English 202C-020: Technical Writing

Spring 2019, Huck Life Sciences 006, Tues & Thurs 9:05 AM to 10:20 AM

Schedule & Due Dates | Resources

4/11/19 change: Consolidated A5 peer reviews into a single review on 4/23. Draft remains due on 4/16 for Usability Testing activity. Changes bracketed by asterisks ***like this***.

Syllabus built upon the Spring 2019 Penn State Program in Writing and Rhetoric 202C Syllabus Template by Stuart Selber.

Mr. Robert Nguyen
ran22 [at] psu [dot] edu
Office: Burrowes 004-G
Office Hours:
Tuesday 3:00 p.m. - 4:30 p.m.
Friday 9:30 a.m. - 11:00 a.m.
and by appointment.


ENGL 202C, Technical Writing, serves students who are studying and preparing for careers in the sciences and applied sciences, including engineering. This advanced course in writing familiarizes students with the discourse practices prized in their disciplinary and institutional communities—and helps them to manage those practices effectively in their own written work. In this way the course teaches those writing strategies and tactics that scientists, engineers, and others will need in order to write successfully on the job.

Accordingly, students in the course can expect to:

  1. Discover and understand the discourse features that distinguish their disciplinary and institutional communities from others.

  2. Discover and specify the purpose(s) of their writing.

  3. Develop a range of writing processes appropriate to various writing tasks.

  4. Identify their readers and describe the characteristics of their readers in a way that forms a sound basis for deciding how to write to them.

  5. Invent the contents of their communications through research and reflection.

  6. Arrange material to raise and satisfy readers’ expectations, using both conventional and rhetorical patterns of organization.

  7. Reveal the organization of their communications by using forecasting and transitional statements, headings, and effective page and document design.

  8. Observe appropriate generic conventions and formats for technical documents.

  9. Design and use tables, graphs, and technical illustrations.

  10. Compose effective sentences.

  11. Evaluate their documents to be sure that the documents fulfill their purpose and to ensure that they can be revised if necessary.

  12. Collaborate effectively with their peers in a community of writers who provide feedback on each others’ work and occasionally write together.

  13. Write several specific kinds of documents that recur in technical, scientific, and other communities.

  14. Employ computer technology effectively in the solution of communication problems.

  15. Communicate in an ethically responsible manner.


Obtain textbook.

Technical Communication by Mike Markel and Stuart A. Selber. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2018. 12th edition. E-book.

Attend class.

You are expected to attend class every day and to have your work with you. Regular attendance is required, because course instruction depends on your active participation. You may be absent from up to two class sessions with no penalty and no explanation necessary (unless you miss a rough draft session—a major problem); but try to limit it to that. Indeed, why not attend every meeting? Excused absences are appropriate, of course, but beyond that, let me repeat English department policy: A student whose absences are excessive “may run the risk of receiving a lower grade or a failing grade,” whether some of those absences are considered “excused” or not. If you miss class, it is your responsibility to get assignments, complete any work, and submit any due assignments.

It is particularly important for you to attend—and be prepared to participate in—in-class workshops on drafts of your documents. The more you have written before peer-review sessions, the more you will benefit from them. Although your drafts need not be “polished,” in general they should be complete enough for you to receive substantial help from your peers. Under no circumstances will I accept a “final” version of a document unless I have seen rough drafts. In addition, you must hand in all assignments in order to pass the course.

Complete assignments and Quizzes.

(more on this later).

Engage with the class and the material.

In addition to the requirements outlined above, you are expected to work until the class period has ended; to complete all reading assignments on time; to help your classmates learn by your responses to their writing; to choose projects that require significant research and analysis; to spend at least six hours per week out of class for writing and class preparation; and to be courteous and considerate.


Quality and Standards

In this course, I will try to hold you to the professional standards that prevail in your field. For example, of the requirements listed below, your employer will take some completely for granted, such as promptness, neat appearance, and correct mechanics.

  • Promptness: In this course, as in the working world, you must turn in your work on time. All projects are due at the beginning of class on the dates indicated on the syllabus. Assignments turned in late will be penalized one letter grade for each day late unless you have made other arrangements with me in advance.

