Tech Writing 405

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Technical Writing
ENGL Online Course
School: Clemson University
Section: S2001-ENGL-3140-405
CRN: 14983
Semester: Spring 2020
Location: Online
Time: Asynchronous
Instructor: Michael Russo
Contact: MS Teams
Additional: n/a
#! 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.

ONLINE | ENGL Technical Writing, S2001-ENGL-3140-405, Clemson University, is a distributed asynchronous online course that focuses on clear, effective writing, tailored to specific audiences, as one might find in a business, journalistic, scientific, or other informative settings. In addition to practicing the ability to understand and use a focused, technical rhetoric, students will also be introduced to data visualization software, distant reading methodologies, and ethical communication practices.This course also focuses heavily on technical standards and software often used in professional, non-academic settings.

Learning Goals

The primary objective of this technical writing course is to provide students with skills to write formal compositions (such as technical essays, lab reports, grant proposals, business proposals, and research papers) through practice with several different formats (freewriting, presentations, blogs, field notes, letters) and through processes of revision (peer review, rewriting, reverse engineering) As a result of practicing writing in venues and formats with 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. By the end of ENGL 3140, Technical Communication, you should have a strong comprehension the following, essential concepts:

Critical Communications
  • 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 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 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 Technology

Office 365.jpg
Microsoft Teams - Desktop & Mobile

IMPORTANT NOTE: Canvas is used exclusively to input and track grades. All assignments, weekly sprints, discussions, and communications takes place in Microsoft Teams.

This technical writing course functions under a distributed, asynchronous model. This means that students can be located in different, noncentralized locations so that instruction and learning can occur independent of time and place. This said, we need a means of communication in order to develop a classroom-sense. We want to learn from each other and help each other. To do this, we will be using Office 365 and Microsoft Teams.

Office 365 (Using Your Clemson Login)

Most assignments should be turned in using Office 365 products (OneDrive, Word, PowerPoint, Sway, etcetera) unless otherwise specified. This means you will be using OneDrive rather than Dropbox, and Word Online rather than Google Docs. Exceptions to this rule may include assignments that simply cannot be completed using Office 365 products -- such as those that require sketching in Autocad or document design in Adobe InDesign. If you would like to use software outside the Office 365 suite, shoot me a message and justification, and we'll work together to make it happen.

NOTE: You are highly encouraged to use the online versions of tools whenever possible (rather than the desktop versions). For instance, you are encouraged to create your documents in Word Online rather than Desktop Word -- because Word Online more easily integrates with Teams and shares many of the same collaborative functions of, say, Google Docs. The online version of all your Office 365 products are available through your Clemson Office 365 Portal.

Microsoft Teams

Microsoft Teams can be accessed via your web browser, and it can be downloaded to your computer. In addition to using Teams on your laptop, you are required to download the Teams app to your mobile device (it is available on both iOS and Android). Microsoft Teams will be our primary means of communication. The app includes group chat, private messaging, audio and video calling. Because there is no specific attendance policy, you should plan to be on Microsoft Teams as often as possible, checking and responding to your classmates multiple times a day, including weekends.

As your instructor, it's important to me that we maintain open lines of communication. I have Teams on my phone too, and I usually answer messages within the hour (so long as those messages don't come at inopportune times). I silence my Teams app at night when I am sleeping, so feel free to chat or call me any time of the day. I'll receive your message or voicemail first thing in the morning.

Default Teams Channels

Microsoft Teams compartmentalizes conversations around channels/topics. Each Sunday Night, a new channel will appear that you are expected to participate in. Apart from these weekly conversations, there are five DEFAULT channels.

  • General: This channel serves as an aggregate for class announcements, assignments, and whatever else is time-sensitive or important. Only admins or instructors can create conversations in this channel.
  • Accolades: I created this channel to feature some of the best student posts from week to week. I will use this channel to post content that I think deserves a bit of love -- featured content. Don't start your own threads in here (though please feel free to leave comments).
  • Chitchat: This channel is specially for community and team-building. Chitchat is for non-class-related flimflam, dither, hodge-podge, or jibber-jabber that doesn’t belong in focused, work-related channels. Feel free to introduce yourself here. Post memes. Bug your fellow students to donate to your kickstarter. This is the fun-stuff channel. Almost anything goes (so long as you keep it civil).
  • Self-learning: Is there something related to tech writing that we haven't yet covered? Do you want to link to an interesting article you found on tech writing? Have something to say that's outside the scope of the weekly sprint? Create your own conversations about Tech Writing in this channel. This is a self-learning space where students work together to learn at your own time and pace. (I will not create new threads in here, though I may leave a comment or two).
  • Strugglebus: This channel is a place to ask questions, get tech support, check due dates, and offer advice. The questions posted here are public. We'll work together to help each other out. If you need one-on-one support, feel free to send me a private message.

