1) Report project -> Proposal project
2) The Keys to both
3) Topics: Let’s keep brainstorming
4) Brainstormnado 2: the Wrath of Narrowing
For today, you watched my video explaining the report
assignment. I don’t have a lot to add in terms of
description, so I’ll stand behind what you watched.
Major take-away: this is a FACT based RESEARCHED
report that can cover a topic close to COMPLETELY in
5-7 pages of text.
Similarly, the proposal is a persuasive but still FACT
based document that proposes A SPECIFIC
OUTCOME (be that an action taken, a decision made,
etc.) related to your key topic.
The proposal should utilize the research data from
the report and should not require more data.
…are we picking topics so early?
1)You need time to do research. DON’T DELAY. That
will come back to haunt you.
2)We need to know your topics so we can determine
your audience for the next assignment
That demographic case study
You can read the basics of the case study assignment on the
course website, but there are 8 key things it needs to do…
The first four
1. Tell us who your audience is. In detail.
2. Tell us the specific traits of that audience that
makes the audience different from “everyone.”
3. What is common to every member of the
audience (or most– “every” might be dangerous)?
4. What are the needs of the audience?
The second four…
5. What are the desires of your audience? What do they
6. What does the audience know?
7. And what DOESN’T the audience know?
A hint about #6 and #7… if the audience knows too little about the topic,
you’ll need it to be something you can cover in great detail. If the audience
knows too much, you picked a bad topic, because there’s no need for that
report to exist.
8. What language and what tone does the audience expect?
So let’s circle the wagons
Right about now you should have a few potential topics from
I want you to pull them out. Take a look at the questions you
received so far.
Now, with your topics in-hand, and your minds open to more
brainstorming, I want to hit you with some key criteria for the
report and the proposal. These should help you to further
constrain and re-think what might make for a good topic.
Report: Key One
I’ve said it a few times, but SCOPE, SCOPE, SCOPE.
You want a topic you can cover in five-to-seven pages. That
means that some ideas are simply too big. Technical writing
isn’t about big-skying. Technical writing is about restraint and
Report: Key Two
The idea is that you’re going to offer expertise or revelation
with this report. This, again, reminds you of scope. How can
you be an expert on something in five-to-seven pages of
Report: Key Three
Just the facts, Jack!
Seriously. This report is about FACTS. Opinions are… almost
useless in tech writing.
Report: Key Four
Being organized and unfolding your ideas carefully is going be
the difference between success and failure in this report.
Structure is your friend.
Proposal: Key One
You want to be compelling, but compelling with FACTS.
You should be proposing something that based on your
research seems obvious.
Proposal: Key Two
You should be offering the audience an easy move/easy
decision. If this is still a difficult move to make, your research
isn’t as compelling as it should be.
Proposal: Key Three
Your proposal should lead to one– and only one– logical
course of action. Given, many problems in the world have
more than one solution, but you should know from your
research which of a set of potential solutions is the BEST, and
your duty as a technical writer is to convince us of that with
Proposal: Key Four
Remember: no one cares WHAT you think. They care WHY you
think this is the right choice. Your opinion doesn’t matter. The
solution your research points to does. It’s a small, but
In other words, we’re trusting your research, but it’s not about
your ethos. It’s about what you found out.
Armed with this info…
Let’s look at your topics. If the answer to any of these
questions is no, your topic will not work.
Can you research the topic and present
your findings in five-to-seven pages?
Are you compiling information to make
new knowledge? In other words, there’s
not a book on this that does all the work
you’d be doing, right?
Do you know how– or can you imagine
figuring out how– to get the information
you’d need to have factual research of
Can you think of a logical suggestion you
might make– AKA the proposal– based
on this topic?
Are you sure there’s no overpowering
opinion or bias in place here? Because
that’s going to hurt you later if there is.
And one last time– I’m not kidding
about scope. Can you do this in five-to-
Sometimes you just need to narrow
Let’s say you’re passionate about a particular topic, but it just
seems too big, or you’re not sure what you’d propose after
the research. That doesn’t mean you have to ditch the topic.
It means you need to focus. Allow me to illustrate.
Let’s say you want to research how the
Miami campus can be more green.
Mistake one: it’s just too big. Think of all
the things Miami does and uses. Think
of how many potential changes there
might be. We need to reign it in.
Let’s say we start with your life. The
things you see every day. Let’s say you
notice the heavy volume of Miami
University Parking Services and
University Police that roll around
You could, with some careful research,
find out how many cars there are, how
often they are staffed, and what their
With makes, models and years, you
could figure the expenditure in gasoline,
and once you know all of that, you can
figure the carbon footprint of that
You might then be able to say “we’re
doing a significant amount of polluting
with our police and parking services
vehicles on the Oxford campus of Miami
University.” You could even try to
compare to like-sized schools without
too much effort.
I mean really– do we need someone driving a PICK UP TRUCK to write tickets? (oops- opinion! )
You could easily figure the price, and the
fuel consumption, for alternative
vehicles. Like golf carts. Or bikes. Or if
we fear a dangerous winter,
You might then propose that Miami
could save money (if you can save
money, people love your proposal) and
save the environment by switching from
cars to golf carts, bikes, a snowmobile or
two, and then “in cases of need” cars
and trucks for police and parking
See how in this example we went from
being green– a huge, big-sky topic– to
one way to be green that can be
covered and explained very well in 5-7
pages of report.
Now, having seen that…
Get out some paper.
If you want to keep your original topic(s) and they
work, recopy them.
If not, spend a few minutes brainstorming new
potential topics. I want you to have two sheets of
When ready, write your topic at the top of each sheet along with your name. Pass one
left and one right.
Everyone comment and pass on. Keep
them moving. I’ll tell you when to stop.
Comment on everything but your own.
You can comment more than once on a
topic as well, if it comes back to you.
Come in with your directions in some format that you can
show them to one other person (at a time).
We will be doing a structured set of usability tests in class. Be
See you then!