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Dr. Mark Jordan ~ ENGL 2311: Technical Writing


You will find a Calendar of Assignments in table form after the following two introductory sections. If this is your first visit to this link, please read the following sections on rhetorical principles and on grading criteria. The first section discusses several crucial writing principles you need to be aware of in order to do your best work on the specific course assignments; the second section discusses the particular criteria I will use to grade those assignments.

After your first visit, you may click on the above underlined link to go immediately to the Calendar of Assignments.

Classical Greek Rhetoric &Technical Writing

Though it may seem like an unlikely claim, in truth technical writing, website design, and any other type of communication you can think of all conform, at least fundamentally, to various elements of classical rhetoric. These are concepts which date back millennia to the ancient Greek culture and which are virtually universal in their application to communication, whether it is accomplished by the fairly traditional use of sentences and paragraphs, or by the use of non-alphabetic signs such as graphic images. It may have just occurred to you that a typical Web site is made of a combination of both alphabetic and graphic elements. Ironically, your understanding of how these elements work together effectively is helped tremendously by a deeper understanding of these ancient principles of classical rhetoric. The following can serve as a brief introduction to these.

Three Aims (Purposes) of Writing

One rhetorical principle has to do with the three basic aims of any document (including a website):

  • To inform your audience (sharing data, explaining processes)
  • To express your thoughts, opinions, and emotions (a diary is the purest form)
  • To persuade others to share your opinions (to some degree and in some way, everything anyone writes is persuasive)

Of these aims, the one least used in this class is the expressive. The one most used is the informative, which is the fundamental purpose of most technical writing. However, I strongly believe that any document, to some extent, also tries to persuade its audience--even if you are trying to persuade that your version of the information you present is accurate, and you yourself are knowledgeable about it, that is still a form of persuasion.

The Classical Modes of Writing or Thinking

The formal documents you create will also be written according to another rhetorical principle, using one or more of what are called modes, actually various mental approaches or patterns of thinking about any topic. The modes may also be thought of as different approaches to problem solving. Here are some of the more common modes:

  • Narrative (telling a story to make a point)
  • Cause/Effect (analyzing the causes and/or effects of something)
  • Comparison/Contrast (examining the similarities and/or differences of two things, often to judge which is better)
  • Classification (breaking something--even people or the things people do--into different parts, usually in order to understand more about the topic)
  • Definition (often used to examine a frequently misunderstood term or concept, or to present a new, different, perhaps personal meaning for it)
  • And others.

Whereas in writing essays for a freshman composition class you may have built an essay more or less directly around a particular mode, you will not do that so directly in this class. However, all the documents you write will still use these modes, often in combination. And in some cases, for example in an analytical report on the causes of some problem on the job, the primary mode is obvious. If you wish to study these modes in detail, you can refer to my 1301 web page, Three-Part Writing Format. Near the beginning of that link is a navigation bar with links to descriptions of various modes.

Two Ways to Consider Audience in Technical Writing

One way to classify any audience comes from classical rhetoric. Classical rhetoric teaches that any audience or group of readers may be classified according to their likely attitude toward your writing. Thus, you should consider which of the following three audiences you are addressing:

  • An approving audience. This audience is already in basic agreement with what you have to say. It is often, though not always, true that if your document's purpose is predominantly to inform, then you can usually assume that your readers are approving in that sense--that is, ready to be informed. However, keep in mind that even such a reader may be skeptical that you know what you are talking about! Thus you must persuade such a reader that you are knowledgeable. This is done not with a fancy vocabularly, but rather with clear and easily understood explanation. Such a reader is also not altogether an approving audience, but to some extent a skeptical or neutral one. As for persuasive documents, they should never be written with an approving audience in mind; such writing is what may be called "cheerleading" and lends itself too easily to sarcasm directed at the opposing position, and also to sloppy logical support.
  • A hostile audience. This reader is at the opposite end of the scale from the approving reader. Usually you do not have to consider such an audience for mainly informative documents, but sometimes such an audience is unavoidable when writing persuasive documents--for example, when writing a report on the causes of a workplace problem, and knowing as you do so that your findings may well anger or embarrass someone in a position of authority. Such an audience is extremely difficult to write for, and considerable expertise is required; every word must be weighed. Even then, there is only a slim likelihood of success. Few students are experienced in writing for such an audience; for this course, you may disregard this type audience.
  • A neutral or skeptical audience. This is the proper audience for almost any document you write, at least within this course. This audience is particularly important to imagine while composing a persuasive document, because visualizing an interested but undecided reader will encourage you as writer to develop each logical point thoroughly. Even when writing mainly informative documents, you should keep in mind that your reader may justifiably be initially skeptical of your expertise regarding your topic. A more difficult subset of this audience which sometimes must be considered is the disinterested reader. (Teachers deal with these all the time, unfortunately! Don't let yourself be one!) While you as writer cannot untimately control the level of your reader's interest, nevertheless there are ways to encourage it: mainly, by offering the reader a document well organized in support of a single main point (its thesis); development which is appropriate for the reader's level of prior knowledge; and good clear structure on the sentence level, free of careless errors.

In technical writing there is also a second way to classify the type of reader you are writing for, and that is according to their level of prior knowledge about the topic. This knowledge on your part will affect both the terminology you may safely use without offering definitions, the amount and type of detailed data you supply, and even your sentence structure. Here are three types of readers in regards to prior knowledge:

  • The expert reader. This reader is highly informed, for example a medical doctor reading a nurse's or orderly's Emergency Room report. When writing for such a reader, you can freely use "inside" or "jargony" terms--specialized terms--which only the most knowledgeabe reader could be expected to know. You may also deliver data with a minimum of explanation to such a reader.
  • The moderately informed reader. This reader knows less than the expert reader, but more than a member of the general public. Some terms may be used without definition but others may not; the writer must give consideration to which is which Similarly, data can perhaps be supplied without a complete explanation, but the extent of the omission of explanation must be carefully considered. It is better to err on the side of too much explanation, rather than on the side of too little, especially in documents affecting people's safety. Many, but not all, of the documents you write in this course will be written with this audience in mind.
  • The layman reader. This reader should be conceived as reading on approximately an 8th grade level--that is, similar to the level at which most newspaper articles are written. An example of such a reader might be a typical patient of a medical doctor, reading a report of a biopsy on tissue suspected of being cancerous. Any specialized terms must be clearly defined. Any data must be fully yet simply explained; a document for such a reader should never include "raw" (completely unexplained) data. Also, some data should perhaps be omitted or only given in appendix form, because it will be largely meaningless and confusing to such a reader.
The Three Ways to Appeal to a Reader

In your writing for this course (both formal documents and email), either consciously or unconsciously you will also draw on another ancient rhetorical principle, that of the three appeals:

  • The logical appeal (logos) is the appeal you use any time you use logic to argue a point. In general, logical argumentation follows a certain pattern, sometimes called the "if/then/because" pattern. You begin with some point which you figure your audience will mostly agree to. Next you try to build on that accepted starting point by pointing out some logical conclusion that may be drawn from it: "If you accept point A, then it follows logically that you also should accept point B, because B follows from A." For example, you might argue that if you agree that redheads sunburn easily, then it makes sense for redheads to be extra careful to use sunscreen. Usually, you will need to explain at some length why B follows from A; in my example, because without sunscreen redheads will burn badly. In this case, that reasoning is so obvious that it could be omitted, but mostly that is not the case. Besides logical argumentation, logos is also used when you argue using data such as facts or statistics, a writing context which frequently arises in technical writing.
  • The emotional appeal (pathos) is when you appeal to the audience's feelings rather than to their intellect. This is often misused so as to conceal logical weaknesses in an argument; in fact, this practice is so commonplace that you may not be aware that there any other way to argue a point. However, an excellent and ethical use of pathos is when you as a writer may tell a detailed story of an incident, something which actually happened to some individual. The more detailed the better, because that is the quality which generates the emotional power that draws your reader into your story, and so lets your story illustrate your argument. Both the logical and emotional appeals work best when used with each other. In technical writing, the logical appeal is appropriate far more often than the emotional appeal. However, even in some technical documents, there is often occasion for the presentation of actual events, as proof that a certain situation exists; certainly such real-life events bring considerable emotional power with them.
  • The ethical appeal (ethos) is when you cite some other source or better-known authority for support in making your point stick (not to be confused with the usual meaning of the word "ethics"). Any quotation is an example of this appeal. You may well find yourself using the ethical appeal, even quoting from other students' email or citing opinions found in websites. Especially in that latter case, it is wise to remember that absolutely anyone can post a website, so be careful not to automatically assume that whatever you might find on the Web is reliable. In this course, you may find that you are called upon to exercise the appeal of ethos both by presenting information you have gathered from published sources, but also information you have gathered by doing what is called "primary research": making phone calls, doing interviews, or circulating questionaires.
    Grading Criteria

