do not include a cover page.
  • Graphics and Visual Elements: Include relevant graphical elements (e.g., photos, illustrations, graphs, tables). All graphical elements must be your company’s intellectual property, or you must provide complete documentation. Graphical elements that are not your own intellectual property must meet fair use guidelines.
  • Research Support: Information must be supported by fully-documented research, including relevant quotations. In addition to citing published research studies, you can take advantage of the campus community by tapping university experts on the topic you are discussing.
  • Documentation Format: APA citation style (or the appropriate style for your field, if desired—for instance, an electrical engineer can use IEEE).
  • Submission Format: *.doc, *docx, *.pdf, or Google Document link.

Additional criteria and examples will be provided once proposals are accepted.

Poster Presentation Expectations

  • Size: 48″ X 36″, presented in landscape orientation (horizontal).
  • Document Design: Polished, professional layout that relies on design strategies that increase the document’s readability. Must use appropriately-sized headings, text, and images.
  • Graphics and Visual Elements: Include as many relevant graphical elements (e.g., photos, illustrations, graphs, tables) as necessary to present your ideas. All graphical elements must be your company’s intellectual property, or you must provide complete documentation. Graphical elements that are not your own intellectual property must meet fair use guidelines.
  • Research Support: Information must be supported by fully-documented research, including short, relevant quotations. In addition to citing published research studies, you can take advantage of the campus community by tapping university experts on the topic you are discussing.
  • Documentation Format: APA citation style (or the appropriate style for your field, if desired—for instance, an electrical engineer can use IEEE).
  • Submission Format: *.ppt, *pptx, or Google Slides link.

Additional criteria and examples will be provided once proposals are accepted.

Proposal Requirements

Your proposal should be in memo format, be no more than four pages in length, and provide the following information to help us gauge the appropriateness of the topic for December publication:

  • Background (or Introduction)
    Give some background on your topic, your experiences with it to date, what you already know, etc. Then clearly state, “[We, OR your company name, OR similar] would like to produce a white paper and poster presentation on [your topic] for the following reasons: . . . .” In your statement, explain your motivations for sharing information about the topic with the public.
  • Areas to be Studied
    Provide more details on the proposed topic for your white paper and poster presentation so that the Public Outreach Office understands the approach you will take. Consider the following questions:

    • What are the key points you will explore or explain?
    • What are some questions you will ask and try to answer in this white paper and poster presentation?
    • How do the areas to be studied relate to your company’s mission?
    • What ethical and/or intercultural and global issues will you consider as you examine the topic you have chosen?
  • Methods of Research
    Explain how you will gather the information that you present in your white paper and poster presentation. Tell the Public Outreach Office your research strategy by outlining exactly how are you planning to gather information and find answers to your questions explored in the white paper and poster presentation.
  • Timetable
    Share a calendar that includes the target dates for various milestones that will lead to completion of your white paper and poster presentation. Be sure that your schedule allows you to finish by the white paper and poster presentation due date, November 26 [Portfolio 2 due date].
  • Qualifications
    Explain why you are qualified to do this research and outline the skills you have that will help you deal with this topic effectively.
  • Request for Approval
    Ask for approval; ask for guidance, articulate your biggest concerns at this point; ask for suggestions about next right steps; provide contact information.

Due Dates

October 8, 2018: Proposal submitted as a memo, addressed to me and to Manolito Reyna Bautista, Manager of the Public Outreach Office

November 26, 2018: Finished White Paper and Poster submitted [in Canvas, as part of Portfolio 2]

Any Questions?

If you need any help with your proposal, please let me know or contact my assistant, Leslie Crow <lcrow@utprosimincubator.org>.

Relevant Details

Note: These details apply to all of the projects you include in your portfolio.

Your company’s address is [Your Company Name], Ut Prosim Incubator, 1872 Inventors Way, Suite #[you choose a number], Blacksburg, Virginia 24060. Your company’s phone number is 540-555-5555. You may create a fictional Internet domain for your company, and use that domain for a web page address and your email addresses. If you’d like, you may create other information (including a logo) for your company as appropriate. Be sure that you use the information that you create consistently across all of your projects.

The Project Assignment

Step 1: Decide on the focus for your white paper and poster presentation(which you will write as future projects).
Your focus will be to inform non-expert readers about a technical topic that is related to your company (and therefore, related to your career field and major). Try to limit yourself to topics with which you have some expertise (or at least some experience) to simplify the research process. These example white papers may help you think of appropriate topics and/or approaches:

Step 2: Examine the information about proposals in Markel & Selber.
The textbook provides complete details on how to write proposals. Follow the textbook as you work on your project. In particular, be sure that you do the following:

  • Follow the “GUIDELINES: Demonstrating Your Professionalism in a Proposal” (starting on page 430 of Markel & Selber) to ensure you adopt the appropriate tone.
  • Use the “ETHICS NOTE: WRITING HONEST PROPOSALS” (starting on page 430 of Markel & Selber) to make your proposal professionally acceptable.
  • Work through the “GUIDELINES: Introducing a Proposal” (starting on page 432 of Markel & Selber) to gather information for your proposal’s Background section.
  • Explore the information in the “Tech Tip: Why and How to Create a Gantt Chart” (starting on page 436 of Markel & Selber) to see an effective strategy for explaining your timetable.

