English 487 -- Technical Report Writing

Spring Semester, 2003                                                                                                           Dr. Michael McCord
Office: Weld 207                                                                                                                   Phone: 299-5860
Office Hours: 8:00-10:30 & 1:15-1:45 MWF                                                                       E-mail:
                       5:30-6:30 M                                                                                                   Course website:  http://web.mnstate.edu/mccordm              
Course Texts:

1) John Lannon. Technical Communication, 9th Edition. 

2) Additional reading will be assigned from handouts and selected websites.

3) Recommended: Any college-level writing handbook. Some examples: Scott, Foresman Handbook, St. Martin’s Handbook, Harbrace College Handbook.

In addition to the materials listed above, please budget $5 to $10 for resume prep and photocopies.

Course Goals and Objectives:

1)  To study and practice technical communication writing situations that call for print and online documents such as reports, proposals, business letters, and memos, and to improve your processes for project planning and development associated with preparing these documents.

2)  To write and edit technical documents, focusing on the features of effective written communication (content, organization, format, style, visuals, and surface structure).

3)  To learn audience analysis skills and to develop a "sense of audience."

4)  To study and practice communication skills that are essential in both traditional print and online mediums in the workplace and to improve your teamwork and collaborative skills.

Ethics and Plagiarism:

You are expected to do your own original work in this course. Whenever you borrow graphics, quote passages, paraphrase or use the ideas of works of others, you are legally and ethically obliged to acknowledge that use, following appropriate conventions for documenting sources. Make no mistake: to borrow someone else's writing without acknowledging that use is an act of academic as well as professional dishonesty, whether you borrow an entire report or a single sentence. An act of plagiarism will result in a grade of “F” for the course. If you have any questions about this policy, or about what plagiarism is, please talk to me.

In addition to following the basic principles of fair use of others' work and honesty and forthrightness in crediting the contributions of others to your work, you are expected to adhere to this basic professional and ethical principle: treat others with the respect that you would wish them to grant you. "Others" includes the people you work for and with (classmates, instructors, corporations, clients), the people you write to (audiences), and the people you write about.

English 487 Grading:

The assignments below will receive the following points as a maximum:

·Definition/Description 50
·Instructions 60*
·Memo/Informal Report 40*
·Employment Documents 60
·Website Project (and associated documents)
·Chapter summary (written and oral) 50
·Oral Report 40
·Final Exam 50

*These assignments will be completed in collaborative groups.

Final Grade Breakdown:

455-500….A               255-305….C
430-454….A-             230-254….C-
406-429….B+             206-229….D+
355-405….B               155-205….D
330-354….B-              129-154….D-
306-329….C+             128 and below….F

You will receive grades based on both your individual work and the work you accomplish in groups. When I say "work" here, I use that term both in reference to the process you use as you work on assignments as well as the final product that you create -- either individually or in groups. Remember, while you will be working in teams for some assignments during the semester, you will often be required to do individual work as your contribution to your team's goal. Of course, individual responsibilities will have to be discussed and negotiated with other members of your team.


At or near the end of most assignments in which you work collaboratively, I will ask you to fill out a short evaluation report that asks you to give yourself a grade -- and a rationale for the grade you assign to yourself -- for your contribution to the group effort. The report form will also ask you to grade other members of your group, and to provide a rationale for those grades. Of course, this means that your team members will be grading you as well. While I will easily be able to view the product submitted by your group, these evaluations will provide me with important information regarding the process used by individual team members and by the team as a whole.

Working in Collaborative Groups:

While working in groups may not have been acceptable in some of your earlier writing classes, it is not only acceptable in English 487, it is required on several of the assignments you will undertake during the semester. As noted above, each student will be graded based on the final product that is completed and turned in by the group, as well as on the work each student accomplished for that particular assignment and the process by which that work was accomplished.

There are many reasons that collaboration is encouraged in English 487; primary among them is the very real consideration that much workplace writing is done collaboratively. Writing novels or poetry may still be a relatively solitary activity (although not always), but workplace writing tasks frequently take place within small groups. This is probably reason enough to encourage collaboration in English 487, but there are other reasons as well. For example, writing in groups allows you to share the load when researching, composing, editing, and proofreading some of the longer documents you will create for this class. Working collaboratively also allows you to discuss and negotiate ideas within a small group of others who have similar goals and motivations.


