English 202C: Technical Writing

Section 103, Summer 2019, Paterno Library E302, Mon–Fri 12:45 PM to 2:00 PM

Schedule & Due Dates | Resources | Syllabus PDF

UPDATED 6/14/2019. Most recent updates appear within asterisks, **like this**.

Mr. Robert Nguyen
ran22 [at] psu [dot] edu
Office: Burrowes 004-G
Office Hours:
Monday, 9:30 a.m. - 11:00 a.m.
Tuesday, 3:00 p.m. - 4:30 p.m.
Wednesday, 9:30 a.m. - 11:00 a.m.
Thursday, 2:15 p.m. - 3:45 p.m.
These drop-in hours are based on the Doodle poll of class members’ availability. I am also available by appointment outside of these hours.

Purpose and Goals

ENGL 202C, Technical Writing, serves students who are studying and preparing for careers in the sciences and applied sciences, including engineering. The purpose of the course is to provide advanced writing instruction applicable to a broad range of professional, workplace contexts. The methodologies of the course are rooted in the particular strengths of the English discipline, including the development of skills such as rhetoric, grammar, style, and critical reading and writing.

The course will train you to perform the following, and you are expected to implement these practices in your work:

1. Communicate well and clearly.

2. Develop and apply rhetoric skills to projects.

3. Collaborate with fellow students.

4. Exercise technological literacy.

5. Develop an ethical writing practice.

6. Critique works of technical communication.


To complete this course, you must: (1) obtain the textbook, (2) attend class, (3) complete assignments and quizzes, and (4) proactively engage with the course and its material. This is discussed in further detail below.

Obtain textbook.

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

As mentioned in my 5/3 Canvas announcement, any format is acceptable (e.g. hardcopy, rented e-book, purchased e-book), provided that it is the 12th edition of this textbook. A copy is on course reserve at the Engineering Library in 325 Hammond, though you will need to have access to your textbook in class.

Attend class.

You are expected to attend class every day, to be on time, and to have your work with you. In addition to the value you bring to the class and vice-versa, your attendance is also your opportunity to earn points towards your final grade via quizzes and in-class work. Quizzes and in-class work cannot be made up outside of class, so it is in your best interest to attend every class.

In the event of excessive absences, per English department policy: A student whose absences are excessive “may run the risk of receiving a lower grade or a failing grade.”

Complete assignments and Quizzes.

In-class work includes writing prompts and group activities, graded predominantly on a complete/incomplete basis. You will complete ten in-class, unannounced reading quizzes on Canvas throughout the semester. To pass this course you must complete all the major assignments and process work.

Engage with the class and the material.

You are expected to work until the class period has ended; to master all assigned readings; to help your classmates learn by your responses to their writing; to choose projects that require significant research and analysis; to spend at least fifteen hours per week out of class writing and preparing for class; and to be courteous and considerate.


Quality and Standards

In this course, I will try to hold you to professional standards. 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 and readings are due before the start 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.

  • 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 require extra help, contact me and/or refer to the Resources section of this page.

  • Back-ups: Computers fail, so back up your work. I recommend a 3-2-1 backup strategy.

  • 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

I will post on Canvas a detailed grading rubric for each assignment on the day that it is introduced. The rubric will indicate weighted criteria for the assignment and descriptions of what “A” and “C” level work look like for each criterion. While each rubric will vary, they will generally follow the below descriptions.[2]

A: Superior. (100%) The document includes all necessary information and presents it in a way that exemplifies the best practices of Technical Communication. The prose is not only clear and readable but occasionally apt and memorable. It contains zero grammatical errors, spelling errors, or typos. The document is fine tuned for the intended rhetorical audience. The document is effectively organized and uses an appropriate organizational pattern. The document uses headings, subheadings, and transitions to accomplish its rhetorical purpose. The document’s design is comparable to that of professional examples discussed in class. In a workplace setting, one might consider the document ready to present to a prospective client.

