Effective Technical Writing in the Information Age

Chapter 7 Introduction

Computers are useless. They can only give you answers.
—Pablo Picasso

For more than a decade, Beloit College has been releasing an annual "Mind-Set List" to help define the common worldview of the incoming first-year undergraduate class. Though this popular list is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, its point is to provide "cultural touchstones" for university folk to help us understand what the new crop of students has and has not experienced in 18 years of life. For the class in question at the time of this writing—the class of 2020—the list is 60 items long and includes these entries:

  • West Nile has always been a virus found in the U.S.
  • Catholics and Lutherans have always been in agreement on how to get to heaven.
  • Books have always been read to you on audible.com.
  • Snowboarding has always been an Olympic sport.
  • Robots have always been surgical partners in the O.R.
  • Michael J. Fox has always spoken publicly about having Parkinson's disease.

As a veteran teacher, what I always appreciated about this list is that it really did make me think about the experiences of the incoming class as well as my own experiences, especially in regard to writing and technology. The above list excerpt reflects rapidly implemented and vast technological changes that visibly affect our daily lives, and both students and faculty benefit from grasping the scope of such changes.

As a modern student writer, you compose at the keyboard, and while writing a paper you might also be checking Facebook, sniping an e-Bay auction, texting friends, watching youtube, running a grammar checker, answering e-mails—all at the same time. Meanwhile, you may also be receiving peer feedback or e-mail commentary from your teacher before your paper is even graded, and the form of the paper might include a Powerpoint presentation or poster. In short, with high-speed technology and voluminous resources at your fingertips, you must be able to multitask, collaborate, use multimedia, and define yourself as a thinking writer who is "plugged-in" in every sense of the term.

This chapter is devoted to helping you become a better communicator within the context of the computer age. Sometimes this means schooling yourself in long-established fundamentals, while other times it means understanding technology as a communication toolkit. Whether you’re writing an e-mail to a professor, giving a Powerpoint presentation, creating an online portfolio, or sitting down for an interview, you need to focus on how well you present yourself, both in the corporeal world and the virtual world.


For further study, here are two websites that demonstrate both the complexities and the possibilities for those writing in the computer age:

Microsoft Word Tips, Tricks, and Ideas page

"First Steps Toward Understanding the Net Generation" article, from educause.edu