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Computer Exercises to Encourage Rethinking and Revision

Ann Duin

Many colleges and universities have developed programs to encourage writing across the curriculum, and these programs generally follow two main approaches in regard to advanced writing courses. In the first approach, all departments teach writing and students take writing-intensive courses within their majors. In the second approach, courses tailored to the various disciplines or groups of disciplines are taught by faculty in an English or composition department.

In the University of Minnesota's Composition Program, we currently offer eight advanced composition courses suited to various disciplines.

Faigley and Hansen (1985) state that one troublesome group of disciplines for such tailored courses is the social sciences because the social sciences present such a complex array of writing. In our composition program, the advanced writing course for social-science students is called Writing for the Quantitative Social Sciences. Generally an instructor has

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students who are majoring in psychology, sociology, economics, political science, speech and communication, journalism, anthropology, geography, and nursing. This variety produces problems when a teacher must design the course for the writing needs of a range of majors.

As part of a project supported by the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education, Donald Ross and Lillian Bridwell-Bowles began to assess the needs of such college-level teachers for computer-aided instructional materials (Nancarrow, Ross, & Bridwell, 1984; Ross, Bridwell, & Fossum, 1985). They found that the existing software included mostly drill-and-practice programs that were poorly designed and conceptualized and that, for students who are college juniors and seniors, such material would most likely not be needed. They also found that computer programs which addressed higher-level skills varied in quality, and that the chief drawback of these programs was that they were written by independent educators on non-standard machines, so that they do not transport well or lend themselves to adaptation by teachers at other colleges and universities. Ross and Bridwell-Bowles' solution has been to develop a set of programs called ACCESS, an acronym for A Computer Composing Educational Software System. ACCESS lets a teacher design virtually any lesson, exercise, or assignment one can envision. Teachers can understand ACCESS as a means to construct a class-specific computer-text for any course. For the purposes of this paper, I will not describe the computer makeup of ACCESS; rather, I will simply discuss how I have used it.

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As a teacher using ACCESS, I have two tasks, neither of which involves any knowledge of programming. First, I must design the overall structure of the exercise; and second, I must write the texts for the screens and menus. I have used ACCESS to foster critical thinking and revising in two advanced composition courses: the social science course noted above and a course in technical writing. With ACCESS I can do the following:

Develop exercises which ask students to critically evaluate journal literature (namely, studies in students' own fields). Design activities which help tackle the problem of diverse majors by allowing students to access questions pertinent to the writing in their majors (something that class time often does not allow for). Pose different levels of examples for students at different stages in their majors. Ask many of the questions I might not have time to emphasize in class. Give more complete instructions than in conventional, non-automated media. Allow for flexibility by letting the student choose which options to follow, by letting the student control the pace of instruction and learning.
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Encourage students to consider the discourse specific to their disciplines by highlighting features of such writing on the screen. Talk more in-depth and ask more in-depth questions about different audiences and purposes. Emphasize the design and visual makeup of the writing in disciplines by highlighting the design of such writing on the screen.

In short, I have the ability to guide students through analyses of writing, audiences, purposes, intended effects, and organizational cues when I'm not beside them. I have the ability of making the invisible visible by visually guiding the student through the writing in their disciplines.


Before I describe some of my ACCESS exercises, I need to briefly discuss the theoretical base which I have tried to follow when designing computer-assisted instruction. Ramey (1986; in press) recently has developed a theoretical base for online documentation. She notes that the screen is a strong visual medium and should therefore be thought of in even stronger graphical terms than printed documents. According to her theory, when one designs online displays, one must think of the visual, conceptual, and linguistic images for interfaces with the user.

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In order to design a good visual interface, an instructor (designer) should not squeeze too much information on a page (Tullis, 1983), should place the most pertinent information on the left side of the screen (Niekamp, 1981), and should make sure that other key information is highlighted or placed in blocks (Merrill, 1982; Simson, 1982). In order to design a good conceptual interface, the instructor must know in a detailed way who the user is and what the user does (Dehning, Essig, & Maass, 1980). The conceptual interface also includes the voice of the computer-instructor (Bradford, 1983) as well as the educational strategies that govern the way the instruction is delivered (Wade, 1980). Finally, in order to design a good linguistic interface, the instructor should use simple language; employ a conversational tone; and avoid acronyms, abbreviations, and jargon (Zoeppritz, 1983).


