Tech-Prof Writing Comp Exam Questions

Technical/Professional Writing
Comprehensive Exam Questions
For the comprehensive exam in technical and professional writing, you will choose fifteen questions
from the list below and will submit those questions to the Director of Graduate Studies in English with
your application to take the exam. Use this list, striking (not deleting) the questions you do not wish
to be examined on; for example:
25. Please strike unwanted questions and do not change the order or numbers for each.
On exam day you will write two 90-minute essays. For each essay, you will be given a choice from
among three questions chosen by the Graduate Committee from your list of questions.
1. What are the responsibilities of professional/technical writers that cause ethical conflicts?
Specifically discuss what to do when asked to withhold negative information, diminish or de-emphasize
negative information, fabricate good information, or exaggerate the value or importance of good
2. What is the role of popular science in scientific inquiry? Choose two authors from different centuries
to explore this question.
3. Define technical writing. Inform your answer with rhetorical theory and use specific texts and
documents to support your views.
4. Define prescriptive and heuristic approaches in teaching technical communication and discuss the
advantages and disadvantages of each.
5. Present an overview of gender issues in technical communication. What characteristics of feminist
theory affect the profession and the pedagogical philosophies of technical communication?
6. Has specialization resulted in the fragmentation of knowledge? Or is specialization merely a starting
point for interdisciplinary scientific inquiry? Choose a specific discipline and explore the role of the
technical writer in scientific inquiry. Here you might wish to consider scientists themselves as technical
7. Edward Tufte has said that designers have a responsibility to display quantitative information in a
way that helps readers to think. Discuss the use of visuals in technical documents from this perspective.
Include various types of visuals and the benefits and liabilities of each. Consider placement, integration,
and design.
8. Choose a rhetorical situation that calls for a technical document, and trace the design of a sample
print or online document in that context. Use design principles to explain and justify your decisions at
each level of design. Consider communicative purpose, audience, visual impact, organization, typeface,
justification, leading, white space, headings, lists, and other design elements. Be specific enough to
show your familiarity with the terminology in the field.
9. Developing readable computer system documentation is as an important component of the field of
technical writing. Explain how the following contribute to producing readable documentation:
formatting, graphic design, text organization, and user testing.
10. Relate the liberal arts tradition to the aims of discourse and to teaching writing. What are the
implications of basing high school or college writing courses on literary themes, modes of discourse,
technical writing, expressive writing, or some combination of these?
11. Differentiate among graphic design, document design, and information design. How does each area
inform the work of technical communicators?
12. Usability testing of print and online draft documents is becoming more common in the workplace.
Discuss the practical and theoretical arguments for incorporating usability testing into document
development. Give examples of document attributes that technical communicators might want to test
with real users.
13. Discuss the role of user testing in creating usable Web pages or Help systems. As you are
formulating your answer, consider the following questions: When should user testing occur in the
documentation process? What are the minimal and ideal standards for establishing a user test that would
produce significant results? Why is user testing important? What can writers learn from user testing?
14. Discuss the concept of single sourcing. In your answer, define single sourcing, explain how it works,
list any technological tools and methods involved, and explain the pros and cons of this approach to
15. Discuss the importance of creating task-oriented software documentation. What is task-oriented
documentation? What benefits does a task-oriented approach offer to both users and writers? How does
a writer move from creating a “default manual” to creating task-oriented documentation?
16. Discuss the ways in which creating screen-based documents, such as Web pages or Help systems,
differs from creating print-based documents. What unique challenges exist in creating usable documents
designed for the screen? What obstacles exist for users of screen-based documents, and how can writers
overcome these obstacles?
17. Discuss the role of the technical writer as user advocate. What does being an advocate mean? In
what ways can a writer advocate on behalf of users? How does this role affect the documentation
18. Discuss the concept of personas in creating Web pages or Help systems. What are personas? How
does one create personas? How do writers use personas in planning, creating, and editing documents?
19. Discuss the role technology plays in creating Web sites or Help systems. In your answer, explore not
only the advantages technological tools give a technical writer but also the impediments technological
impose on a technical writer.
20. Discuss the essential differences between quantitative and qualitative research and how these two
methods are used in the field of technical/professional writing. Give a general example of how each type
of study would be set up and executed.
21. Define and discuss “style” and its role and importance in technical/professional writing, both
professionally and pedagogically. Include at least a brief discussion about the differences between style
and grammar.
22. Outline the major tenets of Aristotle's Rhetoric and explain the impact of these tenets on your major
field of study.
23. Outline the history of one of the major approaches to rhetoric. What are the origins of or influences
for this approach? Who are the major theorists? How has this approach changed or evolved?
24. What do you consider to be the most important distinctions among modernism, antimodernism, and
postmodernism? Discuss how these distinctions are observable in various pedagogies or literary texts.
25. Lacan’s stade du miroir (mirror stage) has often been used to explain the function of writing. How
so? Why is transference/countertransference almost unavoidable when teaching someone how to write?
26. Compare and contrast liberal, cultural, radical, and postmodern feminism, paying particular attention
to how each addresses conflict and the dilemma of essentialiam.
27. Joseph Williams, in Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace, discusses the ethics of style, including
a discussion of intended misdirection, rationalizing opacity, and salutary complexity/subversive clarity.
Discuss the ethical dilemmas faced by an editor in the editing process and how an editor can play a role
in resolving these dilemmas.
28. Professional and technical editors have embraced defined editing systems such the Jet Propulsion
Laboratory’s (JPL) Levels of Edit. In considering JPL’s Levels of Edit, answer the following:
What value does having a formalized editing system bring to an organization?
In what ways does a formalized editing system allow for management planning and
In what ways is the Levels of Edit concept scalable to smaller organizations with less complex
information and needs?
29. Within the traditional definition of discourse, creative nonfiction is an oxymoron. Define creative
nonfiction and justify the twining of these terms.
30. Recent controversies have emerged regarding the veracity of creative nonfiction works. Is it
appropriate for an author to blur the distinction between “fiction” and “nonfiction”? How much, if any,
nonfiction can be fiction? Support your answer with both examples of controversial works and
commentary from critics and nonfiction writers.
Updated 11/08