Effective Technical Writing in the Information Age

Chapter 6 Introduction

I never let schooling interfere with my education.
- Mark Twain

At some point during college, you will probably be enrolled in a writing-intensive course (also called w-courses or writing-across-the-curriculum courses). In a nutshell, the aim of these courses is to help you learn about a subject by researching and writing about it, and in some courses you actually produce the kinds of documents that are common to your discipline beyond graduation, thus helping you to get ready for the workplace. Some writing-intensive courses require a series of short assignments culminating in a longer report, while others require both oral and written presentation and are akin to a senior thesis. Many w-courses also involve substantial e-mail correspondence between you and a professor or you and other members of a project team, and they may require oral presentation or an online portfolio. In any case, all writing-intensive courses provide you with ample opportunity to receive concrete feedback on your writing from your professor.

All that said, it must be noted that, from both the professor’s and student’s point of view, writing-intensive courses often mean extra work and higher standards. Yet many professors are happy to teach them, because it becomes clear from the course’s very definition that good communication skills are key to good performance. While you may groan at the prospect of both the workload and standards of a writing-intensive course, they do serve to underscore the fact that writing will matter greatly in any profession you choose.

Simply put, this chapter is designed to help you survive writing-intensive courses. Individual sections in this chapter are devoted to the types of forms you will probably be using in any course involving technical writing, whether it is designated as writing-intensive or not. By reviewing the stylistic tips and the models herein, and following any advice your professor gives to the letter, you should be able not just to breathe a little easier in any writing-intensive course that you take, but to thrive.


For those who wish to polish their skills, some good (and free) extensive writing advice awaits you in cyberspace, courtesy of university professors. Here are two such sites:

"Advice on Academic Writing" from the University of Toronto

"Advice on Research and Writing" from Carnegie Mellon University