Assignments: Exercises

Technical Writing

Learning Goals

In performing and completing these exercises, you should:

    • Learn to revise the given document for proper form and structure;
    • Learn to revise the given document for readability (style);
    • Learn to revise the given document for an audience's use;

Cover Letter Revision Exercise

The following cover letter suffers greatly; among its ailments:

    Lack of detail;
    Repetitive sentence structure;
    Bad punctuation.

This exercise has two parts.

    First, correct the letter as is — without adding new information about the writer's academic background, skills, or experience.

    Second, in 25 to 50 words, tell me what suggestions you would give Mr. Stevens for improving his cover letter.

73 Progress Street
Blacksburg, VA

May 26 14

Jane Frederick
Director of Personnel
Johnson Engineering
23 Old Tower Road
Vienna, Va 22104

Dear Ms. Frederick;

I am writing in response to your online ad in the Jobs section of the Washington Post for a Software Engineer with a background in computer science or related technical field available in July 2014. I will have a B.S. in Electrical and Computer Engineering by May 2014. A job at that time would be very attractive.

I have taken several courses in Electrical Engineering. These include digital communications, wireless networks and fiber optics.

I have acquired communications skills essential in dealing with the public by working in many retail positions. I have also made numerous contacts through my involvement in several professional organizations. I have gained valuable hands-on experience in community relations between homeowners and the engineering industry through volunteer work in at local home repair organization.

I would welcome the opportunity to discuss my credentials with you. I will be at (540) 555-0100 should you desire to contact me. I will call your office early next week to see whether we might arrange a meeting.



Please post your revision to the appropriate forum on the wiki by no later than midnight May 30.

Memo Revision Exercise

This exercise has two options. Please choose one option.

Option 1

    To perform this exercise please revise the prose in Memo 1 and Memo 2 (taken from Michael Markel, Technical Writing: Situtations and Strategies, 3rd ed.).

    Each memo suffers from a lack of clarity and coherence — a condition attributable to the writer's over-dependence on their familiarity with the audience.

    Memo 1

    Office of the Mayor

    To: Department Heads
    From: Mayor Christine Rawlins
    Subject: "Tolerance"

    As you are surely aware, an unwritten policy of "tolerance" for public officials and police officers was in existence until recently at the Oakland Department of Law Enforcement. That policy was of grave concern to me and, as you know, resulted in a major public controversy and necessary personnel adjustments.

    It is the unaltered policy of this administration that no department shall at any time adopt, utilize, adapt, or endorse any policy of favoritism in any aspect of its enforcement responsibility. The informing principle must be that no one in Oakland is above the law.

    I fully expect that each department is operating under that principle, but let us serve as a reminder that this is our policy and that there shall be no deviation from that policy.

    Please convey this information to the necessary personnel in your department.

    Memo 2

    Diversified Chemicals, Inc.

    Date: May 27, 2014
    To: R. Martins
    From: J. Smith
    Subject: Charles Research Conference on Corrosion

    The subject of the conference was high-temperature dry corrosion. Some of the topics discussed were

    1 - thin film formation on metal surfaces. The lectures focused on the study of oxidation and corrosion by spectroscopy.

    2 - the use of microscopy to study the microstructure of thick film formation on metals and alloys. The speakers were from the University of Washington and MIT.

    3 - one of the most interesting topics was hot corrosion and erosion. The speakers were from Penn State and Westinghouse.

    4 - future research directions for high-temperature dry corrosion were discussed from five viewpoints.

      1 - university research
      2 - government research
      3 - industry research
      4 - European industry research
      5 - European government research

    5 - corrosion of ceramics, especially the oxidation of Si3N4. One paper dealt with the formation of Si ALON, which could be an inexpensive substitute for Si3N4. This topic should be pursued.

Please post your revision to the appropriate forum on the wiki by no later than midnight June 6.

Option 2

    For the following memo a bit of context follows:

    You work in the communications department of a large medical center. The Director of Maintenance, with whom you have a cordial relationship, drops by your office and asks advice about the following memo. After you edit it, the memo will be immediately distributed throughout the medical center. Please edit the Maintenance Director's memo considering:

      • When, how and by whom the document will be used;
      • Active sentences depict the subject as the agent of action, and the object expresses the goal or thing changed by the action;
      • Proper memo format;
      • Use of capitalization;
      • Use of subheadings;
      • Use of shorter sentences (vs. run-on sentences) and lists.

    The memo consists of 257 words, 13 sentences, 76% of which are in passive voice.

    TO: All Medical Center personnel
    FROM: Tom Barker
    DATE: 20 June
    SUBJECT: Service Calls

    The Maintenance Department will initiate a Service Call system beginning Wednesday, June 23, 2014, that is designed to provide an effective response time with equal distribution for all departments for work categorized as Service Calls. Service Calls are defined as urgent minor work requiring immediate attention, for example, loss of heat, air conditioning, water leaks, clogged plumbing, faulty electrical wiring, fire, safety or security hazards.