In the this section I will try to describe two exercises for possible use in a social-science writing course and a technical writing course.

An Exercise for Use in Social Science Writing Courses

The first exercise, "Examining What Constitutes Good Social Science Writing--Exploration, Examination, and Application," is a sequence of activities which assumes that a teacher has assigned a research study as a major requirement of the course. These activities work

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best after a student has already begun searching the pertinent literature in his or her discipline for studies related to the research question. The student is assumed to have already noticed the basic structure of research studies and is beginning to critically read studies in order to find research relevant to critique and include in the Review of Literature (or introduction) section of his or her study. Therefore, the major goal of this exercise is for students to pause in the middle of the course and concentrate on what they have discovered so far concerning what makes up social science writing in different disciplines. Through rush writing, listing questions, noting key words, and critically reading and reacting to a journal article, students

(1) form a clearer model of how to critically read and react to social science journal articles; and (2) use this knowledge to revise their reviews of literature, brainstorm possible methodologies for their studies, list expected results, and predict what they might include in a discussion section.

This exercise is composed of five parts. An instructor can choose to have the students do any or all of these parts (or, likewise, the student can have the freedom to choose which parts would most benefit him or her).

In Part One (see Appendices 2 & 3), students are introduced to the activity. The brainstorm, listing the major and minor questions they ask

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as they read a study (journal article) in their major field. In Part Two of the activity (see Appendices 4 & 5), students rushwrite the question, "What is good writing for the social sciences?" While not an easy question, this forces the students to consider exactly what they value or look for when reading the writing in their disciplines. Students are encouraged to reread their previous lists before rushwriting. If the student would like, he or she can also nutshell this rushwrite or condense its theme or focus into one sentence. If the instructor (and/or student) would like, students can do more rushwriting or jot lists of answers to the question, "What does good writing for my discipline include or exclude?" and "What process should I follow that would best lead toward good writing in my discipline?"

In Part Three (see Appendices 6-8), students compare rushwrites, choosing to contrast their perceptions with students of similar or different majors. In this part of the activity, students are also asked to think about the previous experience they've had in their fields and how this amount of experience influences their beliefs as to what is good writing in their disciplines.

Parts Four and Five (see Appendices 9-16), are the longest sections of the activity. Students may do each part separately or they may alternate from one part to the other. In both parts, students read and react to a journal article. Again, the instructor can have everyone read the same article, choose separate articles for different disciplines, or allow students to choose their own articles. Because recent research does not support the idea of

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putting lengthy texts on the computer screen, the articles are given as handouts and not a part of the computer exercise itself (Kruk & Mater, 1984; Rubens & Krull, 1985; Tullis, 1983). In Part Four, students read sections of the article and answer question prompts. In Part Five, students read the section(s) and either rushwrite on their perceptions of each section, predict possible points to be discussed in the next sections), or note key words in the section(s) and why they were used.

This exercise is structured so that students may at any time print out their rushwriting, answers to question prompts, keywords, etc. These printouts should be brought to class and discussed. For example, an instructor might group students into similar majors and have them share their questions (Part One). Or, a teacher might have students bring their answers to question prompts (Part Four) into class for discussion in conference groups.

An important option in Parts Four and Five of this activity would be to have students read and react only to the section of a journal article that is similar to what they are currently writing. For example, if a student is working on his or her results section, he or she would access question prompts related to this section. In this way, an instructor could use the same exercise (Parts Four and Five) as an on-going means for students to evaluate and revise the different sections of their writing.

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An Exercise for Use in Technical Writing Courses

Another advanced writing course for which I'm currently developing an ACCESS exercise is Technical Writing for Engineers. Recent studies emphasize that employees must write to many audiences and that audience analysis should therefore be a controlling theme in a technical writing course (Anderson, 1980, 1985; Bataille, 1982; Faigley & Miller, 1982; Locker, 1982; Stine & Skarzenski, 1979; Winkler & Mizuno, 1985). Tebeaux (1986) outlines eight curricular points to follow when redesigning professional writing courses to meet the communication needs of writers in business and industry. Two of these eight points are "to continue the emphasis on adapting communication--reports, letters, and memoranda--to various audiences," and "to develop case studies that require students to place their writing in an organizational context and to make deliberate choices about strategy, style, and tone when they address an audience for a particular purpose" (pp. 423-424). In the following exercise, I have designed instruction in which students write various documents in response to a specific situation, deciding which audience or audiences they are writing to, and adapting their writing strategies accordingly.

