RE: teaching technical writing to engineers

Subject: RE: teaching technical writing to engineers
From: "Jones, Donna" <DJones -at- zebra -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 24 Mar 2004 15:31:17 -0600

Eric Dunn wrote:

> Assign a grammar book as course material and you're guaranteed to lose the

> interest of every student before they even attend the first class.
> The course should be about writing about technical subjects. Under no
> circumstances should it be dealing with grammar as part of the curriculum.

> Grammar should certainly be CORRECTED, but it should not be taught.

I have to disagree with you, Eric. A week or two of being taught how to
write decent sentences would help most students, not just engineers. Grammar
need not be the focus of the whole course or even of a large portion of the
course, but just correcting students' grammar isn't going to make it stick
in their heads the same way as telling them *why* they should or shouldn't
write things a certain way.

I went through years of technical communication classes in obtaining my
degree, and the one that best helped me learn to write was the grammar
class. That class showed me the importance of looking at what a sentence
actually says compared to what I wanted it to say. The class was run by a
strict, no-nonsense teacher and was ten weeks of pure torture, but the
lessons are still in my head more than 15 years later. And the class was
definitely interesting because the teacher made it so. She challenged us
every day to make sense of what we read or what we wrote. The class had the
reputation for being difficult, but it also had the reputation for being fun
and educational.

I think a basic tech writing course should include:
- How to create an outline/overview of what you need to document (what
processes/procedures do you need to perform and what background knowledge do
you need, and how do these fit together?)
- How to write things such as simple procedures, simple overviews, and
introductory sentences
- How to deal with having your work critiqued
- A crash course in basic grammar
- A crash course in basic style (don't put two headings back-to-back without
text between, how to introduce a list, how to write in the active voice,

And to repeat what I posted a week or two ago in answer to what a technical
communicator needs to know (and that can apply to many other careers as
well), I'll point you to Gurudutt Kamath's web site, where he graciously
included my comments:

My opinions, as always, are offered free of charge to anyone who will
listen. :-)

Donna Jones
Technical Writer II
Zebra Technologies Corp.
Vernon Hills, IL

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