COMP 150TW-The Engineering Method of Technical Writing
Fall 2016–Spring 2017

Time: Fridays 1:30–2:45
Place: Halligan 111A
Instructor: Norman Ramsey, Halligan 222
This course is for graduate and undergraduate students who want to improve their technical writing or who want to learn to write more easily.


The more clearly you write, the more easily you can publish a paper, finish an acceptable thesis or dissertation, win support for a proposal, or get into grad school. Clear writing begins with your text, but clarity is ultimately determined by what happens in a reader's mind. In this class, you will apply engineering methods to writing: you will learn objective, measurable properties of texts, and you will decide for yourself which properties to exploit to achieve the effects you want in your readers' minds.

Many writers achieve good effects only at great cost. If you find writing painful, slow, or difficult, you will learn practices that can help. Again, you will decide what practices make you most effective as a writer.

The techniques taught in this class have been developed through many years' research, primarily at the University of Chicago and at Stony Brook University. With these techniques, you will produce texts that readers like better, and you will produce them more quickly, more consistently, and with less effort than you do now. And by the end of the class, you will be ready to make your own decisions about what further techniques you wish to master in the future.

To benefit from this class, you must meet two criteria: First, you must be able to write grammatical sentences using standard spelling and punctuation. Second, you must have or plan a writing project to which you will apply the techniques taught in class. Your writing project may be any technical-writing project; our goal is to help you with work you would be doing anyway. Past projects have included software documentation, graduate-school applications, doctoral dissertations, senior theses, conference submissions, journal submissions, master's projects, and more.

The course takes a full year for one credit. This course involves small-group instruction and enrollment is limited; to take the course you must have the consent of the instructor. To obtain the instructor’s consent, please send the following information to

Goals, Expectations, Grades, Workload

My goals and expectations (what you get out of the course and what you put in) are documented at length in the syllabus.

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