Monthly Archives: January 2011

Book about syllabus as genre…

Reading for quals, I am currently looking at Paul Butler’s Out of Style. He mentions Anis Bawarshi’s 2003 book “Genre and the Invention of the Writer” that is about syllabus, class assignments, and such as genres. The book is basically an extended verison of Byron’s syllabus assignment: “Following the basic process, do a genre analysis of syllabi in business and technical writing. Write it up as a short report….”

Reverse Engineering an Audience

Week 3 Post

 No matter how often I read about it, discuss it, try to teach it to various writing students, I never get tired of thinking/hearing/talking about audience. I tell my students every semester that if they learn only one thing in whatever class I’m teaching, I hope it will be something about audience—something about trying to think about and address the readers/listeners/viewers they will be trying to inform/move/persuade/impress with their texts.

The various things we’ve read thus far about the rhetorical situation (Bitzer and Vatz), user-friendliness and -centeredness (Johnson), and audience (Lunsford & Ede, Cooper, and Blakeslee) have led me to an assignment that I hope will help students see the value in thinking about audience—not just as an analytical tool for consuming texts, but also as a regular part of their own writing processes.

I plan on developing this assignment for our presentations on Thursday. For now, here’s an outline:

Assignment: Reverse Engineering

1. I will provide students with three images (subway and bus stop posters that are now also online) that make up a provocative public relations campaign. We will view these in class and discuss them briefly.

 2. I’ll put the class in small groups (of three or four people).

 3. I’ll ask each group to investigate, by working backwards from the PSAs, the rhetorical exigence that led to the campaign. I will ask each group to find, if not a single cause, at least the series of events that might have induced the organization behind the ads to act.

 4. From this investigation, I’ll ask each group to speculate about the original target audience for the campaign.

 5. Lastly, each group will produce a report (this could be text only or text and presentation software) that explains its investigation and the conclusions it has drawn.

 As I said, I’ll have specifics about this on Thursday.

Audience Under Construction

If we engage in the process of technical writing from a rhetorical instead of an instrumental approach, one element that must be included for consideration is that of audience. Whether addressed or invoked, as Ede and Lunsford suggest, eventual, or involved, as Johnson suggests, the audience for writing plays a huge role in the rhetorical process. Trying to “construct” an audience is both thought and labor intensive. Perhaps one way of working through the process is to first understand how we are “constructed” as an audience. The first lesson idea below is an exercise in understanding how advertisers “construct” their audiences. The second is an exercise that helps us consider how technical writers produce end products that, for ill or good, are supplied to an audience.

Lesson Idea 1:
Advertisers spend millions of dollars studying members of media audiences (YOU) to determine what types of messages will get you to buy their products. In order to gain understanding of these audience analysis methods, complete the following to determine how advertisers might be categorizing you.

Consider your demographics:
Marital status:
Education completed:
Geographic location (suburban, rural, urban):
What sort of ads, images, messages do you think appeal to your demographic group? Explain?

Consider your psychographics:

On the Internet, go to the VALS website –
and take the online survey to determine which VALS group Strategic Business Insights believes best describes you.
Print your results and discuss as a group. Explain why you agree or disagree with this analysis. Think about the following:
The good folks at Strategic Business Insights classify every American under one of eight marketing categories. Based on your interaction with the survey, do you believe groups like this use extreme stereotyping to design their categories?
How does this inform the technical writer’s need to interact with a particular audience? If writers need to consider intended and eventual audiences, is stereotyping acceptable? Why? If not, how can it be avoided?

Lesson Idea 2:

Analyzing Technical Instructions

Each of you has been given a set of written technical instructions. As a group, analyze your set of instructions for the following items. Take notes as you discuss.

1. Audience Who is the audience for the instructions? How do you know?

2. Purpose What are the instructions helping the audience do or create?

3. Rate Instructions—Easy vs. Difficult. Are these instructions easy for the audience to use? Why or Why not?

4. Effective vs. Ineffective Elements Identify both good and bad parts of instructions.

5. Visual Appeal How does the set of instructions look? What about its the look and design that is effective or ineffective for the audience?

6. Language What kind of language does the document use? Is it appropriate for the audience? Give examples.

Reflections on Reflective Teaching

I received my beta version of TechWriter 7.0 in June. Drawing largely on the wildly successful “Watson” computer designed by IBM and showcased on the Jeopardy game show, TechWriter enables writers to create product instructions and tutorials easily. With its ability to interpret fine nuances of technical language, the program can take a writer’s input and automatically recreate it in a myriad of formats. A technical writer, for example, can write a very basic set of instructions, detailing the assembly, use, and maintenance of the “Flibber-Jibbett.” TechWriter can then rewrite those instructions, creating an entire collection of instructions with each individual set based on the varying skill levels of prospective users.