  • Appearance: All work should be neatly prepared on a computer, using margins and spacing and design techniques that are conventional for the genre. Whether it is a resume, memo, or report, your communication should exhibit complete and appropriate format. All writing for the course should be printed clearly, including draft work, unless otherwise noted.

  • Grammar, Spelling, Proofreading: At work, even a single error in spelling, grammar, or proofreading can jeopardize the effectiveness of some communications. Grading will reflect the great seriousness with which these matters are frequently viewed in the working world. If you would like special assistance with any of these skills, I can recommend sources for extra help.

  • Back-up Copies: Always back-up your electronic files. Sometimes I will request a copy of one of your documents so that I can use it as a sample, to illustrate effective and problematic responses to assignments. Unless I completely obliterate any marks that might identify it as yours, I will never use your work in class without your permission.

  • Revisions: You will receive feedback on your writing at various stages of the writing process. You should try to apply the comments to improve not only the particular assignment you are working on at the time but also your strategies for writing in general.

Assignment Grading Standards

Of each assignment’s potential 100 points, 95 are determined by your final submitted assignment. 5 are determined by your timely and satisfactory submissions of any required process work (e.g. proposals and drafts).

When grading each of your final submissions, I will ask one overriding question: “Does this document do its job successfully?” That is, would your communication have the intended effect on the reader you are addressing. I will, of course, recognize the difference between a competent performance (a “C”) and good and superior performances (“B” and “A”). A competent performance is one that stands a chance of succeeding; an excellent performance is one that seems assured not only of success but also of winning praise. Each grade below indicates a percent value that will be applied to the assignment in Canvas. -/+ will be applied to submissions that fall slightly above or below the standards descriptions for the whole letter grades.

A: Superior. (100%) The work is of near professional quality. The document meets or exceeds all the objectives of the assignment. The content is mature, thorough, and well-suited for the audience; the style is clear, accurate, and forceful; the information is well-organized and designed so that it is accessible and attractive; the mechanics and grammar are correct.

A- (93.99%)

B+ (89.99%)

B: Good. (86.99%) The document meets the objectives of the assignment, but it needs improvement in style, or it contains easily correctable errors in grammar, format, or content, or its content is superficial.

B- (83.99%)

C+ (79.99%)

C: Competent. (76.99%) The document needs significant improvement in concept, details, development, organization, grammar, or format. It may be formally correct but superficial in content.

D: Marginally acceptable. (69.99%) The document meets some of the objectives but ignores others; the content is inadequately developed; or it contains numerous or major errors.

F: Unacceptable. (59.99%) The document does not have enough information, does something other than the assignment required, or it contains major errors or excessive errors.

Rewriting an Assignment

You may rewrite and resubmit one assignment. That assignment must have earned a grade of B or lower, and it cannot be the final assignment due to Final Grade submission deadlines. To re-write an assignment, e-mail me to schedule a meeting. We will meet to determine a revision plan and a reasonable due date. If the resubmitted assignment earns a higher grade than the original grade, it will replace the original grade. If it earns a lower grade, then the original grade stands.

Assignment Descriptions

As assignments are introduced, instructions for each will be linked below. Copies will also be posted in the corresponding Canvas Assignment page. Below are general descriptions.

  • Basic Rhetorical Analysis: Technical communication is meant to be used and not just read. Good technical communication communicates information to an audience who will act on that information in a variety of ways: in making hiring decisions, in following technical procedures, in developing research plans, and more. In this assignment, you will evaluate the usability of a piece of technical communication—that is, you will analyze whether the document effectively communicates the necessary information to its audience and where it fails to do so. In this way, the assignment will introduce you to basic elements of technical communication.

  • Job Application Package: The process of applying for a job is an extremely important scenario for technical communication. As a job applicant, you have a vested interest in communicating your suitability for the position with the specific audience making employment decisions. This assignment will ask you to create resumes and application documents attuned to the rhetorical situations of two actual job offerings in your field. You will also discuss your writing and communication decisions in a reflective memo.

