A Strategic Guide to Technical Communication – Second Edition (Canadian)
  • Publication Date: December 20, 2011
  • ISBN: 9781554810239 / 155481023X
  • 336 pages; 7" x 9"

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A Strategic Guide to Technical Communication – Second Edition (Canadian)

  • Publication Date: December 20, 2011
  • ISBN: 9781554810239 / 155481023X
  • 336 pages; 7" x 9"

A Strategic Guide to Technical Communication incorporates useful and specific strategies for writers to create aesthetically appealing and usable technical documentation. These strategies have been developed and tested on a thousand students from a number of different disciplines over twelve years and three institutions. The second edition adds a chapter on business communication, reworks the discussion on technical style, and expands the information on visual communication and ethics into free-standing chapters. Particular attention is paid throughout to the needs of Canadian students.

Comments

Comments on the previous edition:

“What a fantastic textbook! Concise and practical, A Strategic Guide to Technical Communication is an outstanding text that provides theoretically well-grounded, pedagogically sound, and hands-on guidance to creating effective professional documents. It’s one of those rare textbooks students will want to keep on their book shelves well beyond their graduation.” — Doreen Starke-Meyerring, McGill University

“Clear, accessible, and immaculately written, A Strategic Guide to Technical Communication is a superb choice for the introductory technical communication course. The organization of the text is excellent, guiding students through style and document design to the major genres of technical discourse, ethics, and usability testing, concluding with impressive chapters on online documentation and oral presentations. Without question, A Strategic Guide to Technical Communication is my text of choice for our undergraduate technical communication course.” — Joseph Little, Niagara University

A Strategic Guide to Technical Communication covers clearly and well the main genres of technical writing—further, it includes in-depth, thought-provoking, up-to-date sections on topics such as navigating ethical issues; setting up, conducting, and reporting usability studies; and writing online documents. This book would work equally well for a technical communication course and for courses in business or professional writing: its rhetorical perspective and wide-ranging coverage go well beyond the features common to bestselling technical writing texts.” — Kelly Belanger, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

“Intelligently organized and informed by the latest in theory and research, A Strategic Guide to Technical Communication is a comprehensive and user-friendly textbook. Instructors will appreciate its solid grounding in theory and research, its many examples of student writing, and its helpfully integrated in-class exercises, lab assignments, and suggestions for major projects. Students will like the book’s hands-on approach and practical strategies for writing, designing, and testing documents for real users in both traditional and online environments.” — Jo-Anne Andre, University of Calgary

PREFACE

ONE THINKING ABOUT AUDIENCE, PURPOSE, AND GENRE

What is technical communication?
How does it differ from other types of writing?

IN-CLASS EXERCISE 1.1
Applying the Communication Triangle to Sample Documents
Creative vs. technical writing

IN-CLASS EXERCISE 1.2
Analysing Documents with Multiple Aims
Who are these “users”?

  • Ways of thinking about users

IN-CLASS EXERCISE 1.3
Analysing Multiple Audiences for Documents
How do you learn about your users?

  • Interview users
    Observe users
    Interview experts
    Create user profiles

IN-CLASS EXERCISE 1.4
Write a User Profile
Reaching your primary users
Why are you writing?

LAB ASSIGNMENT 1.1
Characterizing Your Users
What is genre?

LAB ASSIGNMENT 1.2
Linking Purpose and Audience

  • Structural conventions
    Rhetorical conventions
    Organization and presentation of content
    Goals and function of the genre
    Genre and activity sets
    What are the main genres of technical communication?

Why does genre matter?
How does one analyse a new genre?

  • Analysing style
    • sentences
      paragraphs
  • Analysing structure
    Analysing register
    • diction (word choice)

What are genre sets?
How are the documents in genre sets interdependent?

LAB ASSIGNMENT 1.3
Analysing a New Genre

  • What are the conventions of the application letter?
    What role does the résumé play in this genre set?

MAJOR PROJECT 1.1
The Job Application Package

TWO LEADING AND MISLEADING THE READER: ETHICAL ISSUES OF TECHNICAL COMMUNICATION

Ethics at work
Ethics frameworks

IN-CLASS EXERCISE 2.1
Outlining an Ethical Position
Ethics for students
How is ethics related to technical communication?

