Course Policies & Syllabus

EN 306: Technical Communication

Spring 2005


Instructor:                     Dr. Matthew Pifer

Office:                          307 Shouldice Library

Office Phone:                 635-2119


Office Hours:                 MWF: 1-2 p.m.

                                    TR: 3-4 p.m.


Course Description


Introduction to Technical Communication is designed to introduce you to various techniques and methods of communicating within a technical context.  The required assignments expose you to the documents you may encounter in your business and scientific careers. Through these assignments, the readings, and class discussions you will develop a clear and focused writing style that will be necessary when composing technical or scientific prose.  During class, we will discuss many types of documents; however, any prolonged study of one aspect of technical writing would take away from our broad approach and would put a strain on our already limited time frame.  Because of this, I encourage you to ask me for additional material if you would like to explore any of the issues we address in more detail.


Technical Writing as Problem Solving


It is useful to think of technical writing as a form of problem solving, through which you address a broad set of rhetorical issues, such as those concerning information, persuasion, ethical, and global problems.  Note, however, that in referring to technical writing as "problem solving" I do not wish to suggest that technical writing is about correcting errors.  It is not.  Rather, it is about determining the nature of a rhetorical situation and clearly communicating a message from within the converging contexts that define it.  To do this, you will answer the following kinds of questions: what is the purpose of the document I am writing, what are the needs of my reader to whom I am writing, and how might I best address both of these issues, visually and stylistically, to communicate most effectively?  Yet always remember that the primary goal of technical writing is to communicate.  Therefore, this fundamental aspect of technical discourse needs to shape the rhetorical choices you make when writing any technical document. 


To address this central issue and achieve a clear and concise style of communication, our class meetings will often function as writing workshops.  During these workshops, you will practice drafting, revising, and editing specific documents, with the express goal of composing effective technical communications.  Such communications require the development of an appropriate linguistic style, the rhetorical use of document design, and the precise presentation of information. Addressing these complex issues will help you develop a technical style that will ensure communication by reducing the reader's need to interpret, or puzzle out, the meaning of a given document.  Also important to these workshops will be revision sessions. During these sessions, we will stress the importance of reading critically, collaborating in groups, and developing an individual writing process.  Ultimately, you should complete this course with an understanding of the skills required to produce a wide range of technical documents.  


Required Texts


  1. John M. Lannon. Technical Communication. 9th Ed. New

York: Longman, 2003.


  1. Copies of the course packet.


Additional Materials


In addition to paper, pens, etc., you should purchase

1.       typing or computer supplies as needed,

2.       photocopies as needed,

3.       one or more manila file folders for submitting portfolio assignments.


All necessary supplies can be purchased at the campus bookstore.


Files of Your Graded Assignments


During the first week of class, I ask that you bring in a manila file folder.  On the tab of this folder include the following information:


name, e-mail address, I.D #, semester, year, course & section, and my last name


You will keep all your graded material in this folder and turn it in with each portfolio.  I strongly encourage you to retain a copy of each document you turn in for a grade--doing so allows you to keep a file of your own work and also reduces the danger of losing any assignments.


Attendance and Participation


Because class participation is essential to your and your peers' success in this class, attendance is mandatory.  The policy is as follows: “In this course, you are allowed three unexcused absence.  After these absences, your grade will be lowered one full grade.  For example, from a B to a C and so on.”


An absence will only be excused if you submit documented proof of an emergency, such as an illness or death in the family within a week of the absence.


In-Office Revision Sessions (TBA)


While working on each portfolio, and before turning each in for a grade, you will meet with me to discuss your progress and address any questions and concerns you have about the documents included in them.  For example, we might examine your organization of information, common grammatical issues, and use of APA format.  To make these meetings as productive as possible, you need to schedule a meeting time and come to them prepared, which will require you to have completed the following items:


1.       Rough draft of the document or documents you wish to discuss.

2.       The questions you wish to address written down, so that you will be able to take effective notes.

3.       The “Revision Session” form (a master copy is located in the packet).


Revision Sessions


Revision sessions are an important part of the writing process as discussed in the handout and during class. These sessions enable both the writer of the document and the document reviser to learn more about drafting, revising, designing a document, and editing.  These sessions also contribute to each assignment’s final grade, as each document will be submitted with a revision guide containing student-generated commentary.  Failure to submit a draft for student revision will be considered a serious lapse in professionalism. 






There will be four portfolio assignments in this course.  Along with these assignments, I require that you submit the drafts and revision guides that pertain to each of the documents you turn in for a grade.  The value of each assignment (out of 100%) is listed bellow:


Foundational Issues in Technical Communication: (5%)


1.       Professionalism and Attendance

2.       Reading Quizzes (Online at << >>): Go to “Student resources,” click on the chapter you have read, click on “Multiple Choice Quiz,” and complete the quiz for each of the chapters assigned.  Print each one out and turn them in with the appropriate portfolio. You can also email them to me, if doing so works for you.


Professionalism: It is important that you maintain a professional attitude in this class.  Achieving this attitude requires you to follow directions and abide by the corporate ethos we establish as a class.  Most importantly, however, will be how well you work in groups to complete assignments.


Portfolio #1: Job Application Assignment (10%)


1.       Resume


2.       Cover Letter


3.       Justification Memo


4.       Portfolio 1 Quiz-test


Portfolio #2: Interoffice Communication: (20%)


1.       Letter of Inquiry


2.       Letter of Response


3.       Short Report


4.       Portfolio 2 Quiz-test


Portfolio #3: Technical Descriptions: (30%)


1.       Hardware Recommendation Report


2.       Technical Editing project


3.       Process Description for student


4.       Portfolio 3 Quiz-test


The description assignments consist of two separate topics: one for the hardware description and instructions and one for the process description.  You will choose the topics for these assignments from issues important to your professional interests.


