Evaluating Technical Writing

How will your grades on written work in Technical Writing class translate into on-the-job performance? The following discussion of three categories of technical writing may offer some insight and may help you to determine your own goals for yourself in this course.

Excellent Technical Writing will gain points for you in on-the-job situations. It will lead to raises, promotions, and other recognition of the excellence of your work. It will consistently get your recommendations accepted, your proposals funded and your reports praised. (Translation: B+/A grade in this course)

Adequate Technical Writing will keep you from embarrassing you on on-the-job situations. It will be accepted and passed on but largely without comment. It won’t hurt you, but it certainly won’t help you. (Translation: C/B)

Unacceptable Technical Writing is the kind that you’ll get back to do over again until it’s right. It will clamp a ceiling on all of your other technical skills and will be an impediment to your professional growth. (Translation: F/D)

I like to put it in these basic terms:

You’re a night cleaner for the local X-Mart. Your job requires you to be in the store from 10 p.m. until 7 a.m. Your responsibilities are simple: you have to make sure the store looks good before the manager comes back in the morning.

One of your duties is to sweep the floor each night. You do it without complaint, each night going up and down the aisles making sure the dust and grime from a day’s business is removed. Each morning, the boss comes in, says good job and pats you on the back. No problems, but no rewards either. That is the average job, the type of paper that will receive 2 points in this course.

One night, your mind isn’t on your job. You’ve had some problems at home, and you are not fully involved in what you are doing. The sweeping does not seem important to you, and you rush through the store, missing some spots and hiding dirt in piles underneath rugs in other spots. The boss comes in and immediately notices the mess. He/she scolds you and warns you never to leave a mess like this again. If so, it will probably mean your job. In technical-writing terms, that is a poor job, a paper that will receive no more than 1 point.

So the next night you decide to show the boss exactly what you can do. Not only do you do the best job sweeping ever, you also take some extra time to put a layer of wax on the floor. In the morning, the boss is overwhelmed with the extra work you’ve done. “Great job,” he/she says. It is the kind of extra initiative that will get you noticed. It’s also that kind of effort that will ensure excellent papers with 3 points, the maximum each can receive.

I don’t like to put so much emphasis on point totals and grades, but hopefully you will see that this means a lot more than grades you receive on papers. Like it or not, communication in professional situations is a key ingredient toward success. If you can express your ideas in easy, confident terms, you will impress the people you communicate with.