Writing 510: Research Methods for Technical Communicators—A Review of this Course

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Here’s a picture of Henry Covey dropping some knowledge

About the Course

The Research Methods for Technical Communicators class introduced us students to commonly practiced methods by professional technical communicators. You may wonder, how does a technical communicator know what they need to know? How do they not only gather, but grasp the knowledge of the subject that they are writing about, especially if this aforementioned subject is in a high-level and completely unknown field to the writer? As part of my personal experience in the project, I was tasked with writing several paragraphs about sepsis, the 10th leading killer in the world and the first killer of people in the ICU. So, how exactly did this course teach me how to do that, among other things?

Coursework

As with any course, graduate or undergraduate, reading is a must. Our course readings included analyzing interviewing strategies, academic vs practitioner research, audience vs user research, personas and much more. Along with these readings, the class had many assignments, blog posts, guest speakers and other activities which prepared us for our two main goals: helping the Center for Life in Extreme Environments (CLEE) department at PSU compose content for their website and working with PSU’s Strategic Partnership Program to help them develop their Partnership Portal.

Activities

Our class worked on many challenging and thought-provoking activities to prepare us for our main goals. A heavy amount of our work depended on interviewing subject-matter experts to cull information from them. We teamed up in pairs to interview the experts for the Partnership Portal and worked individually to interview subject-matter experts for the CLEE website.

One of the main activities we did as a class was an affinity diagram. This is a process that helps to synthesize large amounts of data into manageable chunks of information based on themes from this data. Using sticky notes or cards, individual takeaways were written and placed on a board, which provided a visual for us researches to use to identify data trends. If that sounds complicated, well, take a look again at the photo on the top of this page—it may look chaotic, but it was very organized.

Of course, there were many more activities, but it would be an extremely long blog post if I listed and described all of them. Research Methods for Technical Communicators will be offered in the spring of 2019, and I encourage anyone in the program to take this course from Dr. Sarah Read—you’ll learn things that you want to know, as well as things that you didn’t know you needed to know.

Main Takeaways

While this class required a lot of reading, writing and groundwork, the takeaways were enormous. Our class learned to work together as a group as well as individually, and we also sharpened our writing, research, interview and communication skills. Additionally, we developed portfolio pieces for use academically and professionally, and we gained lifelong skills that will further enhance our abilities to be technical communicators.

I highly recommend Research Methods for Technical Communicators. I feel like I only covered a small amount of what was learned in this course, so I encourage anyone to take this class to become better at technical and professional writing.

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