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REVIEW

:
COURSES, COMPONENTS, AND EXERCISES IN
TECHNICAL COMMUNICATION
Jack Selzer
This anthology1 of resources for teachers of technical
writing has already been very favorably reviewed by some very
capable authorities. The NCTE's Committee on Technical and
Scientific Communication has named it "the best collection of
essays" on technical writing published in 1981; and the same
group has commended one of those essays-Paul Anderson's
"Organizing Is Not Enough!"-as the "best article on teaching
methods" that appeared in that same year.
And the technical writing teachers who read the book will
surely agree that the praise is justified. Dwight Stevenson has
packed a remarkable range of useful ideas into an accessibly
short format: among the twenty-one essays are suggestions for
using readings, teaching graphics, orienting students to library
research, assigning group projects, meeting the needs of foreign
students-and much more. Yet somehow Stevenson arranges
the contributions into a coherent whole. Partly that coherence
arises from common assumptions; the selections typically
ground their advice on rhetorical principles, not on prescriptive
formulas or simple recipes. Moreover, the contents struck me
as remarkably flexible. They offer as much to experienced
teachers as to rank beginners; they serve a variety of teaching
styles; and they recognize and adapt to a range of institutional
variables that determine who enrolls in the course, when, and
with what background. Finally, several of the essays are so good
that teachers will return to them again and again. For example,
Linda Flower's essay, "Communication Strategy in Professional
Writing: Teaching a Rhetorical Case," reminded me to be sure
that my students are including strategic planning activities in
their writing processes. Gordon Cogshall's "Cut and Paste: Pre-
paring for On-the-Job Writing" suggests some exercise that
simulate the conditions under which engineers compose at
work. Paul Anderson's essay on teaching students how to re-
JOURNAL OF ADVANCED COMPOSITION, Volume N (1983). Copyright
1987.
222 Journal of Advanced Composition
veal organization deserves its award on at least two counts. Not
only does Anderson furnish a series of superbly conceived class-
room activities that teachers will incorporate into their own
undergraduate classrooms and industry presentations, but he
also demonstrates how teachers can prepare their own class-
room materials to teach a variety of particular rhetorical lessons.
The rest of the contents, divided somewhat arbitrarily
into three overlapping sections, are nearly as good. According to
the Preface, section one ("Courses") outlines some "alternative
approaches to the teaching of technical writing"i however, the
seven essays do not really propose a series of different
approaches, at least not in the sense of Donovan and
McClelland's Eight Approaches to Teaching Composition. In-
stead, the first four essays introduce coherent variations of one
approach, the case method, which their authors feel is especially
useful for giving undergraduate students experience in post-
graduate writing situations: Flower's essay on "communication
strategy," Lawrence Johnson's "A Professional Scenario for the
Technical Writing Oassroom," Ben and Marthalee Barton's
"The Case Method: Bridging the Gap between Engineering Stu-
dent and Professional," and Colleen Aycock's "Simulation and
In-Class Writing: A Student-Centered Approach." Anita
Brostoff's "The Functional Writing Model in Technical
Writing," a second approach to the course, it thoughtfully
adapted from the work of A. D. Van Nostrand, C. H. Knoblauch,
and their colleagues. David Carson's "A New Approach to
Teaching a Course in Writing for Publication" offers not so
much a different approach (though he does incorporate peer re-
viewing and outside advisors into his classes) as a different
course-on writing for scholarly, professional, and popular
journals. Gerard Gross's "Group Projects in the Technical
Writing Course" describes no "approach" to the course at all, but
his possibilities for including group writing projects neverthe-
less will be exploited by many teachers.
In fact, Gross's essay perhaps more logically belongs in the
second section of the book ("Components"), where ideas are
suggested for various segments of a technical writing course.
Two essays, for instance, explore ways of incorporating readings
into the course. Stephen Gresham's "From Aristotle to Einstein:
Scientific Literature and the Teaching of Technical Writing" in-
cludes an especially enterprising list of historical readings from
Faraday, Boyle, Curie, Darwin, Muir, and othersi Wayne Losano
in "Scientific American in the Technical Writing Course" rec-
Jack Selzer
223
ommends detailed rhetorical analyses of more contemporary
essays. (It might also have been useful to include an essay
explaining how teachers might obtain and employ samples of
industry or government writing). The other contributions to
this section confine themselves to particular aspects of technical
writing courses: Gordon Cogshall's "cut and paste" exercises;
Maurita Holland and Leslie Olsen's method for teaching would-
be engineers and scientists how to find technical information in
the library; a disappointingly arhetorical set of gUidelines for
visual aids; some advice for teaching students to write instruc-
tions; a prescriptive and strangely product-oriented account of
oral reports; and Herman Estrin's recommendation for teaching
prospective engineers how to adapt to audiences by having
them write books on their specialties for elementary-school chil-
dren.