  • Technical Definition and Description: Engineers and scientists are often required to describe a technical object, concept, or process to someone who has little knowledge or experience with the subject at hand. For example, an engineering firm might write a proposal to bid on a contract to develop a helicopter for the Defense Department; one section of the proposal would be a detailed description of the product the company proposes to develop. Technical descriptions are used before products and processes are developed (as part of proposals and planning documents), during development (in progress reports, for instance), and afterwards (as part of marketing and promotional literature and technical support documents). You will write a technical definition for an object, concept, or process in your field.

  • Instruction Set: Instruction sets are common technical documents for many disciplines and occupations. Employees read instructions to learn how to assemble a product or complete a procedure. Supervisors write out company policies that oftentimes serve as instruction sets. Customers read instructions for using a product. You will develop a set of instructions advising users to perform a specific task.

  • E-Portfolio: Electronic portfolios are an increasingly common vehicle for developing a professional online identity. Professionals are beginning to create them and employers are beginning to expect them. Employers are interested in e-portfolios for a variety of reasons: they provide multiple writing samples, display skills with computers and new media, and require reflection and meta-knowledge. Professionals like e-portfolios because they help them keep track of their projects and accomplishments. As a final course assignment, you will design an e-portfolio using the Penn State WordPress environment. The portfolio will include work from this course and from others. You will create your e-portfolio for an audience of potential employers.

Reading Quizzes

You will complete ten in-class, unannounced reading quizzes on Canvas throughout the semester. If you must be absent on a quiz day, you can make up the quiz by submitting it on Canvas within 7 days from the date/time that the quiz was assigned. Canvas will automatically drop your lowest quiz result (i.e., only your nine best quiz results will count towards your grade).

Class Participation

Your participation is integral to the success of this course. You will help your fellow writers, and you will make the class that much more engaging and stimulating for both of us (I don’t want to hear me talk for 75 minutes non-stop, and I assume you don’t either). Ask questions. Voice your observations. Listen to and respond to your fellow classmates. If you are uncomfortable participating during class, bring your questions and observations to me during Office Hours. I will take this into account when considering your participation grade.

Note that use of personal technology like smartphones and headphones during class is prohibited, and may affect your participation grade. Laptops and tablets are permitted, but as with using the lab computers, you are expected to work only on material that we are working on in class that day. Doing otherwise (e.g. using personal e-mail, social network sites, or working on material for other classes) may affect your participation grade.

At the mid-point of the semester, you will receive a participation grade that counts for 0 points. This will provide a status update on how you are doing, and incentivize you to either increase your participation, or continue the good work that you’re doing.

After the course ends, I will evaluate your participation throughout the whole semester and indicate the corresponding grade in Canvas.

As a guideline, here is a rubric for participation grades.

A: Participates or offers to participate multiple times per class. Insightful comments using terms and concepts from the readings and other classes. Very attentive and engaged in the particulars of the class discussion. Makes substantial contributions in group activities.
: Participates or offers to participate once per class. Offers insightful comments, though occasionally too general or not relevant. Attentive. Actively contributes to group activities.
: Participates or offers to participate during half the class meetings. Offers occasionally constructive comments. At times inattentive. Occasionally uses computers for tasks unrelated to the class meeting. Participates a minimal amount in group activities.
D: Doesn’t participate unless specifically asked to do so. Offers comments heavily driven by personal opinion, with minimal relation to the current discussion. Generally inattentive. Often uses computers for tasks unrelated to the class meeting. Speaks while others are talking. Nods off during class. Does not participate in group activities.
F: Refuses to participate. Disrupts class or is disrespectful of other classmates. Frequently sleeps during class. Disrupts group activities. Excessive absences from class.

Your Final Grade

Weighting of Assignments, Quizzes, and Participation

Your final grade will be determined by the grades you receive on written and in-class assignments, according to the following weighting:

  • Basic Rhetorical Analysis, 15%

  • Job Application Package, 15%

  • Technical Definition and Description, 15%

  • Instruction Set, 15%

  • E-Portfolio, 20%

  • Reading Quizzes, 10%

  • Class Participation, 10%

Grading Scheme

Canvas will apply the above weighting to determine points earned in each evaluated component of the course. The below grading scheme will be applied in Canvas to calculate your final grade.