Step 3: Write the proposals for your white paper and poster presentation.
Compose your proposal, as requested in The Scenario above, with all the details you have gathered. Review the assessment guidelines below to ensure you have met all the requirements for the proposal. As you work, also keep the following points in mind:

  • Use plain language to make the ideas in your proposal are easy to find and read. Refer to the resources from Module 2 as needed.
  • Follow all relevant ethical guidelines as you work using the Writer’s Checklist at the end of Chapter 2 (on page 40 of Markel & Selber).
  • Follow the suggestions for emphasizing important information, using the Writer’s Checklist for Chapter 9 (on page 211 of Markel & Selber) to check your work.
  • Use the Writer’s Checklist for Chapter 11 (on page 288 of Markel & Selber) to ensure that your document takes advantage of design principles to make it reader-friendly.
  • Make a good impression with accuracy and correctness. Your document should be polished and professional.

Step 4: Check your draft against the Writer’s Checklist.
Be sure that you include the required features for instructions. Review your project, using the Writer’s Checklist for Chapter 16 (on page 439 of Markel & Selber) and the Assessment Criteria below.

Step 5: Review your draft for design and basic writing errors.
Everything you write should use accurate/appropriate image editing, grammar, spelling, punctuation, mechanics, linking, and formatting. These are important basic writing skills that you should have developed in high school. Review your project, using the Writer’s Checklist at the end of Markel & Selber, Chapter 10 (on page 242 of Markel & Selber).

You can also consult the information on “Sentence-Level Issues” in Markel & Selber, “Appendix, Part D: Guidelines for Multilingual Writers (ESL)” (on page 683 of Markel & Selber). While the section is labeled for multilingual writers, it is useful for everyone. It includes explanations and examples for many common mistakes writers make.

Step 6: Submit your draft to your Writing Group in Canvas.
Post a rough draft of your Proposal to your Writing Group in Canvas in the 10/04 Draft Feedback Discussion in Canvas. Additional instructions are in the Discussion. If you do not post your draft by noon on Sunday, October 7, your group may not have time to provide feedback.

Step 7: Provide feedback to your Writing Group in Canvas.
Provide feedback to the members of your writing group in the 10/04 Draft Feedback Discussion in Canvas, by October 8 (end of the grace period). Use the information on the Writing Groups page to provide constructive feedback that will help your group members make concrete improvements to their drafts. You are not obligated to provide feedback for any drafts posted after noon on Sunday, October 7.

Step 8: Revise your draft.
Use the feedback that you receive from your group members to revise and improve your document. You can share your draft again with your Writing Group, if you desire. As you revise, keep in mind the advice in the steps above, as well as the Assessment Criteria below.

Step 9: Include a polished version of your project in Project Portfolio 2, due November 26.
Have your Proposal finished and ready for submission in your Project Portfolio 2, which is due Monday, November 26. The grace period for Project Portfolio 1 ends at 11:59PM on Thursday, November 29.

Assessment Criteria

For All Technical Writing Projects

All technical writing projects should meet the following general criteria:

  • Makes a good first impression as a polished and professional document.
  • Meets the needs of the intended audience.
  • Demonstrates how to emphasize important information.
  • Uses layout and formatting that makes information easy for readers to find and read, and that follows the standards you have set for your company.
  • Is written in plain language, which communicates the ideas clearly.
  • Follows all relevant ethical guidelines.
  • Uses accurate/appropriate grammar, spelling, punctuation, mechanics, linking, and formatting.

For Proposals

Your project should meet the following criteria for effective proposals, based on the checklist at the end of Chapter 16 of Markel & Selber:

  • Meets the guidelines established in the request for proposals (see The Scenario, above).
  • Demonstrates professionalism and honesty.
  • Includes an introduction that indicates the following:
    • the problem or opportunity.
    • the purpose of the proposal.
    • the background of the problem or opportunity.
    • your sources of information.
    • the scope of the proposal.
    • the organization of the proposal.
    • the key terms that you will use in the proposal.
  • Provides a clear, specific plan for research and justifies that methodology.
  • Describes the qualifications and experience clearly outlining
    • relevant skills and past work.
    • relevant equipment, facilities, and experience.
  • Includes full documentation for all ideas, words, and visuals that the work of others (see Part B, “Documenting Your Sources,” in Markel & Selber).

This assignment has gone relatively well. The most frequent issue has been confusion about memo format. Students either didn’t follow the instructions and used other formats, or they did not follow the format accurately. The most serious issue that has come up has been failure to provide enough details and development of the proposal. I wonder if the emphasis on a “short” proposal has misled some to think that general and underdeveloped ideas were adequate. When I use this activity again, I will work to address both of these issues.

My next post will share the instructions for the white paper, which is the next project students worked on. Be sure to come back to read more about that activity, and in the meantime, if you have any feedback to share, please leave a comment below.

This post originally published on the Bedford Bits blog.