Important: Our online chat space is built on open communication and trust. When reading your posts on Teams, I am not judging you -- I am not grading your grammar, nor am I scoffing at your typos. I am much more interested in building an online community than I am in policing your language. Feel free to communicate in ways that are most comfortable to you. I have enabled emojis, stickers, and memes as well. (Note: I will, however, be closely looking at language on more formal assignments.)

Privacy Concerns: While I have the ability to run reports on how often you post, I do not have the ability to read or track your private messages. That said, I'm sure that Clemson IT can probably do so if given a reason. Please keep your communications with each other civil.

Texts and Supplies

The Essentials of Technical Communication, by Tebeaux & Draga
A Strategic Guide to Effective Technical Communication, by Graves & Graves
STYLE: Lessons in Clarity & Grace, by Williams & Bizup
Network Sense, by Derik N. Mueller

You do not need to buy any textbooks for this class. Excerpts from essential readings will be provided by the instructor and posted in the FILES sections of our online meeting space. This list of resources will update as the class progresses. Students are expected to check the syllabus regularly.

Excerpted Books
  • 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.
  • Data Visualization Tools such as Rawgraphs or Voyant | We will be reviewing these in class.
  • Template Tools and Services such as Envato or Canva.
  • Purdue Online Writing Lab. Link.
  • The Writing Center at UNC-Chapel Hill. Link.


Throwing yourself wholeheartedly into Teams is the most important thing you can do to earn a passing grade in this class. 80% of your grade is based on weekly participation: how often you post, the quality of your contributions, and your willingness to respond to others. If you do nothing else but become a Teams-player and actively participate in ongoing threads, you are guaranteed a passing grade.

Weekly Participation | Sprints & Stories

80% of Final Grade: Each Sunday, a new channel will be posted to Teams. The topics in this channel will cover weekly readings, scholarly conversations, research, formal homework assignments, and everything else you would expect from a college-level English class. You will have the entire week to converse and work around the topic at hand. If you are asked to turn in an assignment, you have until the next topic is posted to do so. I always post topics on Sunday -- so if you want to be safe, get your weekly discussions in by Saturday night.

You will be graded pass/fail on the quantity and quality of your pubic contributions (and how your contributions compare to the rest of the class). I do not have the ability to track your private notes or posts. (Note that old sprints will remain active throughout the semester. Simply because a new topic has started does not mean that old topic must disappear. You are expected to return to old threads and conversations as your knowledge grows.)

Note: About 1/3 of the way through the semester, the "Weekly Sprints" will change to "Weekly Stories" (this will happen after we collectively choose our class theme and decide on our final group project). Unlike the weekly sprints, the weekly stories allow for more freedom to choose the type of tech writing that you personally wish to engage in. It will be up to you to create tech writing which drives the narrative of these stories.

Final Project | Presentation

20% of Final Grade: Our class will be developing a large-scale group project based around a theme and narrative that you choose. The project is sort of like a role-playing game that spans several weeks. When engaged in the project, you will create various kinds of technical writing: budgets, business proposals, grants, lab reports, etcetera. All of these documents should help to drive the narrative forward. In the past, students have created: a robot pizzeria, a national park filled with exotic animals, a space pirate ship, a school for superheroes. Within these narratives, students have developed building plans, patents, instruction manuals, research reports, presentations, posters, press releases, and more.

Note: This project will be ongoing throughout the semester, and you will be introduced to tools that will help you keep track of your contributions. You will be presenting your contributions to the project alongside teammates that you have worked most closely with. Unlike your weekly posts, you will be graded one the quantity and quality of the sum of your posts from the start of the project until its completion at the end of the semester.

More information about this project will be discussed in the GENERAL channel as the semester progresses.

Schedule of Important Dates

Our online class has no specific meeting times; however, new discussion channels with included readings will be posted on teams EVERY SUNDAY throughout the semester. You have until when the next Sprint is posted to participate in weekly discussions/assignments/presentations (so to be safe, I recommend having your work in by Saturday night). This said, posting once a week is not enough -- You are expected to participate throughout the week, checking in to our online meeting space regularly. Assignments will be iterative, and each will will build upon past conversations. Whatever materials are needed to complete each assignment will be posted in the FILES tab of the respective channel.

