Notes for Major Assignment 4
Writing definitions and descriptions provides an opportunity to make use of many of the fundamental concepts we have covered in class to date.
As a result, the description can provide a way to test your ability to use these very important concepts. The most important of these concepts are listed below, with some specific points outlined for you to consider as you go about completing Major Assignment #4.
Writing Effective Sentences and Paragraphs
Beyond the issues of correctness relating to mechanical and grammatical issues remember that one of the measures of excellence in technical writing is clarity. You want to be clear, concise and yet comprehensive. Don’t use filler. When it comes to comprehensiveness, keep your audience in mind. How much information do they need and what type of information should be provided to them.
Organization and Document Design
Consider the information you have. Consider the topic you are writing about.
• Are there images and illustrations that would be useful?
• Where should these be placed?
• How should you use white space to frame sections and to frame any visuals?
Again, look at the samples available to you. How do these published articles use chunking, white space, queuing, and filtering to organize the content and to provide access?
You can, if you determine it to be useful, include more than one graphic.
• Know what graphic is the most appropriate for a given purpose.
• Make sure you follow the conventions.
• Specifically, make sure that you integrate your graphics and visuals according to these conventions.
• Make sure that you include an advanced organizer, a statement that introduces the graphic/visual.
• If you are using illustrations or photographs to identify the parts of a product or the steps in the process, make sure that all of the components you are discussing are identified in the image.
Whatever graphic or visual you use make sure that it is well integrated with the text. Remember that proximity is a key design element. Don’ t consider visuals and text as completely separate. They should supplement each other.
Definitions and Descriptions
Don’t neglect the value of information in the textbook, especially the various strategies discussed for defining and describing. These strategies (graphics, examples, partition, principle of operation, comparison and contrast, analogy, etc.) are valuble in any writing context but are especially useful when writing to a lay audience. Recognize how an example of a technical concept can be a useful means to understand what can otherwise be a vague and abstract theory. Note how analogy can be used, as well as compare and contrast, to describe a product or process in terms more familiar to a lay audience.
And don’t forget about using visuals to make the description more effective. For instance, will you need to provide a visual so that your readers can more easily comprehend the parts and the way that the parts “ fit” together? Do you need to provide a visual to represent a particular sequence or steps in the process you are explaining?
Your description should follow the structure outline below and have the following components:
1) Define the Object. Begin with a sentence definition. A sentence definition is really a formulaic sentence in the form of “x is a y that is z”. X is the object; Y is the class in which the object belongs; and Z is the object’s distinguishing feature and what separates it from the other members of its class. For example, a simple sentence definition for the wind turbine would be: A wind turbine (X) captures the kinectic energy of wind (Y) and turns it into electricity (Z). The object is identified first, followed by the class, which is then followed by the distinguishing feature. A wind turbine belongs to the class of objects that capture wind energy (kites, windmills, weather vanes, etc.), yet it is different from these objects in that it converts the wind energy to electricity. But then note in the wind turbine sample how the definition is extended by way of comparison to water and to the various types of turbines. In this case, those strategies listed in chapter 14 (pp. 391-393) are used to give the readers an extended understanding of the object. The wind energy is compared to water in an attempt to give readers something familiar that they can understand and use to compare to wind energy and the wind turbine.
The different types are provided to give readers further clarification as well. In the sample then, strategies such as comparison/contrast/analogy and example are used to give readers a better understanding. You should be able to find ways to use similar strategies when defining your object. You should also see that as you define the object you are addressing the next point in the table—describing the function of the object.
2) Show what the object looks like. Give a clear image (either a photograph or line drawing) that illustrates not only what the object looks like but also identifies the key parts of the object. Note the use of the line drawing in the wind turbine sample that identifies each of the key parts of the object. The parts are clearly labeled and identified in the drawing. Make sure that your image offers the same level of description.
3) Describe the key parts. Note how immediately below the line drawing, a list is presented that gives readers a concise yet informative description of what each part in the turbine does. Note as well how the description of these parts focuses on the use of verbs that specifically explain the function of each part. For instance, the first two parts are described in the following ways:
• rotor blades – capture wind’s energy and convert it to rotational energy of shaft
• shaft – transfers rotational energy into generator
4) Describe how the object works. In the wind turbine sample, the description of operation and how the object works are done through a series of images. When describing how an object works, think in terms of sequencing and spatial relations. In the wind turbine sample, the description includes the chronological sequence of actions and also where those actions take place. For example, the first part of the description starts at the turbine and at the first step in the process which is the conversion of wind energy into the blade rotation
. Then notice how the description moves on to the next steps and to the various places within the object where the next steps of action takes place. So again, think in terms of both sequencing and space when writing your description, and don’t look past, as the sample illustrates, the value of images.