Portfolio #4: Final Project: (35%)


1.       Feasibility Report


2.       Proposal


3.       Proposal Presentation (Powerpoint presentation)


4.       Portfolio 4 Quiz-test


In the proposal you will address a technical issue in your field, which will require you to conduct library and field research.  The completion of this document will be the primary goal of this course and will shape the other assigned documents.   Important note: Do not try to hand in work that has been completed in a previous class.  Doing so is a form of academic dishonesty. 


Grading Scale: 93-100=A, 90-92=A-, 86-89=B+, 83-85=B, 80-82=B-, 76-79=C+, 73-75=C, 70-72=C-, 66-69=D+, 63-65=D, 60-62=D-, 0-59=F


Late Assignments:

I will not accept late papers.  So, please, do not try to turn in late papers unless you have a documented excuse.  Homework assignments will only be accepted on the day they are due. 


Writing Center


The writing lab is a resource you should use to help you improve your writing.  The writing consultants the lab employs can help you invent, organize, and revise your documents to meet the specific requirements established during class.  Take the time to become familiar with this resource and use it regularly.




113 Kenneth J. Shouldice Library

Lake Superior State University

(906) 635-2849



Plagiarism is presenting someone else’s writing or ideas as your own.  Doing so is a form of academic misconduct that seriously undermines the intellectual pursuits undertaken in the university and, therefore, is severely punished.  If you have any doubts about how to cite a source ask me and I will help you document it correctly.


Student Accommodations and Support Services

In compliance with Lake Superior State University policy and equal access laws, disability-related accommodations or services are available.  Students are to meet with the professor in a timely manner, preferably the first week of class, to discuss their disability related needs.  Students are required to register with the Office of Student Accommodations and Support Services (OSASS) for disability verification and for determination of reasonable academic accommodations.  OSASS is located in the KJS Library, Office 144, Ext. 7559.

Course Syllabus

Spring 2005


This syllabus is subject to change.  However, any changes will be announced in class.  Note: The readings and homework listed below are to be completed by the day listed. 


Week 1: January 10

M         Introduction to the Course: Define Technical Writing. [Begin thinking about Final Project]

W         1. Communication & theoretical background. [read: Chs. 1-4]

2. Have three possible topics for Final Project

F          1. Technical Document Class Exercise. Examples illustrating why technical communication matters.

2. [Read Chs. 5 and 10, and Nazi Memo.]


Week 2: January 17

M         1. Begin Portfolio 1: Job Application [Read Chs. 17, 19, 12 and 13]

2. Review collaborative ex. 1a-1h on pg. 406]

W         1. Job application: Rough Draft of Cover Letter and Resume due [Review Ch. 13]

2. Create interview groups

3. Begin interviewing candidates.

F          Work on justification memo when interviews are complete [Read Ch. 6]


Week 3: January 31

M         Begin Portfolio 2: Work Place Communications: Memo, Letters, and Short Reports [read assignment sheets, Ch. 19 (365-379), and Chs. 15 and 20]

W         Letter of Inquiry and Response

F          1. Letter document design [Read Ch. 15]

2. Turn in topic for Final Project and problem statement

3. Turn in justification memo


Week 4: February 7

M         Rough draft of Letter of Inquiry and Response due (brief revision session)

W         1. Portfolio #1 Due

            2. Portfolio #1 Quiz-test

F          Short Report [Read Ch. 18]


Week 5: February 14

M         Short Report

W         Rough Draft of Short Report due.

F          Begin Portfolio 3: Technical Descriptions [Read Chs. 14, 21, and 22]

            Foundation for developing a technical description


Week 6: February 21

M         Hardware Recommendation Report

W         Hardware Recommendation Report Rough Draft due

F          1. Technical Editing Project [Read Ch. 13]

            2. Portfolio #2 Due

            3. Portfolio #2 Quiz-test


Week 7: February 28



Week 9: March 7

M         Technical Editing Project

W         Process Description [review Ch.]

F          Process Description Rough Draft due


Week 10: March 14

M         Instructions [Read Ch. 23]

W         Instructions

F          Begin Portfolio 4: Feasibility Report [Read Chs. 5, 16, and 25; and review Chs. 14 and 15]


Week 11: March 21

M         Feasibility Report

W         Feasibility Report           

F          1. Portfolio #3 Due

2. Portfolio #3 Quiz-test


Week 12: March 28

M         Rough draft of Feasibility Report due

W         Proposal [Read Chs. 16 and 24]

F          Proposal


Week 13: April 4

M         Proposal: Letters of Transmittal [Review Chs. 19 and 24]

W         Proposal: Informative, Descriptive Abstracts, and Summaries [Read Ch. 11]

F          Proposal: Rough Draft of Executive Summary and Technical Proposal Sections


Week 14: April 11

M         Proposal: Rough Draft of Management, Cost Proposals, and Offerer’s Capabilities

W         Proposal: Overview [Review Ch. 16]

F          Presentation Overview [Read Chs. 26]


Week 15: April 18

M         Proposal Presentations [Each Group must be ready to go today. We will draw for the official order]

W         Proposal Presentations

F          Proposal Presentations


Week 16: April 25: Exam Week

  1. Portfolio 4 Due
  2. Portfolio # 4 Quiz-test