Syllabus for ENGL 362:
Foundations of Technical Writing

Instructor: Chris McKitterick
Hybrid Live & Online Course
Live Meetings in Wescoe Hall 4066
(and online all week)

This new hybrid online-and-live course provides a hands-on introduction to the principles of organizing, developing, writing, revising, and presenting technical information. The course focuses on four major components:

  • Elements of technical writing: The tools you use to build good technical documents.
  • Forms of technical communication: How to design, write, and deliver various documents, such as reports, proposals, specifications, websites, presentations, and manuals.
  • Collaboration: Sharing your understanding of the materials in online discussions and applying it in peer-reviewing projects.
  • Advanced projects: Putting everything together to create and manage complex documentation projects. You will write several such documents during this course.

We study the topic in 15 modular lessons covering the full spectrum of technical communication from its roots to a number of delivery forms. Each module corresponds to one week of the semester, and most use this structure:

  • Textbook readings. We use a popular textbook as well as a handbook.
  • Supplemental readings (linked from the daily syllabus and modules).
  • Virtual, asynchronous Q&As and student-led discussions on the Blackboard site, based on your reading response papers. Everyone must lead at least one discussion during the semester - and lead more to Level Up your final grade!
  • Exercises and projects. We create a diversity of projects and practice a number of common technical-communication forms.
  • Peer-reviewing to reinforce readings and practice revision, organization, and other technical-communication skills - and also to practice collaboration.

You will gain valuable experience through working on projects involving research, interviews, and experiential writing and editing exercises. Prepare to do a lot of writing during this course. In return, you can expect to understand what it takes to be a competent technical communicator by semester's end, assuming you attend regularly, read the textbooks and handouts, participate in discussions, successfully complete all assignments, put full effort into peer-reviews, and put in solid effort across the board.

This course is designed to provide a broad survey of the field while helping you develop a writing portfolio to show potential employers, so your hard work will pay off in the end!

Contents [Version 1.4, 11-27-2015]

Prerequisites
Disabilities
Required Texts and Other Materials
Your Instructor
  Office Hours and Schedule
  Contact Information
Audience Focus
Grading
  Factors Determining Final Grade
  Bonus Opportunities - Level Up!
  Sample Grade Ranges
  What's My Grade?
Withdrawing from the Course
Participation
  Table 3: Participation Scoring
Assignments
  Weekly Reading Responses
  Handing in Assignments
  Peer-Reviewing
Online Resources
Plagiarism
  What Is Plagiarism?
  Avoiding Plagiarism
  Consequences of Plagiarism
Sharing your work

Weekly Modules and Discussion Leaders

  Quick Links to Weekly Modules

NOTE: This is a living document for a newly designed course format, so expect changes. I want to be responsive to your needs, and to do so I need to make changes from time to time. Check our website and Blackboard for updates.

Revision History

7/1 - 8/24: Writing and revising syllabus and weekly modules.
8/2: Updated office hours section for Nichols Hall hours.
9/7: Updated discussion leaders in weekly section.
11/27: Added in-class presentation schedule to our final two weeks!

Click here to return to the course index page, here to see the full Weekly Modules and Discussion Leaders section, or here to see the Weekly Modules index section.

Prerequisites

All KU students must take two KU Core Goal 2.1 courses. Students pursuing a BA in the College are required to take either ENGL 101 and 102, or ENGL 102/105 and a second Goal 2.1 course. This course especially focuses on Goals 2 and 3, but because it is already in such high demand, we have chosen not to integrate it into the KU Core course listings.

Basic computer literacy and word-processing skills are required. This is an course where we'll work largely online, so be prepared to use computers, file systems, and the relevant software!

Good writing skills are also necessary to succeed in this course; for help with your writing, I strongly encourage you to contact the KU Writing Center. There you can talk about your writing with trained tutors or consult reference materials in a comfortable working environment. You may ask for feedback on your papers, advice and tips on writing (for all your courses), or for guidance on special writing tasks. Check their website for current locations and hours. The Writing Center welcomes both drop-ins and appointments, and there is no charge for their services. For more information, call (785) 864-2399 or send them an email at writing@ku.edu. The website also contains helpful information about writing of all sorts, so even if you consider yourself a good writer, check it out!

Disabilities

The Academic Achievement and Access Center (AAAC) coordinates accommodations and services for all eligible KU students. If you have a disability for which you wish to request accommodations and have not contacted the AAAC, please do so as soon as possible. Their office is located in 22 Strong Hall; their phone number is (785)864-4064 (V/TTY). Also please contact me privately about your needs in this course.

Required Texts and Other Materials

Required:

Technical Communication, by Mike Markel. Versions back to 8th Edition (2006) are fine, but page and chapter numbers vary from edition to edition. Companion web site here.

This is an excellent text, containing a massive amount of information, exercises, and links to outside resources. I expect you to read all the assigned material, and will give occasional tests on the readings, but we will not use all the assignments listed at the end of the chapters. Feel free to work through these assignments yourself, to further your learning.

