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Technical writing is the presentation of information that helps the reader solve a particular problem. Technical communicators write, design, and/or edit proposals, manuals, web pages, lab reports, newsletters, and many other kinds of professional documents.

While technical writers need to have good computer skills, they do not necessarily have to write about computers all their lives. "Technical" comes from the Greek techne, which simply means "skill".

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Since 1998, I have maintained a collection of instructional handouts. In recent years, I have put more effort into posting new material on specific courses pages, such as this handout explaining the difference between an English essay and a news article, or this handout describing literary close reading.

See also my collection of writing handouts, with special sections on  academic writing, creative writing, writing for the internet, and technical and professional writing.
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06 Jun 2010 (updated); by
Usability Testing: 8 Quick Tips for Designing Tests

If you already have a prototype and you want to conduct a usability test, and you're eager to learn how to make the most of your opportunity to learn from your users, then this document is for you.

Short Stories: Developing Ideas for Short Fiction
A short story is tight -- there is no room for long exposition, there are no subplots to explore, and by the end of the story there should be no loose ends to tie up.  End right at the climax, so that the reader has to imagine how a life-changing event will affect the protagonist.

Quotations: Integrating them in MLA-Style Papers
The MLA-style in-text citation is a highly compressed format, designed to avoid interruping the flow of ideas. A proper MLA inline citation uses just the author's last name and the page number (or line number), separated by a space (not a comma).

Researched Papers: Using Quotations Effectively
If your college instructor wants you to cite every fact or opinion you find in an outside source, how do you make room for your own opinion? Paraphrase, quote selectively, and avoid summary.

Slouching Towards Bedlam

The rotating tin cylinder within the phonograph vibrates slightly as a brass needle scrapes against it. The sound of a throat being cleared emerges from the machine's hornshell speaker, followed by a thin, haunting voice.

"March the 16th."

A deep, shaky breath.

"I dread to say it, but I believe I am going mad. The -- *moments* -- come more frequently now. I fear that I have found what I have sought, and I shall now pay the price for it."

The scrape of a chair across flagstone. A sigh.

"Chaos treads the halls of Bedlam; her work is evident everywhere..."

Thesis Statements: How to Write Them
A thesis statement is the single, specific claim that your essay supports. A good thesis statment is not simply an observation, a question, or a promise. It includes a topic, a precise opinion, and reasoning.


Personal Essays: How to Write Them
Your instructor is not going to grade you on how much you loved your deceased family member, how wonderfully you played in the big game, or how narrowly you escaped death. Your instructor wants to gauge your ability to focus on one specific incident -- even a routine happening -- and tell it in an engaging way.

Assessing Google as a Teaching and Research Tool
We know our students use Google, and we ourselves use Google to prepare for classes. We should know how Google works, so we can accommodate its weaknesses. (Teaching & Learning Forum, Seton Hill University.)

Finding the URL of a Framed Web Document
When a site uses frames, clicking on navigation links will cause the document displayed inside the frame to change, but the URL at the top of the screen won't change. This document explains how to find the URL of the exact page you want to cite.

Cruel Amusement Park Instructions
Amusement parks just wouldn't be amusing without all the warnings that we ignore.

(Meme)X Marks the Spot: Theorizing Metablogging via "Meme" and "Conduit"
This paper examines metablogging in terms of Dawkins's concept of the "meme" and Reddy's critique of the "conduit" metaphor for communication.... The language of metablogging uses metaphors that emphasize communality and proximity, and thus offers an alternative to the social risks Reddy associates with the conduit metaphor.

Short Stories: 10 Tips for Novice Creative Writers
A short story starts close to the conclusion, conserves characters, scenes and details, and usually focuses on a single problem and a short time period. This page offers tips on writing dialogue, building to a climax, and capturing the reader's interest.

Integrating Good Sources
If your college instructor wants you to cite every fact or opinion you find in an outside source, how do you make room for your own opinion? Paraphrase. Quote selectively. Avoid summary.

Newbie Web Author Checklist
If you've recently created your first website and you're getting ready to submit it for a class assignment, then this page is for you.

Gender-neutral Language
Many people believe that the general use of the term "man" is offensive, or at least inaccurate.  Phrases like "no man is an island" or "every man for himself" seem to exclude women. Unless your goal is to offend or annoy your audience, you should follow the conventions they expect.

I Found it On the Internet: 
How to Locate, Evaluate and Cite Online Sources

The link above goes to the web version of a PowerPoint presentation.

All Your Usenet are Belong to Wesley
I tracked down the first Usenet references to the hated Star Trek character Wesley Crusher, and to Wil Wheaton, the child actor who grew up to gain some serious geek credibility.

Titles for Web Pages: In Context and Out of Context
Most writers know the value of an informative title, but many beginning web authors don't know that each web page needs two kinds of titles.

