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Feb. 10 Webinar Notes – Technical Writing

February 11th, 2011 No comments
Old computer manual

CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 Michael Fawcett

Thanks to everyone who attended yesterday’s webinars. It was great to have some science and math teachers with us and I hope they use some of the ideas we discussed to give students opportunities to do some technical writing.

We began by talking about what technical writing is and what it is not and mentioned some examples. Some good resources for learning more about technical writing and for finding ideas for teaching it are:

We discussed how technical writing is addressed in the Common Core State Standards for writing and how technical writing relates to the 6+1 Traits. We then talked about the usefulness of templates for helping students use a consistent style and organization in their technical writing. I shared a Pages template students can use to write directions for performing tasks on their MacBooks. That template is available for download in the archived recordings of both sessions. The Pages User Guide is not only a good resource for learning how to make templates, but it’s also an excellent example of effective technical writing.

Including diagrams, illustrations, tables, and charts in technical writing pieces makes the text more usable for the reader. I mentioned the many applications on the MLTI MacBook that can be used to create illustrations, including Acorn, OmniGraffle, the SketchPad in NoteShare, and Numbers. Digital cameras are easy to use and readily available in most classrooms, whether it’s a camera you or your school owns, a camera on a cell phone, or the built-in iSight camera in your MacBook. A couple participants mentioned using cameras to take pictures of a science lab in progress and giving those pictures to the students to aid them in their writing as well as to be used as illustrations. Screen shots are also valuable as illustrations when writing about computers and software.

We took some time to talk about scaffolds and support for struggling writers, including word banks for vocabulary and using screen captures to get students started as they write directions for using their MacBooks. We also talked about giving students examples of professional and student technical writing so they can look at it critically and develop criteria for determining the effectiveness of their own writing.

Many of the tips we mentioned for using MacBooks for technical writing are demonstrated in our MLTI Minutes series. We hope you’ll check out all the episodes, but here a few that were mentioned in this webinar:

  • Episode 14 An Introduction to Painting with Acorn
  • Episode 21 Screen Recording with QuickTime Player
  • Episode 24 Making Floating Stickies

Finally, we took a look at some examples of technical writing that were done as comics:

Don’t forget that you can access the recordings of both webinars by mousing over the Webcasts tab about and clicking on Archives.

February 10 Webinar: Technical Writing

February 8th, 2011 2 comments
Read the Manual Sticker

Based on an image by Wrote, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic license.

When you buy a new appliance or gadget, do you read the manual? When you are learning how to use new software, do you use the Help menu? If so, you have encountered technical writing, a genre that requires high levels of clarity and consistency as well as brevity. Good technical writing takes advantage of text features, diagrams, illustrations, photos, and color to describe a product or a process in a straightforward manner that the reader can quickly and easily understand.

Typically we teach students narrative writing, persuasive writing and writing in response to literature, but we often neglect to teach them technical writing, the kind of writing they need for math and science classes where they must write precise instructions, descriptions, and explanations. Giving students opportunities to engage in technical writing can help them gain skills and confidence that will carry over to all the other types of writing they must do.

In Thursday’s webinar, we will discuss how technical writing differs from other types of writing and how we can engage even our most reluctant writers in this kind of activity. We’ll share strategies and scaffolds for helping students write clear, concise directions, descriptions, and explanations using Pages and other applications on the MLTI MacBooks. We’ll also demonstrate how students can use applications like OmniGraffle and Comic Life to make diagrams and illustrations for their technical writing pieces.

Please join us on Thursday, February 10 at 3:15 or 7:15 PM to learn how you can help your students gain writing skills that will serve them well in higher education and in the workplace. To view our calendar and register for one of these sessions, click on the Webcasts tab at the top of this page.