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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Technical Writing: Technical Writing for Knitters

Technical Writing: Technical Writing for Knitters

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T. R. Girill Society for Technical Communication/Lawrence Livermore National Lab. trgirill@acm.org Technical Writing: Technical Writing for Knitters How authentic are the text-design and usability tips made explicit on the student checklists at www.ebstc.org/TechLit/trgintro2.html www.ebstc.org/TechLit/trgintro3.html ? One reflection of their real-world relevance is their real-world REACH--the more different kinds of nonfiction instructions and descriptions to which they apply, the greater their connection to life beyond school. And one striking illustration of their reach is their role in a practical craft domain that at first seems quite unrelated to science class: knitting. The website of expert knitter Edie Eckman (edieeckman.com/ instruction.html) contains a revealing example. Eckman offers three dozen classes for knitters and crocheters, most focused on a particular stitch or design motif. But amid the lace and intarsia techniques is a 6-hour class on "How to Say It: Technical Writing for Knitters and Crocheters." The audience is anyone who wants to publish a pattern or "just want[s] to share your design" with others informally. Eckman notes that everyone needs to "craft a well-written pattern" even to effectively exchange it merely among friends: "you need to be able to write it so others can read it." Her workshop explains key enabling techniques (such as how to "grade patterns for a number of different sizes") and sends students home with an adaptable pattern template--all of which strongly parallels introducing text design techniques with the help of scaffolds in science class. Donna Druchunas, author of Ethnic Knitting Discovery (Nomad Press, 2007), takes technical writing's role in knitting even farther by spelling out the specific skills that writing about knitting demands from each pattern drafter. First, Druchunas notes (in an interview) that to construct usable instructions, for knitting just as for lab equipment, "you have to be able to write very clear prose without redundancy or confusion" (www.riehlife.com/ 2007/10/06/ethnic-knitting-discovery-author-donna-druchunas-speaks- with-riehlife-on-culture-family-history-and-connection) The same discipline of meeting each reader's problem-solving needs applies whether the topic is a series of yarn-and-needle moves or biochemistry ones. Second, Druchunas points out that in effective technical descriptions, across the disciplines, "every word must count and do a job." Bloated knitting patterns are no more helpful (and just as time wasting) as rambling analyses in engineering or physics. Third, she explains that iteration based on user feedback on your draft is not an annoying detour but a crucial part of technical writing success. Knitters drafting patterns for others just like students drafting project instructions for classmates "have to be willing to work with [users] who will find mistakes in what you've done and ask you to make changes to your instructions." Approximation toward success, based on reader concerns (and sometimes, complaints), is how every good technical writer improves their drafts. The applicability of the same technical writing principles to such diverse domains as crafts (knitting), food (kitchen recipes), software manuals, and laboratory procedures shows that text usability has great pratical reach. Introducing that concept to your students can help them go wherever life takes them--on the job and in their hobbies too.

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