Open Technical Writing: An Open-Access Text for Instruction in Technical and Professional Writing
Adam Rex Pope, University of Arkansas
Copyright Year: 2018
Publisher: University of Arkansas
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Adam Rex Pope does a good job of covering the basics and giving cooking metaphors to help readers understand the concepts. Unfortunately, there is no glossary or index to help students with finding and defining concepts. Technical writing... read more
Adam Rex Pope does a good job of covering the basics and giving cooking metaphors to help readers understand the concepts. Unfortunately, there is no glossary or index to help students with finding and defining concepts. Technical writing documents also were not thoroughly explained and demonstrated. Pope provides brief explanations of some documents, but analytical reports were not explained. These are things that an instructor can supplement, however, so if an instructor wants a good overview of what technical writing is, this book would be a good choice.
The content is fine, and in general, it is accurate, but sometimes Pope can be confusing: "In our examples below, we’re always conveying 'the facts,' in our messages or our boxes. And, in those examples, it would seem that no matter what we’re still conveying 'just the facts' once we cut out all the extra cruft. The essential facts never change in those examples, but when we do technical writing they very well can!" (p. 23). That doesn't make sense. Punctuation (commas) are needed for a better understanding, and what does he mean that when we do technical writing, the essential facts can change? This is not good writing or technical writing. Pope also does not reference other sources throughout. (He does cite two sources at the very end, but there are no in-text citations.)
The content is a general explanation of technical writing, so it will not be obsolete quickly; however, it is almost too general to be used alone.
Pope explains concepts with cooking metaphors, something that many people can relate to. The tone is very casual, using terms like "folks." It may make it more accessible for some.
Following his own advice, Pope's terminology and framework for the text is very consistent and easy to follow.
The table of contents and section headings make it easy to assign readings and help readers find what they need easily.
Pope organizes the topics well, moving from general topics of technical writing through more specific topics such as genres and research. (Unfortunately, the genre and research sections are not very thorough or helpful.)
The text is available to download and is easy to navigate (other than a few blank pages here and there between pages/sections, which can be distracting).
Not only is the tone casual, but the editing is also casual. Several misspellings and grammatical errors distract from the content and can confuse the message. Also, when I teach technical writing, I teach correctness to ensure readability and conciseness. The author does not show this in his writing, which would undermine what I am teaching.
Pope does a good job of discussing audience/users in general but does not address cultures much.
The text does a fine job of covering the breadth of technical writing concepts, but there is no index or glossary. Still, the table of contents is detailed enough to make the content fairly discoverable. read more
The text does a fine job of covering the breadth of technical writing concepts, but there is no index or glossary. Still, the table of contents is detailed enough to make the content fairly discoverable.
Pope does a good job of making it clear that he is writing from his own perspective and set of biases, but the text could be tightened up to be a better demonstration of good technical writing.
Pope clearly worked hard to make a text that speaks to students currently in technical writing courses, but that also has staying power. There are references to technologies that will likely be out of date in 5 years, but the concepts and principals taught will remain relevant.
The conversational tone of the text makes it feel more accessible, but it also makes the text feel a bit bloated and, in some cases, may lead to confusion. I suspect that there are some students who struggle with traditional textbooks who will find the tone of the text helpful, while students used to formal writing may be frustrated that the tone is not more authoritative.
The text does a fine job of defining terms and using them consistently.
As Pope mentions in the "Note to Instructors", the chapters are long and packed with subsections. I think the content could be divided and reordered with out much confusion. However, the subsections are not always designated as clearly as they might be.
The major concepts flow logically. Because it is written in a conversational tone, some of the examples of the concepts take a while to develop and connect.
The text is just a PDF, but the table of contents is interactive and looks to be reasonably accessible to a screen reader and to other accommodation needs.
There are some areas where the conversational tone leads to grammatical choices that could be disputed, but it is well written overall.
While Pope certainly writes with a culturally situated voice, he does a good job of using examples that are inclusive and engaging.
I think this would be a particularly good text to use in an online course because of its conversational and personal tone. Pope's writing feels more like a guided discussion than a dry lecture. The text does an excellent job of giving technical writing life and a human context. There instances where the conversational tone results in modeling habits like over using adjectives that I would probably edit if/when I use the text in my own course, but the content is good enough to make this a minor issue.
The author of the text spends so much time on lesser important elements like X-height and too little time on more important issues like the various technical writing genres. Also, the title of the book explicitly states that it will over... read more
The author of the text spends so much time on lesser important elements like X-height and too little time on more important issues like the various technical writing genres. Also, the title of the book explicitly states that it will over professional writing as well as technical writing. Given this, I would expect that emails, memos, letters, and resumes would be included in the genre section; however, the book doesn't discuss these at all. I also would expect a book with this title to discuss style/readability; however, this is not included.