This second exercise, Analyzing Audience, Purpose, and Effect in Technical Writing (see Appendices 17 & 18), consists of five parts in which students are asked to make pre-drafting notes about the considerations of purpose, audience, and effect as a way of getting them to think through the writing situation and plan their own strategy for addressing a writing

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task. Attention is focused on five specific audiences: lay person, executive, technician, expert, and the operator of equipment. While the major goal is to give students practice in analyzing audiences, purposes, and intended effects as a part of their prewriting, an instructor can also use these activities as a means to follow a student's decision-making process in determining what type of document to write and what content to include.

In Part One (see Appendices 19 & 20), students are first introduced to the activity and then presented with a case-study and/or writing situation. (The instructor can choose to use this case or insert his or her own case.) The current case informs the student that he or she is part of a team which is evaluating air pollution control devices for an auto-parts manufacturing plant. Experts have found one system best for removing particulates from the smoke-stack gasses, but this system costs slightly over a million dollars . . . .and so on (revised from Leonard & McGuire, Readings in Technical Communication, 1984.) The students' task is to write a letter, memo, or report to one specific audience to convince them that the new system should be purchased.

After reading the case, the student chooses

(1) which audience he or she wishes to write to--lay person, executive, technician, expert, or operator of equipment, (2) their role as the writer--manager of the team, a technical consultant, or a
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local person with no knowledge of the technical aspects of the system, and (3) the type of document they will write--letter, memo, or report.

Students then continue by analyzing their particular writer's role according to question prompts.

Since this activity is rather long, a student may choose to stop after analyzing Audience, or choose to go on to Purpose, and later move to Effect. If a student did choose to stop after analyzing Audience, he or she could continue the activity, analyzing Purpose, at any time. Or if a student wants some practice analyzing Audience, Purpose, or intended Effects for another writing assignment, the student could access the part of the exercise tailored to each area and do some prewriting for any assignment. Rather than produce all of the displays for this part of the exercise, examples of many of the questions asked under Audience, Purpose, and Effect are given in Appendix 21. In the exercise itself, students not only answer question prompts but also note their main vs. subordinate goals as a writer and the points they intend to emphasize as they begin their first drafts. In Part Two, students synthesize the notes they've written by putting them into memo form. This memo can be written to the instructor or to the student's conference-group members. Prior to Part Three, students should have discussed the differences in the five

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audiences--their backgrounds and possible suggestions for writing to each. After rereading their prewriting notes, students are asked questions according to the particular audience they have chosen. Some examples of such questions are given in Appendix 22.

Students next write a rough draft of their document on the ACCESS editor and word-processing package and then meet with those individuals who have chosen the same audience (generally in groups of 4-5).

In Part Four, students look at their Audience, Purpose, and Effect memos (from Part Two) and their rough drafts. Students can either respond to question prompts or rushwrite, comparing their analysis of Audience, Purpose, and Effect with their actual writing. Students then revise their document based on such an analysis. After this work, students can again meet in conference groups to discuss their rough drafts. In Part Five, students look at their original drafts and their revised drafts, before revising, editing, and adding finishing touches to the final drafts.

As with the Social Science Writing exercise, these activities are structured that students may at any time print out their notes or drafts. These printouts should certainly be brought to class and discussed. Students could also copy their work onto a common computer disk so that information could be shared by those choosing similar audiences or by those in similar conference groups.

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Computer-assisted instruction for writers has been mired, to a certain extent, in the power of the computer itself. We've exploited the rigidly logical, sequential, lock-step control patterns, developing instructional activities that control and direct a writer, often forcing repetition, drills, and removal of the teacher.