I advise you to keep this book for when you go into the world of business or industry; it's an invaluable resource. Also available from online booksellers such as Amazon (click here to review and/or buy this book from Amazon.com) and Powell's Books (click here to review and/or buy this book from Powell's Books).

Required:

The Elements of Technical Writing, by Gary Blake and Robert Bly.

Everyone who expects to write anything technical needs to have this book on their desk. Keep this book forever, at least until a complete update is published.

Also available from online booksellers such as Amazon (click here to review and/or buy this book from Amazon.com) and Powell's Books (click here to review and/or buy this book from Powell's Books).

You also need access to a manual of style appropriate to your field of study, such as the ACS, APA, CBE, Chicago Manual of Style, MLA, and so on. Here's a great list of style guides for various disciplines. You need not purchase a copy.

The English Department recommends having access to the CAL Handbook and The Brief Penguin Handbook (4th ed.) for all 300-level courses.

You need strong computer familiarity:

  • We write, review, and discuss everything electronically. During this course, you will continue to enhance your skills with the hardware and software tools needed to write professional technical documents.
  • We use email often, including for announcements and peer-reviewing. Be sure to give me your preferred email address ASAP if it differs from what's listed in Blackboard.
  • Use a backup system. Most students save all their coursework onto a keychain-type storage device they can take with them, and use it to back up assignments. Click here to see an example of this useful and very low-cost device.
  • Alternately, use your email, FTP site, or Web service like Dropbox to back up your assignments. Many students send a copy of their coursework to themselves as a backup to keep their assignments handy (in case of Blackboard downtime or flash-drive failure) and back up projects.

About Chris McKitterick

I have been a professional writer for 20+ years, a technical writer and -editor for nearly as long, managed a documentation team for 3 years, and currently freelance as a technical writer and editor working for a variety of publishers. I come to this course with thorough knowledge and experience from the industry, so you can expect practical and real-world lessons. I've written and edited a diversity of documents ranging from astronomy news articles for the general public, abstracts for lab reports, deployment guides, gaming supplements, plus entire magazines, websites, and more. I've also published a variety of scholarly articles, nonfiction, journalism, fiction (long and short form), and poetry. Feel free to mine my experience for tips and advice about writing, editing, and the publishing industry. Here's a short bio on our course website.

If you have questions, need assistance, or just want to chat about technical communication, visit me in my office. You can phone or drop me email any time. If I'm not in the office, please leave a message. It might take a little time to respond if I'm out of town or in the middle of a project - and my Gunn Center duties are very time-demanding - so don't wait until the last minute!

Office Hours

Wescoe Hall 3040 (aka CSSF lending library) and Nichols Hall 340 (West Campus)

Other times by appointment: I am often in my office when not in classes and almost always available via email.

Contact Information

Office: Wescoe 3040 (just downstairs), Nichols Hall 340 (West Campus)
Phone: (785) 864-2509
Email: cmckit@ku.edu (for most class communication)
         cmckit@gmail.com (personal address)

         If you're writing about a class question, for clarity please put 362 in the subject line or your message might get buried among others. Clarity is key in communications!

Other contact info:

Personal website
Facebook
Goodreads
Google+
The Internet Speculative Fiction Database
LinkedIn
LiveJournal
Tumblr
Twitter
Wikipedia

Audience Focus

The most important thing to keep in mind while writing is your audience; without it, your research is wasted and your future projects scuttled before you begin. To reinforce this audience-focus attitude, I expect you (my audience and customers) to provide me with frequent feedback through various means. This helps me further develop this course (and other technical communication courses) so it better suits the future audience while continually aligning it to your current needs.

Grading

I regularly update grades on Blackboard. You'll see your first set of significant scores shortly after the first quiz. Before that, if you have participated in every module; put solid effort into the exercises, discussions, peer-reviews, and writing projects; and taken advantage of bonus-point opportunities to Level Up your grade, you're likely to earn an A or B for the course. If you skip bonus opportunities and don't contribute much to the online discussions, but do the minimum required work and meet my basic expectations in the writing projects, you'll probably earn a C+.

When I score your larger assignments, I expect you to demonstrate what you learned from readings, discussions, and exercises, comments from your peer-reviewers and me, and as the semester progresses, I expect you to show improvement.

Primarily, I use the measures of good (and standout) technical documentation as my grading guide; click here to see a scoring sheet to get an idea of how I grade. Use it as your planning, writing, peer-review, and revision checklist while working on every project:

  • Accessible and Well-Organized
  • Accurate
  • Appears Professional
  • Comprehensive
  • Clear
  • Consistent
  • Concise
  • Grammatically Correct
  • Honest
  • Interesting
  • Novel or Unique
  • Realistic
  • Relevant
  • Social Impact
  • Targeted to the Correct Reader
  • Useful
  • Demonstrates Understanding of the Form (what type of document is it - is this a good example of that type?)
  • Demonstrates Mastery of the Tools (if you used a word processor, did you use it effectively?