Because you build your Final Grade through your performance in each component of the course, I will not round Final Grade number values up or down. For example, 93.5 is less than 94.0, so that’s an A-; 69.9 is less than 70.0, so that’s a D.

100 to 94.0 is an A
<94.0 to 90.0 is an A-
<90.0 to 87.0 is a B+
<87.0 to 84.0 is a B
<84.0 to 80.0 is a B-
<80.0 to 77.0 is a C+
<77.0 to 70.0 is a C
<70.0 to 50.0 is a D
<60.0 to 0.0 is an F

Office Hours

See me when you have questions about an assignment, when you would like to try out some ideas before a document is due, or when you have questions about a comment. You should also see me to get help with particular writing problems, to resolve differences about grades, or to suggest ways to improve the course.

Policy Statements

Academic Integrity

Academic integrity is the pursuit of scholarly activity in an open, honest and responsible manner. Academic integrity is a basic guiding principle for all academic activity at The Pennsylvania State University, and all members of the University community are expected to act in accordance with this principle. Consistent with this expectation, the University’s Code of Conduct states that all students should act with personal integrity, respect other students’ dignity, rights and property, and help create and maintain an environment in which all can succeed through the fruits of their efforts.

Academic integrity includes a commitment by all members of the University community not to engage in or tolerate acts of falsification, misrepresentation or deception. Such acts of dishonesty violate the fundamental ethical principles of the University community and compromise the worth of work completed by others.

Do not risk failing this course due to a short-sighted lapse in judgment.

Accessibility: Disability Accommodation

Penn State welcomes students with disabilities into the University’s educational programs. Every Penn State campus has an office for students with disabilities. The Student Disability Resources Web site provides contact information for every Penn State campus (equity.psu.edu/student-disability-resources/disability-coordinator). For further information, please visit the Student Disability Resources website (equity.psu.edu/sdr).

In order to receive consideration for reasonable accommodations, you must contact the appropriate disability services office at the campus where you are officially enrolled, participate in an intake interview, and provide documentation (equity.psu.edu/student-disability-resources/applying-for-services). If the documentation supports your request for reasonable accommodations, your campus’s disability services office will provide you with an accommodation letter. Please share this letter with your instructors and discuss the accommodations with them as early in your courses as possible. You must follow this process for every semester that you request accommodations.

Education Equity: Bias Reporting

Penn State takes great pride to foster a diverse and inclusive environment for students, faculty, and staff. Acts of intolerance, discrimination, or harassment due to age, ancestry, color, disability, gender, gender identity, national origin, race, religious belief, sexual orientation, or veteran status are not tolerated and can be reported through Educational Equity via the Report Bias webpage (equity.psu.edu/reportbias/).

Counseling and Psychological Services

Many students at Penn State face personal challenges or have psychological needs that may interfere with their academic progress, social development, or emotional wellbeing. The university offers a variety of confidential services to help you through difficult times, including individual and group counseling, crisis intervention, consultations, online chats, and mental health screenings. These services are provided by staff who welcome all students and embrace a philosophy respectful of clients’ cultural and religious backgrounds, and sensitive to differences in race, ability, gender identity and sexual orientation.

  • Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS): 814-863-0395, (studentaffairs.psu.edu/counseling/)

  • Penn State Crisis Line (24 hours/7 days/week): 877-229-6400

  • Crisis Text Line (24 hours/7 days/week): Text LIONS to 741741

Standards of Classroom Behavior

Classroom behavior should always reflect the essential Penn State values of civility, integrity, and respect for the dignity and rights of others. As such, the classroom space should be safe, orderly, and positive—free from disruptions, disorderly conduct, and harassment as defined in the University Code of Conduct (studentaffairs.psu.edu/support-safety-conduct/student-conduct/code-conduct). The University Code of Conduct defines disruption “as an action or combination of actions by one or more individuals that unreasonably interferes with, hinders, obstructs, or prevents the operation of the University or infringes on the rights of others to freely participate in its programs and services;” disorderly conduct includes but is not limited to “creating unreasonable noise; pushing and shoving; creating a physically hazardous or physically offensive condition;” and harassment may include “directing physical or verbal conduct at an individual…; subjecting a person or group of persons to unwanted physical contact or threat of such; or engaging in a course of conduct, including following the person without proper authority (e.g., stalking), under circumstances which would cause a reasonable person to fear for his or her safety or the safety of others or to suffer emotional distress” (Section IV, B). The course instructor has the authority to request that any disruptive students leave the class for the class period. If disruptive behavior continues in subsequent class periods, a complaint may be filed with the Office of Student Conduct, which may result in the student being dismissed from class until University procedures have been completed. Any student with concerns or questions as to this policy should contact the Director of the Program in Writing and Rhetoric.