By designing these activities, I suggest that we don't have to follow that pattern. We can produce useful software that harnesses the power of the computer rather than shackles the creativity of the student. I must emphasize that I am only beginning to harness this power and that I am continually revising these exercises as I learn more about computers and document design. Because ACCESS allows the instructor to revise the instruction, it has the power to be used by a variety of instructors for a variety of purposes. Because of this flexibility, the instructor can ask, "What would be good for these writers?" and, "What will enhance their development and not constrain it?" To be able to develop flexible exercises, we need flexible software. To accomplish our goals, we need software that relinquishes control to users and encourages autonomy by providing opportunity for choice, options, and student-based decisions.

In exercises developed with ACCESS, the instructor controls both the instruction and the language used in it. The instructor makes choices and decisions. Through this

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program, you can use the computer as a medium to talk to your students, to ask them questions and guide them through analysis even when you're not actually sitting beside them. The point I want to make with these two exercises is that by giving students control and by incorporating flexibility into computer-supported writing exercises, we're putting students in charge and telling them that they have something significant to say, that they certainly can critique the literature and documents in their fields, and that they can do so at their own pace. By doing so, we encourage students to be autonomous writers: the prompts are on the screen, but the solutions are in their heads.

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Anderson, P.V. (1981). Research into the amount, and kind of writing performed on the job by graduates of seven university departments that send students to technical writing courses. Miami, OH: Ohio University.

Anderson, P.V. (1985). What survey research tells us about writing at work. In L. Odell and D. Goswami (Eds.), Writing in nonacademic settings (pp. 3-84). New York: The Guilford Press.

Bataille, R.R. (1982). Writing in the world of work: What our graduates report. College Composition and Communication, 32, 276-280.

Bradford, A. (1983, October). Enhanced user interface through computer tutorials. Proceedings, IEEE Professional Communications Conference (pp. 131-134).

Dehning, W., Essig, H., & Maass, S. (1980). The adaptation of virtual man-computer interfaces to user requirements in dialogs. In G. Goos and J. Hartmanix (Eds.), Lecture Notes in Computer Science (pp. 10-40). New York: Springer-Verlag.

Faigley, L., and Hansen, K. (1985). Learning to write in the social sciences. College Composition and Communication, 36, 140-149.

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Faigley, L., and Miller, T. P. (1982). What we learn from writing on the job. College English, 44, 557-569.

Kruk, R.S., and Muter, P. (1984). Reading of continuous text on video screens. Human Factors, 26, 339-345.

Locker, K.O. (1982). What do writers in industry write? The Technical Writing Teacher, 9, 122-127.

Nancarrow, P.R., Ross, D., and Bridwell, L. (1984). Word processors and the writing process. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press.

Merrill, P.F. (1982). Displaying text on microcomputers. In D. H. Jonassen (Ed.), The technology of text: Principles for structuring, designing, and displaying text (pp. 401-414). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.

Niekamp, W. (1981). An exploratory investigation in factors affecting visual balance. ECTJ, 29, 37-48.

Ramey, J. (1986). Developing a theoretical base for on-line documentation--Part I. Technical Writing Teacher.

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Ramey, J. (in press). Developing a theoretical base for on-line documentation--Part II. Technical Writing Teacher.

Ross, D., Bridwell, L., & Fossum, S. (1985). ACCESS--A medium for CAI design. Composition Program, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.

Rubens, P., & Krull, R. (1985). Application of research on document design to online displays. Technical Communication, 32, 29-34.

Simpson, H. (1982). A human-factors style guide for program design. Byte, 7, 108-132.

Stine, D., & Dkarzenski, D. (1979, Summer). Priorities for the business communication classroom: A survey of business and academe. Journal of Business Communication, 15-30.

Tebeaux, E. (1986). Redesigning professional writing courses to meet the communication needs of writers in business and industry. College Composition and Communication, 36, 419-428

Tullis, T.R. (1983). The formatting of alphanumeric displays: A review and analysis. Human Factors, 25, 657-667.

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Wade, T.E. (1980, November). Evaluating computer instructional programs and other teaching units. Educational Technology.

Winkler, V.M., & Mizuno, J.L. (1985). Advanced courses in technical writing: Review of the literature (1977-84). The Technical Writing Teacher, 12, 33-49.

Wright, P. (1979). Usability: The criterion for designing written information. In Koler, Wrolstad, and Bouman (Eds.), Processing visible language, Vol. 2. (pp. 183-205). New York: Plenum Press.

