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A STEM-Based Instructions Assignment
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The fourth assignment in the Incubator series of assignments that I have designed for my technical writing courses connects directly to the STEM-Based Technical Description Assignment I shared in my last post. In this project, students write a an instructional document related to their field, which will be part of a diversity initiative to interest local students in STEM careers (STEM = Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math).
The instructions project pairs with the Technical Description Assignment, which described an object, mechanism, or process common in the student writer’s career field. This assignment asks students to write an instructional document that relates to their technical description document. In the scenario for the paired assignments, the technical writing students discuss a task that local middle and high school students will complete as they shadow someone in the companies that students have created for the course. They will provide step-by-step details on how to complete a simple and appropriate task that will help local students learn more about what someone in their career does.
The assignment below has some minor changes to remove specific information that is relevant only to the students in my classes. References to “Markel & Selber” in the assignment refer to chapters in the class textbook Technical Communication by Mike Markel and Stuart Selber. Additionally, the scenario memo that sets up this week’s assignment is identical to that included in last week’s post. So that the assignment is complete, I have repeated it this week.
Technical Description Assignment
You will write a user document (instructions) related to your field. The instructions will be part of a diversity initiative to interest local students in STEM careers (STEM = Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). The user document will relate to a task that local middle and high school students will complete as they shadow someone in your company. You will provide step-by-step details on how to complete a simple and appropriate task that will help local students learn more about what someone in your career does.
Your user document that students will pair with the Technical Description Project that you worked on last week.
Note: We will use this scenario for two projects: Technical Descriptions (this week) and User Documents (next week).
Last week, you received the following memo, explaining your responsibilities for the Incubator’s annual Try-It-Out Day:
Ut Prosim Incubator
1872 Inventors Way, Blacksburg, Virginia 24060
To: All Incubator Companies
From: Traci Gardner, Ut Prosim Director
Subject: Preparing for Try-It-Out Day
Date: September 10, 2018
On Try-It-Out Day, students from Montgomery, Giles, Pulaski, and Floyd Counties will spend most of the day working one-on-one with employees from every company in the Incubator to learn about what careers in STEM involve. We will match students with the company that fits their interests, and then you will determine the employees who will work with those students.
What Happens on Try-It-Out Day?
Try-It-Out Day will take place on Wednesday, September 26, from 8AM to 4PM.
Students will arrive at the Incubator at 8AM and spend the entire day with their assigned company, following this general schedule:
|8:00 AM||Welcome assembly for all students and company representatives|
|8:30 AM||Students tour their assigned company, learning about what the company does and how it works|
|9:00 AM||Students pair off with employees, who tell the students about their specific careers|
|10:00 AM||Refreshments in the Incubator Atrium|
|10:30 AM||Students learn to complete an activity that their employee-hosts do in the normal course of work|
|12:30 PM||Lunch in the Incubator Cafeteria|
|1:30 PM||STEM Challenge (a competition, students and employees collaborate in teams based on the schools students attend)|
|3:30 PM||Refreshments in the Incubator Atrium and Closing Comments|
|4:00 PM||Students board buses to return home|
What Do You Need to Do to Prepare?
From 10:30 to 12:30, employees from your company will teach students about some activities that they do in the normal course of their work. To prepare for this portion of the day, please choose a specific activity that students can safely complete in 15–30 minutes. Ideally, choose an activity that students can complete more than once, such as examining and sorting specimens as shown in the image above.
Once you have chosen an activity, create two documents that students can take home and share when they return to their schools:
- A technical description of an object, mechanism, or process that relates to the activity students will complete.
- A user document that includes instructions the student can follow to complete the activity.
If you need any help with this project, please let me know or contact my assistant, Leslie Crow <email@example.com>. You can also talk with Incubator members who participated in the event last year.
Note: These details apply to all of the projects you include in your portfolio.
Your company’s address is [Your Company Name], Ut Prosim Incubator, 1872 Inventors Way, Suite #[you choose a number], Blacksburg, Virginia 24060. Your company’s phone number is 540-555-5555. You may create a fictional Internet domain for your company, and use that domain for a web page address and your email addresses. If you’d like, you may create other information (including a logo) for your company as appropriate. Be sure that you use the information that you create consistently across all of your projects.
The Project Assignment
Step 1: Review your notes on the focus and audiences for your two projects.
You are using the same focus for your User Document that you choose for the Technical Description that you worked on last week. Review the audience analysis that you completed last week to remind yourself of the characteristics and needs of the middle and high school students who will be following the instructions in your user document. Be sure that you have chosen a workplace task that they could believably complete and that will not place them in a dangerous situation.
Step 2: Examine the information about instructions in Markel.
The textbook provides resources on how to write instructions. Follow the textbook as you work on your project. In particular, be sure that you do the following:
- Work through the questions for “Designing a Set of Written Instructions” (on page 560 of Markel & Selber) to make final decisions about how to adapt your instructions to meet the needs of your readers.
- Keep your readers safe by following the advice in the section on “Planning for Safety” (starting on page 562 of Markel & Selber).
- Follow the “GUIDELINES: Drafting Introductions for Instructions” (starting on page 566 of Markel & Selber) to ensure you include the proper level of specific information.
