Dr. Dean Taciuch
George Mason University

Fall 2012

English 388: 001
Course Syllabus

Catalog Description

Intensive study and practice in various forms of technical writing, including formal and informal reports, proposals, and technical correspondence. Emphasis on writing for a variety of audiences, both lay and informed, and on writing within various professional and organizational contexts.

ENGL 302 or ENGH 302

Pearsall. Elements of Technical Writing. 3rd edition Pearson. ISBN 9780205583812.

Methods of Instruction

In addition to several short exercises (such as letters, instructions, a Wikipedia entry), this class has a series of linked assignments involving individual as well as group work, culminating in a 15-20 page final project to be completed by groups of 3-4 students.

The groups will form during the first few weeks of class and begin investigating possible topics. I have assigned two large topic areas which the groups will need to refine based on their areas of study or careers.

Topic 1: Best Practices for Fair Use in [your discipline]
This topic was inspired by The American University School of Communications / Center for Social Media's publication of The Documentary Filmmaker's Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use, which spawned a number of similar "Code of Best Practices in Fair Use" documents (see also AUSoC's Related Documents)

Topic 2: Open Access Publishing in [your discipline]
This topic was inspired by a recent Mason Faculty Forum on Open Access Publishing. The event was recorded and posted at The Scholarly Communication at Mason site, which also hosts a number of Open Access resources for students as well as some background information on Open Access publishing.

I chose these topics for several reasons: I have a professional interest in both, they have wide applicability for scholars and professional writers in almost all areas, and all of the resources are freely available online. Keep in mind that professional and technical writers generally do not get to choose their subjects. Like many professional and technical writers, you will be responding to a request for proposals. Once your proposal is approved, your group will begin researching and preparing your report. Since these topics are relevant to my interests, I can serve as an appropriate audience (or at least as a proxy audience).


All assignments except for the in class exercises and presentations will be submitted via BlackBoard. Any file format is acceptable as long as it preserves formatting (doc, docx, pdf, odf). I do not want paper copies of any assignments.

Writing in the Workplace Written Report: (10%)
Following the instruction for Assignment 1 on page 121, write a short (250-500 words, double-spaced) on the types of writing common in your career or area of study. The URL for the Occupational Outlook handbook in the text is incorrect; the correct URL is

This is an individual assignment due on Sept 4.

Writing in the Workplace Oral Report (5%)
Following Assignment 2 on pages 121-122, form groups based on similar interests and prepare a 5-10 minute oral report on writing in your career or area of study.

Although there will be time during the first weeks to rearrange the groups, these groups will remain throughout the term, as the final project is also a group project focusing on your areas of study.

Groups should have 3-4 members; larger groups (up to six) will be responsible for larger presentations and reports throughout the term.

The presentations will take place in class on Sept 13. Use BlackBoard to upload any supporting materials (presentations slides, notes, etc). You should begin by uploading your Writing in the Workplace written reports so the group can begin outlining the presentation.

Instruction Set (10%)
After proposing a set of instructions and conducting a usability test on a peer (as in class exercises), write a short (2-3 page) set of instructions.

This is an individual assignment due Sept 20

Customer Letter (5%)
You will write a brief (1-2 page) response to a complaint letter posted to BlackBoard.

This is an individual assignment due Oct 4

Group Proposal (10%)
Following the details (but not the topic) for Assignment 2 in chapters 1 and 2 (pp 8-9, 19), propose a report on one of the following topics:

The proposal should include

This is a group assignment due Oct 11

Wikipedia Edit (5%): Choose a Wikipedia "stub" (an unfinished article) on a topic you know well. Edit the article, following the Wikipedia guidelines, adding at least one new source of information. Post the URL of the article and your username to Blackboard.

This is an individual assignment due Oct 25

Progress Reports
Individual (5%)
In this short (250-300 word) informal report, describe your contribution to the group project. What research did you contribute? Which sections did have a hand in writing? What other work did you do for the group project?

Individual progress reports are due Nov 1

Group (5%) The group progress report should be a full (1250-1500 word) report, following the outline given for progress reports on pages 139-140.

