A directory of resources inthe field of technical communication (and technical writing).


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The Abstract Trap: Why Abstracts Are Bad for Persuasive White Papers

Abstracts, also known as executive summaries, are bad. As a matter of fact, they are really bad, and I stand nearly alone in my opinion. Abstracts are those summaries that typically stand in front of the core content of a white paper. They tend to include the key points about the white paper.

Stelzner, Michael A. WhitePaperSource (2006). Articles>Writing>Rhetoric>White Papers


"Advanced Composition" And Occasion-Sensitivity

As writing teacher but also freelance writer and editor, I rejoice to see current advanced composition textbooks emphasize sensitivity to occasion. For real-world writing profoundly requires audience-awareness. Out there, students will not be writing yet another typical theme for the teacher, concerned mainly with correctness. Nor will they be writing expressively, concerned mainly with self and authenticity. They must be writing for the occasion, to achieve specific purpose with specific readers, and hence must be concerned with effectiveness above all. But what about actual current classroom practice on this point?

Beck, James P. JAC (1981). Articles>Writing>Rhetoric


Aligning Theme and Information Structure To Improve The Readability Of Technical Writing   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

The readability of technical writing, and technical manuals in particular, especially for second language readers, can be noticeably improved by pairing Theme with Given and Rheme with New. This allows for faster processing of text and easier access to the "method of development" of the text. Typical Theme-Rheme patterns are described, and the notion of the "point of a text" is introduced. These concepts are applied to technical writing and the reader is then invited to evaluate the improvements in readability in a small sample of texts.

Moore, N.A.J. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication (2006). Articles>Writing>Technical Writing>Rhetoric


Are You Frodo, Aragorn or Legolas? Writing Wisdom from The Lord of the Rings

Are you a 'Frodo,' 'Aragorn' or 'Legolas' writer? Each has a unique style and advantages suited to specific types of writing. Much can be learned from J.R.R. Tolkien's epic The Lord of the Rings characters.

Stelzner, Michael A. WhitePaperSource (2006). Articles>Writing>Rhetoric


Audience and Document Analysis

Before you begin editing a document, try to find out as much as you can about the audience for the document and purpose of the document.

Hollis Weber, Jean. Technical Editors Eyrie (2001). Articles>Writing>Audience Analysis>Rhetoric


Beware of Adverbs

Beware of adverbs. They can dilute the meaning of the verb or repeat it.

Clark, Roy Peter. Poynter Online (2004). Articles>Writing>Diction>Rhetoric


Beyond Economics: Intersections and Opportunities with Adam Smith in the Writing and Rhetoric Classroom

My paper will focus on how the reconsiderations and explorations of Smith’s two best known and most published works are important not only for economists, business students, and rhetoric scholars but also offer opportunities for writing instructors seeking to connect with students in writing classrooms.

Smith-Sitton, Lara. Xchanges (2011). Articles>Education>Rhetoric>Writing


"Big Picture People Rarely Become Historians": Genre Systems and the Contradictions of General Education

This study synthesizes Y. Engeström's version of cultural historical activity theory and North American genre systems theory to explore the problem of specialized discourses in activities that involve non-specialists, in this case students in a university 'general education' course in Irish history struggling to write the genres of professional academic history. We trace the textual pathways (genre systems) that mediate between the activity systems (and motives) of specialist teachers and the activity systems (and motives) of non-specialist students. Specifically, we argue that the specialist/lay contradiction in U.S. general education is embedded in historical practices in the modern university, and manifested in alienation that students often experience through the writing requirements in general education courses. This historical contradiction also makes it difficult for instructors to make writing meaningful for non-specialists and go beyond fact-based, rote instruction to mediate higher-order learning through writing. However, our analysis of the Irish History course suggests this alienation may be overcome when students, with the help of their instructors, see the textual pathways (genre systems) of specialist discourse leading to useful knowledge/skill in their activity systems beyond the course as specialists in other fields or as citizens.

Russell, David R. and Arturo Yanez. WAC Clearinghouse (2002). Articles>Writing>Rhetoric


Branch to the Right

Begin sentences with subjects and verbs, letting subordinate elements branch to the right. Even a long, long sentence can be clear and powerful when the subject and verb make meaning early.

Clark, Roy Peter. Poynter Online (2004). Articles>Writing>Rhetoric


Building Goodwill   (PDF)

This is chapter two from the 6th Edition of Business and Administrative Communication, developed to teach you how to communicate effectively and improve your written and oral business communication skills. This knowledge will help you in your courses and, more importantly, in your future career. Throughout this text, several pedagogical elements appear to teach readers about all the aspects of business communication. These examples in their many formats are found in every chapter and provide excellent real-world examples to underscore key concepts throughout the text.

Locker, Kitty O. McGraw-Hill (2003). Articles>Rhetoric>Writing


Catching up with Professor Nate: The Problem with Sociolinguisitics in Composition Research   (peer-reviewed)

In Professional Academic Writing, Susan Peck MacDonald makes the observation that recent debates in rhetoric and composition about whether to initiate students into disciplinary practices or 'resist' current practices have frequently been framed in terms of 'accommodation' versus 'resistance,' and adds that 'these may be destructive dichotomies for us to be working with' particularly 'given the lack of close rhetorical and linguistic scrutiny we have spent on describing the nature, variation, or effects of textual practices in the humanities and social sciences'. When a field finds itself trapped in a particular dichotomy, it's time to re-examine research methods and agendas.