Because this is a writing course, "Grammatically Correct" bears a greater weight than 1/16th, and I expect your writing to improve in response to comments and markups of your work that I return via Blackboard. Your grade is derived through the following calculations. Table 1 details the factors that contribute toward your final grade, and Table 2 shows the grade associated with final point totals. The points detailed in the table, below, are all examples and will vary.

Factors Determining Final Grade

Factor Possible Points Frequency Approximate Total

Exercises

varies

Most weeks

40

Peer-reviews1

Mostly bonus points!

Most weeks

up to +30

Larger projects2

Varies

Almost weekly

120

Surprise quizzes3

Varies

Varies

40

Final project

90

Once per semester

90

Level Up (Extra credit)4

Varies - lots!

Varies - frequent opportunities!

Varies - lots!

Attendance and discussion participation

Affects final grade

Lead at least once per semester, participate every week in class and online5

Affects overall grade

Meet measures of good technical documentation? Stands out?

Affects all grades

Every project

Affects all grades

Total (approximate)

+/- 300

1, 2 To receive points for peer-reviewing other students' work, you must demonstrate good teamwork. Anyone who is demeaning to others or is otherwise difficult to work with will not receive points for peer-review. Working with others is of utmost importance in business and industry.

2 A certain percentage of your grade for some assignments comes from collaboration or peer-review of another student's work. Teamwork quality determines a portion of your score.

3 Occasionally, as in the business world, I give quizzes, surveys, "emergency" projects, and other unexpected tasks. This is not intended to punish! In fact, it's the opposite: I hope to help prepare you for the rigors of business and industry.

4 I provide many extra credit opportunities so you can Level Up your grade and enrich your learning experience.

5 Coming to class, leading and participating in discussions, and providing prompt peer-reviews are vital to everyone's success. Don't just lurk during discussions!

If work is handed in late, you receive an automatic 10% deduction and further deductions for continued tardiness. You cannot get points for missing a peer-review. Instructor-approved emergencies can mitigate losses for some projects. However, you cannot make up for what you missed while you weren't involved, so missing a discussion or peer-review means losing points. I want you to get into good work habits now before you begin internships and jobs where it really matters. Participation is graded more heavily during student-led discussions and presentations, because you are expected to be a participative audience.

Bonus Opportunities - Level Up!

I want you to be in control of your scores as much as possible, so I've adopted a you-centered method for tracking success (in the academic world, it's called "incentive-centered grading" or "gamification"). Every bonus assignment or peer-review you write in this course beyond the required ones earns you points toward "leveling up" your scores (and, therefore, your grade), while giving you some freedom to choose between options or make up for less-than-stellar scores in one of the required projects. Plus you learn more by doing more. Your final grade is up to you!

By simply completing all the readings, turning in excellent responses on time each week, creating excellent projects, attending every class plus engaging in discussion while there, actively participating in every online discussion forum, and partnering to lead at least two Modules, you are pretty much guaranteed at least a B- or C+ for your final grade.

Want to reach higher and earn a better grade? You have lots of ways to do so! Several projects are not required - this means they're 100% bonus points! Each reading response offers the opportunity to gain bonus points. Outstanding online and in-class participation can earn even more. Volunteering to give a live presentation in class is another opportunity, and there'll be even more! Do your best, and you'll see the rewards in your final grade. Each time I've offered bonus points, at least a few students have ended up earning more points than needed for an A. You can, too.

Sample Grade Ranges

Each full letter-grade is worth 10% of the total possible; that is, the range for an A is 100% - 91% of the total possible points, a B is 90% - 81%, and so on. This table gives an idea of how that looks. Keep in mind that these numbers are only for example; total possible actual points will not be exactly 300, but the percentage is equivalent. See "What's My Grade?" below for details. It's entirely possible to get more than the maximum possible points by doing lots of Level Up work!

Points Grade

300 - 270

A to A-

266 - 236

B+ to B-

235 - 205

C+ to C-

204 - 174

D+ to D-

173 and below
(or plagiarism)

F

What's My Grade?

The sample grades in these tables are representative only (note that I rounded up the points total for simpler calculation). To determine your grade at any point during the semester, simply check your Blackboard total against the total possible: 10% = one full grade (that is, 100% to 91% is an A to an A-‑; 90% to 81% is a B+ to a B-‑; and so on. Note that the College doesn't offer A+ or any variation on an F). Mitigating circumstances (excellent vs. poor peer-reviewing, promptness vs. tardiness, class participation, and so on) can affect whether your grade falls above or below a grade if you are close contact me in advance, whenever possible, about special circumstances.

Take full advantage of for extra credit opportunities so you can Level Up your grade (and enrich your learning experience).

Withdrawing from the Course

Withdrawing from a course should not be taken lightly. Please consult with me if you are having any type of difficulty (academic or personal) to see if we can develop a plan of action that does not include dropping the course. I know that life can get complex sometimes, so talk to me before you do something as drastic as dropping the course.

If you are having difficulties that affect your regular attendance, let me know what's going on so that we can work out a solution short of withdrawal or a heavy grade penalty. On the other hand, its better to withdraw than to fail, so stay in good communication with me.