Group Progress reports are due Nov 15

Draft Sections (5%)
By Nov 8, you should have drafts of the main sections of the final report completed and uploaded to your group's BlackBoard area. Use the File Exchange function to share documents. You may also use the Discussion area and Collaboration tools to discuss the project.

The drafts will be submitted to the group area on BlackBoard, but you will graded individually on this assignment.

Draft Peer Reviews (5%). As the sections are completed, the group members are expected to read and comment upon the section. In addition to these informal reviews, each group member must complete a formal peer review of another member's section of the final report (peer review sheets will be posted to BlackBoard)

This is an individual assignment due on Nov 20

Semester Project Final Report (20%)
The final report should be a recommendation report of 4000-5000 words (15-20 pages). Simplifying the structure given in chapter 9, it should contain the following:

Larger groups should prepare a longer report (I am assuming roughly 5 pages/person)

The Final Report is due Dec 6

Semester Project Final Presentation (10%)

The groups should prepare a 10-15 minute presentation based on their conclusions and recommendations. Larger groups should prepare a longer presentation, but nothing longer than 20 minutes.

The presentations should include visuals. Please do not read your report as your presentation; this will not be acceptable.

The Final Presentations will be done in class on Dec 4 - 6

In class exercises (5%)
Most weeks, there will be some in class writing or analytical exercise, mostly drawn from the textbook Activities for that week's chapters. These exercise will include

Course Policies

Grading: The grades will be based primarily on the quality of the writing. As will see in this course, quality writing is clear, concise, and correct (both factually and grammatically). Since this a technical writing course, format and presentation are also important.

For the group assignments (which make up the bulk of the work in this class), group members will share the grade equally (if an assignment earns an A, all group members receive an A for that assignment). I will make exceptions if a group member is clearly not contributing equally, however.

C-range grades(70-79%) denote average college-level work. These are competent responses to the assignment, meeting all of the assigned requirements. Sentence-level errors do not significantly prevent comprehension.

B-range grades(80-89%) represent strong writing and presentation. In addition to the C-range requirements, a B-range assignment demonstrates some insight into the subject, provides original or very through support that is tightly woven into the argument, and is clearly presented. It has few sentence-level errors.

A-range grades (90-100%) mark exceptional accomplishment. Such assignments anticipate and respond to possible reader questions, use a wide range of support, provide unexpected insights, and use language with care and precision.

D- and F-range grades mark assignments which do not meet the basic expectations of the assignment.

Late Assignments: Late papers will lose 5% per day unless you (or your group) make prior arrangements with me.

Revision Policy: Since all of the assignments are connected, revisions must be turned within one week of receiving a grade. The Final Project and the two presentation, however, cannot be revised.

Plagiarism: The GMU Honor code is available online. I will report suspected cases of plagiarism to the Honor Committee.

Attendance: I will not take attendance, but it is not possible to do well in this course without regular attendance. Class discussions of the readings are necessary for the papers, exercises, and the research project. Topics will develop from the class discussions.

Students with disabilities: If you are a student with a disability and you need academic accommodations, please see me and contact the Office of Disability Services (ODS) at 703-993-2474. All academic accommodations must be arranged through the ODS.

GMU Nondiscrimination Policy: George Mason University is committed to providing equal opportunity and an educational and work environment free from any discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, veteran status, sexual orientation, or age. GMU shall adhere to all applicable state and federal equal opportunity/affirmative action statutes and regulations.

GMU Email: Students must activate their Mason email account and check it regularly. For privacy reasons, all class-related emails will be sent only to students' official GMU email addresses.

Important Dates

First Day of Classes Aug 27
Labor Day (University Closed) Sept 3
Last Day to Add / Drop (no penalty) Sept 4
Last Day to Drop w/ tuition penalty Sept 28
Selective Withdrawal Period Oct 1 - 26
Columbus Day Recess (Monday classes meet Tues; Tues classes do not meet) Oct 8
Incomplete work from Spring/Summer due Oct 26
Thanksgiving Recess Nov 21 - 25
Last Day of Classes Dec 8
Reading Days Dec 10 - 11 (4:30)
Exam Period Dec 11 (4:30) - Dec 19

Course Schedule




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