The objectives of this chapter are to
Explain that writing is a
Explain that the orderly writing process often used in academia is frequently modified in a workplace environment.
Identify the steps of the writing process.
Explain the central role that audience and purpose play in the writing process.
Explain the importance of using the writing process in order to develop effective documents.
The point of this chapter is to get students comfortable with a reliable process they can use to produce technical documents. We don’t want students to discard what they’ve learned about the writing process, thinking that it is not relevant to technical writing. And if they’ve not learned a systematic approach to writing projects, then this course is the time and place to do so.
In order to make the relevance of the writing process clear, you may wish to focus on the last two sections of this chapter which deal with the writing process in the workplace.
They point out that although employees in the workplace must often modify the writing process in response to the pressures of professional life, even in this modified form, the process is essential to creating effective documents. The text asks students to consider how professionals, who are typically juggling dozens of responsibilities at once, accomplish projects, from small memoranda to large writing projects. Being able to approach a large task systematically using a reliable process, segment that task into doable portions, make steady progress (without relying on cram sessions and all-nighters), still have time for a life, and complete the task on time and well done—that’s one of the important ideas students should gain from this chapter.
This chapter focuses on a logical, practical, and reliable approach to writing projects and explores strategies for each phase. Because this important chapter occurs early in the book in isolation from real writing projects and because it is relevant to every chapter in the book, you will wish to revisit its concepts with every writing assignment throughout the semester.
Here are some ideas for workshop activities to help students learn about the composing process and other issues covered in Chapter 2.
Have students discuss their writing processes.
Exercise 4 in the textbook gives students a chance to vent about what they may view as obsessive, overly defined writing processes they’ve encountered in past writing instruction. Students can tell their cynical stories about composing outlines or note cards
they had completed the research paper. However, your students will have had large research papers that challenged their abilities to stay organized. Have your students talk about how they found topics, how they narrowed those topics, whether they identified a practical audience, whether they had trouble with the outline (or even used one), what tricks they used in the rough-drafting stage, and whether they made steady progress or had to “pull an all-nighter.” Throughout this discussion, gently reinforce the idea that a systematic writing process, which may seem overblown for a simple three-page memo, is a critical tool for busy professionals.
Have students interview professionals concerning their writing processes.
If your students interview professionals concerning what sorts of writing they do, your students can also discuss the writing process with these same professionals. Have your students ask these people how they work through the seven steps of the writing process—do they combine some? Skip some? How do they draft their documents?
How are the revision and editing done—individually? In teams? Have your students ask the person to try to describe his/her writing process.
Invite a professional to discuss the writing process in class.
A variation of the previous assignment that can be fun is to have an acquaintance of yours who is a professional in a nonacademic field and who is a good writer come to the class and discuss his/her writing process and answer questions from the students. This exercise would be even more valuable if you could provide a copy of one (or more) of this person’s documents and (if you’re really lucky!) the drafts of those documents to illustrate this person’s writing process.
Go through a mock writing process.
Either with the whole class or in teams of three to five students, go through the phases of the writing process up to the rough draft.
You can either pose some realistic situation that calls for a report, or you can turn your students loose on a monster topic such as solar energy, computers, or AIDS.
Have them plan a writing project up to the point of rough drafting: narrow and brainstorm the topic, decide on a purpose, define their audience, and select and arrange information. Have each team write up the results of their process and then appoint a member to present that information to the rest of the class.
Find a Web page, and have students do a reverse situational analysis.
Choose an interesting page, such as one clearly intended for children, one that explains technical or scientific concepts, or one for international audiences that incorporates American culture (these can work well or have significant flaws). Have the students analyze the
Web page’s topic, purpose, and audience. Make sure they have evidence ready to support their analyses. Compare their results orally. Instead of jumping quickly to determine a right or wrong, explore the “what’s” and “why’s” of their analyses.
Afterwards, apply these insights to working “forward” in the process.
Find three Web pages concerning one topic, and practice arranging and synthesizing information into an outline.
A big element of the major projects in any writing course is the ability to synthesize data from various sources (and document any necessary elements in the process). Have students find a few sources on one relatively narrow topic (a specific new development in their field(s), a source of controversy, etc.). Then have them write an outline assimilating these pieces of the story into a cohesive unit. Discuss how various sources of information can complement each other (news stories and technical journal articles, for example), and explore some of the difficulties of information synthesis. Note that different audiences will have different content needs, so sometimes what you leave out is as important as what you include.
Have the students work in teams to write a letter to the editor of the college newspaper.
Have each team select a topic about which it would like to write. Using a word processor, each team must work together to analyze the situation, choose and arrange content, draft, revise, and edit the letter. Have the teams print or e-mail the letters to you. If there is time in class, have the teams briefly discuss how they went through the writing process. If there is no time, you may wish to have the team get together and write a brief analysis memo to you as homework.
Here are some ideas for writing projects related to Chapter 2.
Write a memo on student writing processes.
Have your students write an exposé on the “shocking truth” about how college students really write their term papers.
Actually, have them do the same thing as described in the first assignment in the workshop activities above and then write up a memo summarizing the information they gather. This can consist of classroom discussion, personal anecdotes, and interviews with other students outside of class.
Write a memo on the writing processes of professionals.
Have your students do the interview in the workshop activities above and then write up a memo summarizing the information they gather. In this memo, it might be interesting to have students briefly explain what they thought professionals’ writing processes would be before beginning the interviews.
