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Professional & Technical Communication

Usability is the art of making sure that any kind of communication deliverable (e.g. a website, a handbook, a user guide, etc.) is intuitive, easy-to-use , and helps users achieve their goals. Usability is part of the broader discipline known as User Experience Design (or UX), which encompasses all aspects of the look, feel, and information contained in a communication deliverable. Usability testing, the process by which a communication deliverable is assessed, however, remains at the core of this discipline.

Considering the rhetorical aspects of any writing situation, such as purpose, stance, and audience, is an essential part of adapting the style of a message for any audience. Adopting a you-centered business style can help you achieve your purpose, choose a stance, and analyze your audience.  A you-centered business style employs the you view and an audience-centered tone to choose particular words and adopt a targeted tone in a message.

The “you view” analyzes and emphasizes the reader’s interests and perspectives. Because the reader’s interest or benefit is stressed, the writer is more likely to help the reader understand information or act on a request.

Learning Objectives

  1. Describe and identify three styles of writing.
  2. Demonstrate the appropriate use of colloquial, casual, and formal writing in at least one document of each style.

One way to examine written communication is from a structural perspective. Words are a series of symbols that communicate meaning, strung together in specific patterns that are combined to communicate complex and compound meanings. Nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, and articles are the building blocks you will use when composing written documents.

Learning Objectives

  • Understand the purpose and importance of diplomacy, emphasis, and tone in business communication
  • Gain the ability to write difficult professional emails without offending, frustrating, or confusing your reader
  • Learn to use strategies in written communication to make your own work clearer to get the response you need

Compiling a résumé can feel like a daunting task. Just like essay writing, résumé creation works well as a process. Before worrying about the format of the résumé and where to place everything in a document, consider beginning by compiling an informal list of past and present work experience and education. Once you have a first draft, look at résumés in the field you are applying to, since every field has different standards and preferences. Remember: there are no one-size-fits all résumés. The key to constructing a polished résumé is tailoring your experience to the job to which you’re applying.

Learning Objectives

  1. Describe the differences among functional, reverse chronological, combination, targeted, and scannable résumés.
  2. Discuss what features are required in each type of résumé.
  3. Prepare a one-page résumé.

A résumé is a document that summarizes your education, skills, talents, employment history, and experiences in a clear and concise format for potential employers. The résumé serves three distinct purposes that define its format, design, and presentation:

  1. To represent your professional information in writing
  2. To demonstrate the relationship between your professional information and the problem or challenge the potential employer hopes to solve or address, often represented in the form of a job description or duties
  3. To get you an interview by clearly demonstrating you meet the minimum qualifications and have the professional background help the organization meet its goals

An online profile page is similar to a résumé in that it represents you, your background and qualifications, and adds participation to the publication. People network, link, and connect in new ways via online profiles or professional sites like LinkedIn. In many ways, your online profile is an online version of your résumé with connections and friends on public display. Your MySpace and Facebook pages are also often accessible to the public, so never post anything you wouldn’t want your employer (current or future) to read, see, or hear. This chapter covers a traditional résumé, as well as the more popular scannable features, but the elements and tips could equally apply to your online profile.

When applying for jobs, a well-written cover letter is just as important as a well-written resume. While the resume is designed to provide an overview of your relevant skills and qualifications, the cover letter is your opportunity to discuss relevant experiences, connect those experience to qualities and qualifications from the job ad, and to display your personality to your reader. In other words, the cover letter is your chance to humanize yourself to your reader and to give the reader a sense of who you are and why you’re uniquely qualified for a particular position.

On Wooing Your Audience (Or Not)

Imagine for a moment that you’re in the market for a new significant other. Well, good news: your friend, Imma MutualFriend, claims that she knows your perfect match and tells you all about this person. From what you’re told about this match, you’re interested too. Imma promises to connect you two soon.

Flash forward, and the time comes for you to meet this supposed match. At a party, Imma points you in their direction. With the goal of wooing this person with all of your wonderful qualifications, you approach your match.

Writing the Conventional Résumé

I learned about résumé writing from my students. The students with the best résumés, I found, were those who understood that a résumé is principally an objective summary of your skills and achievements, secondly a subtly clever argument that you are worth hiring, and finally a reflection of your individuality. The key is to work within the conventions while building a résumé that only you could have written. The best way to begin is to study the conventions, then mimic the qualities of a good model, with an eye for places where your individuality can emerge.

Getting a job is hard work. Higher than normal unemployment and significant increases in the number of college graduates mean that even well-qualified applicants may find it challenging to land the position they want. This chapter endeavors to help you set yourself apart – in a positive way – by improving the one part of the job search you can control: your application materials.

The sections that follow will help you create and improve your job materials by connecting information gleaned from job ads and corporate websites to experience you already have so that you can position yourself as uniquely qualified for the position you want.