Short Reports: How To Write Routine Technical Documents
This collection of documents uses examples and commentary to teach technical writing principles. Chief among them: good writers don't need fancy words; a technical document is not a mystery novel; and, break your content into appropriate sections (Abstract or Executive Summary? Introduction or Background?  Recommendations or Conclusions?). 

World Trade Center: Reflections on the Disaster
Skyscrapers in general, and the twin towers of the World Trade Center in particular, symbolize, for many writers, either prideful arrogance, or a new technological beauty. This site attempts to survey what has already been written on this topic.

Scott Adams: Storytelling in Computer Games
The author of the first commercial computer game ("Adventureland," 1978) leads a lively discussion on narrative, copyright, and violence. He also describes his first night playing EverQuest

Exposition in Interactive Fiction
Putting long stretches of narrative prose into the mouth of the interactive fiction narrator will not turn a great puzzle-fest into even a passable story.... The interactive fiction player is supposed to live the story.

Frames: Finding the URL of a Framed Document
Look for an "escape from frames" or "turn this frame off" link. Right-click on a link (or, on a Mac, hold down the control key while clicking) and select the command that will let you "open link in new window."

"Last Page of the Internet" Links
Who first created the "Last Page of the Internet" joke? I have no idea.

Scott Adams, Computer Gaming Pioneer, to Speak at UWEC
Scott Adams, the computer gaming pioneer whose work during the early 80s helped spawn an entertainment industry, will visit the University of Wisconsin -- Eau Claire on Thursday, May 3, 2001 as part of the UWEC English Festival. He will participate in an early afternoon round table (2pm, location TBD), and also discuss his work in the Hibbard Humanities Hall penthouse, 4-5pm.

Eliza (1966)
Eliza was the first chatterbot -- a computer program that mimics human conversation. In only about 200 lines of computer code, Eliza models the behavior of a psychiatrist (or, more specifically, the "active listening" strategies of a touchy-feely 1960s Rogerian therapist).

Galatea (interactive fiction)
She might be the model in a perfume ad; the trophy wife at a formal gathering; one of the guests at this very opening, standing on an empty pedestal in some ironic act of artistic deconstruction -- You hesitate, about to turn away. Her hand balls into a fist. "They told me you were coming."

Outlines: How They Can Help You
An outline is a tool that helps writers determine whether they have enough raw material (in the form of quotations from scholarly sources and/or data from original research) to construct a particular argument. With experience, many writers learn that using an outline leads to better work, in less time.

I Missed Class...Did I Miss Anything Important?
Most teachers I know cringe when students who missed class e-mail to request a transcript of the class they missed. My policy is to say, "Get the notes from a classmate." 

Top 5 Tips for Effective Notetaking
The transition from high school textbook learning to college lecture learning can leave students struggling academically. Make that transition easy by following these 5 top tips to improve your notetaking -- and your GPA.

Zplet Bug Hunt
Some time ago I corresponded with Matthew T. Russotto, programmer of Zplet, who gave me permission to update, expand, and redistribute Zplet for non-commercial purposes. So... what bugs bedevil us when we use Zplet?

Blurbs: Writing Previews of Web Pages
A blurb is a short paragraph that previews what's on the other end of a link. You're reading a blurb now. If it helps you decide whether you should click the link, then it has done its job.

Writing Effective E-Mail: Top 10 Tips

These ten tips will help teach you how to write effective, high-quality e-mails in today's professional environment. Write a meaningful subject line; keep the message short and readable; avoid attachments; identify yourself; don't flame (and more).

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde
"[I]n case of the decease of Henry Jekyll, M.D., D.C.L., L.L.D., F.R.S., etc., all his possessions were to pass into the hands of his "friend and benefactor Edward Hyde," but that in case of Dr. Jekyll's "disappearance or unexplained absence for any period exceeding three calendar months," the said Edward Hyde should step into the said Henry Jekyll's shoes without further delay..."

Hypertext Essays- How to Write Them
The ordinary prose essay has been around for hundreds of years; people have had a long time to discover how to write a good one.  But hypertext is a much more recent invention.

Learn to Fear Jupiter Communications!
If this press release represents the kind of thinking that comes out of this company, I suggest that you run screaming from the unbounded evil that Jupiter Communications represents.

Slamming the Door on Readers  
Web design is a good thing; but web authors who overemphasize design frequently end up skimping on -- or even subverting -- their own content.

Keep It Simple Stupid: On the Web, a KISS is still a KISS
Want to launch a business that makes a really huge impression?  Put the cash register on the roof.  How cool would that be!

MLA-Style Bibliography Builder
Updated to handle web sources (Jan 2001).  Choose a form, fill it out, and push the button... you will get an individual MLA "Works Cited" entry, which you may then copy and paste into your word processor. The BibBuilder is limited in its usefulness, but you may nevertheless find it helpful.

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Older Material (of historic interest)


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