A- (93.99%)

B+ (89.99%)

B: Good. (86.99%) The document includes all necessary information and meets the objectives of the assignment. The prose is more ambitious than that of the C document, less felicitous than that of the A document. Sentence structure uses subordination, emphasis, sentence length and variety, and modifiers effectively. There are few significant grammatical errors. The document demonstrates an awareness of the writer’s audience and their needs. The document’s design is effective, if not particularly original.

B- (83.99%)

C+ (79.99%)

C: Competent. (76.99%) The document meets the minimum requirements for completing the assignment. Prose expression is competent, though it shows limited sophistication in terms of varying sentence length, structure, subordination, and variety. Sentences are primarily of simple and compound types. The document is not particularly attentive to the audience’s needs. The document is organized but uses less descriptive headers than might be useful and paragraphs may not cohere with their topic sentences. In a workplace setting, the document may indicate a lack of preparedness on the part of the author or team.

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.

Rewrite Policy

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, I will publish detailed Assignment Sheets and Rubrics on Canvas. Below are general descriptions.

  • Technical Document Analysis Memo: 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. To practice writing for a specific, real audience, you will be writing these instructions for your classmates to use.

  • Professional Website: A wide variety of social media platforms and tools are available for you to establish a professional presence online. At the same time, the webpage remains a reliable and effective way to present yourself online. In this assignment, you will demonstrate your mastery of the technical communication skills learned in this course by building a professional website. Your intended audience will be prospective employers. The site will include multiple writing samples, an online version of your resume, and other material from this course and others that best showcase your academic and professional accomplishments. You can complete this using the Penn State WordPress environment or any other platform of your choosing (e.g. Weebly).

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 all of us. 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.

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.

I encourage you to record your participation in the comments section of the relevant Canvas assignment (i.e. the 0 point assignment followed by the final participation grade assignment). This can be as simple as writing a “+” or other brief comment. This will help me evaluate your participation in the class. Note that, accordingly, I will note “-“ for in-class behaviors that negatively impact the course (e.g. using one’s smartphone, using computers for tasks not relevant to the class, etc.).

As a guideline, here is a rubric for participation grades. They follow the same percentage values as the major assignment rubric.

A: Superior. 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.



B: Good. Participates or offers to participate once per class. Offers insightful comments, though occasionally too general or not relevant. Attentive. Actively contributes to group activities.



C: Competent. 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: Marginally Acceptable. 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: Unacceptable. Refuses to participate. Disrupts class or is disrespectful of other classmates. Frequently sleeps during class. Disrupts group activities. Excessive absences from class.

A note regarding technology use during class:

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.

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:

  • Technical Document Analysis Memo, 15%

  • Job Application Package, 15%

  • Technical Definition and Description, 15%

  • Instruction Set, 15%

  • Professional Website, 15%

  • Reading Quizzes, 10%

  • Class Participation, 10%

  • In-Class Work, 5%

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 and E-Mail Expectations

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.

I try to respond to e-mails within 24 hours. I will answer questions about any assignment up until 24 hours before the assignment is due.

For more involved conversations, like review of drafts or discussions about your progress in the course, meeting during office hours is best.

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 Website provides contact information for every Penn State campus. For further information, please visit the Student Disability Resources Website.

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. 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.

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.

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. 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.


[1] This list is based in part on Kelli Cargile Cook’s six layered literacies frame for technical communication pedagogy. See Cook, Kelli Cargile. “Layered Literacies: A Theoretical Frame for Technical Communication Pedagogy.” Technical Communication Quarterly 11, no. 1 (January 1, 2002): 5–29. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15427625tcq1101_1.

[2] This is based on the Penn State Program in Writing and Rhetoric grading standards.

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

Schedule & Due Dates

All readings and written assignments are due prior to the start of the class meeting.

May 13 (Mon): Course Introduction

Unit #1: Technical Document Analysis

May 14 (Tue): Introduction to Technical Document Analysis Memo
Read Chapter 1: Introduction to Technical Communication.

May 15 (Wed): The Writing Process
Submit Planning Worksheet: Technical Document Analysis Memo.
Read Chapter 3: Writing Technical Documents. 

