ENGL 3140-019 - Advanced Technical Writing

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Technical Writing
ENGL Advanced Writing
School: Clemson University
Section: ENGL 3140-019
CRN: 15373
Semester: Spring 2019
Location: Daniel 301
Time: TTh 11:00am - 12:15pm
Instructor: Michael Russo
Contact: Slack Messaging or Canvas
Additional: Office hours and more on our Slack/Canvas Page
#! This is a course description page, designed for students and containing the course syllabus and expectations.
#! If you are a student, then check this page regularly for updates.
#! All changes are recorded and documented on the course history page.

ENGL Advanced Technical Writing, ENGL 3140-019, Clemson University, focuses on clear, effective writing, tailored to specific audiences, as you might find in a business, journalistic, or informative settings. In addition to practicing your ability to understand and use a focused rhetoric--cutting the fluff from your work and keeping your word counts low--you will learn to effectively use data visualization software, distant reading techniques, and ethical communication practices. You will be writing in a variety of technical genres, and you will also learn to work collaboratively in a business-oriented, AGILE work environment, presenting information in realized, readable prose.

WHY? -- People, institutions, companies, and governments all use rhetoric all of the time. You use rhetoric all the time too. It’s everywhere. It’s important to know how to use it intentionally for specific purposes and audiences. You may not be a technical writer yet, but you will be writing technical documents and working within a technical framework throughout the semester.

Learning Goals

The primary objective of an advanced writing course is to provide students with skills to write formal compositions (such as critical essays, lab reports, grant proposals, business proposals, and research papers) through practice with informal formats (such as freewriting, blogs, field notes, and letters) and through processes of revision (including peer review, rewriting, reverse engineering a paper, etc.) As a result of practicing writing in venues and formats having lower stakes, students should become more confident in their abilities to use writing as a tool to learn about a subject they wish to explore and analyze and in their abilities to use writing as a tool to demonstrate to teachers, to themselves, and eventually to clients,what they have learned and how they propose to apply their knowledge about that subject.

By the end of ENGL 3140, Technical Communication, you should have a strong comprehension the following, essential concepts.

Critical Communications Concepts
  • Explore the dynamics in the technical writing environment and its discourse communities
  • Understand the role of audience, purpose and context through communication models and related rhetorical frameworks
  • Recognize ethical challenges that relate to workplace communication and chart the professional and personal principles that help answer them
  • Foster cultural sensitivity to identify and negotiate the cultural variables that influence communication within and among organizations
  • Acquire research skills to collect, analyze, document and report data ethically and professionally
Effective Communications Strategies
  • Practice the iterative writing and production process, which includes careful planning and multiple revisions
  • Use rhetorical strategies as you read, and as you design, organize, and deliver professional and persuasive communication
  • Examine complex communicative challenges and develop effective solutions by (1) identifying the stakeholders, their conflicting interests, and the contextual constraints, (2) conducting audience and needs analysis using primary and secondary research techniques, (3) defining and clearly expressing the scope and purpose of professional documents
  • Explore how writing technologies facilitate communication goals
  • Plan, manage, and evaluate individual and team writing projects
Targeted Multimodal Presentations
  • Identify and adopt the industry’s and its discourse communities’ genre conventions and best writing practices. Genres may include reports, proposals, protocols, manuals, workplace messages, wikis, and more.
  • Recognize and develop professional format and design features in presentations, print and digital publications, texts and visuals
  • Practice the unique qualities of a professional writing style including conciseness, clarity, accuracy, readability, honesty
  • Develop evaluative skills such as editing, proofreading, and usability testing

Required Texts and Supplies

The Essentials of Technical Communication, by Tebeaux & Draga
A Strategic Guide to Effective Technical Communication, by Graves & Graves
Network Sense, by Derik N. Mueller
Slack Workflow
Adobe Creative Cloud

IMPORTANT NOTE: This list of resources will update as the class progresses. Students are expected to check the syllabus regularly.

You do not need to buy any books for this class.

All readings and excerpts provided by instructor or available through Clemson libraries.