The connection between the above rhetorical principles and your grade on any particular major assignment is that the more effectively you learn to use these and other rhetorical principles, the better your grade will be. Here, however, is a more specific list of characteristics I look for in a well-written document:

  • A precise, consistent focus: Don't switch to a similar but different topic unconsciously; don't change from one opinion or purpose to another unconsciously; make sure your supporting arguments really support the point you mean for them to.
  • A clear pattern of organization: All documents, including technical documents, should have effective introductions, main bodies, and conclusions. How to do these things, and what to include in them, is all covered in the Three-Part Format link. You should think of the information you find there as general guidelines which are modified but not ignored by specific technical documents of various purposes.
  • Adequate development: It is common for inexperienced writers to assume the audience either understands or agrees with them far more than the audience really does. Thus student writers, assuming understanding and agreement, stop short of adequately developing their points. While it is true that a common characteristic of technical documents is conciseness--giving no more information than is necessary--I find that many students have no clear sense of how much that is, and frequently think they are being concise when in fact they are leaving their readers confused due to inadequate explanation. In technical writing, then, effective development is closely linked to the writer's understanding of audience needs. Effective development is also closely linked to the purpose of the document, with persuasive documents frequently needed greater development than documents which merely need to inform. Thirdly, effective development is connected to the level of difficulty of the topic, a factor which applies in slightly different ways to both informative and persuasive writing. All these factors are complicated further by the frequent presence of both primary and secondary audiences, each with different needs. It is possible to either overdo or underdo development, but I tend to see underdevelopment more often than its opposite, even in technical writing.
  • Effective error control: This is the dreaded "grammar part." I see grammatical errors as being similar to static in a radio signal: a listener, or in this case a reader, will overlook a certain amount, but at some point the static becomes more noticeable than the signal itself, and communication breaks down. Can grammatical problems alone cause a student to fail in my class? It's rare, but it's possible. The way to control this aspect of your writing is to master effective proofing strategies. Several are explained in the my Proofing Strategies link in my 1301 course. I am happy to work with students personally on specific errors, whether via email or (when possible) in person.
  • Last but certainly not least, your assignments in this course will be graded on your effective use of various formatting features. Some of the major features you will study are the use of headings and subheadings; white space; graphics such as diagrams, charts, etc.; and bulleted and numbered lists. These are features which are universal to technical writing, no matter what specific document you may be producing.

Calendar of Assignments

All major and daily assignments will be posted here beginning the first week of class. You will be able to click on the Assignment # to go to the page giving detailed instructions for each assignment.

Assignment #



Due Date



Answer "Getting Started" Questions

To begin this course you will need to first read the FAQs on my "About Me" page; then secondly, read my "Welcome" page; then thirdly, send me an email with answers to the 16 questions on my "Getting Started" page.

Wednesday, Aug. 25th


No grade, but you cannot begin the course without this.


Read the section above this Calendar of Assignments

This material covers two important things: It reviews some fundamental rhetorical principles you should be familiar with from ENGL 1301, and it discusses the grading criteria for the documents to be written in this course.

Thursday, Aug. 26th

No grade, but this is information you will need.


Nicenet Registration

Register in Nicenet, using the Key Code I will send you after getting your list of answers to my 16 questions.

