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Technical Definitions and Instructions

posted: 11.18.14 by Traci Gardner

I have been working to make the assignments in my technical writing class tie more closely to tasks students will do in the field. Their range of experiences complicates my goal however. Some have extensive experience, having worked in summer jobs and internships, while others know only their field from the classroom.

Two of the assignments I added this summer have seemed successful regardless of the experience students have. The professional biography assignment and the classification and analysis project allowed them to talk about their field and their experiences in positive ways, but had room for them to research aspects they were unsure of. I wanted to rethink the assignments I was using for definition, description, and instructions to work in the same way.

I talked about revising these assignments earlier this year in my Writing Assignment Evolution post. I liked the student-focused resources I had them work on in the spring, but some of their work didn’t hit the mark. Some of the topics were off. Some of the work seemed more like students were doing busywork than engaging in the writing of their field. A few students complained that the activity seemed irrelevant in their course evaluations. While I think that assignment could work well in a first-year comp course, it wasn’t quite right for the technical writing course.

My new assignment grew out of a conversation on Facebook, and it seems to be working for me. The set-up assumes students are working in a job in their fields; however, the writing tasks do not require workplace knowledge. I tell students that the company they are working at is planning a diversity initiative to interest local high school and middle school students in STEM careers (STEM = Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). The program is similar to a “Take a Kid to Work Day” event. The students’ assignment is to create three documents for interested middle and high schoolers:

  • an extended definition of the job that will help readers determine if they are interested in the field.
  • a short instruction sheet for a task the middle and high schoolers could follow during their visit.
  • a glossary of terms related to the field that appear in the definition or instructions.

Student response to the redesign was positive during the summer session, so I hope it will work well for me this semester.

One of the aspects I like most about the assignment is the background story of mentoring younger students. I like to think that some of those in my class will make their way to the workplace and participate in similar outreach programs. I’m happy with the notion of suggesting that my tech writing students can reach out to help future college students.

Have you revised an assignment recently? Want to share some advice or feedback on my activities? Please leave me a comment below, or drop by my page on Facebook or Google+.

[Photo: Kid badges by Yahoo, on Flickr]

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