  • Graves, Heather and Robert Graves. A Strategic Guide to Technical Communication. (1st Ed.). Print. ISBN: 1551118149
  • Mueller, Derik N. Network Sense: Methods for Visualizing a Discipline." Print. ISBN: 1607328623
  • Tebeaux, Elizabeth and Sam Dragga. The Essentials of Technical Communication (3rd Ed.). Print. ISBN: 0199379998
  • Williams, Joseph M. and Joseph Bizup. Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace (11th Ed.). Print. ISBN: 0321898680

Other Readings
  • Bizup, Joseph. "BEAM: A Rhetorical Vocabulary for Teaching Research-Based Writing." Rhetoric Review, vol. 27, no. 1, 2008, pp. 72-86.
  • Elster, Jon. "Hard and Soft Obscurantism in the Humanities and Social Sciences." Diogenes, vol. 58, no. 1-2, 2011, pp. 159-170.
  • Freedman, Morris. "The Seven Sins of Technical Writing." College Composition and Communication, vol. 9, no. 1, 1958, pp. 10-16.
  • Inga, Danielle. "Dark Arts: Designed Communications and a New Rhetoric of Authenticity." Design and Culture, vol. 4, no. 1, 2012, pp. 5-25.
  • Katz, Steven B. "The Ethic of Expediency: Classical Rhetoric, Technology, and the Holocaust." College English, vol. 54, no. 3, 1992, pp. 255-275.
  • Katz, Steven B. "Guest Editorial: A Response to Patrick Moore's "Questioning the Motives of Technical Communication and Rhetoric: Steven Katz's 'Ethic of Expediency'"." Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, vol. 36, no. 1, 2006, pp. 1.
  • Moore, Patrick. "Questioning the Motives of Technical Communication and Rhetoric: Steven Katz's "Ethic of Expediency"." Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, vol. 34, no. 1-2, 2004, pp. 5.
  • Selfe, Cynthia L., and Richard J. Selfe. "The Politics of the Interface: Power and its Exercise in Electronic Contact Zones." College Composition and Communication, vol. 45, no. 4, 1994, pp. 480-504.
  • Orwell, Politics and the English Language
Still Images
  • Various Images from r/CrappyDesign. Link.
  • Various Images from Information is Beautiful. Link.
Moving Pictures
  • The Beauty of Data Visualization. (2012) David McCandelss TED Link
Audio Files
  • "Introduction to Technical Writing." I'd Rather Be Writing Podcast. Link.
  • "Technical Writing." Virtual Speaking Podcast. Link.
  • Purdue Online Writing Lab. Link.
  • The Writing Center at UNC-Chapel Hill. Link.
  • Clemson Canvas System (used for homework and our online discussion group). Link.


All-In Participation

80% of Final Grade:
Our class operates in a blended (in-class/online) environment. You are expected to participate in both in-class activities and online weekly discussions. By "participate" is meant: you are expected not only to answer weekly discussion prompts, but also conduct your own research: share links, materials, and comment on threads posted by others. As I mentioned in class, our Slack team should be treated as your new Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Reddit (or whatever social media network you prefer) for the rest of the semester. In order to earn full participation credit for the week, you must go all-in: show initiative by participating not only in the mandatory channels, but also in channels created for your own learning. Your total number of posts will be calculated against the rest of the class, and your grade will be updated bi-weekly until the end of the semester.

Note: You are required to install Slack (or whatever other communications software) on your laptop and/or cell-phone. While the majority of our classes will be held face-to-face, there will be some classes that meet in our online environment. Stay in contact with your classmates. Offer help. Care.


10% of Final Grade: Throughout the semester, you will be given various readings, writings, and other homework assignments that you are expected to complete and share with the rest of the class. While all of your assignments are public by default, your grades will be shared privately through Canvas. There will be a larger technical writing assignment due midway through the semester. Although these midterm assignment ought to take more time and effort than your regular homework, it will be weighted the same as any other assignment. All grades and assignments weights are available on our Canvas page.