I did not find any inaccurate information; however, there are topics that I would prefer to be handled differently; for example, I would never reference taxonomy in the same way that Pope was. I would refer to it as chunking information and developing hierarchy.
With the exception of acid wash jeans, it doesn't seem like the material will become dated quickly. The author makes use of some design tools. Overall, it doesn't seem like it would be easy to update because it is a PDF file.
Some people will like the author's fun, chatty style. Unfortunately, I thought it was distracting and took my focus from the material and put it on the author. The author discloses that this was an intentional choice, and I can imagine that his students might enjoy having a text that sounds like their professor. It seems, however, that this choice makes it hard for other professors to adopt this text. Also, all his asides lead to writing that is less concise than it should be, which is esp. unfortunate in a technical writing text.
Author is consistent with his references like "signposts" and "genre."
Here is what Pope has to say on the modularity of his book, "When it comes to daily teaching, you may notice I don’t have that many chapters. Each chapter is fairly lengthy, and they are not intended to be covered in a single day. Instead, each chapter has major chunks that can be assigned with suggested activities at the end of each major chunk. These activities are provided to give you some direction in classroom exercises to help students internalize and make use of the concepts covered in each section. You don’t have to stop each class when a chunk of text terminates with activities, but I’ve provided these spots to break up the chapters in ways that make sense in my own mind." For me, what makes sense in Pope's mind, does not always make sense to me. This text does not seem like it lend itself well to someone who wanted to approach the content in a different way.
Some of Pope's organizational choices do not make sense to me. For example, I would not expect to find a detailed description of the writing process in a chapter called "The User." Likewise, I would not expect to see signposting and taxonomy in the "What is Technical Writing" chapter.
A book on technical writing ought to make good use of design; while this text is not awful, there are some elements that I wish the author addressed. For example, all headings, the info in the green boxes, and all info in the TOC is in ALL CAPS. This makes these sections more difficult to use. Also, most of the book uses large chunks of text that span the entire page. Some variety of design elements like indenting or bolding information or using small caps or title caps would have helped me navigate the text more easily. There are also a number of widows and orphans throughout the text. Lastly, the images could be integrated more effectively. For example, the image on page 149 is too far down and makes the page feel bottom heavy. This would be frustrating in any text, but it's even more so in a text that needs to teach students about effective document design. I also was disappointed that there are very few images in the visual communication section.
Overall, it was fairly well proofed; however, it is not error-free. For example, the following heading on page 153 made me laugh, "A table to be used to asses Objectives and time allotment" I am pretty sure the author meant "assess." The following is a SV agreement error on the "A Note to Instructors" page, "Because of this approach, the text try to dictate exact moves that much, especially when it comes to particular genres like white papers and the like."
Overall, there don't seem to be many cultural references, and they generally seem to be used well and inoffensively. It would be even stronger in this area without the many references to Halloween and the Jack O'Lantern in the visual design section to discuss how to stack design elements.
In his note to instructors, Pope writes the following: "In this text, I try to present technical writing as an approach to researching and carrying out writing that centers on technical subject matter. As part of this, each and every chapter is devoted to helping students understand that good technical writing is situationally-aware and context-driven. Technical writing doesn’t work off knowing the one true right way of doing things—there is no magic report template out there that will always work. Instead, I’ve focused on offering students a series of approaches they can use to map out their situations and do research accordingly. Because of this approach, the text try to dictate exact moves that much, especially when it comes to particular genres like white papers and the like. This is entirely by design. Nothing specific that I could write here would have any amount of a lifespan with a particular genre, so I’ve opted instead to provide a research framework and some specific tips and tricks with each genre. For researching and teaching a particular genre, I would recommend focusing on the method I suggest to research the genre and then to build your class time around finding example texts and building your own image of what the genre looks like. " If you don't agree with his approach you probably, like me, will not find this text useful. I would need to supplement this text with so many other resources, etc. that it is not worth my time adopting it. Also, this book is only available as a PDF, which makes it more difficult for one to pull modules into one's LMS. In its current version, I'm not sure its very accessible. For example, in 5 pages of very dense text, there are only two subheadings. This would be very difficult to navigate by someone with a screen reader.
Table of Contents
- What is Technical Writing?
- The User
- Visual Communication & Technical Writing
- Document Design in Technical Writing
- Writing in Genres
- Managing a Project
- Research Methods for Technical Writing
About the Book
This book presents technical writing as an approach to researching and carrying out writing that centers on technical subject matter. Each and every chapter is devoted to helping students understand that good technical writing is situationally-aware and context-driven. Technical writing doesn’t work off knowing the one true right way of doing things—there is no magic report template out there that will always work. Instead, the focus is on offering students a series of approaches they can use to map out their situations and do research accordingly.
About the Contributors
Adam Rex Pope, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville