|Instructor:||Norman Ramsey, Halligan 222|
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
A short statement of why you are interested in the course and what you hope to get out of it
A one-page sample of something you have written on a technical topic
Evidence that you can read technical papers in computer science, such as successful completion of at least two of the four courses 40, 105, 160, and 170
Course schedule (September, October, November, December) — this schedule is subject to adjustment
There are two required books:
Joseph M. Williams, Style: Toward Clarity and Grace, University of Chicago press, 1995.
Robert Boice, Advice for New Faculty Members, Allyn & Bacon, 2000.
Williams is out of print, but you will find copies readily available through the usual channels
You will need the 2016 edition of my short monograph Learning Technical Writing Using the Engineering Method. If you want to know what you're getting yourself into, the August 2014 version will tell you.