About the Course
This course satisfies Phase I and is a HASS CI-HW.
An information-based society necessitates good writing in all careers:
Many scientists and technical professionals must write memos, progress reports, analyses, or other documents to communicate within their workplaces, and many must also address more general audiences in grant proposals, conference papers, articles, and so on. This course is designed to serve as a basic introduction to the practice of technical writing for those who work as scientists and technical researchers.
We will address the issues faced by technical writers, and speak generally about effective writing practice:
We will examine the rhetorical practices of technical communication, including writing to different audiences and disciplinary stylistic concerns. We will refine methods for composing documentation, proposals, analyses, and articles, and consider strategies for organizing and condensing technical information. Other topics include and preparing brief oral presentations, lab reports, graphics and web design. Several short writing assignments, frequent revisions, and two short oral presentations required. Some assignments will be individual while others will be collaborative. Enrollment limited to 18.
Note: The sequence and other details of the assignments are subject to change, as required to better meet the needs of the class.
Goals of the Course
The goal of this course is to help students become better able to accomplish the writing that they are asked to do at MIT and in life generally. Specifically, the course is designed to help students develop abilities to do the following things:
- Acquire a sense that writing is a medium people can use for personal and public purposes to gain understanding, create particular effects, and communicate.
- Constructively read and respond to colleagues' work in progress.
- Become more knowledgeable of and be able to reflect on and manage the composing process; drafting, revising, and copy-editing.
- Revise drafts with attention to development, organization, style, voice, and audience.
- Develop ideas by questioning, interpreting and considering multiple perspectives.
- Compose texts, which not only narrate and explain but also interpret particulars and develop points, moving effectively between generalizations and details.
Since an aim of the course is that students learn to use a process of writing--working through multiple drafts of an essay--the course also includes revision. Revision should be "substantive"--that is, should consist of a degree of change greater than simple copy-editing or retyping--large changes in structure, voice, style, approach, and so forth are necessary for a rewrite to be considered "substantive". If you have trouble revising, I can and will help you.
All final drafts should receive basic copy-editing for grammar and mechanical errors. All assignments are due at the beginning of class on the day specified in the writing schedule. You cannot pass the class without submitting all assignments. Late assignments will be penalized, but it is always better to hand them in late than not at all. If you have to miss class on a due date, you are responsible for making sure I have the papers anyway.
Prompt attendance and class preparation are basic expectations. You are, however, allowed two absences during the semester, no questions asked. I recommend saving your absences for the unavoidable occasional emergency or truly incapacitating illness. Because this is a workshop class in which you receive credit for the work you do in the classroom, being sick does not entitle anyone to an extra absence (except in the case of extraordinary and documented instances). You will also be counted absent if you come to class but do not have the work that is due, arrive too late to productively participate, or miss a scheduled conference. For each absence beyond the second--regardless of the reason--you lose one half a grade level from your final grade.
Your final grade in this course will be a composite of your assignment grades, your work in class, and your work responding to your classmates. With effort (see below), anyone can pass the class. We will talk in class about what is considered exceptional and worthy of high grades here at MIT, and what is considered excellent in the scientific community at large.
I do not grade individual assignments, but be assured that if you are in danger of doing poorly, I will be sure you know. I will also be happy at any time in the semester to give you a grade estimate.
What do I mean by "effort?"
As I stated above, a passing grade depends on fulfilling all of the requirements with effort. There is, of course, no exact measurement of such a vague quality. I will, however, look for certain concrete, observable signs of notable effort, thinking, and involvement:
Major Revision: Your revision between drafts needs to reshape, extend, complicate, or substantially clarify your ideas--or even relate your ideas to new things. Even if you are already satisfied with your paper, you need to make substantial changes to practice revision.
Sophistication: Show that a complex idea or question drives your essay. For instance, don't just tell four obvious reasons why dishonesty is bad or freedom is good. A sophisticated piece would delve into a question about honesty or freedom, and therefore show the complexity of the chosen issue.
Movement: Show in each paper a movement of thinking through or figuring out your topic. Thus your work needs to have a line of thinking or a succession of points. It needs to go somewhere.
Using Sources Appropriately and Avoiding Plagiarism
There are two basic and universal rules regarding the use of information in academic writing:
- If you use the language of your source, you must quote it exactly, enclose it in quotation marks, and cite the source. If you use the language of your source, quote the wording exactly. This is called a direct quotation. A direct quotation is either enclosed in quotation marks or indented on the page. If you omit part of the wording, use an ellipsis (three periods, four if necessary for punctuation to indicate the omission). In any case, several words in succession taken from another source constitute direct quotation and must be acknowledged.
A paraphrase employs source material by restating an idea in an entirely new form that is original in both sentence structure and word choice. Taking the basic structure from a source and substituting a few words is an unacceptable paraphrase and may be construed as plagiarism. Creating a new sentence by merging the wording of two or more sources is also plagiarism. The penalty for plagiarism is an automatic Fail for this class and a letter of notification to the Committee on Discipline.
MIT's academic honesty policy can be found at the following link:
- If you use ideas or information that are not common knowledge, you must cite a source.