  • Copyright, trademarks, and patents
    What is not copyrightable
    Rules for copying images

Writing ethically

  • Plain language guidelines

MAJOR PROJECT 2.1
Ethical Dilemma Paper

THREE RESEARCHING TECHNICAL SUBJECTS

Primary research: Interviewing

  • Preparing for the interview
    • learn everything you can about the subject
      learn about the subject matter expert
      prepare a list of organized questions
      writing good questions

IN-CLASS EXERCISE 3.1
Prepare to Interview a Classmate
Conducting the interview

  • schedule an hour-long interview, if possible
    introduce yourself and explain your project
    decide whether to record the interview
    be an active listener
    control the interview
    working with those for whom english is a second language
    closing the interview

IN-CLASS EXERCISE 3.2
Interview a Classmate
Primary research: Conducting surveys

  • Asking good questions
    Guidelines for asking good questions
    • rephrase jargon and technical language
      into plain language
      ask specific questions
      avoid loaded questions
      break compound questions into individual
      questions
  • Choosing appropriate responses
    Preparing the survey form
    Reporting survey data

MAJOR PROJECT 3.1
Create a Survey Form
Secondary research: Finding print and online sources

  • Conducting an effective search for sources: Library and Internet
    Assessing the credibility of your sources

Citing and paraphrasing researched sources

IN-CLASS EXERCISE 3.3
Which Item Needs a Source Cited?

IN-CLASS EXERCISE 3.4
Which Paraphrase Is Legitimate and Which Is Too Close to the Original?

FOUR WRITING TECHNICAL PROSE

Clarity

  • Where do readers look for clues about the writer’s main ideas?
    • place the context or the familiar
      information on the left
      place main ideas as the subjects of sentences

IN-CLASS EXERCISE 4.1
Place Main Ideas as the Subjects of Sentences

IN-CLASS EXERCISE 4.2
Rewrite a Paragraph from Your Own Prose

  • locate the subject and the verb close to one another

IN-CLASS EXERCISE 4.3
Position Subjects and Verbs

  • place important ideas at the end of sentences to emphasize them
    place one point in each syntactic structure
    place old information that links back in the subject position, and put new information that you want readers to attend to at the point of emphasis

IN-CLASS EXERCISE 4.4
Place Key Ideas in Positions of Emphasis

  • use verbs rather than nominalizations to express action in your sentences

Cohesion

IN-CLASS EXERCISE 4.5
Locate the Verbs in a Series of Nominalizations

  • Linking sentences from start to start
    Linking sentences from end to start

Additional reading on clarity and cohesion

IN-CLASS EXERCISE 4.6
Create Links between Familiar and New Information
Plain language

IN-CLASS EXERCISE 4.7
Revising for Plain Language #1
Conciseness
Parallelism

IN-CLASS EXERCISE 4.8
Revising for Plain Language #2
Defining, describing, and explaining

  • Definition
    • brief definition
      formal or categorical definition

IN-CLASS EXERCISE 4.9
Writing Categorical Definitions

  • extended definition

IN-CLASS EXERCISE 4.10
Distinguish an Operational Definition from a Set of Instructions

LAB ASSIGNMENT 4.1
Identifying Methods of Defining, Describing, and Explaining

LAB ASSIGNMENT 4.2
Defining or Describing a Technical Concept or Device

FIVE DESIGNING DOCUMENTS AND PAGE LAYOUTS

What is document design?

IN-CLASS EXERCISE 5.1
Evaluating Quality in Document Design
What are the elements of document design?

  • Typefaces and fonts
    • should i use a serif or sans-serif font?
  • White space

IN-CLASS EXERCISE 5.2
Assessing Your Use of White Space

  • Should margins be justified or ragged?
    Should you use capitals or lower case?

Strategic solutions: Four design principles

  • Proximity
    • how do i create proximity?
  • Alignment
    • basic strategies for creating alignment
  • Repetition
    Contrast

Designing a layout grid

LAB ASSIGNMENT 5.1
Critiquing an Existing Design

LAB ASSIGNMENT 5.2
Revising a Poor Design

MAJOR PROJECT 5.1
Redesigning a Brochure

MAJOR PROJECT 5.2
Designing a Newsletter

  • How do you use the space on your page to create impact?
    How do you vary the horizontal or vertical space on a page?
    What is a grid?
    How do I design a grid for my project?
    What about using a template for my grid design?

MAJOR PROJECT 5.3
Create Your Own Project

SIX COMMUNICATING THROUGH VISUALS: VISUAL TECHNICAL COMMUNICATION

Using visuals to communicate effectively

  • Visual communication and the writing process
    What are the “right ways … to show data”?
    Select the right visual for telling that story
    • pie charts
      line graphs
      bar charts
      dot charts
      tables
      maps
      photographs
      line drawings
      gantt charts
  • Use the conventions for typical visuals
    • a title
      a caption
      all units labelled

IN-CLASS EXERCISE 6.1
What Does a Gantt Chart Contribute to the Work Schedule?