If you are thinking about dropping a class, check the Registrar page for relevant dates, and check the KU Registrar Calendar and Timetables. The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS) Undergraduate Services sends messages about drop deadlines. Note these deadlines.

Discussion Participation

We get together once each week in person for two hours, so bring any questions and concerns there - you're probably not the only one who'd like to hear the answer! In class, we also work out peer-review partners, determine discussion leaders, and so forth. Don't miss any of these sessions unless absolutely necessary, and if you do, you're responsible for working out your collaborations with others.

Each week, everyone is responsible for participating in the student-led discussions on our Blackboard forum. Everyone is also required to lead at least two discussions, and everyone not leading discussions is required to participate, offering useful responses to the prompts or in response to other comments in the discussion. Your participation level - even when not leading discussions - combines into a semester-end effect as shown in the table below, so get fully engaged every week!

Discussion and other class participation is weighed heavily, because we seldom meet in person. Online and hybrid courses are only as good as the level of participation you and your colleagues invest, so getting involved is not only necessary for a good grade, but also much value you get from the course. If you know you are going to miss a week for an academic event, illness, or other excusable reason, contact me and your partners as soon as possible to see if we can work out something to mitigate the effect on your overall grade.

Because we have more than a day for the discussion portion of each Module, you'll never need to miss your participation window. Sometimes, however, things come up. Each unexcused absence from participating in a module (online and in person) drops your course grade by a third; that is, missing two weeks might mean your final grade drops from an A- to a B+, missing three drops it to a B, and so forth. Getting involved in every discussion usually serves to bump most students up a fraction of a grade (for example, from a B to a B+ when points are close), so don't miss them. When you're there, get involved in the discussion, as well. You can also volunteer to lead more than the minimum of one session to get a little nudge upward not only in your grade, but also in how much you get out of a module; the kind of preparation one does to lead discussions provides some of the deepest learning!

Discussion leaders always start the conversations by noon on Monday - though you can respond later (by Thursday at 5:00pm) and still get participation credit if necessary - say, if you have classes early in the week. Often the discussions continue beyond Thursday, even into the next week or later in the semester, so check back whenever you have a chance. Subscribe to threads that interest you. Everyone is required to lead at least two discussions with a partner, and everyone is required to participate in every discussion by providing thoughtful and useful responses to the student leaders' prompts, or at least in response to other comments in the discussion forum. Miss a week? Get in there and respond after the fact, and you'll still get some participation points.

Be sure to rate your fellow students' posts and responses: If your discussion posts earn high ratings (more stars) from your peers, this earns you bonus points, so do your best when posting discussion prompts and responding to others' posts. The "star" rating for your semester-end bonus only works when everyone participates....

Your participation level - even when not leading discussions - strongly affects your semester grade, so get fully engaged every week! The table in the next section illustrates this relationship.

Participation Scoring

Weeks of Participation Missed Grade Result
(assuming otherwise perfect score)

0

(+)

Bonus points for strongly participating in all the live and online discussions. I use my discretion to give bonus points to those who regularly provide useful and insightful comments - you can earn up to +15 points for the semester by being a consistently great contributor!

0

(+)

If your discussion posts consistently earn high ratings (more stars) from your peers, this also gives a bonus effect at semester's end - as much as +15 more points bonus! - so do your best when posting discussion prompts and responding to others.

0

A
No deduction if you participate at least a little in every discussion and get good ratings from your peers.

1

A-
Slight deduction for missing one live meeting or one week's online discussion.

1/3-grade deduction for missing one week's live meeting and online discussion.

2

B+
1/3-grade deduction thereafter for missing more pairs of live meetings or online discussions.

3

B
One full grade deduction for missing any combination of three weeks' live meetings or online discussions. And so on.

4

B-

5

C+

And so forth

Up to 1/3-grade deduction per each missed week's participation.

Not leading any discussions

1/3-grade deduction.

A note on distractions: We work a lot online, where everyone works and plays, too. While engaging with the modules and discussions, I urge you to avoid distractions such as texting, emailing, goofing off on Facebook, or so forth. You might think you can "multi-task," but recent studies show that the human mind cannot pay attention to more than one thing at a time, and fracturing your attention means you're not getting everything possible out of each module. In our live meetings, please do not distract your neighbors!

I'm sure you have heard this before, but it is as true as ever: You get out of any activity only what you put into it. The more effort and creativity you apply to your projects, collaborations, peer-reviews, and discussions, the more you will learn and the better the course will be for everyone else, as well. If you do not regularly participate, you will miss out on a lot of opportunities to learn and grow as a writer.

Assignments

You'll do a bunch of short exercises and longer assignments throughout the semester (see the weekly schedule and individual Modules for full details). Here's a list, all in one place.

In addition, each week you'll write a reading response as described below:

 Weekly Reading Responses

Prior to each class, write a short reading-response paper and turn it in via Blackboard in the "Module [x] reading response" slot. To make it simpler for me to read everyone's papers each week, please either upload it as a .doc file or paste the text from your response into the Submission text box. Along with participation in each week's discussion, these papers are scored as an important measure of your engagement with the Module's topics.