Group Multimodal Portfolio

10% of Final Grade (all parts must be submitted in order to receive full credit for this assignment):

This group assignment requires you to work with other students to develop a multimodal portfolio and presentation based on all of the work done throughout the semester -- including weekly discussions, online learning, and homework assignments. You are encouraged to begin collecting your own work as soon as possible, so that the final portfolio will be replete with the knowledge you have gained throughout the semester. You will present this knowledge using multimodal composition strategies discussed in class (visual, textual, aural, tactile). Each member of the group will take on their own responsibilities (again dictated by the group). Examples of the form your multimodal argument might take: photo-essay, documentary, website, remix, collage/montage, video-game, podcast, mp3 file(s), blog, or another approved multi-media combination.

  • GROUP PRESENTATION: Group projects will be presented during the final week of class (see schedule for due dates). The presentations must feature a complete or near-complete version of your group's final multimodal project presented in a professional manner and discussing the rhetorical strategies you've learned throughout the semester. Presentations should NO LONGER THAN 30-minutes long (20-minutes presenting, 10-minutes fielding and answering questions from the class).
  • FINAL GROUP MULTIMODAL Portfolio: Your multimodal projects will be evaluated on the overall quality of the argument, the design quality, as well as the creativity and effort needed to produce a final product comparable to a traditional essay. This does not mean your project needs to include 2000 words, but it should represent an equal amount of work (researching, designing, writing, etcetera) as would have gone into a traditional paper. The project also requires a Works Cited, video credits, etcetera, in the form expected by the genre in which you are presenting. Important: Your group project must be accompanied by a short written statement in which the group grades itself and its members based on effort, engagement, and participation.


Contract Grading

For more information on the pedagogic theory behind our grading system, see Peter Elbow: Unilateral Contract.

  • CONTRACT GRADING: You start with a B-grade (80%) in this class, and you are guaranteed a B-grade so long as you attend class regularly, participate in the weekly discussions, and take control of your own learning. So long as your continue to 'participate' and try throughout the semester, you are guaranteed a B-grade for the semester.
  • PASS/FAIL: All assignments will be graded pass/fail (0% or 100%). However, work that goes above and beyond what's been asked, or work is exceptionally polished will receive additional points in intervals of 5%. These additional points in conjunction with several extra-credit assignments will earn you an A-grade in the class.
  • LATE PAPERS: Because this class operates using an AGILE work philosophy, not all assignment will have hard due-dates. However, those assignment that do have hard due-dates cannot be turned in late. (Exception: the larger, midterm project can be turned in late, but with a 5% reduction of your grade for every day the assignment is overdue.)
  • MAKE-UP ASSIGNMENTS: Make-up assignments will be handled on a case by case basis.

  • Attendance to both offline and online class is necessary in order for you to receive full participation credit.
  • Students are allowed up to TWO absences without penalty. The instructor reserves the right to drop/fail any student who has missed more than the allowed absences.
  • Arriving late to class or leaving early is unprofessional and will be factored into the attendance policy. Each recorded lateness will count as one tardy. Three tardies equal one absence. Any student will be marked absent if you arrive more than 5 minutes after the start of class (usually, about the time it takes to complete the roll call).
  • The instructor will determine what to do in case of extended illness or personal crisis on a case-by-case basis. However, excessive absences are an adequate reason for being failed in first-year composition, even if the student has turned in all the required papers on time. If you expect to miss a lot of class time, then you might want to consider dropping the class.

Document Formatting
Submitting your assignment via Google Docs.

Most written assignments will be submitted in Google Docs, Microsoft Office, or Adobe Products. Because these softwares have their own affordances and constraints, I will make it clear which it to be used for which assignment.

Note: When using Google Docs, do not send your files directly to my email address. Instead, we will have a class folder on Google Drive (linked through Slack) where all assignments will be submitted. Assignments must be uploaded to the proper folder using the following formula:

for example:

  • Note: Improperly named files will not be accepted. We will discuss more about naming conventions in class.
  • IMPORTANT: When logging into Google Docs, use your @g.clemson.edu account (not your personal account).


I will not answer emails from students who miss class and desire to know what happened in their absence. Also, I do not need to know the reason you miss class unless you plan to be absent for an extended period of time.

