RE: teaching technical writing to engineers

Subject: RE: teaching technical writing to engineers
From: "Martinek, Carla M" <CMartinek -at- zebra -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 24 Mar 2004 07:29:21 -0600

Bill Darnall wrote:


I suggest you have each student prepare a simple user manual on a
product or process of his or her choice. First, have them develop a
specification for the project that includes an outline, the structure, and
for whom the manual is intended.


As an introduction, you could choose a simple, daily task that people
perform, and have the class offer suggestions for instructions as if they
were for someone who had never done this before. This could be a blackboard
(or whiteboard in this modern age :-) example before they choose their own
to write up later on.

* making ice (ice tray in freezer, requires them to fill it up).
* sharpening a pencil
* vacuuming the floor
* raking the yard

It's amazing how much you can break these tasks down when you look at them.
Several years ago I got a little "peeved" at a group I was in when I'd go to
the refrigerator to get ice for my water and the ice trays were *always*
empty. I'd fill them up, but when I'd go back to get the ice, they'd be
empty again. So, I wrote up instructions for how to make ice and posted
them on the door of the freezer. :-) I think they were 12-14 steps long.

For making ice, there's several issues to consider. Is there is a clear
path from the water source to the freezer? Is a level space large enough for
the ice tray in the freezer? (you really don't want to have to re-arrange
the freezer while holding a full tray of water in one hand...) Which way
does the freezer door face? Which hand needs to hold the freezer door and
which holds the tray as it goes in? How far up should they fill the tray
with water? What about closing the door after they put the tray in? Should
they make sure the freezer is actually plugged in and working?

It's been discussed before about how some engineers, when they write, make
assumptions and will skip steps that seem "obvious." This exercise can help
them move beyond "Fill tray with water and put it in the freezer," which is
the answer most people give the first time you ask them how to make ice.

OK, now back to the real work!

Carla Martinek, Translation Coordinator/Editor
Zebra Technologies Corporation
333 Corporate Woods Parkway, Vernon Hills, IL 60061
tel: 847.793.5616 fax: 847.821.1795
cmartinek -at- zebra -dot- com

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