Tip 29: Provide Sample Answers

Students WANT to give us what we want. They are just not always sure what that is.

Here is an excellent suggestion from Mike (a history teacher) that I am going to incorporate regularly into my classes:

I have found that after the first test of the semester, I select the best student essay answer and present it to the class, not identifying the student. Preferably, if there were several essay questions, I select the best of each and present it on the screen–this tells the students what I consider a well-formed essay and also what content I thought was appropriate and addressed the question best. And it came from a fellow student, not the professor.

Another windfall from this is the student whose essay is displayed is very proud and encouraged and wishes to keep up the same standard in the future.

How I teach technical writing

Introducing technical writing:

In my technical writing courses I use many of the same real world examples that I discussed above in “Introducing writing.”  We actually examine the Three Mile Island memo as part of memo writing.  I also mention the promotion a friend did not get because he was not able to write well; the students are usually impressed when I mention that the raise that went with the promotion was $43,000 a year and they usually quickly figure out how long it was before he had lost a million dollars.  I am not sure why they find that number fascinating, but their reactions show they are listening.  Though it was not available when I taught technical writing before, Killian Advertising offers examples of horrible cover letter errors, from real cover letters, to help the students see what not to do.   There are many other useful websites available now on different aspects of business and technical writing; an excellent one is “Top Ten Mistakes in Web Design” by Jakob Nielsen.  It is easy to read and understand, yet professional enough that programmers refer to it.


Modeling technical writing:

The modeling process also applies to technical writing.  When I taught the class at Purdue, I began applying for jobs at the same time.  I kept every version of my curriculum vita as I did revision and I showed these to the students.  I think while we were working on resumes I did seven versions.  When I went to Abilene, I took all of those with me and used them as examples.  I also took a friend’s resume, which was for a legal position, and revised it.  The students looked at it with me and offered suggestions, based on what they had learned.  It was fun to see them showing off their newly gained expertise.


Goal for technical writing:

When students leave my technical writing class, I want them to have been exposed to and practiced most kinds of writing from the corporate world, including those they need for the job search.  Usually my students, especially those who are already working, feel more confident about their writing and can talk about ways the class has helped them.