Beyond asking you to work in collaborative groups, it would defeat the purpose for me to establish a huge number of additional requirements for group work. However, I want to present you with some suggestions that you may want to follow when you form your groups. Except for the expulsion clause*, the items on the bulleted list are merely guidelines -- you can use them or ignore them as you please.


·  In your first meeting you will likely decide what form your response to the assignment will take. This is similar to choosing a topic in a freshman writing course. Discuss hypothetical problems or issues to consider as you narrow your ideas for a response.


·  You may also want to set an initial deadline for each group member to complete his or her work so that the group can determine the material that will be most effective as you compile a draft of your response. It is generally a good idea for all group members to be familiar with all of the material submitted by other members and to keep copies of work in progress.


·  Try to determine each person’s individual responsibilities for the assignment. At the very least you should have a chair -- either elected, volunteered, or appointed. The chair is the person who will officially expel* any member of the group who is not completing his or her share of the work and is not meeting group deadlines. Any group member may call for another’s expulsion and present a case to the group for discussion.


*  Expulsion Clause:  Any member of the group can and should request that the group vote upon the expulsion of a member of the group who is not meeting deadlines and doing his or her share of the work. Any student may be expelled by a majority vote (not counting the student in question) of the group up until the end of the class prior to the assignment due date. Any person who is expelled from the group will be required to complete the assignment on a different topic from that chosen by the group. The makeup assignment will be due at the beginning of class on the first class day after the original assignment due date. The chair of each group is the person responsible for presenting me with written notification (e-mail is fine) of an individual’s expulsion, immediately after the group votes. The chairperson will also be responsible for notifying the expelled member, either in person or via e-mail, detailing the reasons for the expulsion.

Other Requirements

1)  Please come to class on time and with all assigned readings completed.


2)  All assignments must be completed to successfully pass this course. There are no exceptions. You must complete an assignment even if it is so late that it would receive a failing grade (see #3 below).


3)  Any assignment that is turned in late will be reduced 25% for each class meeting that it is late.


4)  All paper assignments, with the exception of in-class writings, must be computer-printed in laser-quality print of at least 300 dpi. If the document would not be of sufficient quality to submit in a professional context, do not submit it for this course. Most modern inkjet printers are capable of 300 dpi.


5)  You are responsible for all assignments, so if you miss class contact one of your classmates to find out what we did and if there are any additional assignments.


6)  Do not slide papers or other materials under my office door. I only take responsibility for materials that are given to me in person.


7)  Put any important communications to me in an e-mail message or in a memo. Keep a copy for yourself.


8)  Individual conferences will be encouraged during my office hours. You may also contact me by e-mail to discuss concerns. I usually check my e-mail twice each day -- once early in the morning, and again in the evening. I will always attempt to respond to your e-mail as rapidly as I can.


9)  You will notice that I have tried to devote some class sessions to in-class work on various assignments. This means just what it says: in-class work. Please organize your schedules accordingly. Please do not work on assignments for other classes during this time and please do not ask to be excused to go to the library or anywhere else. Come to class organized and prepared with all materials you will need to use this time effectively. 


10)  Because this class meets only one night a week and because so much of the work we do is in teams, attendance in this class is absolutely critical. Please schedule doctor appointments or special projects for other classes at times that do not conflict with this course. I am aware that anyone can become ill or have family emergencies, so you may miss one class session without penalty (two “lates” or “leave earlies” = 1 absence). If you have chronic attendance problems, your final course grade will be reduced substantially. For example, if you have 3 or more absences, your final grade will be reduced by at least 20%.


If you participate in the National Guard or Reserve (I did for many years after my period of active duty was over, and I know that some of you serve, as well), please bring a letter signed by your C.O. at least one week before you must miss class. The letter should clearly state the class dates that you will miss. We will work together to establish due dates that take into account your drill periods. In the case of an emergency mobilization, do your best to let me know as soon as possible so we can make plans (though I am well aware that you may have very little, if any, advance notice yourselves). You will find that I am completely amenable to working around issues/problems such as these, and, working together, we will do what we can for you to complete the course successfully.


