My guiding principle in this class is that all technical writing has three underlying definitions:
- Technical writing is used to communicate expert or technical information to diverse audiences.
- Technical writing is always composed within and for communities, organizations, or institutions. All technical writing conforms to these first 2 definitions. However, this form of technical writing may be either good tech writing or poor tech writing.
- GOOD tech writing should help solve problems and makes things work better.
Think about it: Have you ever opened an Ikea box, taken one look at the instructions and then decided to ‘wing it’? Have you ever tried to do your taxes, only to end up asking your mom for help? Do you ever feel confused by debates regarding economics, healthcare reform, global climate change, California water crisis, or any host of other complex topics? Where do you go for accessible, credible information? These are examples of technical writing that we come across in our day-to-day lives. When technical writing is not done well, we can get confused, frustrated, and even misguided. When technical writing is done well, we are able to make decisions, complete tasks, and take actions to improve our communities.
As we move through the course, we will come to better understand the important and complicated work of technical writers. And we are going to learn about how technical writers work to help people and make things work better. Technical writers may not have that exact job title. Rather, anyone who composes expert or technical information for diverse audiences works as a technical writer. Some of you are engineering students and some of you are humanities majors. All of you are perfectly equipped to do well in this course. And this class is designed to help you prepare for a wide range of careers: anything in which you will need to share specialized or expert knowledge, which is almost any job.
The second point of my definition will be very important in this class. As technical writers, you will be asked to compose texts that meet the needs of diverse communities and that solve real-world problems. If I am going to prepare you to become technical writers, I also need to prepare you to write with real communities and for real-world problems. That’s exactly what we are going to do. All quarter, you will be working with a Santa Barbara and/or UCSB communities to identify specific problems or needs and compose texts that help to solve those problems. It’ll be tough because you’ll have to coordinate with professionals and community members. And in the process you’ll learn essential skills for technical writers in professional environments. Maybe you’ll even help some people out along the way.
Approach to class:
You should note that, while the learning goals are the same, my approach to this class differs from traditional Technical Writing classes. I take this different approach because I am not just a technical writer, I am a scholar of technical writing. I understand tech writing as both a tool for communicators as well as a subject of inquiry.
As a skill, we will practice, revise, refine, and polish your technical writing.
As a subject of study, we will analyze, theorize, reflect, and strategize best practices for technical writing.
I have this dual approach to technical writing because I want you to be prepared to succeed as writers in 5, 10, 20 years. If I were to give you a set of criteria or best practices for technical writing, you could learn to follow those guidelines, practice and refine them, and then leave this class with an A. That would be good, in some ways. But what are you going to do when the best practices or skills you learn in this class no longer are useful? Writing changes as technology changes, and right now nothing seems to be changing faster than communication technologies. Also, the skills for good writing change when we move across different contexts: labs, to classrooms, to offices, to communities, or positions of leadership, and into any unpredictable situation that you may find yourself in very soon. I want to prepare you for a long successful life as a writer. And as a much admired writing teacher, Peter Elbow, wrote: “College is short and life is long. I teach for life.”
- Compose expert or specialized information for diverse audiences.
- Analyze complex systems–which include audiences, contexts, problems and institutional requirements.
- Create strategies to meet the specific needs of complex organizations or groups of organizations.
- Adapt writing to conform to multiple genres and modes of distribution.
- Develop refined research and analysis skills to help you prepare for careers as technical writers.