The final section of the book, "Exercises," suggests a series
of particular exercises (like Anderson's "Organizing Is Not
Enough!") that are calculated to reinforce specific points in
technical communication. Dean Hall, for instance, shares the
entertaining way that he introduces his course and its goals in
"Technical Writing Class: Day One." Gretchen Schoff
recommends an assignment that forces future environmental
engineers to learn how to adapt to audiences outside their
organizations. Thomas Huckin contributes a well informed,
flexible, and resourceful way to overcome a particular but
common and especially knotty problem: "Teaching the Use of
English Articles to Nonnative Speakers in Technical Writing
Classes." And Susan Dunkle and David Pahnos have developed
a powerful strategy for teaching students how to consider social
concerns as they investigate technical problems, how to
integrate qualitative "value hierarchies" into quantitative
decision-making processes. My only disappointment in this sec-
tion was Peter R. Klaver's description of an instructional simula-
tion game calculated to dramatize the difficulties of communicat-
ing in complex organizations; the game itself seemed interest-
ing, but the account of its rules and conduct was so incomplete
that teachers will be unable to try it themselves. Perhaps this is
also the place to list another disappOintment-the bibliography
of Supplementary Readings appended to the book. It includes
far too many redundant textbooks (and yet omits many of the
most informative texts); it enters few items on basic topics like
audience, revision, and graphics; and it fails to list some of the
most crucial theoretical orientations to technical writing, by
224 Journal of Advanced Composition
authorities like Kinneavy, Miller, Kuhn, Ziman, Toulmin, and
others.
There are other omissions as well. For one thing, the
book understandably devotes itself to the area of greatest need,
the introductory "service" course in technical writing. Only by
reading David Carson's essay and by extending the suggestions
of a few other contributors will teachers find ideas for other
courses or industry programs in technical writing. Applications
to writing in the scientific and technical disciplines themselves
remain implicit, too. In fact, the book's obsession with "bridging
the gap" between school-sponsored writing and writing at work
seems a bit old-fashioned, now that many composition teachers
assign papers that respond to real rhetorical exigencies and now
that writing-across-the-curriculum programs are beginning to
make writing in the disciplines less a matter of rehearsing what
the professor already knows. Moreover, for all their emphasis
on audience, the contributors are surprisingly vague about exact-
ly how writers take audiences into account when they write; the
profession still has not found reliable ways of reconciling Walter
Ong's contention that "the writer's audience is always a fiction"
with the fact that writers at work often compose for very real,
specific, knowable people. Nor do any essays concede that
writers and audiences can be as much makers of meaning as en-
coders and receptors. In addition, certain elements of the
writing process are treated only superficially. Revision, for
instance, receives only modest attention; there are no essays on
the teaching of style or on evaluation, and although the
planning activities that often precede the composition of drafts
are taken up in several essays, invention is still pretty much left
to the subject disciplines or to library research. (Perhaps the case
method, where "students are provided . . . basic information"
[29] and where "the case should generate the facts [and] the
writer's job is to generalize concepts and create a structure" (38],
precludes substantial work on invention). Finally, the book fails
to articulate a consensus about the relationship of technical
writing to other writing courses. Is technical writing an
advanced composition course? (After all, in most schools techni-
cal writing follows freshman composition and serves advanced
undergraduates). If so, just what is it that makes technical wri-
ting advanced? Is it just the upperclass population? Is it the
instruction in library research, graphics, and the kinds of writing
done at work? Is that enough? Or is technical writing simply a
different kind of writing course, more difficult perhaps but no
Jack Selzer 225
more advanced than others?
This list of questions and omissions, however, is meant to
imply the contents of a future book rather than to be an objec-
tion to this one. For the growth of technical writing courses and
the professional growth of those who teach them suggest that
there will soon be other books like this one. For now, though,
we can be satisfied: teachers who keep this book on their shelf
will find themselves and their courses constantly renewed; and
whoever does that next book will have a good model to imitate.
Pennsylvania State University
University Park, Pennsylvania
NOTFS
1 Courses, Components, and Exercises in Techniazl Communiaztion,
edited by Dwight W. Stevenson (Umana, lL: National Council of Teachers of
English, 1981), x + 230 pages.