Quality Checking Your Résumé

Once your résumé is composed, it must be quality checked. Three prominent issues that arise in a quality check are content, format, and computer-related problems.

Reconsidering Content

  • Look over the résumé and be certain you have considered effective wording and strong candidate material within each category, as detailed in the previous page of this manual.

Computer Scanning of Résumés     

One of comic Steven Wright’s jokes provides a nice little lesson in irony: “I used to work in a fire hydrant factory. You couldn’t park anywhere near the place.” Similarly, our work lives are rich in irony: Just as technology has enabled any one of us to build a résumé that is stunning in appearance, blaring bells and whistles, the irony is that technology now also sometimes requires us to create résumés virtually stripped of form and dazzle. Companies, especially large ones, occasionally require job candidates to submit a “scannable résumé”—that is, a résumé written so that a scanner, using optical character recognition software, can code your résumé into a database.

When reading cover letters, the key benchmark I use is simple: Do I get to know both the person and the professional? As we read a cover letter, we should have a sense that no other candidate could have written this particular document in this particular way. Hence, we respect and honor the individual.

In conversation, the term “cover letter” is used loosely to mean any professional letter that you write in an attempt to get a job, with the term “cover” denoting that the letter is usually a “cover piece” designed to introduce and accompany your resume. Thus, too many writers think of the cover letter as mere mechanical introductory fluff—disposable goods—when in fact it can be more important than your resume.

The Graduate Student and Post-Graduate Résumé

Undergraduates often tell me they are amazed at how long it takes to compose a résumé (part of this is mere perception, I think, due to the weighty nature of the document’s importance). I tell them they should plan to spend between a few hours and a day every year revising their résumé for the rest of their professional lives, and that an undergraduate résumé with a strong foundation is their best preparation. Obviously, post-graduate and graduate student résumés are grounded in the same principles as undergraduate résumés, but new rules emerge with the new circumstances.

More Advanced, More Daring Résumés

Even though technical fields favor conventional and old-school rules, many students, particularly those with extensive experience or a diverse background, stretch the limits slightly—and smartly—when creating their résumés. Creative format and content choices on your résumé certainly are permitted, as long as they enhance rather than detract from utility and appearance.

Creative Format Choices

Functions and Audience

Short for “memorandum,” a memo is a type of document used to communicate with others in the same organization. Memos (or memoranda) are typically used for fairly short messages of one page or less, but informal reports of several pages may also employ memo format.

Format

Memos are distinguished by a header that includes DATE, TO, FROM, and SUBJECT lines. Other lines, such as CC or BCC, may be added as needed. An RE (“Reference”) line may be used instead of SUBJECT, but this use is becoming rarer as “RE” is often mistaken as “Reply” because of its use in email.

Learning Outcomes

  • Apply and adapt professional and technical writing conventions, including genre, tone, and style for particular writing situations.
  • Identify professional and technical genres, organization strategies, and appropriate tone and style
  • Analyze audience while creating various professional/technical documents with a sophisticated awareness of audience as a reader and writer
  • Identify some habits of successful proposal writers
  • Analyze how and why audience awareness is a key component for successful writers

Learn how to improve your problem-solving and persuasive skills. Employ your writing and reasoning skills to make a difference in the world. View samples and write a proposal to conduct research, develop a Web site, solve a problem, or provide a service. Proposals are persuasive texts that articulate ways to solve a problem, conduct needed research, or provide a service.

Proposals may attempt to persuade readers to act or they may seek funding. Writers of proposals support claims with reasoning, library and Internet research, and original research, including questionnaires, interviews, and ethnographers.

What Is a Report?

Reports are documents designed to record and convey information to the reader. Reports are part of any business or organization; from credit reports to police reports, they serve to document specific information for specific audiences, goals, or functions. The type of report is often identified by its primary purpose or function, as in an accident report, a laboratory report, a sales report, or even a book report. Reports are often analytical, or involve the rational analysis of information. Sometimes they simply “report the facts” with no analysis at all, but still need to communicate the information in a clear and concise format. Other reports summarize past events, present current data, and forecast future trends. While a report may have conclusions, propositions, or even a call to action, the demonstration of the analysis is the primary function. A sales report, for example, is not designed to make an individual sale. It is, however, supposed to report sales to date, and may forecast future sales based on previous trends. This chapter is designed to introduce you to the basics of report writing.

An effective business proposal informs and persuades efficiently. It features many of the common elements of a report, but its emphasis on persuasion guides the overall presentation.

Let’s say you work in a health care setting. What types of products or services might be put out to bid? If your organization is going to expand and needs to construct a new wing, it will probably be put out to bid. Everything from office furniture to bedpans could potentially be put out to bid, specifying a quantity, quality, and time of delivery required.