  • source of the data
    source of visual
    • Visuals that confuse or mislead

LAB ASSIGNMENT 6.1
Evaluating Visuals

LAB ASSIGNMENT 6.2
Creating Interesting Visuals

LAB ASSIGNMENT 6.3
Evaluating the Ethics of Visual Display

SEVEN WRITING EMAIL AND LETTERS FOR THE WORKPLACE

Essentials of workplace communication

  • Who are your readers?
    • power levels, demographics, communication networks, and obstacles to action
  • What motivates your readers?
    Organize and present your ideas to motivate readers to act

IN-CLASS EXERCISE 7.1
Revising to Motivate Readers to Act
Secondary goals for workplace communication
Writing messages: Email, memos, letters

  • Tips for writing effective email messages

IN-CLASS EXERCISE 7.2
Assessing Subject Lines

  • writing emails that identify problems
    • Formatting memos
      Formatting memo reports
  • tips for writing a good memo report

IN-CLASS EXERCISE 7.3
Writing a Solution-Finding Email to Your Instructor

  • Formatting a business letter

Writing messages

  • Informative messages
    Positive messages
    Negative messages
    • writing a good buffer

IN-CLASS EXERCISE 7.4
Revising a Positive and Informative Message

  • Persuasive messages
    • direct request messages
      solution-finding messages

IN-CLASS EXERCISE 7.5
Writing a Negative Message

IN-CLASS EXERCISE 7.6
Overcoming Obstacles to Reader Acceptance

IN-CLASS EXERCISE 7.7
Writing a Direct Request Message

EIGHT WRITING WINNING PROPOSALS

Why write proposals?
What kinds of proposals are there?
What is a proposal?
When should you decline to write a proposal?
How do proposals get evaluated?
Who is the audience for a proposal?
How do you analyse a RFP?
Sample RFP analysis

  • Class proposals: What kind of proposal is requested?
    What are the primary criteria listed in the RFP?

IN-CLASS EXERCISE 8.1
Analyse an Assignment as an RFP
What is persuasion?

  • What are the components of an argument?
    • how do you create a strong logical appeal?
      how do you create a strong ethical appeal?
      how do you create an effective emotional appeal?

How do you organize a proposal?

LAB ASSIGNMENT 8.1
Creating Effective Emotional Appeals

  • What is the standard generic format for a proposal?
    • questions a proposal must answer
  • How do you incorporate persuasion into the format to create a winning proposal?

LAB ASSIGNMENT 8.2
Practising Rhetorical Appeals

MAJOR PROJECT 8.1
Writing a Proposal

  • Option to write a manual
    Option to write a recommendation report

NINE REPORTING TECHNICAL INFORMATION

Status or progress reports

  • Purpose of status report
    Content of status report
    Writing the status report: Rhetorical considerations

White papers or information reports

LAB ASSIGNMENT 9.1
Writing a Status Report

MAJOR PROJECT 9.1
Reporting Progress on Your Technical Manual

  • What information do you put in a white paper?
    How do you reach the audience for a white paper?
    What are some useful strategies that will increase the effectiveness of your white paper?
    • stand back from your subject matter and summarize the key points that newcomers need to know to appreciate the new product or service
      assume your reader is a newcomer to the subject
      describe the problem in specific and personalized terms
      in describing how your product or service works, distinguish its features from the benefits it confers on the reader
  • One expert’s helpful hint
    Usability test your white paper

IN-CLASS EXERCISE 9.1
Converting Product Features to Reader Benefits

MAJOR PROJECT 9.2
Writing a White Paper

LAB ASSIGNMENT 9.2
User Test Your White Paper Draft
The laboratory report

  • The laboratory notebook
    • your lab notebook and scientific integrity
      how should you organize the information in your notebook?
  • Writing the laboratory report
    • format of the lab report

IN-CLASS EXERCISE 9.2
Incorporating Visual Aids into a Lab Report

LAB ASSIGNMENT 9.3
Revising a Lab Report to Improve Its Argument

MAJOR PROJECT 9.3
Writing a Lab Report
Recommendation reports

  • Report structure
    • memo or letter of transmittal
      title page
      executive summary or abstract
      recommendations
      body of the report
      notes, references, appendices

MAJOR PROJECT 9.4
Writing a Recommendation Report

TEN WRITING HOW-TO DOCUMENTS: INSTRUCTIONS, PROCEDURES, AND MANUALS

What makes instructional documents good?

  • Know your target audience or user group
    Include an overview of the procedure
    Write usable steps
    • five strategies for writing readable instructions

IN-CLASS EXERCISE 10.1
Strategies for Writing Good Instructions

IN-CLASS EXERCISE 10.2
Organizing Information for the User

  • Subdivide the process
    • how does “chunking” improve the quality of the instructions?

IN-CLASS EXERCISE 10.3
“Chunking” Techniques and Your Target Audience

  • Use illustrations
    • visuals in software documentation: use screen shots

LAB ASSIGNMENT 10.1
Creating and Labelling a Screen Shot

  • how can you make effective use of visuals?

