A Guide to MIT Technical Writing Course

What do MIT technical writing courses have to offer? In detail, let’s understand what the two technical writing courses of MIT’s OpenCourseWare platform, ‘Intro to Tech Communications’ and ‘Graduate Technical Writing Workshop’, aims to accomplish here in this article.

 

A Guide to MIT technical writing course

 

Should you go for MIT Technical Writing Course?

 

What is technical writing?

 

Technical writing is an effective way of Technical communication. With new technologies coming every day, technical communication has become an important aspect mainly for tech organizations to convey the highly complex processes and concepts and enable the readers to understand them clearly. Technical communication aims to make readers understand a technical concept or assist them through any technical process.

 

The major characteristics of good technical communication are to be clear, coherent, concise, accurate, and appropriate. Technical writing has rapidly grown over time, traditionally it was largely a process of documenting all the steps and processes like creating a User’s manual, but now we can find different ways in which the technical information is being conveyed like in the form of reports, press releases, briefs, emails, proposals, blogs, and case studies.

 

Technical material doesn’t have to be lengthy, ambiguous with uncommon complex terminologies; it should be a completely intelligible piece of content with lucid explanations which are easily digestible by the readers. So the demand for writers who can simplify these complex processes through their writing has skyrocketed.

 

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Let’s dive deep into it!

 

What’s the scope of technical writing and how can one pursue it?

 

Technical writing is a skill! And now more than ever, one of the most in-demand and important ones. According to the United States Bureau of Labour Statistics, a professional technical writer has an average annual salary of 75,500 USD, with salaries starting from $49,550 and going up to $110,000 depending on the industry, location, and experience, with a projected 10-year growth of 7% in employment.

 

The average annual salary of a technical writer in India is 497,198 INR, starting from ₹277,000 and going up to ₹1M, according to Payscale. Now the question arises, how does one go about this path of becoming a professional technical writer. Well, the very first step is quite simple, just start writing!

 

But that’s not all; there are a lot of things one needs to keep into consideration while drafting a technical material like the structure of the document, design, template, audience, choice of words, the structure of sentences, use of language, and selection of active or passive voice. So a comprehensive knowledge of different aspects of writing, specifically technical writing, is necessary.

 

There are two ways one can go about acquiring this knowledge. One is self-study by self-research. The other is undertaking a comprehensive technical writing course, which will equip you with all the writing skills and knowledge required to become a proficient technical writer. From the two ways mentioned above, how does one decide which path is the right one for their technical writing journey? If you happen to find yourself at a crossroads like this, then read on further!

 

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Which path of learning to take?

 

While self-teaching and exploring might be a good option for someone who already possesses some knowledge about writing, but for someone entirely new to the field, there are chances that one might miss out on a lot of useful information and topics which are crucial for the job, without an extensively studied planned approach.

 

There are also possibilities that you might not keep up and abandon the process by getting overwhelmed by all the information which is required to be consumed and consequently losing enthusiasm and interest. You might also end up investing a large amount of your time and energy on topics that are not currently relevant.

 

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Collaboration, Guidance, and Feedback are the three main aspects of any kind of learning to keep one up to date and in the right direction in the learning process; it also keeps one motivated and helps retain the enthusiasm. Considering all the important points here, one can understand that a diligently planned technical writing course by industry experts can prepare an individual better in their pursuit of becoming a technical writer.

 

One of the world’s top educational organization, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have been deeply involved in educating people about technical communication and technical writing for years. The MIT community strives to make this world a better place through education, research, and innovation.

 

They are inventive, elite, and competitive but also fun, artistic, and quirky. To uphold their values and serve everyone equally, the MIT community launched the ‘MIT OpenCourseWare’ platform, which offers courses in different areas accessible freely on the web to everyone.

 

These MIT courses make available the teaching materials used in teaching MIT’s subject classes, students have access to all the course materials, lecture notes, reading recommendations, and a set of assigned tasks. The MIT technical writing course platform offers two very interesting courses to produce professional writers in society, which are ‘Intro to Tech Communication course and ‘Graduate Technical Writing Workshop’.

