Category Archives: Technical Communication

Technical Communication Twine

I started a Technical Communication twine.  Please join me in adding useful links and information.

What If Technical Writers Can’t Document Their Sources Properly?

Since it’s spring break this week (at Metro) and next (at Red Rocks), I’ve been catching up on my reading.  Yesterday I read the January issue of Intercom, which is published monthly by The Society for Technical Communication. I was happy to learn about Writer River and and meet its creator, Tom Johnson, via e-mail.

Today I read the February issue (Vol. 56, No. 2), and I was disappointed with the article by Tony Self, “What If Readers Can’t Read?” (10-14).  First, all the documentation that he did provide was in the form of URLs in parentheses following the reference to the source.  Aside from being difficult to read–especially in such narrow columns, this method doesn’t provide enough information about the sources he used, like the names of authors or creators, the titles, and the dates of publication.  (The preceding article, “Is There a Write Way to Collaborate?” by Charlotte Robidoux and Beth Hewett (4-9), had a proper APA-style References list, but I couldn’t find any in-text, parenthetical citations.)

Second, on the first page of text (11) in Self’s article, he referred to a “self-survey at Kansas State University” about student reading habits.  He provided no documentation at all for the survey, though at the end of the article, he did mention that it was distributed in a YouTube video.  Here is that video (I think):

A Vision of Students Today

It’s a Wiki Wacky World

I recently read Managing Virtual Teams: Getting the Most from Wikis, Blogs, and Other Collaborative Tools by M. Katherine Brown, Brenda Huettner, and Char James-Tanny. I learned about the book when I read an article on “Using Wikis” by Huetter and James-Tanny in the January 2007 issue of intercom. Part II, “Evaluating the Tools,” was particularly useful, but I was disappointed by their companion wiki, It’s a Wiki Wacky World.

I’m currently reading Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything.

Technical Writing Textbook

I’ve selected the textbook for my hybrid technical writing class this fall at Red Rocks. It’s a new book published by Pearson-Prentice Hall. The title is Technical Communication in the Twenty-First Century, and it was written by Sidney I. Dobrin, Christopher J. Keller, and Christian R. Weisser.

Technical Writing and Web 2.0

The theme for the January issue of Intercom was technical writing and Web 2.0. The best articles were “Writing and Web 2.0,” “Podcasting: A New Layer of Communication,” and “Using Wikis.”

In “Writing and Web 2.0,” Keith Hoffman discussed social networking, AJAX-based web sites, blogs, wikis, podcasts, and RSS, as well as web-based word processing. There are several items in his list of “Suggested Readings” that I’d like to look at.

The authors of “Using Wikis,” Brenda Huettner and Char James-Tanny, along with M. Katherine Brown, have used a wiki, It’s a Wiki Wacky World, to write a book titled Managing Virtual Teams: Getting the Most from Wikis, Blogs, and Other Collaborative Tools. I bought a copy of their book, along with copies of Wikis: Tools for Information Work and Collaboration by Jane Klobas, which I’ve already read, and Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Change Everything by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams.

These should be useful for the formal report assignment I’m planning for my technical writing class.

I decided that to find time to read these books and others related to my work, I had to stop reading the murder mysteries I was getting from the library.

Technical Writing Textbook

When I taught technical writing for Westwood College, we used Technical Report Writing Today by Riordan (Houghton Mifflin), and others for earlier editions. I liked the book, but when I needed to select a book for my class at Red Rocks, I picked Technical Communication (8th ed.) by Mike Markel (Bedford/St. Martin’s). I’m beginning to regret that decision.

First, I don’t care for Markel’s definition of technical communication as “workplace communication” There’s a lot more to it than that.

Second, when he presents the writing process, he treats technical documents the same as any writing assignment the students would do for a class. He leaves out considerations of budget, deadlines, publication, distribution, etc.

I didn’t care too much for Riordan’s definition either, but he did a good job of covering the writing process as it occurs in the workplace.

In Riordan’s last edition (9th), the page layout was changed so there are wide outside margins. I didn’t care for that or the effort to expand the textbook to cover technical “communication” instead of technical writing despite the title. I also don’t agree with his assertion in the first chapter (an addition to the latest edition) that “technical writing is global.” I also wish he had a chapter on fliers, brochures, and similar documents.

However, I may go back to his book the next time I teach the class.

Web 2.0 and Teaching Technical Writing

I think I’ve finally figured out how to incorporate some of the new internet technology (web 2.0) into my technical writing class. I want the students to write formal reports, and I’ve decided to have them collaborate on that assignment. I believe what I’ll do is assign each group one of the following to research and report on:

  • blogs
  • wikis
  • RSS feeds
  • podcasting
  • free and open-source software

In their reports, they would include how this particular type of communication or technology is or can be used in business, as well as how to find and use it.

Using Blogs in Technical Writing Classes

In the September/October issue of Intercom (the STC magazine), there was an article by Tom H. Johnson titled “Corporate Blogging and the Technical Writier.” I’m going to be teaching a technical writing class this coming semester at Red Rocks Community College, and reading the article got me thinking about how to use blogs in my class. I don’t think I want to go so far yet as to have each student create and maintain a blog for the semester, but I’m considering including a group project where students study how blogs are used.

The article referred to the Fortune 500 Business Blogging Wiki, which is a directory of Fortune 500 companies that have blogs. This might be a good starting point, especially since it includes a list of sample blogs from the companies.

I also read the first couple of chapters of Naked Conversations: How Blogs are Changing the Way Businesses Talk with Customers before I had to return it to the library. I’ve reserved it again because I think it might be useful in planning this assignment.

At the end of the article, Johnson referred to a couple of studies that I want to look at:

I’ve included them in my bookmarks at