Schedule & Due Dates

Readings and written assignments due for each class meeting are listed next to the meeting date. All written assignments are due on Canvas prior to the start of the class meeting.

Week 1

1/8 T
Course introduction. Defining technical communication.

1/10 R: Read Chapter 1.
Introduction to Assignment #1: Basic Rhetorical Analysis.

Week 2

1/15 T: Read Chapter 5. Submit A1 Planning Sheet before 9:04 a.m.
The rhetorical situation.
Some publicly available memos (note, not models):

1/17 R: Submit Draft of Basic Rhetorical Analysis.
Looking at drafts.

Week 3

1/22 T: Read Chapter 3.
Understanding the writing process.

1/24 R: Submit Basic Rhetorical Analysis.
Understanding the writing process.

Week 4

1/29 T
Introduction to Assignment #2: Job Application Package. Researching jobs.

1/31 R: Submit job ads for approval.
Class canceled due to extreme cold.

Week 5

2/5 T: Read Chapter 15: Applying for a Job
Writing resumes.

2/7 R: Submit drafts of both resumes. Read Chapter 8: Communicating Persuasively.
Looking at drafts. Communicating persuasively.

Week 6

2/12 T

Class canceled due to winter storm.

2/14 R: Read Chapter 7: Organizing Your Information.
Writing cover letters.

Week 7

2/19 T: Submit drafts of both cover letters. Read Chapter 10: Writing Correct and Effective Sentences.
Writing Correct and Effective Sentences. Looking at drafts.

2/21 R: Submit Job Application Package.
Introducing Assignment #3: Technical Definition/Description.

Week 8

2/26 T: Submit Assignment #3 Planning Sheet. Read Chapter 20 (through page 557): Writing Definitions, Descriptions, and Instructions.
Writing definitions and descriptions.

2/28 R: Read Chapter 9: Emphasizing Important Information.
Emphasizing Important Information.

Week 9

3/5 T: Spring Break. No Class.

3/7 R: Spring Break. No Class.

Week 10

3/12 T: Submit Draft of Technical Definition/Description.
Looking at drafts.

3/14 R: Submit Technical Definition/Description.
Introduction to Assignment #4: Instruction Set

Week 11

3/19 T: Submit Planning Worksheet. Read Chapter 20 (page 555 to end): Writing Definitions, Descriptions, and Instructions.
Writing instructions. Evaluating instructions.

3/21 R: Read Chapter 11 (through page 280): Designing Print and Online Documents.
Designing documents.

Two Spaces After Periods, Two Schools of Thought:

Week 12

3/26 T: Read Chapter 12: Creating Graphics.
Designing and using graphics.

3/28 R: Submit Draft of Instruction Set.
Looking at drafts.

Week 13

4/2 T
Usability evaluations.

4/4 R: Submit Instruction Set.
Introduction to Assignment #5: E-Portfolio.

Week 14

4/9 T: Submit Planning Worksheet. Read Chapter 11 (page ***274*** to end): Designing Print and Online Documents.
Using Sites at Penn State.

4/11 R: Read Chapter 13: Evaluating and Testing Technical Documents.
Designing and Evaluating Web sites.

Week 15

***4/16 T: Submit Draft of E-Portfolio (as of 4/16)
Usability testing.***

4/18 R: Read Chapter 2: Understanding Ethical and Legal Considerations.
Writing ethically. Writing reflections.

Week 16

***4/23 T: Submit Draft of E-Portfolio (as of 4/23)
Looking at drafts. Final editing.***

4/25 R: Submit E-Portfolios.
Course wrap-up.