 

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MIT Technical Writing Courses 

 

Intro to Tech Communication Course

This MIT technical writing course is a part of MIT’s Undergraduate curriculum and is offered by the Comparative Media Studies/Writing department. It has been specially designed for scientists and technical researchers, who possess a lot of knowledge and understanding of the technical field they belong to.

 

These are the people who are expected to spread the knowledge and educate the audience about various technical concepts. While they might be the masters of technical know-how, they still are required to educate themselves when they get down to conveying this information to the readers through writing. This course aims to provide a basic introduction to effectively communicate technical concepts by practicing technical writing.

 

With information ruling the functioning of society, effective communication becomes of paramount importance and thus necessitates proficient writing in all areas. Technical professionals generally have two groups of audiences, one to address and communicate with people in their place of work through writing progress reports, analyses, reviews, emails, and plenty other types of technical documents, and the other where they are required to address the general audience through conference papers, articles, grant proposals and so on.

 

This large world is becoming smaller and smaller day-by-day with the increasing power of information and communication globally, which has also consequently given rise to intercultural communication and collaboration on a great level. The course also briefly deals with addressing the issues arising from intercultural communication.

 

Graduate Technical Writing Workshop

 

This MIT technical writing course is targeted towards educating engineering students at the graduate level. Similar to the ‘Intro to Tech Communication’ course, this workshop also provides a basic introduction to different writing concepts like citing, quoting, working with sources, summarizing and paraphrasing, synthesizing the source materials, and avoiding plagiarism.

 

These are the building blocks of creating any professionally written material and the proper usage and practice of the same are of huge importance. The course aims to enhance the students’ ability and understanding of communicating technical information through writing.

 

The course also teaches about different communication tools and concepts, writing an abstract, the art of writing a review, and also helps with understanding engineering texts. The course is only available to students who pass the Graduate Writing Exam. It is an exam that helps to assess the competency of students in technical writing.

 

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What are the courses comprised of?

 

Both the MIT technical writing courses are comprised of four important sections, (1) Syllabus and Calendar, (2) Readings, (3) Lecture Notes, and (4) Assignments. Syllabus and Calendar – The syllabus section of the course discusses the course meeting timings, additional course requirements, grading, policy on academic integrity, writing and communication center.

 

The calendar part gives a timeline of different topics covered throughout the course. The Reading section provides us with a few recommendations for reading high-quality material by different authors, helping students set goals for themselves and benchmark their work.

 

The section also provides viewing recommendations, like a TedXTalk “In praise of technique: Judy Swan at TEDxCMU.” from YouTube given on April 10, 2013. All the material for the course can be accessed from the Lecture Notes section and the Assignments section, which explains different assignment tasks in detail.

 

Whom are we learning from?

 

Intro to Tech Communication Course

 

This MIT technical writing course is an undergraduate-level semester-long course taught by Prof. Kimberly De Vries. Prof. De Vries has been teaching technical writing at MIT since 2001, she earned her MA and Ph.D. in English with Rhetoric and Composition as her concentration from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She also teaches courses like Advanced Writing in Astronomy and Earth Sciences, Writing Personal Essays, and Introductory Technical Writing.

 

Prof De Vries feels it’s important to teach the graduate students and future teachers about Comparative Rhetoric and Non-western Rhetoric, she has been deeply interested to explore the subject of Rhetoric and also study about the issues related to gender, identity, and ethnicity. She has been actively studying Pedagogy as well, specifically the classroom culture of different countries. She has deeply studied the Chinese educational system.

 

Graduate Technical Writing Workshop

This MIT technical writing course is a graduate-level course and has been taught by Caroline Beimford, Dr. Andreas Karatsolis, Dr. Suzanne T. Lane, Dr. Leslie Ann Roldan, Dr. Jessie Stickgold-Sarah. One can choose any of the five above-mentioned instructors for the course to learn about technical writing at MIT.

 

Caroline Beimford – Ms. Beimford is a Lecturer at MIT currently teaching writing. she has earned her M.F.A in Fiction from the University of Arkansas. Her stories and essays have mainly made their appearance on The Massachusetts Review, The Oxford American, TriQuaterly, Zeotrope: All story, and more.

 

Dr. Andreas Karatsolis – Mr. Karatsolis is currently serving as the Assistant Director of Writing, Rhetoric, and Professional Communication’ at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is also working for the Department of Comparative Media Studies as a ‘Media Assessment Specialist’.

