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 Communicating in Technical Organizations(2005)  posted by  duggu   on 12/26/2007  Add Courseware to favorites Add To Favorites  
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Evens, Aden, 21W.780 Communicating in Technical Organizations, Spring 2005. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT OpenCourseWare),  (Accessed 09 Jul, 2010). License: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

Prof. Evens's homepage.

Prof. Evens' homepage. (Image by MIT OCW. Courtesy of Prof. Aden Evens.)

Course Highlights

This course features a detailed listing and explanation of course assignments.

Course Description

This course has two parallel aims:
  1. To improve student writing about technical subject matters, including forms of writing commonly employed in technical organizations, and
  2. Critically to examine the nature of technologically-assisted communication, focusing somewhat on professional communication among scientists and engineers. We will often combine these two goals, by practicing critical investigation of communications technologies in written formats (and other media) that employ communications technologies.



    Course Description

    This course has two parallel aims:

    1. To improve student writing about technical subject matters, including forms of writing commonly employed in technical organizations, and
    2. Critically to examine the nature of technologically-assisted communication, focusing somewhat on professional communication among scientists and engineers. We will often combine these two goals, by practicing critical investigation of communications technologies in written formats (and other media) that employ communications technologies.

    Following the parallel aims of the course, there are primarily two types of course materials that we will study together. We will work on student writing by reading your writing in various media, and critiquing it as a group. We will also examine the nature of communications technologies by reading books and articles of philosophy and cultural theory. The readings will thus range from very concrete, empirical accounts to very abstract, philosophical texts, and you should certainly be prepared to deal with both extremes on the scale of abstraction.

    Rather than an overarching theme or a unifying project for the whole semester, our curriculum will jump each week to a new topic, building methods of critical inquiry along the way. We will study the construction of CVs and other materials relating to job acquisition. We will examine the possibilities and pitfalls of Microsoft® PowerPoint® presentations. We will consider the implications of the growing use of cell phones, and the social dimensions of WiFi networks. We will practice Web design and discuss the supposed rules for constructing good Web sites. Computer gaming, blogging, and electronic security will all pass before our critical gaze. Cutting across these many issues, writing assignments will often require the invention of new ideas for innovation in communication technology or critical examination of existing technologies.


    There will be two major writing assignments, as well as numerous shorter assignments. See this listing and explanation of course assignments (PDF). Discussion of these written documents will constitute much of our class time. We will also spend some time writing in class, and editing as a group. In addition to traditional written papers, assignments will take different forms, including memos, proposals, and Web sites. Some assignments will be submitted in pairs or larger groups, depending on the number of students in the class.


    There are a number of different kinds of assignments in this class, presented throughout the semester in class, by email, and on paper.

    C: a "casual" assignment. There are about five of these during the semester. They are short writing assignments, generally no more than one or two paragraphs. Most often, the assignment will ask for a brief analysis of the reading for class that day. They sometimes call for well-edited prose, but sometimes demand only sketches of ideas in note form.

    A: a formal, written assignment. This course assigns two essays during the semester. These essays are the bulk of the written work in the course, and constitute a substantial portion of your final grade. In general, drafts are not given an independent grade, but a lazy or incomplete draft will result in a penalty on the revision. You will find that the easiest and most effective way of generating an excellent revision is by preparing a complete and careful draft. The aim of this policy is to ensure that you discover your most creative and risky ideas by giving you the freedom to write a draft without the threat of a bad grade, but to ensure that your revisions are better by making the draft a requirement. As some of our class time will be devoted to group critique of drafts, you must bring your finished draft to class when it is due or be marked absent for the day. Finally, I frequently share part or all of a draft with the class. If you submit anything in this class that you do not wish for others to see, please let me know and I will respect your privacy.


    Bear in mind that drafts of writing assignments figure to some extent as part of the grade for that assignment. Individual assignments are weighted in the final grade according to the following thirty-point scale.