Important Dates Info
Jan 08 - Jan 12 Although classes officially begin on Jan 08, we will be using the first five days of class to familiarize ourselves with Office 365 and the Teams platform. Use these five days to learn the software, ask questions about the syllabus, chat with your classmates, get to know one another. I will also be reaching out personally to each of you during this time.
Jan 12 The first Weekly Sprint channel will go live. New sprint channels will be posted every Sunday hereafter. You have one week to offer meaningful contributions to the active discussion. When the new discussion posts, the old one will not be archived. Feel free to re-visit old threads as you progress in your learning.
Jan 14 Last day to register or add a class or declare Audit.
Jan 20 Martin Luther King - Holiday
Jan 22 Last day to drop a class or withdraw from the University without a W grade.
Jan 29 Last day to apply for May Commencement
Feb 19 Academic Continuity Exercise (Physical instructional sites will not close, but all face-to-face instruction will be moved to online modality.)
Feb 28 Last day for instructors to issue midterm evaluations
March 13 Last day to drop a class or withdraw from the University without final grades
March 16-March 20 Spring Break (Sprint will still be posted, so prepare ahead).
April 26 (Midnight) Final Project is due (no late projects accepted)

Policies & Grading

Contract Grading

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

  • CONTRACT GRADING: You start with a free B-grade (80%) in this class, and you are guaranteed a B-grade so long as you actively contribute to the class weekly on Microsoft Teams. Active contribution means keeping up with your classmates' participation in weekly sprints and discussions, the completion of readings and assignments, helping and responding to others. Each week will differ in the amount of work that you are expected to do, but you should be checking the Teams site regularly and offering some form of participation several times throughout the week.

Note that old threads and conversations will be kept active throughout the semester. You are expected to revisit these threads and ideas as the class progresses. Participation in old threads and conversations will count toward your weekly participation score.

  • PASS/FAIL: All weekly sprints will be graded pass/fail (100/zero). 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 can help you to earn an A-grade in the class.
  • LATE ASSIGNMENTS: Weekly discussions, homework assignments, and extra-credit assignments cannot be turned in late. While you are encouraged to re-vist old threads, doing so will only count toward your grade if you had originally participated during the weekly sprint. If you need special accommodations, please let me know.

Being an asynchronous class, we do not have a specific attendance policy. Your participation in class will be evaluated via weekly sprints, participation in online chats, and your presence on Teams. I do have the ability to see everything that you post (expect private messages). If you are falling behind, I will let you know.

Document Formatting

Most written assignments will be submitted via tools or plugins available in the Microsoft Office 365 / Teams Suite, or using your Clemson Adobe account. Because these softwares have their own affordances and constraints, I will make it clear which software is to be used for which assignment.

Electronic Devices

This course requires the use of computer technologies in and out of class. You may not copy, modify, distribute, sell, or lease any part of our classroom software or materials therein, nor may you reverse engineer or attempt to extract the source code of that software, unless laws prohibit these restrictions or you have our written permission to do so. In other words, don't try to hack the system.

Copyright Statement

The materials used in this course are intended for use only by students registered and enrolled in this course and only for instructional activities associated with the course. These materials are provided in compliance with the provisions of the Teach Act, and they may not be retained in any other medium or disseminated further. Refer to the “Use of Copyrighted Materials” and “Fair Use Guidelines” policy on the Clemson website for additional information.

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).

How to Get an A-Grade

If you have never been in a contract grading class before, you might be a little confused about how to earn A-grades. Simply put, A-grades will be given to those students who participate most often, who log into teams several times throughout the week, who offer meaningful/useful/detailed comments to their teammates. In short, A-grades will be given to those students who turn in exceptional work from week to week. Remember, the MINIMUM GRADE is an 80% so long as you do MINIMUM WORK. If your contributions are remarkable, then you will receive higher grades in intervals of 5% (85, 90, 95, 100, 105, 110, etcetera). As well, there will be many opportunities for extra credit throughout the semester. All students are encouraged to make use of these extra credit opportunities.

Everybody starts with an 80% in this class. On the one hand, this is a great thing, because you are guaranteed an 80% so long as you keep up and do the bare minimum. On the other hand, it can be frustrating, because doing the minimum will not earn you an A-grade. To earn the A-grade, you will need to work hard, engage with others, and do some of the extra credit assignments. If you have any questions at all about your grade, please do not hesitate to contact me.


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, 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.