 

He has been a part of the Carnegie Mellon University Qatar, where he taught Professional Communication and Information Design and directed the Qatar campus Eberly Center. His interests lie in researching Technologies for Writing, Collaborative environments for learning languages, studying different methodologies for analyzing text, Classical Rhetorical Pedagogy, and Outcome-based assessment.

 

Dr. Suzanne T. Lane – Ms. Lane is the Director of the Writing, Rhetoric, and Professional Communication (WRAP) Program, she teaches Rhetoric and Communication at MIT. Ms. Lane started her career working as a ‘Research Engineer’ at oil companies.

 

She earned her undergraduate degree in Chemical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, went to graduate school to learn writing, and earned a Master’s degree from the University of Colorado, she has earned her Ph.D. in the same from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Dr. Lane worked as a researcher at Harvard before MIT, she was a part of the Harvard Study of Undergraduate Writing. And she also co-directs a research lab called Archiemedia.

 

Dr. Leslie Ann Roldan – Ms. Roldan is currently working as a Lecturer at MIT at the WRAP(Writing, Rhetoric, and Professional Communication) program, she is also a part of the Biology department at MIT. Her research interests are focused on exploring and studying how scientific communication is developed in students through oral presentations and discussions. She holds a Ph.D. from MIT in Biology and a BA in English from Stanford University.

 

 

Dr. Jessie Stickgold-Sarah – Ms. Stickgold is currently working as a Lecturer at MIT at the WRAP program. She has a B.S degree in EECS from MIT and has also earned a Ph.D. in English from Brandeis University. At Brandeis, she studied the use of genetic language in fiction and her research primarily focuses on reasoning patterns and communication forms of a computer system and public policy. She has also worked in Silicon Valley as a ‘Network Engineer’ at Research labs.

 

These are the esteemed faculty of MIT, who specializes in teaching the MIT technical writing courses. They come from different backgrounds and research interests with expertise in technical writing and communication. It would be a privilege and a great learning opportunity for anyone who gets the opportunity to be mentored by industry and subject matter experts like them.

 

What are some of the important points to keep in mind throughout the course?

 

Intro to Tech Communication – This MIT technical writing course in which students enrolled are required to work on assignments that will be graded by their respective professors. These graded assignments will be a part of the overall grade for the course.

 

There are several short writing assignments as well, while some of the assignments can be completed individually, some have to be worked on by forming a team and collaborating with fellow students. The course aims for students to learn and follow the process of writing, which involves continuously making changes and improving the drafts of their written material. Getting to the final draft by making significant improvements over time is an integral part of the process so revision is an important aspect of the course.

 

Revision needs to be ‘Substantive’, which means when changes are made to the draft, they shouldn’t be minor tweakings like copy-editing or retyping. Revising a draft must involve larger changes to the approach, structure, voice, and style of the piece of content. Before Submission of the assignments, all drafts are required to be checked for grammar errors and spelling errors.

 

The class cannot be passed unless all the assignments have been submitted. The assignments should be submitted on the specified day of the class during the week, and late assignments will be penalized.

 

Graduate Technical Writing Workshop – This MIT Technical Writing course is offered during the special four-week term i.e., from the first week of January to the beginning of February, which is the ‘independent activities period’ at MIT. There will be two sessions every week, a single session will be held for 2 hours. To enroll in the course, one needs to consult the instructors and acquire their acceptance and permission.

 

What are the Attendance Policies?

 

There are a few things one needs to be aware of when it comes to the attendance of the class. Students at MIT technical writing course have permission to skip two classes without requiring to provide any explanation to the professor for the ‘Intro to Technical Communication’ course.

 

The professor recommends using this immunity only when one is truly required to like in cases of emergencies or illness. Permission for absence more than twice is not grantable. Students are expected to be on time properly prepared for the class, one will be counted as absent if late to the class.

 

Sitting through classes without being productive and showing up with incomplete work will not be accounted for. And an absence from the class after using the two immunities will cost students to halve their final grade.