If you had a professional come to the class, as discussed in the third workshop activity above, have your students write memos summarizing what they learned from the speaker.
Have students create a realistic checklist for composing a major assignment.
After reflecting on the horrifying truth of how students really draft, have individuals or pairs of students create a checklist that is a real possible approach to completing a major technical writing assignment. Discuss the reality of prioritizing other classes, jobs, extracurricular activities, etc. Weave into this conversation (and into the written product) the chapter advice on drafting and editing.
Distance Learning Assignments
Create a discussion thread (or start an e-mail discussion) on the realities of student drafting habits.
Require each student to post either a summary of his/her habits, a particularly unique or shocking fact about his/her approach, and/or a response to something else posted by another student. After a set time period (one week?) of open discussion, summarize the discussion and close the list. Have each student read all the list submissions as well as the summary and then write you an email discussing a realistic plan for how his/her drafting habits could be improved.
Create a discussion thread (or start an e-mail discussion) for online advice about writing in the students’ fields or professions.
Have students locate Web sites that discuss the writing process in their fields and/or future professions. Encourage them to locate sites that specifically address their fields/professions rather than sites that provide general writing advice. Have the students summarize the advice provided on the sites, and then post the summaries and the site URLs on the discussion list (or in an e-mail).
You may wish to expand this assignment by requiring the students to read the discussion list postings and to post at least one response in which they choose some aspect of the discussion that they find interesting, synthesize the information from the various postings, and discuss their thoughts on that issue.
Have students create an online team-composing plan.
This activity may be especially helpful if you have your class do collaborative work during the semester.
Online team authoring is becoming more common across all fields. Much of this may not be accomplished in a truly distance setting, but professional teams still use intranets and the Internet heavily to compose. Put students in pairs or small groups
(no more than four are recommended) and have them create their own plan for
composing a team document. Give them the final deadline and any progress report requirements ahead of time. Then, if you’re interested, have them all consent to their plan becoming a group contract to be followed precisely unless changed by group consensus. This kind of planning can head off major scheduling and work division problems later in the semester.
Microsoft Tutorial: Word 2002 and the Writing Process
Writing at Colorado State University: Writing Processes
docsymmetry.com: The Technical Writing Process
Online Technical Writing: Writing Process
Roundy, Nancy and David Mair, “The Composing Process of Technical Writers:
A Preliminary Study.” JAC 3 (1983). http://jac.gsu.edu/jac/3/Articles/10.htm
You may wish to reproduce the following worksheet and have students fill it out as they plan a document in response to Exercise 1 in Chapter 1 of the textbook or as they plan documents later on in the semester.
Situation and Content Analysis Worksheet
What is your subject or topic?
What is the purpose of the document you will write?
Who are your readers?
Why are you writing? Why is this document required? What is the situation that led to the need for this document?
What topics do you need/are required to cover? What do your readers need to know? What do you want your readers to do after they read your document?
What structure do you plan to use? If you have required report sections, what are they?
What information resources do you have available? What resources do you need to locate?
What types of visuals—graphs, photos, diagrams, etc.—are you considering using?
How will these improve your content?
The figures on the following pages may be reproduced as overhead transparencies or simply shown on a computer. The following set of discussion questions associated with each of the figures may be used to elicit student reflections on the concepts.
Discussion Questions for Figure 2-1
As you write, do you consciously go through the steps of the writing process?
Why or why not?
What are some of the weaknesses in your writing? How might going through the steps of the writing process help you strengthen your writing?
Discussion Questions for Figure 2-2
Which of these suggestions do you already use? Which will you try to incorporate?
How could or should you integrate these suggestions into collaborative writing?
Analyzing the Writing Situation: Identify the reason and purpose for writing, the situation in which the document will be used, and the audience
Choosing/Discovering Content: Find the information to achieve your purpose, and meet your readers’ needs
Arranging Content: Use a standard organizational approach, or choose your own
Drafting and Revising: Write the rough draft, and revise for meaning
Revision: Revise in terms of logic, completeness, style, and visuals
Document Design: Decide how to arrange and display information
—headings, font, color, placement of visuals, etc.
Editing: Perform a mechanics edit, a documentation edit, and an edit for document integrity (document as a whole)
Figure 2-1: The Writing Process
Analyzing the Writing Situation: Open/Name a file, and write notes about your readers and purpose
Arranging Content: Use computers to sort material electronically
Drafting and Revising:
When beginning the draft, open a file and save with the name of your document
You may wish to use “free writing” to begin the document
Keyboard ideas or sections
Arrange, delete, and add ideas as necessary
As you insert material from sources, use ( ) or
[ ] to remind you of the source
During this stage, revise only for meaning
Figure 2-2: Using Computers in the Writing Process
Correct mechanical problems your software marks only if this doesn’t slow your ability to key in ideas
Use the software capabilities to choose effective font(s), typeface(s), and color(s) and to position visuals on the page
Choose design elements carefully so as to encourage readers to skim, and then begin digesting your message
Editing: When your software highlights a problem with a sentence, check the sentence carefully
Start and Stop Process: Often a workplace necessity
Use by choice for long documents so as to avoid errors
Stop when you finish drafting; then return for revising/editing
Figure 2-2: Using Computers in the Writing Process
When leaving a task, make notes about what you need to do next time you open the file
Figure 2-2: Using Computers in the Writing Process