    A1 5
    A2 5
    C (All of Them) 8
    W1 4
    Oral Presentation 3
    Participation 5
    Total 30

    Course Details

    Your Role in this Class

    This course requires your attendance and on-time production. You are expected to be prepared for each class (having read and thought about the assigned reading, having assignments completed) and to participate meaningfully and often in class discussions and workshops.

    Responsibility as Student

    Because this class meets only once each week, and because meetings are three hours long, students will be expected to make significant contributions to class time activities. Furthermore, as a class partly about writing, extensive practice is the only means of assuring genuine improvement. As such, students will likely spend a significant amount of time preparing for class, including in some weeks more than one reading and writing assignment.


    I do not distinguish between excused and unexcused absences. Given the "hands-on" nature of the subject matter, to miss class is necessarily to miss out on the learning that this class provides. We also have only twelve meetings throughout the semester, so consistent attendance is crucial for a valid experience of this class.

    • There is one penalty-free absence that you should save for illness, religious reasons, job interviews, and the like. This absence is "no questions asked," so that you need present no excuse for missing class. Note: In the last two weeks of class (the final two meetings), the "no questions asked" policy is suspended; missed classes during these last two weeks require a medical excuse and a doctor's note in order to count as penalty-free.
    • The second absence is no longer penalty free: it lowers your final course grade by a whole grade (e.g., an A becomes a B), the third absence lowers it another whole grade (the original A becomes a C).
    • The fourth absence means automatic failure for the course; you should drop the course immediately to avoid its showing up on your transcript. This automatic failure occurs regardless of your average or the reason for the absences because you will not have fulfilled the course requirements - no exceptions.
    • You must be on time for class. Class starts at 7:05 p.m. and ends no later than 10 p.m. If other classes or labs will necessitate your arriving late or leaving early, do not take this class this semester. Being more than 10 minutes late or having to leave class early will count as an absence.
    • If you are absent on a day when you were responsible for part of class time (for example, you were giving a presentation or participating in a debate), you will likely receive a 0 for that assignment. This is unfortunate, but the busy schedules of your classmates do not allow for much post hoc shuffling.

    Manuscript Formats

    All major writing assignments are submitted as hardcopies, following the formatting requirements outlined below. Major writing assignments are also to be submitted by e-mail, as an attachment, due at the same time as the hardcopy (or just after). Minor assignments, when they are submitted, will be submitted sometimes as hardcopy, sometimes electronically, and sometimes both.

    Essay manuscripts should be typewritten and double-spaced. Drafts can be submitted on two sides of the page, but the final revision must be submitted single-sided. Single-space your name, the course title, my name, and the number of the essay (or draft, e.g., "A2D") in the upper right-hand corner of the first page. Center your title about a third of the way down your first page, and begin your opening paragraph two double spaces beneath your title. Please do not underline your title or place it in quotation marks (except in special cases, such as a title that is a quotation). Number your pages, beginning on page two. You should use a twelve-point font, and margins of about an inch all the way around.

    Electronic manuscripts should be duplicates of the hardcopy. Please submit electronic manuscripts as an attachment with the assignment number ("Draft 2" or "Revision 2") and your name in the subject line. (This last stipulation may seem unnecessary, since your name will also be in the "From" field of the e-mail, but it helps immensely with clerical issues at my end.)

    All drafts and revisions must be word-processed and thoroughly proofread for typographical, grammatical, and punctuation errors. If you consistently make these kinds of errors, your grade will drop.

    You are required to keep a copy, electronic or otherwise, of every assignment. You are strongly encouraged to save your document frequently, back-up regularly, and print your work-in-progress periodically. Computer errors are inevitable and do not excuse shoddy, incomplete, or late work.


    Workshops allow you to help each other improve your current draft. They demonstrate the way in which writing is social, part of an ongoing community dialogue, and subject to change based on the responses of particular readers. As a responder to someone else's essay, don't waste time correcting grammar, spelling, or formatting; instead, focus on the ideas, pointing out places where ideas need to be developed more fully or need more support. As the writer, ask specific questions about your content and organization. The professor will provide additional details about workshop responsibilities when the workshop is upon us.