May 16 (Thu): Writing Correct and Effective Sentences
Read Chapter 10: Writing Correct and Effective Sentences.

May 17 (Fri): Peer Review Workshop: Technical Document Analysis Memo
Submit Rough Draft: Technical Document Analysis Memo.

Unit #2: Job Application Package

May 20 (Mon): Introduction to Job Application Package
Submit Final Draft: Technical Document Analysis Memo.  

May 21 (Tue): A Rhetorical Approach to Preparing Job Application Materials
Submit Job Ads for Approval.
Read Chapter 5: Analyzing Your Audience and Purpose.

May 22 (Wed): Writing Resumes
Submit Audience Analysis Worksheets.
Read Chapter 15: Applying for a Job.

May 23 (Thu): Writing Cover Letters
Read Chapter 7: Organizing Your Information. 

May 24 (Fri): Peer Review Workshop: Job Application Package
Submit Rough Draft: Job Application Package.

 May 27 (Mon): Memorial Day, No Class  

Unit #3: Technical Definition/Description

May 28 (Tue): Introduction to Technical Definition/Description
Submit Final Draft: Job Application Package.

May 29 (Wed): Writing Definitions and Descriptions
Submit Final Draft: Job Application Package (extended deadline).
Submit Planning Worksheet: Technical Definition/Description.
Read Chapter 20 (through page 557): Writing Definitions, Descriptions, and Instructions.

May 30 (Thu): Emphasizing Important Information
Read Chapter 9: Emphasizing Important Information. 

May 31 (Fri): Peer Review Workshop: Technical Definition/Description.
Submit Rough Draft: Technical Definition/Description.  

Jun 3 (Mon): Designing Documents
Read Chapter 11 (through page 280): Designing Print and Online Documents. 

Jun 4 (Tue): Understanding Ethical and Legal Considerations
Read Chapter 2: Understanding Ethical and Legal Considerations.

Unit #4: Instruction Set

Jun 5 (Wed): Introduction to Instruction Set
Submit Final Draft: Technical Definition/Description.  

Jun 6 (Thu): Evaluating Instructions
Submit Planning Worksheet: Instruction Set.
No reading due.

Jun 7 (Fri): Writing Instructions 
Read Chapter 20 (page 555 to end): Writing Definitions, Descriptions, and Instructions.

Jun 10 (Mon): Peer Review Workshop: Instruction Set
Submit Rough Draft: Instruction Set.  

Jun 11 (Tue): Mid-Semester Break / Workshop Day (attendance optional)

Unit #5: Professional Website

Jun 12 (Wed): Introduction to Professional Website

Jun 13 (Thu): Using Sites at Penn State 
Submit Final Draft: Instruction Set. Submit Planning Worksheet: Professional Website.

Jun 14 (Fri): Designing and Evaluating Websites
Read Chapter 11 (page 274 to end): Designing Print and Online Documents.
**Writing Studio: Familiarize yourself with your chosen platform. Create the site, create a page, and create a post. Complete your About Page if you have time left.

Jun 17 (Mon): Designing for Accessibility
Read Web Accessibility: What You Say vs. What I Hear, by Mikey Ilagen. Complete a prompt from empathyprompts.net and be prepared to answer a question about your experience.
Writing Studio: Run an accessibility test on your site or implement an accessibility recommendation on your site. Then, write your Accessibility Post.

Jun 18 (Tue): Evaluating and Testing Technical Documents
Read Chapter 13: Evaluating and Testing Technical Documents.
Writing Studio: Complete any remaining pages, aside from reflection.

Jun 19 (Wed): Peer Review Workshop: Professional Website Usability Testing
Submit Rough Draft: Professional Website. All but Reflection post should be complete.
Writing Studio: Complete Reflection Post.

Jun 20 (Thu): Prose Writing Deep Dive: Reflections  
Submit Rough Draft: Reflection Post.**

Jun 21 (Fri): Course Wrap-Up
Submit Final Draft: Professional Website.