Electronic Devices

This course requires the use of computer technologies in and out of class. Students are expected to bring their laptops to class with batteries fully charged. While some class time is provided for computer literacy instruction, the instructor will either provide additional help on an individual basis or recommend other support for advanced applications. You are encouraged to use laptop computers, tablets, and cell-phones in this class (except in cases when you are asked to put them away). But you are expected to use these devices --especially your cell-phone -- for in-class activities only, with respect to other students and to the instructor. Disruptive behavior will result in a marked absence.

Academic Dishonesty

The following is Clemson’s official statement on Academic Integrity: “As members of the Clemson University community, we have inherited Thomas Green Clemson’s vision of this institution as a 'high seminary of learning.’ Fundamental to this vision is a mutual commitment to truthfulness, honor, and responsibility, without which we cannot earn the trust and respect of others. Furthermore, we recognize that academic dishonesty detracts from the value of a Clemson degree. Therefore, we shall not tolerate lying, cheating, or stealing in any form.”

A simple definition of plagiarism -- one that we will expand upon this semester -- is when someone presents another person’s words, visuals, or ideas as his/her own. The most serious offense within this category occurs when a student copy-pastes text from the Internet or from a collective file. This type of academic dishonesty is a serious offense that will result in a failing grade for the course as well as the filing of a formal report to the university.


Clemson University is committed to a policy of equal opportunity for all persons and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender, pregnancy, national origin, age, disability, veteran’s status, genetic information or protected activity (e.g., opposition to prohibited discrimination or participation in any complaint process, etc.) in employment, educational programs and activities, admissions and financial aid. This includes a prohibition against sexual harassment and sexual violence as mandated by Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. This policy is located here.

  • Mr. Jerry Knighton is the Clemson University Title IX Coordinator and is also the Director of Access and Equity. His office is located at 111 Holtzendorrf Hall, 864.656.3181 (voice) or 864.565.0899 (TDD).

Flexible/Agile Scheduling

In the past, I have usually provided a tentative breakdown of meeting times and assignments, including all of the homework assignments, their due dates, and more. Because classes are dynamic and syllabuses are living documents, this strategy proved itself ineffective. Instead, assignments will usually be announced one to two weeks before they are due. All of our class assignments will be listed on both Canvas and Slack.

  • Note: Not all assignments will have hard due dates. Much of the work we do in this class is meant to mimic an actually technical writing environment, and we follow an AGILE workflow philosophy. We will be discussing the difference between WATERFALL and AGILE workflows in class, but you are also encouraged to do your own research. I cannot stress enough how important it is to take responsibility for your own learning in this class. In order for AGILE to work, students must work responsibly and collaboratively in an environment of trust.

Extra Credits

Because this class is pass/fail for most assignment, extra credit assignments may be essential to earning an A-grade. Students who do these assignments are more likely to receive the highest possible grade in the class. Extra credits will be announced and added to this portion of the syllabus as the course progresses.


The Writing Center

The Writing Center is a free tutoring service available to the entire student body, regardless of major or academic standing. It provides students opportunities to discuss questions or problems related to academic writing—from generating a topic and thesis to organizing a draft and integrating appropriate citations. The Writing Center’s goal is to help Clemson students become confident and effective writers. As an English 1030 student, you should feel free to utilize the Writing Center to receive additional help or feedback on any course assignments or projects. You can make an appointment with a tutor by visiting the Writing Center’s website, by calling them at 864-656-3280, or by simply stopping in.


Clemson University values the diversity of our student body as a strength and a critical component of our dynamic community. Students with disabilities or temporary injuries/conditions may require accommodations due to barriers in the structure of facilities, course design, technology used for curricular purposes, or other campus resources. Students who experience a barrier to full access to this class should let the professor know, and make an appointment to meet with a staff member in Student Accessibility Services as soon as possible. You can make an appointment by calling 864-656-6848, by emailing studentaccess@lists.clemson.edu, or by visiting Suite 239 in the Academic Success Center building. Appointments are strongly encouraged – drop-ins will be seen if at all possible, but there could be a significant wait due to scheduled appointments. Students who receive Academic Access Letters are strongly encouraged to request, obtain and present these to their professors as early in the semester as possible so that accommodations can be made in a timely manner. It is the student’s responsibility to follow this process each semester. You can access further information here.