IN-CLASS EXERCISE 10.4
Distinguishing between the Four Methods of Integrating Text and Image

  • Design an effective page layout
    • shorten line lengths
      choose a page orientation
      design a grid to organize your information
      include and visually emphasize tips, warnings, and cautions
      do usability testing

LAB ASSIGNMENT 10.2
Evaluating Good Instructions—Origami

LAB ASSIGNMENT 10.3
Revising a Poorly Designed Set of Instructions

LAB ASSIGNMENT 10.4
Designing and Writing Instructions on How to Create Screen Shots

MAJOR PROJECT 10.1
Write a Set of Instructions or a Procedure

MAJOR PROJECT 10.2
Write a Technical Manual

ELEVEN TESTING AND REPORTING DOCUMENT USABILITY

What is usability?
Why test for usability?
What is a usability test?
What is the purpose of a usability test?
Planning the test

  • Selecting test subjects
    How many test subjects?
    What should you test for?
    What should you have users do during the test?

Designing the test

  • Summarize the purpose of the test
    Outline what you want them to do
    Thank them for participating
    Inform them that they can quit

IN-CLASS EXERCISE 11.1
Modelling Usability Testing
Conducting the test

  • Demonstrate the equipment
    Explain how to “think aloud”
    Describe the tasks
    Once the test begins, do not talk to your tester
    Concluding the test

Reporting your results

  • The objectives
    Target users’ level of knowledge
    The test subjects
    Task assigned to users
    What happened during the test
    Comments of the users
    Plans for revision

Rhetorical challenges of writing a usability report

  • Analysing your data
    Writing the report
    • evidence for your revision plans
      demonstrate your skill and competence
  • Usability testing is valuable
    Design considerations

LAB ASSIGNMENT 11.1
Report on Usability Testing of Your Instructions or Procedure
Acting on your plans for revision

MAJOR PROJECT 11.1
Evaluating the Usability of Your Manual

TWELVE TAKING TECHNICAL COMMUNICATION ONLINE: SHARING DOCUMENTS ELECTRONICALLY AND WRITING ONLINE DOCUMENTS

What is structured documentation?
Converting documents to portable document
file (pdf) format
Sharing documents electronically

  • How to use rich text format (rtf) files to solve system or program incompatibility

Shared folders and documents posted online

  • Posting a document file on a web page
    • update the web page by adding a link to the document
      upload the document file and the revised
      web page
      set page permissions (if necessary)

IN-CLASS EXERCISE 12.1
Posting a Downloadable File on Your Website

  • Creating an electronic portfolio
    • what if i don’t have a homepage to display my portfolio?

Writing online documents

  • How do you prepare documents for onscreen use?
    • page orientation is different
      resolution on screen is poorer
      don’t use blank pages
      plan your document navigation
  • How do you ensure a good visual design?
    • divide the screen into functional areas
      group related items
      guide users’ eye movements
      put action areas near where users will look for them
      use consistent design throughout
  • How do you ensure that your screen display is legible?
    • be succinct
      write for scanability

LAB ASSIGNMENT 12.1
Converting Print to Online Text

  • use hypertext links to divide long information into multiple pages
    name titles and headings effectively
    • Use standard web-design conventions
  • what are the conventions?

MAJOR PROJECT 12.1
Preparing Instructional Material for Online Delivery

THIRTEEN PRESENTING TECHNICAL INFORMATION ORALLY
Common speaking occasions

  • Casual, impromptu, and short talks
    Small group meetings

IN-CLASS EXERCISE 13.1
Creating Short Sound Bites

IN-CLASS EXERCISE 13.2
Introducing Yourself

  • Informal, prepared presentations

IN-CLASS EXERCISE 13.3
Delivering a Short Oral Report

  • Formal presentations

MAJOR PROJECT 13.1
Creating an Oral Presentation of the Final Course Project

Guidelines for preparing presentations

  • Decide what information to include in your presentation slides or outline and what to include in a handout
    Determine how much background to present early in the presentation
    Organize your presentation so that listeners can follow your thoughts
    Create visuals to accompany your verbal descriptions

Guidelines for creating slides

  • Who is your audience?
    Brainstorm ideas for slides
    Tell a story
    Create your slides
    Prezi: Overview and zoom

Guidelines for giving presentations

  • Take advantage of the immediacy of having live human beings in the same room with you
    Stand so your audience can see the visuals that you display on the screen
    Control the timing of the slides so you control when the presentation moves from one topic to another
    Breathe

REFERENCES
INDEX

Heather Graves is Associate Professor of English at the University of Alberta.

Roger Graves is Professor of English and Director of Writing Across the Curriculum at the University of Alberta.

The text is accompanied by a passcode-protected website containing materials for instructors (PowerPoint lectures, lesson plans, sample student work, and helpful links).

An access code to the website is provided in all examination copies.

For a sample from A Strategic Guide to Technical Communication, click here. (Opens as a PDF.)