Technical Academic and Corporate Writing Sub Forum now open

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Thread: Technical Academic and Corporate Writing Sub Forum now open

  1. #1
    Member dolphinlee's Avatar
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    Technical Academic and Corporate Writing Sub Forum now open

    I suppose I could claim to be one of the most published authors on the site. My work has, over the years, been printed tens of thousands of times.

    Unfortunately school worksheets are rarely regarded as worthy of mention in the writers' world.

    At the start of my career I had to use a gestetner machine to make my worksheets. This involved 'cutting' a master by typing onto it using a real typewriter. Then the master was put onto a drum and copies were printed off. Next came the Banda. At first the only choice was blue, but over the years the choice increased until my worksheets were multicoloured and a lot more interesting. Nowadays worksheets are produced on a computer and emailed through to the reprographics department. Things certainly have changed over the last thirty years.

    During this time I learned many things. I learned never assume that your audience understands what you are talking about. I learned that it is important to cut words down to a minimun because most students are lazy. I learned that spacing is important so the worksheet is not intimidating. But the biggest lesson I learned I learned because I taught a girl who was almost totally deaf.

    Beth was in the top set for chemistry. She had a special set of earphones which were radio linked to the microphone around my neck. It took a little while to get used to this, but eventually it didn't bother me anymore. Sometimes if a student was really irritating me I would pop out to the prep room, ask the lab assistant to get out the cattle prod, after he handed me the imaginary prod I would tell him exactly where where I was going to use it on the student. When I returned to the room Beth was often sitting in her place, her shoulders bouncing up and down. It didn't matter how many times I forgot to switch the microphone off, or what I said, none of my words were ever repeated to the other students. I really like her for that. After all this juicy information would have earned her entry into many of the groups that rejected her.

    Beth was really intelligent, though her language was limited because of her deafness. All her teachers were required to make special worksheets that contained all the work but written using simple language. Within two weeks of her arrival in my class I noticed that a lot of the students had copies of her worksheets in their exercise books. When I asked them why, they told me that Beth's sheets were better, they were simpler to understand and a lot less frightening.

    From then on, after I had written a worksheet I went back through it swapping out the more difficult words and cutting down the length of my sentences. Interestingly enough I saw an overall increase in my students grades.

    Even today I try to use the simpler more common words.


    I suppose that I need to ask a question to keep this thread going.

    What is the most important lesson you have learned for technical, academic or corporate writing?




    Last edited by dolphinlee; January 3rd, 2013 at 11:06 PM.

  2. #2
    I remember the gestetner; like typesetting by hand into multi-column trays, it was still in use when I started.

    I don't know about the most important, but the first lesson I learned was to ask for the style guide.
    "I don't know ... I'm making it up as I go ..." - Dr I Jones

    Nature abhors perfection - cats abhor a vacuum!

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  3. #3
    I started with the Banda in graduate school - but I was one of the older "returning students" .

    Tongue slightly planted in cheek: The most important lesson in academic writing was to get out! Yes, get out! I am writing a series of books on brain based learning. The first is an overview of the science and current popular thinking in the field, the second teaching methodology and the third classroom management. I made the very clear purposeful choice to abandon any semblance of academic writing so that the books MIGHT be read by teachers. My experience with academic writing is that it is fraught with grammar police and small thinking.

    All of that said, back to what Cran said, ask for the style guide. Learn correct citation rules. Get a good grammar editor. Fall over asleep after writing three paragraphs. Wait for the droves of readers to beat you to the ignore.

  4. #4
    I learned that as long as I keep it simple and polite I have a good chance to get my point across.

  5. #5
    Yes, simple and polite - good points. I read things out loud to see where I stumble - that usually means it is not clearly written or needs better punctuation.

  6. #6
    I learned that no matter how clear, how simple you write a memo some people will either not understand it or pretend that they dont. It use to drive me crazy. I would spend so much extra time making sure that an average 100 IQ individual would understand what i was saying and then I'd get an immediate question on something that was unequivocally stated in the memo GRRRRRRRRRR!

  7. #7
    Member Kieran S's Avatar
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    In my experience, it's critical to get the buy-in of the manager, or whoever you're doing the technical writing for. Lots of people don't see the value in writing an academic or technical report in a readable manner - they're happy to leave it in impenetrably long sentences of business-speak.

    You're on a hiding to nothing if the buyer/employer thinks all you're doing is a fancy spell-check. If possible, and in a diplomatic way of course, one way to show your value is to present an example of their text before and after. Explain that it's not about dumbing down the text, or about correcting their writing (people are fairly sensitive about that!). You're really just getting them onside by walking them through what you've done and how you've done it.

    So, in my humble opinion, it's the people who are hard not the skill/technology

  8. #8
    I'm taking a technical writing course as part of my degree program. Our first assignment was to write about why we're in the class and what our expectations are. I'm pleased with my submission because I treated it like an essay.

    My strength is poetry, not non-fiction. I hope to strengthen my non-fiction skills.
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    — Robert G. Allen

  9. #9
    If this sub forum offered home work I would be interested. I have no burning topic or message I need to get across but would enjoy learning the skills.

    Annie if you posted your homework maybe I could also use that as an exercise. While I wrote estimates for my online motorcycle business for 12 years and was successful, I think it had more to do with the nature and timing of the business than my skills.

    I have started a business blog but doubt that qualifies
    God hates a coward Revelation 21:8

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  10. #10
    The homework idea brings to mind one of those old school experiences. I had a professor once who taught us how to write patent claims by starting with an attempt to describe the essential requirements of a three legged stool, in a way that doesn't assume you know what a "leg" or a "seat" is (because, hypothetically, we were describing the very first stool ever, a vast improvement over rocks and logs). It's a lot harder than you think.
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