Prendergast, Catherine. JAC (1997). Articles>Rhetoric>Writing


Clashing Technologies: The Legacy of 19th Century Writing Instruction Meets the 21st Century Writing Classroom

In most writing classrooms, the primary activity is not writing per se, but rather the discussion of writing. You know the drill: as teachers, we create a writing assignment, introduce it during class, ask students if they have any questions, and send them off to work on the assignment. When students return to class with a draft of the assignment, we might discuss it as a class or perhaps put the students through a peer review session. But only rarely do we ask our students to actually write during class.

Palmquist, Mike. Lore (2001). Articles>Education>Writing>Rhetoric


Clear as Mud: The Plot Thickens

A lot of the time, management-speak simply seems ridiculous. But campaigners for plain English say there is a more serious side to the issue.

BBC (1998). Articles>Writing>Rhetoric>Minimalism


Clear Writing: Ten Principles of Clear Statement

If you want to test the clearness of your writing, you may wish to consider using a 'fog index.' Fog indexes measure the complexity of writing samples, and often provide a means of calculating the reading or educational level required to understand a particular passage. Some fog indexes are available as computer software programs, or you may do the calculations yourself.

University of Missouri (1973). Articles>Writing>Rhetoric>Minimalism


Cogito Ergo Scribo: Applying Self-Schema Theory to the Composition Classroom

I believe that integrating a writing schema into an already existing self-schema for students is not difficult. The answer lies in WID (Writing in the Disciplines). All students have a possible self that they are trying to attain by majoring in a certain area. What we should do, then, is show students how writing can be relevant to their possible selves.

Cruz, Joshua. Xchanges (2011). Articles>Education>Writing>Rhetoric


Communicating Clearly: It Often Pays to Repeat Information

A common observation of clients who're reading first drafts of the work they've ordered is that, 'You said that once already, so we can take this sentence out.' In fact, a certain amount of redundancy helps to get the point across.

Bennaco (2005). Articles>Writing>Rhetoric


Compositionality, Rhetoricity, and Electricity: A Partial History of Some Composition and Rhetoric Studies

Since 1949, when the Conference on College Composition and Communication was founded in Chicago, the terms composition and rhetoric have been linked in a social-constructionist move that is now ubiquitous in many United Statesian English departments as well as in many free-standing composition-rhetoric programs.

Welch, Kathleen E. Enculturation (2003). Articles>Education>Writing>Rhetoric


Consistency Leads to Trust in Information Sources

When we start talking consistency, we often think of our documents’ formatting. Consistency is important from the serial comma all the way up to the arrangement of information.

Minson, Benjamin. Gryphon Mountain (2009). Articles>Writing>Rhetoric


Control the Pace

Control the pace of the story by varying sentence length.

Clark, Roy Peter. Poynter Online (2004). Articles>Writing>Grammar>Rhetoric


Copywriting or Design: Which Gets the Best Results?

Designers believe that if something isn’t working well, and it comes down to changing the copy or the design, it’s always the copy that should be changed, reduced or sometimes nearly completely eliminated. How can I convince my designer co-workers that succinct, simple and memorable words can be just as important as the visuals?

Chartrand, James. Men With Pens (2009). Articles>Graphic Design>Writing>Visual Rhetoric


Creating a Writer's Identity on the Boundaries of Two Communities of Practice

In this case study, we explore the way one student, who aspired to become a professional writer, learned through her writing activity in two communities: academia and public relations. We use activity theory to conceptualize the student's learning as an activity that balances between individual agency in meaning making and the social, historical and cultural forces that shape how individuals make meaning. Perceiving the two settings as communities of practice that provided opportunities for pursuing shared enterprises and engaging in collective learning, we show how the student's simultaneous participation in these contrasting communities challenged and refined her understanding of what it means to be an effective writer . We discuss how the work she engaged in on the boundaries of two writing communities enhanced her developing identity as a professional writer as she became aware of and tested the limitations of writing in these two communities. Our study shows the benefit of providing opportunities for teachers and students to explore how contrasting communities of practice define successful writing activity and how writing activity operates in the cultural and political sphere of each community.

Ketter, Jean and Judy Hunter. WAC Clearinghouse (2002). Articles>Writing>Rhetoric


Cut Big, Then Small

Precise and concise writing comes from disciplined cutting.

Clark, Roy Peter. Poynter Online (2004). Articles>Writing>Rhetoric


Distributing Memory: Rhetorical Work in Digital Environments   (peer-reviewed)   (members only)

This article presents data from a long-term, qualitative study of writers appropriating new software tools for note taking. Instead of asking whether a writer knows how to use the discrete features specific to a software program, I argue that we might more profitably ask about the properties of functional systems that allow writers to flexibly meet the demands of their literate activity.

Van Ittersum, Derek. Technical Communication Quarterly (2009). Articles>Writing>Online>Rhetoric


Does Design Matter in Comparison to Content?

Few people have ever commented about my blog’s design at all. The same goes with the music intros for my podcasts. I can change the music each time, and no one ever responds. In contrast, if a post has good content, I see a steady stream of comments. My experience leads me to conclude that content is about 90% important, and design is 10% important.

Johnson, Tom H. I'd Rather Be Writing (2008). Articles>Document Design>Visual Rhetoric>Writing


Ecrire Concis

La concision, c'est l'ergonomie de l'écrivain, c'est obtenir le même résultat informatif en moins de mots, en moins de phrases, moyennant moins de 'bruit' (au sens linguistique du terme).

Redaction (2004). Articles>Writing>Rhetoric



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