It is now my job to introduce the program to three sections of WRIT 423 classes, each filled with 18 senior class technical writing majors, always eager to try out the latest gadgets, gizmos, trinkets, and toys that the field has to offer.

During the first week, I roll out the new TechWriter program. The murmured oohs and aahs from the classes let me know that this one is going to be well-received.

Scenario 1.0

For the first two class sessions I model the program, demonstrating both its capabilities and user controls.

The third session is devoted to a quiz on my previous instructions. The quiz includes various identification questions based on screenshots of the program as well as discussion questions based on the program’s capabilities.

For the next 4 sessions, the students work individually on the first class project—writing basic instructions for various real and imagined products, and creating the instruction sets for them.

At the end of the month, the students are asked to submit their projects, and we move to the next topic on the syllabus . . .

What’s wrong with this picture? It sounds like a typical class in a typical semester, using typical lesson schemes. Having read the introductory chapter in Dubinsky’s book, with an especially careful reading of his challenge to become reflective teachers, I can see many problems with Scenario 1.0. At the bottom, line I can simply reflect on many of my own efforts—this sequence helped students learn some new material, in this case a new piece of software, but what did they really learn? More importantly, what did I really learn?

Based on the reflective teaching methodology which suggests that teachers first model a desired exercise, then allow students to experience the exercise, and finally reflect on the exercise communally, I’d say the first class sessions in the above scenario fulfilled the first two steps in the reflective model, but completely ignored the last.

Perhaps the following plan for teaching would be somewhat better:

Scenario 2.0:

For the first class session I model the program, demonstrating its potential capabilities. During the session, I solicit feedback from the students, asking them to evaluate the program’s potential for identifying and meeting the needs of various audiences.

The second session familiarizes the students with the user controls of the program. I allow the students to reflect on the initial use of the program. Do the controls seem intuitive? Can potential problem areas be described?

The third session is devoted to a quiz on my previous instructions. The quiz includes various identification questions based on screenshots of the program as well as discussion questions based on the program’s capabilities.

For the next 4 sessions, the students work collaboratively on the first class project—writing basic instructions for various real and imagined products, and creating the instruction sets for them. Students are placed in small groups, and are charged with assisting each other learn how to use the program (along with my help as needed), peer reviewing the instructions written by group mates, and helping each other plan next steps in the project. At the end of each session, I guide the students in reflection time based on the day’s work.

At the end of the month, the students are asked to submit their projects, and we move to the next topic on the syllabus . . .

Certainly this brings much more purposeful reflection to the process, but is that as deep as reflection should go? Scenario 2.0 may help students identify what they are really learning, but what about me as the instructor?

Maybe I, as the teacher, need to solicit a team to work with me. I would probably benefit from having a peer, a colleague, observe at least 2 or three of my class sessions. As an observer, my colleague could help me assess my content knowledge, the teaching and learning strategies employed, the engagement of my students my questioning techniques, and the assessments used during the lesson.

I could then further reflect in my own journal about my inner reactions and responses, along with my strengths and weaknesses as I sensed them

A lesson plan would simply be to enact Scenario 2.0 on a particular syllabus section, incorporating the peer observer and personal journal.

Conference Schedule

So I am going to this conference on new media and composition next week and thought you guys might  want to peruse the schedule and you can contact the presenter yourself and get whateve you need.

Here is the link….

Seeing the schedule I am a bit worried my presentation – a re-thinking about agency and technology use based on Barad, Byron’s stuff, and others – doesn’t really fit in with my group or the entire conference, but they accepted the proposal. I am interested in some of these things such as:

  • No Longer Reconcilable: Classical Rhetoric and First-Year Composition
    • Kyllikki Brock Persson, Bowling Green State University
  • Moving Beyond Analysis: The Visual as a Mode of Invention
    • Frank Hurley, East Carolina University

    But it seems they will be going on simultaneously.

    First assignment

    I would like to do the first item on the list, vita plus cover letter.

    Is that a traditional CV with a personal statement, or is the cover letter supposed to be more like a statement of teaching philosophy?

    Mimicking memo monologue (or mimesis)

    To piggy back on Lisa’s talk about memo as a genre and her self-reflexiveness, I thought it would be helpful to not merely go find memos on the internet from companies students may end up working for (though that is a good idea), but also the memos that circulate here at USC. I typed in  “memo” to the USC search box and the top listing was a prototype memo fro engineering students

    Then there are of course actual memos from deans, the president, and others, and other documents and such that mention that one might need a memo to get something, i.e. you need a signed memo to get money from the school.For me the assignment would be for students to do a simple genre analysis of USC’s use of memo and see how in “one” place it is many things. From there I would build on Lisa’s assignment.