This short (100-500 words) paper is a brief but thoughtful response to all of the readings for that week (both required and supplemental) from the textbooks, handouts, and linked content. (If you go a little long, that's better than too short, but be kind to your teacher!) Provide your thoughts on the week's assigned readings in terms of what you learned from them, insights into writing better, new ideas, disagreements, and so forth. Provide insightful, critical, and thoughtful reflections on the readings. When leading the week's discussion, include your discussion-leader notes as part of your reading response, or in addition to it. For every other week, feel free to use parts of your response as responses to the discussion-leaders' prompts.

As in the discussions, exercise your critical-reading skills when writing these responses; that is, don't just accept everything the authors wrote. I want to hear how you synthesize new ideas from the assigned materials, your additional readings and other interactions, and your own experiences.

Regarding format: Many people use bullets for discussion points, bold the titles of the readings you're discussing, or use the titles as headings. Some people write responses that resemble essays, citing the works in tandem, while others merely respond to each individually. However you prefer to handle it is fine, but what's most important is that you've thought through all the works for each week and how they might help improve your writing.

Tip: Even if you aren't leading the week's discussion, include at least a couple of questions to pose to the class or points to stimulate discussion. I suggest bringing your response to class - especially your questions - to help formulate ideas during discussion. (Also be sure to turn them in via Blackboard in advance of class.) They are usually scored in Blackboard by the following week.

Weekly Paper Scoring

Base value: 2 points each x 13 = 26 total.

Here is how I score the weekly response papers:

    0 - no paper, or bad one turned in late.
    1 - turned in, but provides no interesting insights or does not convince me you did close readings.
    2 - has interesting insights on the readings and/or convinces me you completed most of the reading.
    3 - (+1 Level Up) references all the required materials and shares thoughtful responses to everything, plus discusses additional materials relevant* to the week's content.

That means you could possibly earn a 50% bonus over the base score for your Weekly Responses by Leveling Up every week! Up to +13.

* Some examples of additional materials to cover in your response paper include responding to the week's online and in-class discussions, thoughtful articles, tips columns, or blogs about the Module's topic, or so forth.

Penalty

Late papers can lose -1 point each if turned in after the relevant class session begins. Turn them in on time! Missing response papers are due ASAP, at the very latest during Finals Week.

Handing in Assignments

Hand in all your assignments electronically to me on Blackboard, and directly to your peer-review partners via email, flash drive, link, shared folder, or so forth. If your project contains more than one document, that's fine - Blackboard can handle multiple uploads at once. If something goes wrong with an upload, I've set up the Blackboard Assignments tool to allow multiple attempts (just leave me a note in the Submission box explaining why you made the second attempt). In science and industry, others often need to review your documents and still others process them for insertion into newsletters, magazines, books, websites, or other publication venues. Professionals seldom create, edit, and distribute a document by themselves except occasionally for an organization's internal use.

If you're not familiar with Blackboard, here's a screenshot-based tutorial for instructions on how to get and submit projects via that tool, and here's a short video tutorial (about 1 minute) for using it to turn in class assignments.

In order to keep projects, peer-reviews, and discussions rolling smoothly each week, everyone needs to follow these guidelines on due dates and times.

Here are the steps involved with most projects:

  1. Create your project.
    • For most, save as a Word document (.doc, preferably not .docx) or a Rich Text file (.doc) if you must. All full-featured word-processing programs can save in these formats.
    • Unless absolutely necessary, do not save as a .pdf, because most people cannot mark up .pdf documents.
    • Never save as an unusual document type (such as Open Office, Illustrator, or so forth).
    • Unless you are turning in a graphics-heavy project, there's no reason for the file size to be larger than 2MB, and even graphical documents seldom need to be larger than 6MB. If it is, first use a photo-editor to reduce the size of images before removing the offending (huge) images and re-inserting them into your document. Most email servers cannot handle unreasonably large files, and Blackboard often freezes during such attempts. Plus, it's just impolite to suck up other people's internet bandwidth.
    • If your project is a video, website, or other large file or documentation system, use a proper hosting service (such as cloud storage or YouTube) to upload, then provide only the link when you turn it in to Blackboard or when you give it to your peer-review partner.
    • Back it up!
  2. If you are not doing a peer-review, your assignment is usually due on Blackboard before noon on Sunday (end of the Module's week).
    • That's the last step for projects that aren't associated with peer reviews. For most other projects, move on to Step 3:

  3. If you are doing a peer-review, your finished draft of the assignment is due to your peer-review partner before or during class on Wednesday each week, so they can use your feedback on their project.
    • Send it to the peer-reviewer assigned to you for that module. Although it's often more comfortable to work with those you know, I recommend trying out a variety of peer-reviewers during the semester.
    • You can contact other students directly through Blackboard.
    • Give it to them in class if all else fails.
  4. Review your partner's project while they're reviewing yours.
  5. Your peer review of your partner's project and completed peer-review guide document is usually due by Thursday at 5:00pm - earlier is better! That gives everyone plenty of time to review, revise, and comment on your each others' documents, plus time to revise them. Early is better than waiting until the last minute.
    • Send these back to the original author when you're done marking it up by Thursday at 5:00pm.
    • Also submit the peer-review materials to Blackboard under the appropriate peer-review assignment slot (for example, "Drive-Car Peer Review") by Thursday at 5:00pm. Upload both your critique document and your partner's original document you marked up (if any).
  6. Address the suggestions your peer-reviewer provides. That doesn't mean you have to make all the changes they suggest; however, try to figure out what your partner means by a comment or edit, then see what you can do to address it, even if that means doing something different than they suggested but which fixes the issue.
  7. The final step for a peer-reviewed project is to turn in your project to me through Blackboard. Use the appropriate assignment slot (for example, "Drive-Car"). Your revision of your peer-reviewed project is due to Blackboard by Sunday at 5:00pm.
  8. Bonus time! You've Leveled Up to a higher grade!

That looks like a lot of steps, but it's actually pretty straightforward. Because this is an online course, I want to be absolutely clear about every step involved in creating, peer-reviewing, and turning in the assignments.

I often use Revision Tracking to mark-up your major documents and provide comments, then re-upload the edited document to Blackboard, so you can see my comments. For smaller projects or those that do not need a lot of marking-up, I put my notes in the Instructor Comments section. Read these comments and look over these edits to learn how to improve your writing. Make sure to read the Instructor Comments section and to download my edited version of your document to see my markups; I expect you to address the writing issues noted there for future projects!

The burden of proof is on you for assignments that don't reach me or your peer-reviewers, so make sure to back up everything and, if necessary, verify delivery when you submit projects. Blackboard is very reliable when it's available; if something fails to upload, it still shows up as a partial attempt. Get into the habit of always backing up your work onto removable media or your USB flash drive, email system, FTP site, or Web service like Dropbox!

Remember that an assignment loses a full grade if it's late, and loses more points as the tardiness increases.

Peer-Reviewing

I don't require regular peer-reviews, but strongly encourage you to do so on every project. It's an important habit to develop.

You can also earn bonus points each time you turn in a solid peer review! Turn in a peer-review on a project that doesn't require it, and you get bonus points for doing so: You've Leveled Up!

When doing a peer-review of a project, here are the steps involved:

  1. Your finished draft of the assignment is due to your peer-review partner before or during class on Wednesday each week - earlier is better.
  2. Review someone else's project while they're reviewing yours.
    • Here's what I'm looking for in a peer-review.
    • Use the peer-review guide document (in .doc format) when critiquing your partners' work.
    • Use Revision Tracking to mark-up the document (for example, when making inline edits) and to provide comments on larger issues.
    • When you're done marking it up, send your peer review of your partner's project back to the original author by Thursday at 5:00pm - obviously, earlier is better! Also send the filled-in peer-review guide document to your partner. That gives you plenty of time to review, revise, and comment on your partner's document. Early is better than waiting until the last minute.
    • Submit the peer-review that you performed on your partner's project and the filled-in peer-review guide document Blackboard under the appropriate peer-review assignment slot (for example, "Drive-Car Peer Review") by Thursday at 5:00pm. Note that Blackboard can accept multiple files attached to any assignment.
  3. For assignments that require peer-review: If your partner fails to send you a document to peer-review, or fails to send it to you in time for you to complete the work, please note that in the Submission box for the peer-review assignment in Blackboard. This way, you are not penalized for failing to turn in a peer-review or turning it in late. If you forgot to do this for older peer reviews, go back and add that as soon as you can.

Online Resources

Our course website is where you'll find all kinds of useful information, handouts, examples, and much more.

Check often for updates, newly posted assignments, syllabus changes, web links, and so on. I update our Blackboard site almost every week throughout the semester.

I created a new Tumblr account to share examples of great (and terrible!) technical communications, so if you find something you think would be useful to share, drop me an email with a link to let me know, and I'll post it! Link to come once we have some examples.

Plagiarism

Do not plagiarize the work of others. I regularly check random papers for plagiarism; if I suspect something, I always check to make sure material in student papers is not plagiarized. If you do so, you will receive 0 (zero) points for the project in which you used plagiarized material. If you do it twice, you will fail the class. This includes plagiarized material inserted into any short exercises. No exceptions.

The University takes plagiarism very seriously, and publishing and academia have no patience for this kind of laziness and theft. So what is plagiarism and how can you avoid it?

What Is Plagiarism?

Stealing and passing off as your own someone else's ideas, graphics, or words, or using information from another's work without crediting the source is called "plagiarism." Some specific examples of actions that constitute plagiarism include pasting together uncredited information from the Internet or published sources, submitting an entire paper written by someone else, submitting a paper that you wrote for another class (which is therefore not original work), and copying another student's work (even with that student's permission).

A good rule of thumb: Plagiarism is using more than a few of someone else's words in a row without crediting the original author. It is also using someone else's table of contents, graphics, art, design, or other work without crediting the original creators. When the words are unusual or newly coined, using just a word or two might be plagiarism, especially if such terms infringe on copyrighted or trademarked language.

Avoiding Plagiarism

Writers especially students or beginning writers are frequently confused about what constitutes plagiarism. If you are unsure about whether something you have written is plagiarism, or how to use someone else's ideas appropriately in your writing, or whether facts you are using are commonly known, ask your instructor for assistance.

Works that fall under Creative Commons licenses allow for slightly different uses than traditionally copyrighted material, so read the license that a CC author grants carefully to ensure you're not illegally using their material.

In order to avoid unintentional plagiarism and to represent your work honestly, you need to be meticulous about giving credit to your sources.

If you need to use someone else's words, simply use quotation marks and credit the source that is not plagiarism; that is good writing practice.

However, in many cases paraphrasing is better than using someone else's words, because your thoughts are unique and only you can express exactly what you mean. Be sure to appropriately identify paraphrased material. You paraphrase by crediting someone else's ideas and rewording them to fit your writing project.

Whenever you offer facts that are not commonly known, you need to tell your readers where you learned those facts.

As you take higher-level college courses and begin writing professionally or for work, it becomes ever more important that you write using your own words and ideas rather than repeating what others say or think. Stealing or even relying too heavily on someone else's writing and thoughts rather than coming up with your own not only hinders your educational experience, but it also could lead to many serious consequences.

Though it might not seem obvious to the perpetrator of plagiarism, writing instructors can usually detect when written work is plagiarized by noticing how different the work is from previous work or from other work done at the same level. The University also subscribes to Turnitin.com, a digital plagiarism-detection program that checks student work against databases of existing papers.

Consequences of Plagiarism

Plagiarism is a serious, legal issue, and you need to learn solid writing practices now before you enter the work world and end up losing your credibility or fighting a costly lawsuit for intentionally or unintentionally stealing another's work. Stealing just isn't worth the cost when writing the words yourself is not that much more work.

The University requires instructors to report all plagiarism and other forms of cheating. Less serious offenses might result in failing the assignment, while more serious offenses can result in failing course or even expulsion from the University, so always ask your instructor for help if you are unsure about whether or not your work could be considered plagiarism.

Peer-Reviewing, Handouts, Example Works, and Sharing

Because a core goal of this course is to learn how to write for others, you will share student-authored work with other class members during the semester during peer-reviews, and I occasionally use student-authored work as examples for future classes. Unless you inform me in advance that you do not want your work shared with others, consider this when submitting materials on sensitive subjects you would not want your classmates to see.

Other uses of student-authored work are subject to the University's Policy on Intellectual Property and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. If I desire to use your work outside of this course (for example, as a sample for other classes), I will ask permission authorizing such use. If you submit a handout to share with others taking this course, please let me know (in the email when you send it to me) that it's okay to share so I can have that on record.

Finally, it's always a good idea to think about how you want others to use your work. Check out the Creative Commons licenses for ways to clearly mark your creations so others understand what permissions you grant and reserve.

Weekly Modules
and Discussion Leaders

The course contains 16 modular lessons covering the full spectrum of technical communication from its roots to a number of delivery forms. Because we only get together one hour per week for in-person class meetings, success in this course requires diligence, good time-management, solid skills with remote collaboration, clear communications with others, familiarity with Blackboard and other internet tools, and - most of all - that you be a solid self-starter. If you are good at all these things, plus you can demonstrate excellent writing skills, you'll be great in whatever future career you pursue. This course provides you with a wide variety of experiences that very few other recent grads can talk about in job interviews, so make the most of it to learn not just the overt content, but also focus on mastering how we work to get everything you can from the experiences!

Click each learning module to find your materials for the week, and check the weekly dates, above, for a unified view. Each module corresponds to one week of the semester, and most have this structure:

  • Readings from the textbooks and supplemental readings linked from each module page, and short responses to these. You can also find these and much more on the Handouts page.
  • Live in-class meetings each week.
  • Student-led discussion on our Blackboard site. These focus on elements, forms, ideas, and more.
  • Frequent exercises and projects to practice the theory and forms described in the readings and discussions.
  • Frequent peer-review practice to reinforce the content while improving your critical skills: Often, the best way to write better is to critique other people's work. Reviewing will likely initiate more discussion.

We meet in person each week at 4:00pm in Wescoe 4066. We meet online all week long.

Click the Module Links to get your assignments, instructions, and due dates and times for each week.
Click here to return to the syllabus Table of Contents.

 

Module 1: Introduction to Technical Communication
Aug 26 - 30

McKitterick leads the first week's in-class and online discussions.

Survey due by 5:00pm Friday.
Reading Response
due by class this and every week.

Module 2: Good Technical Documentation and Peer Reviewing
Aug 31 - Sept 6

Student-led Blackboard discussions begin on Mondays by noon, run through at least 5:00pm on Thursdays or even Fridays - and many are ongoing. This week, everyone participates in leading the online discussion!

Analysis of a good technical document due before class on Wednesday.
Exchange the Drive-Car procedural document with your partner for peer-review during or before class on Wednesday.

Module 3: Writing Clearly for the Correct Audience
Sept 7 - 13

Online Discussion Leaders:
 and ...

Numbers exercise due by 5:00pm Friday.

Module 4: Research, the Scientific Method, and Writing
Sept 14 - 20

Online Discussion Leaders:
.

Quiz due by 5:00pm Sunday.

Module 5: Technical Papers and the Tools and Processes to Write Them
Sept 21 - 27

Online Discussion Leaders:
.

Elements exercise due by 5:00pm Sunday.

Module 6: Proposals and Specifications and Audience Research, Oh My!
Sept 28 - Oct 4

Online Discussion Leaders:
.

Module 7: Editing and Visual Communications
Oct 5 - (11)

Online Discussion Leaders:
 

Technical report team project due by 5:00pm Sunday.

 


(No Class Activities Oct. 10 - 13: Fall Break.

 

Module 8: Scheduling, Business Reporting, and Websites
Oct 14 - 18

Online Discussion Leaders:

Begin HTML tutorial (we'll continue working on this for a couple weeks).

Graphics exercise peer review (for extra credit): Exchange your project with a peer-review partner by Thursday by noon - earlier is better!
Peer-review of your partner's Graphics exercise due to your partner (and Blackboard for extra credit) by Friday at 5:00pm.

Revised Graphics exercise due to Blackboard by Sunday at 5:00pm.

EDIT: New due date for New Technical report team project and peer-review: due by 5:00pm Sunday.

Module 9: Building Websites
Oct 19 - 25

Online Discussion Leaders:

Bonus Opportunity: Peer-review of your partner's Specification document or proposal due to your partner (and Blackboard for extra credit) by Friday at 5:00pm.
Big Bonus Opportunity:
Specification document or proposal due to Blackboard by Sunday at 5:00pm.

Module 10: Adding Awesome to Your Website
Oct 26 - Nov 1

Online Discussion Leaders:

HTML and CSS tutorials due by midnight on Wednesday.

Module 11: Presentations
Nov 2 - 8

Online Discussion Leaders:
.

Bonus Opportunity: Turn in a Website peer-review by classtime on Wednesday.
Big Bonus Opportunity: Link to your Website due to Blackboard by Sunday at 5:00pm.

Module 12: Manuals
Nov 9 - 15

Online Discussion Leaders:

Manual Analysis worksheet due by Sunday at 5pm.

Module 13: Careers, or How to Make Clients and Employers Want to Hire You
Nov 16 - 22

Careers week!

Online Discussion Leaders:

Bonus Opportunity: Exchange the Final project documentation plan with your partner for peer-review during or before class on Wednesday.
Completed Final project documentation plan due to Blackboard by 5:00pm Sunday.

  
No class activities: Thanksgiving Break
Nov 23 - 29
  
Module 14: Giving Presentations
Nov 30 - Dec 5

Everyone participates! This week's discussions include workshopping your classmates' Presentations, live and online.

In-class presenters: .

If we're workshopping your Presentation this week, post it (or a link to it) by Monday noon if possible, by noon Wednesday if you can, but by Friday morning at the latest to count for turning it in this week.
This week's presenters, turn in your revised Presentation (or a link to it) to Blackboard by Sunday at 5:00pm.

Module 15: Giving Presentations, Part II
Dec 6 - 10

Everyone participates! This week's discussions include workshopping your classmates' Presentations, live and online.

In-class presenters: .

If we're workshopping your Presentation this week, post it (or a link to it) by Monday noon if possible or noon Wednesday at the latest.
This week's presenters, turn in your revised Presentation (or a link to it) to Blackboard by Sunday at 5:00pm.

Final Project Module (no in-class meeting)
Dec 13 - 18

Open-forum discussion this week (and the week before) about the final project.

Peer-review of your partner's work to Blackboard by 5:00pm on Sunday, Dec 13, and send the author a copy of your revisions and suggestions.
Final project due to Blackboard by 5:00pm on Wednesday, Dec 16.
Finish all remaining projects you haven't yet turned in! Late projects due by noon on Friday, Dec 18.
Congratulations on completing a challenging course!

Weekly Modules Quick Index

Here's a quick index to the weekly modules:

Module 1: Introduction to Technical Communication (and course-orientation video).
Module 2: Good Technical Documentation and Peer Reviewing.
Module 3: Writing Clearly for the Correct Audience.
Module 4: Research, the Scientific Method, and Writing.
Module 5: Technical Papers and the Tools and Processes to Write Them.
Module 6: Proposals and Specifications and Audience Research, Oh My!
Module 7: Editing and Visual Communications.
Module 8: Scheduling, Business Reporting, and Websites.
Module 9: Building Websites.
Module 10: Adding Awesome to Your Website.
Module 11: Presentations.
Module 12: Manuals.
Module 13: Careers, or How to Make Clients and Employers Want to Hire You.
Module 14: Giving Presentations.
Module 15: Giving Presentations, Part II.
Final Project Module.

Click here to return to the 362 main index.
Click here to return to the syllabus Table of Contents.
Click here to see the Handouts page.
Click here to see the Web Links page.