syllabus #345tw

Course: ENG 345 Technical Writing
Semester: Winter 2011
Teacher/Guide: Dr. James Schirmer
Office: 320D French Hall
Hours: Tues/Thurs by appointment
Mailbox: 326 French Hall

Writing Center: 559 French Hall
Writing Center Phone: 810.766.6602 (call ahead to make an appointment)
Writing Center Website:

Course Description
ENG 345 focuses on technical communication, which is a form of communication wherein analysis of audience and purpose provides practical information toward education and/or facilitation. Therefore concerned with the production of clear and concise informative documents, including instruction manuals, user guides and a variety of technical reports, this course provides ample opportunity to learn about and practice the creation of such documents in the context of self-selected topics.

Prior or concurrent election of ENG 112 is the lone requisite for this course.

Course Objectives
Upon completion of the course, you will be able to:

  • Recognize technical communications as encompassing a diverse body of potential work
  • Identify several persuasive techniques available for use in technical communications
  • Analyze a technical communication for a variety of strengths and weaknesses
  • Construct several types of technical communication in at least one specialized area
  • Assess yourself and peers as technical communicators

Required Texts
Gentle, Anne. Conversation and Community.
McMurrey, David A. Technical Writing: Online Textbook.

All other reading materials will be available online or provided via email.

Course Contributions 
The grading contract outlines many parameters for the course, but not all. Below is more information about unique contributions to be made to the course by all students:

PRESENCE: I expect you to come to class on time, prepared, having completed the assigned reading and writing, and ready to contribute thoughts to class discussions, to listen with attentive respect to the thoughts of your peers, and to participate in all in-class group work.  I strongly urge you to attend every class, as most of the work done in class is necessary for successful completion of the course.

BLOGGERY: Contrary to assumptions about writing, authorship is more of a collective process than an individual endeavor. To better illustrate this, you are required to create and maintain a blog for the duration of the course. Particular requirements for blogging are as follows:

  • Blog posts, minimum of 2 per week, are due Monday/Thursday by 11:59pm. 
  • Blog comments, minimum of 3 per week, are due Wednesday/Friday by 4:59pm.

Further guidelines (including length requirements) are here

FACILITATION: Student groups are responsible for facilitating a 60-minute session once during the semester. Assigned reading should be part of the facilitation (and given to the instructor in time to allow for copies to be made (or PDFs to be loaded)). Facilitation readings should be relevant to and provide insight on some aspect of technical communication. The facilitation should begin with a group-led pecha kucha presentation, but what follows that is for each group to decide. In other words, the bulk of the facilitation can take whatever format is comfortable for the student group presenting (discussion questions, in-class activities, online activities or chats, etc.). The introduction and subsequent discussion of facilitation topics will be based on students' interests. Once decided, student groups will meet with the instructor at least one week prior to their facilitation to finalize readings and discuss approaches.

SEQUENCES: For particular course themes, there are some longer assignments. These provide opportunities for not only greater attention and focus but also practice and preparation for later projects. The sequences are as follows:

  • Technology Autobiography - due Week 2
    Reflecting on our relationships with technology helps us understand how we learn new technologies and, by extension, understand how our own coping and learning strategies are similar to and different from those around us. By putting such reflection into the form of an autobiography, telling stories of our lives with technology gives us a chance to know each other better in a unique way. 
  • The "Zero Gravity Toilet" Assignment - due Week 4 / Week 15 (revision)
    While not a regular occurrence, technical communications sometimes appear in other media, namely film and television. As in 2001: A Space Odyssey's "Zero Gravity Toilet Instructions" and Saturday Night Live's "Happy Fun Ball," technical communications in other media are often implemented for humor and/or realism. Such communications can be indicative of not only technical writing principles but also cultural values. Composing technical documentation of a fictional product or service provides an early, unique opportunity to exercise present knowledge. A required, semester-end revision of said documentation should further reveal how much has been learned.
  • Group Project - due Week 8
    Most technical communications have some element of collaboration. It is an opportunity to not only work closer with colleagues but also to use one of the specific online communicative technologies listed in Gentle's Conversation and Community. In working together toward the production of a technical document and doing so in some kind of online format, we should garner firsthand experience and knowledge of what Gentle observes.
  • Final Project - due Week 14
    Having reflected on how we use technology and put together some introductory examples of technical documentation knowledge, it is important to put those abilities to a larger, cumulative test. Intended as a demonstration of what should be acquired in ENG 345, this assignment asks for process-oriented engagement with a focused topic for technical communication.

Further details and guidelines are here

TWITTER: To create and sustain further conversation about technical communication, you are required to maintain active presence on Twitter. 5 tweets per week are also required, but there is freedom regarding content. I encourage you to post original thoughts, "retweet" classmates' updates, @ (reply to) classmates' updates and share relevant links. Posts unrelated to course content are okay, but will not count toward the post requirement. I am very active on Twitter, so I encourage all students to check my profile (and those I follow) for models of engagement.


On Technology Usage
An increasing amount of technical communication occurs online, so we will engage a range of computer tools and web-based applications. No prior skill is needed, only a willingness to engage and learn. If we need to take extra time to engage and learn, all you need to do is ask.

A majority of the tools we will be using in and outside of class are web-based, so you will not need any special software. I might, however, have some recommendations (not requirements) that I will provide at appropriate intervals. Furthermore, you should have an email address that you check regularly for this class. While I prefer to contact students via university email, I am open to other email addresses.

 While technology makes life easier, it can also be difficult (computer crashes, deleted work, unavailable Internet connections, etc.). So, plan accordingly. "The computer ate my homework" or "the Internet was down" are not reasons to forgo the work assigned. It is in your best interest to leave extra time, especially in the first few weeks, to ensure that technology does not get in the way of your coursework.

How to Reach Me
The best way to reach me is by email <>. You can also find me online via Twitter <>. I am online almost every day. If you email or @ me and do not receive a response within 24 hours, please feel free to email or @ me again as a reminder. I promise not to consider this harassment. If you are more comfortable with face-to-face communication, you are welcome to schedule an appointment Tuesday/Thursday. My office is 320D French Hall.

Final Note
Should any aspect of class confuse/concern/trouble you, don't hesitate to contact me.