    To initiate a Service call a telephone call to the Maintenance Department, (742-5438, 24 hours a day), is all that is required. A Service call number will be assigned to the job and furnished to the originator of requested. This number may be used when referring to the status of the Service Call.

    During the hours of 5:00 p.m. through 8:00 a.m. daily, all day week-ends and holidays, only one Maintenance Mechanic is on duty who must insure total systems are operational on his shift, in addition to accomplishing Service Calls. That will limit the amount of call, but should not deter anyone from calling in a Service Call to insure it is accomplished when the manhours are available. If no one answers, please call again.

    For urgent or emergency requirements, the PBX Operator must be notified to page maintenance. Please do not use the paging system unless your request is justifiable.

    Your cooperation in this matter would be greatly appreciated.

    Service Call requirements are outlined in the Policies and Regulations manual. Requests exceeding these will be classified as Job Orders, and are also outlined in the Polices and Procedures Manual.

Please post your revision to the appropriate forum on the wiki by no later than midnight June 6.

Definitions Exercise

Please take a look at Wikipedia and review the Analysis of content section. Keeping the issues raised in the section in mind choose a key word, or term of art, found in your field (or a key concept in one of your classes) and look it up in Wikipedia. Analyze the entry. Then, using the word or term you selected as a central example, please provide a 200- to 250- word response to the following assertion: "The definitions of key words and terms in the professions should be determined not only by experts, but also through an open-source process in which any and all participants of a community (like Wikipedia) might contribute."

Please post your revision to the appropriate forum on the wiki by no later than midnight June 13.

Proposal Revision Exercise

    The following short proposal consists of 266 words and 9 sentences of an average length of 29 words. 55% of the sentences are in passive voice. Revise the proposal - making it easier to read - by considering the following criteria:

      • Subheadings help organize a document and make it more accessible to the reader;
      • Shorter sentences and active voice are easier to read;
      • Sentences are easier to understand when the subject and verb come early;
      • Strings of prepositional phrases are difficult to understand;
      • Ambiguous words and phrases require clarification;
      • Redundant pairs of words and excessive modifiers can be eliminated.

    This request to the United States Geological Survey is in reference to the $15,000 allocated by the Office of Coal Management to the Ames District for the use in hydrologic assistance. At this time and stage of access and interpretation of existing data on record in the form of computer storage and publications in print that we many not be aware of is our main concern. Due to the U.S. Geological Survey having vast storage of and access to this data we would like to suggest the available funds be used in the following two areas if possible.

    The first area may be handled by the Geological Survey district office in Wilson due to the accessibility and central locale to all literature and data sources. By compiling this data a comprehensive interpretation of surface water, i.e., quantity, quality, salinity etc. for site specific coal leases can be provided to the Ames District hydrologist. Thus, due to time constraints, time may be spent on analyzing these interpretations and conducting on-site calculations.

    Secondly, another area we foresee as a positive and very useful endeavor is the expertise that can be provided by the Water Resource Division of the Geological Survey in Mountainview. Because the subdistrict office and the White River Resource Area office are both located in Mountainview, we may obtain their help in the form of infrequent consultations, informal review of tract analysis and field reconnaissance on a one time basis of any lease area lacking available hydrologic data.

    The foregoing should provide adequate justification for requesting the U.S. Geological Survey's assistance.

Please post your revision to the appropriate forum on the wiki by no later than midnight June 20.

Abstract Revision Exercise

Considered broadly, a descriptive abstract should:

    • Establish the topic of the research.
    • Give the research problem and/or main objective of the research (this usually comes first).
    • Indicate the methodology used.
    • Present the main findings.
    • Present the main conclusions.

I would like you revise the following abstract in two ways:

    1) Examine the abstract and see if it follows the general structure above. If not, rearrange the sentences to provide this structure;
    2) Edit the prose for greater concision and grace. This abstract is 162 words long, edit it to a length of 100 words or less.


The long-term performance of various systems was determined and the economic aspects of solar hot water production were investigated in this work. The effect of the collector inclination angle, collector area and storage volume was examined for all systems, and various climatic conditions and their payback period was calculated. It was found that the collector inclination angle does not have a significant effect on system performance. Large collector areas have a diminishing effect on the system's overall efficiency. The increase in storage volume has a detrimental effect for small daily load volumes, but a beneficial one when there is a large daily consumption. Solar energy was found to be truly competitive when the conventional fuel being substituted is electricity, and it should not replace diesel oil on pure economic grounds. Large daily load volumes and large collector areas are in general associated with shorter payback periods. Overall, the systems are oversized and are economically suitable for large daily hot water load volumes.

Haralambopoulos, D., Paparsenost, G. F., and Kovras, H. (1997) "Assessing the Economic Aspects of Solar Hot Water Production in Greece." Renewable Energy, 11, 153-167.

Please post your revision to the appropriate forum on the wiki by no later than midnight June 27.