Then follow the directions there and post a brief paragraph telling the class a few things about yourself.

Friday, Aug. 27th

Counts as part of the daily assignment grades; see syllabus.


Read Summaries: Chapters One through Six

Go to this link for my Chapter Summaries and read the summaries for the first six chapters. Assignment Five, below, is an open-book quiz on these six chapters. The quiz, as you can see, is due by Tuesday.

Ideally, it is best to read the chapters themselves, and that will be necessary for chapters relating to major assignments, but reading only my summaries will be adequate for this preliminary material.

Monday, Aug. 30th

The reading itself is ungraded.


Quiz on Chapter Summaries 1 through 6

Click here to go to the quiz. Carefully read the instructions for submitting your answers. You have two options for submitting. Your quiz is due by Tuesday.

Tuesday, Aug. 31st

Counts as one daily grade.


Reading & Quiz on Chapter 15, Formatting Principles

You will need to read my chapter summary for chapter 15 and chapter 15 itself, from the text, in order to do this quiz on the formatting principles of professional documents.

Please note that these formatting principles are ones you will use on every major document you submit.

Friday, Sept. 3

Counts as three daily grades


Inquiry letter

Click here to read the details of this assignment, which is the first of various formal letters you will write this semester. Read Chapter 19 in the text, and/or my Chapter Summary for Chapter 19.

Wednesday, Sept. 8th

Counts as part of the Formal Correspondence grade (altogether, 15% of your course grade)


Posting of topic on Nicenet: first major document assignment

Click here to read about this document assignment, for which you will create either a process description or a product description. You will need to carefully read Chapter 22 or this assignment will make no sense. Once you understand the assignment, choose your topic and post it to the proper Nicenet conference. You will answer three questions there about your topic.

Monday, Sept. 13

Daily Grade


Rough Draft

Click here to go to the assignment link and read about the rough draft. Note that a cover letter is also due with the rough draft. The cover letter will receive a separate grade.

Wednesday, Sept. 22

Double Daily Grade for Rough Draft; letter grade is part of correspondence grade


Final Draft

Click here to go to the assignment link and read about the final draft.

Wednesday, Oct. 6

First Major Grade: 15% of Course Grade


Arguable Claim Letter

Click here to read directions for this letter. Note that this letter does not have anything to do with the instructions assignment below.

Monday, Oct. 11

Counts as part of your correspondence grade


Procedural Instruction Document: Topic Choice Memo

Click here to read about this procedural instruction document. You will need to read Chapter 23. Once you have chosen your topic, find the Instructions Conference on Nicenet and post your topic there.

Wednesday, Oct. 13

Daily grade


Procedural Instruction Document: Final Draft

Click here to read about the final draft of this document. You will not turn in a rough draft of this document, unless you yourself choose to, for feedback. After the topic selection memo, the next due date (this one) is for the final draft itself.

Wednesday, Oct. 27

Second Major Grade: 15% of Course Grade


Topic Selection Memo: Post to Nicenet

First go to the Analytical Report Assignment by clicking here. It is complex; print it out and save it! Once you have chosen your specific topic, post it to Nicenet in the proper conference.

Topic Selection due by Wed., Nov. 3

Counts as one daily grade


Posting of Research to Nicenet

Read carefully about the research requirements for this assignment by clicking here on the Analytical Report Assignment. Note that research findings are to be shared. You may not use sources you do not post for other to use; you may not use the posted sources of others if you do not post the minimum number yourself.

Research Postings due by Monday, Nov. 15

Counts as three daily grades


Final Draft

The final draft requirements may also be read on the same link as above, the Analytical Report Assignment. Note that there are five supplementary documents due with your report!

Final Draft due by Monday, Nov. 29th

Third Major Grade: 20% of Course Grade


Final Exam--"At-Home"

Click here to read about the final exam for this course. It is a resume' and letter of application, using your actual qualifications, but written according to one of two options: one for students with little work experience, and the other for students with considerable work experience. Note that the due date to the right is not just "in the mail" but rather is "IN MY HANDS."


Final Exam: 20% of Course Grade

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