Zoeppritz, M. (1983). Human factors of a `natural language'. In A. Blaser and M. Zosppritz (Eds,), Enduser Systems and their human factors: Proceedings (pp. 62-93). New York: Springer-Verlag.

Ann H. Duin teaches at the University of Minnesota, in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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====================================================== EXAMINING WHAT CONSTITUTES GOOD SOCIAL-SCIENCE WRITING EXPLORATION, EXAMINATION, AND APPLICATION ====================================================== GOALS of the Exercise: The major goal of this five-part exercise is for you to pause in the middle of this quarter and concentrate on what you believe constitutes good writing for social sciences. You will work independently (using the computer) and in small and large groups, continually confronting your and your classmates' prior and present assumptions concerning what good social science writing includes and excludes. Through listing, rushwriting, questioning, brainstorming, predicting, discussing, etc., you should:

1. Seek to formulate a clearer model of how to critically read and react to a social science journal article and 2. Use this knowledge to revise your review of literature design your methodology, and predict what you will include in your discussion section.

Type PgDn to continue Type PgUp to return

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PART ONE: MAJOR QUESTIONS========================================== First, brainstorm the questions which you ask when you read a study (journal article) in your field. List at least 7 questions. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7.

Type PgDn to continue Type PgUp to return

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Now, use the PgUp command and REREAD your questions.

Place a large M beside those questions you consider MAJOR and place a small m beside those questions that you consider minor. ################################ For an EXAMPLE, Press Fl ################################ Type PgDn to continue Type PgUp to return

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PART TWO: RUSHWRITING================================ Now, RUSHWRITE on the question, What is GOOD writing for the social sciences? (Allow at least 15 minutes--Write as much as possible.) ====================================================== ====================================================== Type PgDn to continue Type PgUp to return

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REREAD your Rushwriting.

Do not make revisions or edit! Only reread what you wrote!

When you get back here, NUTSHELL your rushwriting, or CONDENSE its theme or focus into one sentence. =========================NUTSHELL==================== ======================================================

You should SAVE your work now, and then PRINT it out to take to your class. Type ESC for the standard save/print instructions.

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Which would you like to read and compare your rushwrites to? 1. Another student with YOUR MAJOR 2. A SOCIOLOGY major 3. A PSYCHOLOGY major 4. An ECONOMICS major Your choice ______


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************ANOTHER STUDENT WITH YOUR MAJOR*********** What SIMILARITIES are there? List these. ====================================================== 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. ====================================================== Type PgDn to continue

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What DIFFERENCES are there? List these. ====================================================== 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. ======================================================

What PREVIOUS EXPERIENCE have you had in this field? What previous experience have you had in READING this type of literature? How does the amount of experience you have had influence what you believe constitutes GOOD social science writing? (1-2 sentence answer) ====================================================== ====================================================== Type PgDn to continue Type PgUp to return Type ESC to save and quit APPENDIX 9

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PART FOUR: READING AND REACTING TO A JOURNAL ARTICLE As was modeled in class, use your list of concerns and questions as you read and react to this journal article. The article consists of four sections. Choose one of these sections to react specifically to (OR choose to ask general questions about the ENTIRE article)---- 1. INTRODUCTION and REVIEW OF LITERATURE 2. METHOD 3. RESULTS 4. DISCUSSION 5. GENERAL QUESTIONS YOUR CHOICE ______

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NUMBER ONE--REVIEW OF LITERATURE After reading the REVIEW OF LITERATURE section of this article, jot 1-2 sentences or phrases as answers to the following questions. 1. What type of STRUCTURE does this review of literature follow? ########################### Confused? Press Fl for some help! ########################### Type PgDn to continue Type PgUp to return

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SOME IDEAS AS TO THE TYPE OF STRUCTURES REVIEWS CAN FOLLOW ------- CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER-- Are there earlier studies and then later ones? Look at the dates. KEY BODIES OF RESEARCH-- Is there an argument going on? One set of the studies seems to find one thing--Another set of studies seems to find the opposite. ONE Hallmark STUDY -- Does the author spend a lot of time talking about ONE major study? Perhaps this study is a key one in your field--Perhaps you should check it out in the references and find it. Type PgUp to return

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2. What PERSPECTIVES does this section predominantly follow? ===================================================== ######################## Press F1 for help ######################## Type PgDn to continue Type PgUp to return