If you have other problems that force you to miss classes, you need to speak to me before you miss classes.


11)  Finally, I will expect the documents you submit to be completely free of major grammatical and mechanical errors and substantially free of minor grammatical and mechanical errors. You should understand that grammatical and mechanical correctness are two of the major standards by which your documents will be judged in the workplace. Because this is true, the same standards will apply in this course.

ENG 487 -- INTRODUCTORY MEMO -- First Class Meeting.

Your first writing opportunity will be an introductory memo. First, please tell me a little about yourself personally, but also include why you're here (it's OK to say that ENGL 487 is a required course), what your career goals are, and how you think communication is or is not important in your prospective profession. In addition, tell me what expectations you have for this class, what you hope to gain from this class, and how you plan to use what you learn in this class in the future.

Second, I would like you to respond to the following questions:

-- What are your strengths as a writer?
-- What concerns you most about your writing?
-- What is your experience working in collaborative writing groups or peer review groups?
-- What is your experience using the Internet?
-- What is your experience with .html and web page design?


ENGL 487 Reading/Assignment Dates

The schedule that appears below is tentative; we may need to make adjustments during the semester. If we have a snow day or other things that come up, don't worry, we'll be flexible and find a way to get around any temporary problems. 

In addition to the reading requirements listed here, I will announce web-based reading assignments and distribute handouts in class. All reading assignments are due on the dates listed.

M, Jan 27:

Opening day of class. We’ll take a look at the syllabus and discuss requirements for the course. What is Technical Writing? Presentation -- Examples of Technical Writing.In-class memo.

M, Feb 3:

TC, 3-22. Preparing effective technical documents. TC, 25-36 & 199-211. Information delivery. Summarizing and abstracting info. TC, 639-657. Preparing and delivering oral presentations.

M, Feb 10:

TC, 40-65 & 219-241. Being persuasive in technical documents. Organizing for users. TC, 490-534. Technical Definitions. Technical Descriptions. TC, 70-92 & 244-287. Ethics for technical writers. Revising for readability. In-class work on the Definition/Description assignment.

M, Feb 17:

Your Definition/Description assignment is due at the beginning of class today. See assignment sheet for deliverables. TC, 291-364. Designing visuals. Designing pages. Designing documents. TC, 97-114. Working in collaborative groups. TC, 540-565. Writing technical instructions (also known as procedures). TC, 379-391. Usability testing. In-class work on Instructions Assignment.

M, Feb 24:

In-class work on the Instructions Assignment. Your instructions are due at the end of class today. See assignment sheet for deliverables.

M, Mar 3:

TC, 120-127 & 130-148. Thinking critically about the research process. TC, 152-165 & 663-697. Exploring primary sources. Documenting sources. TC, 167-195 & assigned handouts/web pages. Evaluating and interpreting information. TC, 397-415. Memorandums, reports, e-mail. In-class work on the memorandum report, if time permits.

M, Mar 10:

TC, 419-463. Employment documents. Discussion of employment document assignment. In-class work on the memorandum report. Your memorandum report is due at the end of class today. See assignment sheet for deliverables. 

M, Mar 17:

Spring Break -- No Class

M, Mar 24:

In-class work on employment documents. 

M, Mar 31:

Your employment documents are due at the beginning of class. See assignment sheet for deliverables. TC, 571-601. Technical proposals. TC, 468-487. Discussion of web page production. Resources for web page production. 

M, Apr 7:

In-class work on the Website Project. 

M, Apr 14:

In-class work on the Website Project. 

M, Apr 21:

In-class work on the Website Project. 

M, Apr 28:

Your Website Assignment is due at the beginning of class today. TC, 605-636 & 367-377. Discussion of Analytical Reports and typical document supplements. Discussion of final exam. 

M, May 5:

Oral Reports. I will return your websites with my written comments today.

M, May 12:

Final Examination. (We’ll meet in our normal room at the normal time.)