- Use the “GUIDELINES: Drafting Steps in Instructions” (starting on page 566 of Markel & Selber) to make the activity easy to understand and complete.
- Explore the examples in the section “A Look at Several Sample Sets of Instructions” (starting on page 568 of Markel & Selber) to see some of the options for layout and formatting as well as the details to include.
Step 3: Write the user document for students to follow.
Compose your instructions, as requested in The Scenario above, with all the details you have gathered and created. Review the assessment guidelines below to ensure you have met all the requirements for the instructions. As you work, also keep the following points in mind:
- Use plain language to make the ideas easy to find and read. Refer to the resources from Module 2 as needed.
- Follow all relevant ethical guidelines as you work using the Writer’s Checklist at the end of Chapter 2 (on page 40 of Markel & Selber).
- Follow the suggestions for emphasizing important information, using the Writer’s Checklist for Chapter 9 (on page 211 of Markel & Selber) to check your work.
- Use the Writer’s Checklist for Chapter 11 (on page 288 of Markel & Selber) to ensure that your document takes advantage of design principles to make it reader-friendly.
- Make a good impression with accuracy and correctness. Your document should be polished and professional.
Step 4: Check your draft against the Writer’s Checklist.
Be sure that you include the required features for instructions. Review your project, using the Writer's Checklist for Chapter 20 (on page 576 of Markel & Selber) and the Assessment Criteria below.
Step 5: Review your draft for design and basic writing errors.
Everything you write should use accurate/appropriate image editing, grammar, spelling, punctuation, mechanics, linking, and formatting. These are important basic writing skills that you should have developed in high school. Review your project, using the Writer’s Checklist at the end of Markel & Selber, Chapter 10 (on page 242 of Markel & Selber).
You can also consult the information on “Sentence-Level Issues” in Markel & Selber, “Appendix, Part 😧 Guidelines for Multilingual Writers (ESL)” (on page 683 of Markel & Selber). While the section is labeled for multilingual writers, it is useful for everyone. It includes explanations and examples for many common mistakes writers make.
Step 6: Submit your draft to your Writing Group in Canvas.
Post a rough draft of your technical description to your Writing Group in Canvas in the 09/20 Draft Feedback Discussion in Canvas. Additional instructions are in the Discussion. Post a draft of your technical description by September 20. If you are late submitting a draft, your group may not have time to provide feedback.
Step 7: Provide feedback to your Writing Group in Canvas.
Provide feedback to the members of your writing group in the 09/20 Draft Feedback Discussion in Canvas, by September 24 (end of the grace period). Use the information on the Writing Groups page to provide constructive feedback that will help your group members make concrete improvements to their drafts.
Step 8: Revise your draft.
Use the feedback that you receive from your group members to revise and improve your document. You can share your draft again with your Writing Group, if you desire. As you revise, keep in mind the advice in the steps above, as well as the Assessment Criteria below.
Step 9: Include a polished version of your project in Project Portfolio 1, due October 1.
Have your Technical Description Project finished and ready for submission in your Project Portfolio 1, which is due Monday, October 1. The grace period for Project Portfolio 1 ends at 11:59PM on Thursday, October 4.
For All Technical Writing Projects
All technical writing projects should meet the following general criteria:
- Makes a good first impression as a polished and professional document.
- Meets the needs of the intended audience.
- Demonstrates how to emphasize important information.
- Uses layout and formatting that makes information easy for readers to find and read, and that follows the standards you have set for your company.
- Is written in plain language, which communicates the ideas clearly.
- Follows all relevant ethical guidelines.
- Uses accurate/appropriate grammar, spelling, punctuation, mechanics, linking, and formatting.
Your project should meet the following criteria for effective instructions, based on the checklist at the end of Chapter 20 of Markel & Selber:
- Demonstrates a clear relationship between the graphics and the accompanying text.
- Has a clear title that is specific to the instructions.
- Opens with an introduction that
- states the purpose of the task.
- describes the safety measures or other concerns that readers should understand.
- lists the necessary tools and materials.
- Includes step-by-step instructions that are
- expressed in the imperative mood.
- simple and direct.
- accompanied by appropriate graphics.
- Ends with a conclusion that includes
- any necessary follow-up advice.
- if appropriate, a troubleshooting guide.
Image Credit from Memo: RDECOM Scientist and Engineers bring their special skills and enthusiasm to STEM Night at Fallston M... by U.S. Army RDECOM on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license
I supplemented the assignment and the textbook information with some short videos and other materials that discussed how to decide between arranging instructions in a sequence and breaking instructions out in steps. Class discussion focused on students’ experience with following instructions. They offered many examples of instructions that didn’t give the end user enough details, primarily from instructions for building furniture.
Things have not been all smooth with this assignment, however. Some students were confused about the connections between the technical description and the instructions. I thought that breaking the activity into two separate pieces would help them focus on one genre at a time. Instead, I complicated the projects. I will likely use one assignment, combining the two projects, in the future.
Next week, I will share details from the portfolio submission assignment, including an infographic I created to help them understand the process. Students have completed half of the writing projects, so they will turn in their collected works. Until next week, let me know if you have any questions or suggestions by leaving me a comment below.
Photo credit: I’ve done assembly and teardown of inline-4 combustion engines in my life you think I can do this?#i..., used under a CC-BY 2.0 license.
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