Troubleshooting Procedures Technical Writing Lessons That Challenge
2004 Annual Conference Proceedings
This paper proposes introducing instruction and assignments on the preparation of troubleshooting documentation into technical writing and communication courses. Exercises that ask students to create procedures to aid readers in problem solving and the troubleshooting of technological systems and equipment can provide students with challenging and relevant practice in creating audience centered and helpful documents. A hypothetical technical writing machine and other vehicles for teaching this
... for teaching this content to students who may have different technical backgrounds are presented. Introduction Technical writing and communication courses assist engineering and technology students in developing and enhancing communication skills they may have to call upon in their careers. Students typically are introduced to audience-centered writing and the elements of technical style and gain practice writing descriptions, reports, proposals and instructional material. Ideally, at the end of a typical course students should be able to strategize a communication need, research the needed technical content, analyze the needs of the audience, select a format, organize the information and construct a clear and effective communication that satisfies the original need. This may be demonstrated in assignments that lead to progress reports, test reports, feasibility studies, internal change proposals, installation or setup instructions, or repair and maintenance procedures. Assignments that ask students to analyze complex systems and create procedures to assist in troubleshooting failures or problems that arise within them can be particularly challenging methods for demonstrating and honing the students' technical communication skills. Troubleshooting in itself is an exercise in problem solving. Troubleshooting documents are tools that can guide and assist readers in their problem solving, helping them analyze and correct specific problems they have encountered with technology. Creating these documents requires that technical communication students analyze the problem, develop methodologies for solving it and then determine the best format for delivering this information to their potential readership. Assignments of this type can be particularly challenging as they call on both the analytic and the communication skills of technology students, helping them see this shared importance in successful documentation. Assignments and lessons about the process of troubleshooting and the development of documentation for that process have relevance and value that students will immediately grasp. Anyone with experience in the technological world knows that things go wrong and that sometimes things go very wrong. Computers crash at the least opportune moment. Pump seals begin to leak and line pressures drop precipitously. Red warning lights come alive on aircraft panels and plant control boards. Fatigue causes cracks and failures in structural elements. A switch locks in the open position.