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Does the author talk about the details of just a few studies? Does he/she concentrate on describing as much as possible (all the PARTICLES) of each study? --Wave--

Does the author first describe EARLIER studies and then LATER ones? Does this order and perspective serve a particular purpose (i.e., showing a dramatic change the type of studies conducted)? --Field--

Does the author, after describing each study, POSE LARGER QUESTIONS--larger questions generated from each study? Is the author trying to find some greater significance from each study than the original authors found? Type PgUp to return

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PART FIVE: MORE OPTIONS FOR READING/ REACTING TO A STUDY Choose ONE of the following as a form for your response to this section-- 1. RUSHWRITE on your perceptions of the section. 2. PREDICT what methodology will be used. 3. Note KEY WORDS in the section and WHY they were chosen. YOUR CHOICE _____

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========================KEY WORDS===================== REREAD the section you have chosen -- UNDERLINE any words which seem to convey KEY POINTS, of words which are TYPICAL for this type of section -- LIST the words here and then -- EXPLAIN why you underlined each word. ====================================================== 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. ######################## Press F1 for help ######################## Type PgDn to continue Type PgUp to return

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Perhaps these questions may act as a prompt to explaining WHY you chose some words-- 1. Is the word typical of social science writing? Is it generally used when discussing a particular type of research? 2. Does the word represent a specific slant or school of thought? 3. Does the word act to convey the author's purpose? 4. Is the word meant for a specific audience? If so, WHY? Type PgUp to return

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===================================================== ANALYZING AUDIENCE--PURPOSE--AND EFFECT IN TECHNICAL WRITING ====================================================== As discussed in class, your audience for technical writing may be made up of-- lay people who are reading out of curiosity or self interest executives who will use the information in decision making technicians who read for HOW TO information, or experts who read in order to remain experts or to find a good deal of information in a condensed form. Type PgDn to continue Type PgUp to return

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Thinking about your audience's knowledge and attitudes should guide your research and writing. Your audience may possess a great amount of knowledge about your subject or none at all. Your audience may be friendly, hostile, or apathetic to your work.

You may also need to consider your audience's age, socioeconomic status, or occupation in order for your audience to understand and accept your writing. Type PgDn to continue Type PgUp to return

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PART ONE: ON-SCREEN PRE-WRITING======================= You encounter the following situation (revised from Leonard & McGuire, Readings in Technical Writing, 1984, pp. 69-70). ======================================================

You are part of a team (your conference group) which is evaluating air pollution control devices for an auto-parts manufacturing plant.

Some experts believe that one system is best for removing particulates from smoke-stack gases. The system costs slightly over a million dollars and will take six months to install. When it is in place, it will require new instrumentation and operating procedures for the plant's boilers.

Since the city has partial control of this plant, it would have to assume part of the total cost of the system installation. ====================================================== Type PgDn to continue Type PgUp to return

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Your task as a member of this team is to write a letter, memo, or report to one of the following audiences to convince them that this choice is correct.

To which audience do you wish to write? 1. Lay person (local city council member) 2. Executive (head of power engineering) 3. Technician (plant engineer) 4. Expert 5. Operator of the Equipment Your choice______

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In the context of this memo, letter, or report, what kinds of things are you assuming that your reader knows?

What might be some of the things that your reader believes or needs in the context of this writing situation? Who else might read this? How much do you have to keep other readers in mind? --PURPOSE--

What do you see as your main purpose or goal in this writing situation? What's the importance of each purpose you've identified? Are some purposes more important than others? Why? --EFFECT--

What details will you select? What things will you emphasize?

Do you need any support for your statements? Like what? Or, why not? How do you envision organizing this?

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Did you think of your audience's probable misunderstanding of terms? What definitions might need to be given? --EXECUTIVE--

Does your prewriting mention that the executive needs background information? Explanations of alternatives?

Purpose of the document?

Description of the next action to be taken? --EXPERT--

Do your notes reflect the expert's concern for facts and subsequent conclusions? If so, how were you planning to present the facts? If not, what facts might you present? --TECHNICIAN--

What details might the technician need which you overlooked? --OPERATOR OF EQUIPMENT--

What part of the document will be the most important?

How do you plan to make this part exceptionally clear?