    Late Work

    Oral presentations and speeches will receive a 0 if not given on time. Written work that is late reduces your final course grade by 1/3 (e.g., a B - for the course becomes a C+) for each day that a paper is late. Work submitted late may receive no written commentary. Nevertheless, you are urged to submit all written assignments, even late ones, as non-submission has more severe consequences than does late submission. Should an assignment be due outside of class, these submissions are due at my office at the specified time. If I am not in my office at that time, please leave your submission in the "inbox" attached to the door of my office.


    Plagiarism (e.g., copying and pasting sections from the Web, paying for someone's paper, handing in someone else's paper as your own) results in academic disaster. So it's crucial to understand the concept.

    • Just as scientists demand complete and accurate information about experiments so they can duplicate and check those experiments and just as math professors demand complete and accurate work to show how you got the answer, so scholars and readers demand complete information so they can explore in more depth what your sources said (and, frankly, so they can check your accuracy in reporting what those sources said). In all academic writing, then, you must give citations each time you use.
      • Someone else's ideas
      • Someone else's words
      • Someone else's phrasing
      • Someone else's argument structure
      • Someone else's unusual information
    • The bottom line is to give credit wherever it is due. When in doubt, cite.
    • Further, you show appropriate respect for other writers and thinkers by giving them credit for their ideas, their structures, their phrasings, and their information. In Western culture, not giving credit is an insult as well as an act of dishonesty.
    • In other words, never take credit for someone else's words, ideas, or style (this prohibition includes material found on the Web).
      • Remember, although the material on the Web is free, you did not create it; someone else thought it, researched it, wrote it, and that someone must be given credit.
    • There are four guidelines for using sources in your academic writing:
      • Unless a professor explicitly requests a paraphrase or unless you are translating a sophisticated technical source into language for the layperson, there is rarely a good reason to paraphrase a source-either summarize it in your own words or quote it exactly.
      • When you quote, quote exactly, use quotation marks, and cite the source.
      • When you use information that might not be considered common knowledge, cite the source.
      • When in doubt, always give a citation.
    • In sum, your essays should always be your own work (although you are encouraged to seek writing advice from the Writing Center and from your workshop groups). Your essays should always be your new work created specifically for this course. Do not hand in work written for other courses-neither from this semester nor from previous semesters, and this prohibition includes modifying or adapting your own work from other courses-doing so will result in an unchangeable zero.
    • If I so request, you must hand in hard copies of all the sources that you used for writing an essay, as well as your notes and rough drafts. If you cannot produce these materials when requested, the essay will receive a zero and will not be allowed to be replaced by another essay. Also, you are responsible for ensuring that others do not copy your work or submit it as their own.
    • Calendar


      This calendar features highlights of the topics and themes addressed in the course.

      1 Introduction

      Discuss: Introduction

      Explain details of class. Go over syllabus. Discuss the combination of different kinds of writing instruction, including tech writing, essay writing, and professional writing, plus theoretical concerns. Urge students to bring laptops to class.
      2 CVs and Microsoft® PowerPoint®

      Each student is assigned a topic in his or her field of expertise, and must write a single-spaced, single page explanation of that topic for a high school student. In class we will examine and critique these explanations, rewriting where necessary for clarity. The assignment should be submitted electronically prior to class by email.
      C1, CV due

      C2, individual writing assignments due
      3 Myerson  
      4 Heidegger

      Lead into this assignment with an assignment exchange from the previous week.

      Discuss: Heidegger
      A1D, individual critique of technological communications (draft) due
      5 Workshop

      Workshop: Full Drafts of Technological Communications Critique
      C3, memo to tech industry leaders due 

      PW1, proposals and ideas for W1, Web design due
      6 Web Design Issues A1R, critique of technological communications (revision) due
      7 Kittler and Blog Debates C4, class presentation on blogs due
      8 Web Designs W1, Web site for an idea (group project) due
      9 Gaming C5, video/computer game review (due Sunday)
      10 Review

      Catching Up
      11 Oral Presentations A2, proposal for heads of industry, including lit review due
      12 Oral Presentations (cont.)  
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