 

Similar to the other course of MIT we are discussing here, this technical writing course also allows for two absences. But the difference we can find here is that this is a four-week workshop and ‘Intro to Tech Communication’ is a semester-long course. The students will be required to actively participate in the class, be productive and engage with fellow students to discuss, learn and review each other’s work.

 

What is the Grading system?

 

Intro to Tech Communication

 

The final grade of this course is comprised of completing three crucial technical writing tasks. First, completing your assignments, second, actively participating in the class and adding value, and finally, based on the ability to critically and constructively review your peers’ work.

 

One can pass the course by fulfilling all these requirements and showing effort. At the same time, one can achieve high grades by showcasing the quality of their work. There are four specific points here which the instructor indicates which can help students deliver high-quality work. First is ‘Effort’, the effort is not a measurable quality, but the instructor is of the idea that one’s effort is noticeable in one’s work, and it is a vital aspect that is necessary to be taken into consideration when it comes to grading.

 

The second is ‘Major Revision’, revision is the path to perfection in writing. Though perfection is a myth, one should always strive for it. The instructor suggests students revise their work even if they are satisfied with it and make substantial improvements. The third is ‘Sophistication’, the instructor believes that a piece of writing should not be just a compilation of sentences with facts and pointers.

 

The writing should address complex issues and pose relevant questions, only then it’ll serve its purpose. And finally, the fourth point is ‘Movement’, by movement the instructor suggests that the writing should have a line of thinking, the idea or topic one is talking about should lead somewhere. Following these suggestions of the instructor will surely help students produce quality work and earn high grades.

 

Graduate Technical Writing Workshop

 

Passing this course at MIT comprises completing the assigned tasks and fulfilling the specified criteria. There are three assignment tasks, drafting a literature review, delivering an oral presentation, and reviewing peers’ work. The assignments will not receive letter grades they will be assessed on whether they meet the specified criteria. The final grade for the class will be based on the quality of the students’ literature review.

 

Policy on Academic Integrity and Plagiarism!

 

Plagiarism is that unforgivable integrity issue in writing that all institutes condemn and practice strictly against. These courses have strong guidelines concerning it and all the students at MIT are required to abide by them.

 

One is also at the risk of suspension and expulsion or a grade F for committing plagiarism and going against the policies of academic integrity. So it’s of paramount importance that students comply with it. Content copied from a source should be quoted and the source must be acknowledged, failing to do so will be considered as an act of plagiarism.

 

And when it comes to paraphrasing someone else’s idea, the material should be explained in a completely new format, using the same sentence structure, words, and adding a few new words to the sentence will also be construed as plagiarism. The students are required to be extremely careful about stating their work.

 

Finally, How much do these courses cost?

 

Though one can never put a price on knowledge and education, formal education today is beyond expensive. And we are well aware of the current student loan situation, let this be a point of discussion for some other article but what we can understand from this is that one has to pay a high price to gain the education, and this is not accessible to everyone.

 

So it becomes a major point here to consider that MIT technical writing courses are being offered to everyone without any cost is a huge initiative and opens doors for millions of students with great opportunities.

 

This was a comprehensive overview of two MIT technical writing courses. We have discussed all the major sections of the course in detail. With all the information provided, one can confidently decide between pursuing these courses and beginning their journey of becoming a technical writer.

 

 

Author:
NIKITHA M BACHELOR OF ENGINEERING VISVESVARAYA TECHNOLOGICAL UNIVERSITY, KARNATAKA. CONTENT WRITING INTERN AT IIMSKILLS ARDENT WRITER AND AN UPSC ASPIRANT.
Comments
  • I am an engineer. I have just completed my graduation and was looking for enhancing my skills further. That is when I came across this technical writing course by MIT. Who doesn’t know about the quality of education offered by MIT. I am glad they offer courses in technical writing too. There is no other place to go for the same. I have increased my knowledge about the details of the courses after reading this article . A lot of time thus saved ,so thank you.

  • Sorry for disturbing you. I understand your words about the cost of formal education. But I got a little confused when you said “So it becomes a major point here to consider that MIT technical writing courses are being offered to everyone without any cost is a huge initiative and opens doors for millions of students with great opportunities.”

    My question: are these two courses free or not? Do I need to gain admission into MIT before I can take the courses? If not, then how much do they cost? Thanks for taking out time to read and reply to this comment.

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