Imagine you are an engineer tasked with building a bridge–or an architect tasked with designing a building. In either instance, your job will necessarily entail asking a series of questions designed to solve a problem:
- Who are the users?
- What is the purpose?
- What is the budget?
- What materials do I have available to work with?
- What regulations must I follow?
- Who do I have to work with on this project?
- Who will offer feedback and/or collaborate with me?
- Who are the decision makers?
- Who is potentially impacted by the job I do?
- How much time do I have?
The answers to these questions help you to identify information that is crucial to making smart decisions. Most, if not all, the work that you engage in professionally will demand that you be willing to ask questions (a lot of them!) to do your job well.
You will also likely find–if you have not already done so in your current work–that good answers depend on good questions. Learning, whether in the classroom or in a professional setting, is most successful when we open ourselves up to being curious about a problem. It also is most successful when we approach situations as problems, or puzzles, to be solved, as opposed to situations that have a single best answer.
The same mindset that applies to a wide variety of professional work applies to the study of writing as well. The main difference is that for the person studying writing, how writing is composed and used is the puzzle or problem to be solved. In other words, a writing researcher is usually studying the engineer studying his/her problem and how they used writing as a part of that process. This is one step removed or an example of “metacognition,” which is a term you may have heard. A very basic definition of metacognition is “thinking about thinking.”
As a student, you practice metacognition any time you sit down to an assignment and, instead of just completing it, you reflect on what is being asked of you, why it is being asked of you, and how you should proceed in order to get the most out of completing the assignment. Taking the time to think about how a situation is both similar to and different from situations you have encountered before is likely to lead you to an awareness of your own learning and communication habits.
At this point, you might be asking yourself: What does this have to do with a technical writing course? When you write in a technical or professional writing course, you are often, essentially, being asked to work as a writing researcher. While in some instances you could be putting together a resume for future use on job applications, more often you are not completing assignments that correlate directly to some professional work you are doing. In other words, you are writing and examining texts in one context (the classroom) that are actually intended for use in another (the workplace).
It makes sense, then, to spend some time thinking about how you can apply what you learn in one to the other. After all, you all are likely already in or plan to pursue very different careers from one another, and one technical writing course cannot possibly cover every kind of writing you will need to know how to do. What a technical writing course can offer you, though, is a plan for learning all those kinds of writing more quickly, effectively, and efficiently. In the following sections, you will find an overview of different methodologies and principles that underlie the study of writing; such methodologies and principles can comprise a kind of “toolkit” that you can take with you to whatever profession you are pursuing–or that you are currently working in right now.
CHAPTER ATTRIBUTION INFORMATION
This chapter was written by Allison Gross, Portland Community College, and is licensed CC-BY 4.0.