Project One: Technical Definition
Cross Section of Death Star


Technical professionals are often required to describe a technical object or process to both general audiences and colleagues. Technical descriptions are also often used before devices or processes are developed (as part of a proposal or planning document) and afterwards (as part of marketing or technical support documents). Descriptions of processes and definitions of roles are also crucial for making organizational structures visible. In previous iterations of this class, students have provided entries on such topics as piezoelectric accelerometers, Wayne State’s Old Main building (the header image of this blog), the neuropeptide Orexin-A, the legendary character The Headless Horsemanair brakes, and reserved words in programming languages. If you have difficulty finding a topic, you may want to choose one from Wikipedia’s list of requested articles and list of most wanted articles.

For your first assignment, you will be asked to contribute a (or descriptions) to the open source knowledge base Wikipedia; given the way this knowledge base is used, you will be writing your description for a general audience. That said, it is also important that you consider the role of moderators in the submission/approval process.

Learning Objectives

Successful executions of this project will illustrate that participants have been able to:

  • Develop strategies for addressing multiple audiences (expert and non-expert, technical and non-technical, etc.)
  • Understand basic forms for defining technical objects and processes (classical, functional, similarity, comparison and contrast, analogy)
  • Grasp a variety of techniques for formal and informal technical descriptions
  • Begin exploring the use of graphics as descriptive tools
  • Gain experience with open source knowledge production


I would advise that you first study the online knowledge base that you will be contributing to; the existing protocols and commonplaces of that base will influence the item you decide to describe (i.e., some terms or products that will be “new” to a general audience will likely be old hat to those in a more specific community). As part of this assignment you will add or submit your document to the base you have chosen as well as provide a version of the same in your group folder. Please also make sure to verify your addition by uploading before and after screenshots as well as a text version of additions to your blog (we will be creating these during the first week of class).

In addition to to your actual description, you will write a brief memo (300-500 words, single spaced) describing the strategies and techniques you used to write the description/definition. This memo will address:

  1. group membership and your group’s decision on the “rank-and-yank” question as well as any other essential information about how you plan to collaborate productively (e.g., settle problems, delegate work);
  2. the topic you have chosen for Project One and why you think this is an appropriate topic given the expertise of your group and the constrains of Wikipedia as an open-author knowledge base (see, in particular, the questions listed above under “Defining the Objective of a Technical Communication” for guidance on this question);
  3. the challenges of the assignment, as you see them, given the constraints of Wikipedia entries in general and your chosen topic in particular; and
  4. your strategies for overcoming the challenges you have identified.


Your design of the entry will likely follow the standards and/or requirements of Wikipedia.

Length will likely be dependent on what item you choose to describe. For instance, a definition of “mood”will likely require quite a bit of text; similarly an entry in describing new research in human-machine interaction studies may require less text, unless this new research changes something fundamental or renders the existing description inaccurate, obsolete, or incomplete. Revising and adding to the definition for the “Don’t Tase Me, Bro” incident will require thorough attention to existing complaints about the entry. However, your contribution(s) should total at least 600 words (which might require you to submit more than one entry). Note: I’m limiting contributions to Wikipedia articles to three total per team. I prefer that you focus on developing/editing materials for a limited number of articles as opposed to contributing short fragments to many articles.

Although there will be opportunities to work on this assignment in class, it is imperative that your group delegates responsibilities and devotes time to the project outside of class.


Your final draft of Project One will be evaluated in accordance with the following criteria:

1. Item described is appropriate for the chosen knowledge base. (15%)

2. Description/definition shows familiarity with audience and is strategically adapted to same. (25%)

3. Entry provides useful information to the knowledge base chosen. (20%)

4. Document conforms to standards (grammar, tone, citations, etc.) of technical prose. (15%)

5. Memo reflects competent rhetorical strategy appropriate to the knowledge base. (15%)

6. Evidence of collaboration present in drafting of memo and document.  (10%)

For your reference, I have provided the above instructions in this MS_Word document here and on BlackBoard: ENG 3050 Project One


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Explorations of community, rhetoric, research, and reflection.

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