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Technical Writing for Fun and Profit David E. Goldberg Department of General Engineering University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Presentation on theme: "Technical Writing for Fun and Profit David E. Goldberg Department of General Engineering University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign"— Presentation transcript:

1 Technical Writing for Fun and Profit David E. Goldberg Department of General Engineering University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

2 Motivation Is technical writing fun for you? Engineers prefer root canal to writing. Something in the engineering psyche. But you can learn to love writing. Embrace models of writing process and the written piece.

3 Overview Modeling the process of writing –Separating writing from revision –Elbow’s freewriting exercise –Cut and paste revision Modeling the written piece –3 critical needs of each piece & section –Titles, lists, and amplification –Summaries and conclusions

4 Prime Directive of Writing Why do you dislike to write? The endless circle of write and criticize. Prime directive is to just write. Can you learn to separate writing from revision? Must practice. How?

5 Freewriting In Elbow’s Writing with Power freewriting exercise a key. Freewriting = writing without crossing off on anything that comes to mind for fixed interval. Let’s do it for 3 minutes.

6 Directing Your Freewriting Can’t always write about current thoughts. Can direct freewriting process at piece. Write without crossing off on next assignment. Continue and keep going, changing subjects as necessary. Quickplan outline to plant seeds.

7 Cut-and-Paste Revision Write every other line. On one side of sheet. Use scissors and glue stick. Take “freewriting” as raw material Cut, paste, and interpolate between the lines. Write new paragraphs as necessary.

8 Good and the Bad of Computers Word processing is a delight. Also causes lots of junk writing. Product appears neat, content is garbage. Freewriting+Cut&Paste as model of ideal process. Do it really, then try to do likewise on computer.

9 Modeling the Written Piece Do you know where to start? What elements are necessary? Are memos different from reports different from letters? No! Technical writing requires few key devices Which you can master today!

10 Elements of the Effective Piece The fundamental structure of effective technical writing. Titles and subtitles. Lists and amplification. Summaries and conclusions and knowing the difference.

11 A Fundamental Structure of Writing Forget Rhet 105: No clever essays here. What should I write about? How to start? Every piece, every section need: –Background –Purpose (of the piece, section) –Roadmap (of the remainder) Army saying: Tell ‘em what you’re going to say, say it, and tell ‘em what you said.

12 Background Sometimes called motivation The fundamental discontinuity What is the context of what’s coming? Project background, motivation, times, dates, players. But remember, the clock is ticking.

13 Rhetorical Purpose “The purpose of this report (memo, section, letter, e-mail, whatever) is X.” “In this report we present X.” Say it. Not a mystery novel or 105 essay. Don’t confuse project purpose with rhetorical purpose. Rhetorical purpose is the purpose of the piece (section, whatever).

14 Roadmap Build a mental model or map for your reader. Tell them what is next. “In the remainder, we examine X, Y, and Z.” “The remainder of the report examines X, Y, and Z.” If you don’t tell them where you are going, how will they know when they get there?

15 Fundamental Structure is Iterated Same structure used at the beginning of the report. At the beginning of the section. At the beginning of subsections. Less context needed when you are in the middle, but still needed.

16 Titles and Headings Titles and section headings are important signposts. Aid skimming. 2 conflicting objectives: Informative and interest-generating. Examples: “An Introduction to Genetic Algorithms” vs. “Don’t Worry, Be Messy” Letters and memos can benefit from them. Professors agree to meet. At the meeting, 4 faculty members agreed to get together for the first time in 20 years.

17 Lists and Amplification Lists can be bulleted, numbered, either broken out or in line. Use lists a great deal. “In this section we cover the following 4 items:” “In the remainder, we examine each item in more detail.” Then amplify each item in sequence.

18 Summaries v. Conclusions Tell ‘em what you said=Summary Summaries are necessary, especially in longer memos, letters, and reports. What are conclusions? Conclusions = changes desired in audience thought or action as a result of having read this piece. Recommendations are action-oriented conclusions.

19 Summary Process of writing and elements of a piece. Key: Separate creation from criticism. Freewriting & cut-and-paste revision as formal procedures. 3-way structure = background + purpose + roadmap Titles, headings, lists, summaries, and conclusions.

20 Conclusions Engineers like models Writing more fun w/ models of good writing. Apply writing models like Newton’s laws. The chore of writing  the joy of writing. To the benefit of your engineering career.

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