Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session


This course is designed to help you develop skills that will enable you to produce clear and effective scientific and technical documents. We will focus on basic principles of good writing-which scientific and technical writing shares with other forms of writing-and on types of documents common in scientific and technical fields and organizations. While the emphasis will be on writing, oral communication of scientific and technical information will form an important component of the course, as well.

Required Text

Buy at Amazon Markel, Mike. Technical Communication. 7th ed. New York, NY: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2003. ISBN: 9780312403386.

Recommended Texts

Buy at Amazon Hacker, Diana. A Pocket Style Manual. 4th ed. New York, NY: Bedford/St. Martin's, 1999. ISBN: 9780312406844.

Buy at Amazon Perelman, Leslie C., James Paradis, and Edward Barrett. The Mayfield Handbook of Technical and Scientific Writing. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 1997. ISBN: 9781559346474.

Writing Component

This is a communication intensive (CI) course. CI courses require a minimum of 20 pages of writing divided among at least 4-5 assignments, one or more of which must be revised and resubmitted. They also offer students substantial opportunity for oral expression, through presentations, student-led discussion, or class participation. Writing Program HASS CI courses are capped at eighteen students.

Course Structure

You will workshop a rough draft of each written assignment with a group of your peers. Students sometimes find this perplexing, at least in the beginning. You learn a lot by figuring out how to talk to each other about writing. You get more out of wrestling with each others' papers than you do listening to lectures, or following my instructions on how to "fix" your work. The point of the class isn't to produce papers; it isn't the function of a writing teacher to simply do editing for you. Rather, the papers are a means to an end: the production of better writers.

I will comment each of your rough drafts, but I will generally not comment the final, graded papers. It makes more sense to me to expend the effort of giving you feedback at a point when the feedback can help you improve your writing (and thus your grades). Should you wish more feedback on the final version, you may see me during office hours.


Regular class attendance is expected. Five absences or more will result in being withdrawn from the course; more than three absences will affect your grade. If you are going to miss a class, you should email me with the reason. You are responsible for making up what you miss. If you miss a workshop day, that includes getting written feedback on your draft from at least two of your peers. Coming to class either too late or insufficiently prepared to meaningfully participate counts as an absence.


As a great deal of class time will be spent in a variety of interactive formats, active participation is essential. It is also essential that you do the required work-including the reading, and complete rough drafts of your papers on workshop days-and do it on time.


Using someone else's language and/or ideas without proper attribution is academically dishonest. As members of this class and the larger scholarly community you are expected to abide by the norms of academic honesty. While a good deal of collaboration is encouraged in and out of class, failing to acknowledge sources or willfully misrepresenting the work of others as your own will not be tolerated. Everything you submit must be your own work, written specifically for this class. Plagiarism can result in withdrawal from the course with a grade of F, suspension or expulsion from the Institute.

The booklet Academic Integrity at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology: A Handbook for Students explains these issues in detail, and you are responsible for understanding its contents. We will work on citing sources in class and discuss ways to acknowledge them properly. When in doubt, consult with me.

Additional information on plagiarism can be found via the MIT Writing Center Web link.


Short Assignment grades will be checks, with pluses and minuses. Grades on the papers will be letter grades, also with pluses and minuses. Course grades will be letter grades per Institute guidelines.

Fall semester, the course is Pass/Fail. First Year Students need a C to pass; other students need a D; students who are still under the old writing requirement need a B- or better. If you are in any doubt about your status, consult your academic adviser.

While grading should not be competitive, it is reasonable to want a larger context for your grades. For that reason, when I return graded assignments, I will generally give a list (anonymous, of course) of how many grades of each type were given for that assignment. The following should make clear what is required to attain each grade:

A Understood the assignment and was able to reinterpret it, adding a high degree of personal style and insight. Essentially without mechanical flaws.
B Understood and was able to reinterpret the assignment. Went beyond the minimum the assignment called for. Better than average from a mechanical point of view.
C Reasonable understanding of the assignment. Visible effort to fulfill the requirements of the assignment. Adequate level of mechanical competence.
D Flawed understanding of the assignment. Some evidence of a good faith effort to understand and complete the assignment. High number of mechanical errors.
F Clear that the assignment was not understood. No serious effort made to understand or complete the assignment. Very high number of mechanical errors.
NG On rare occasions—if a paper demonstrates that work has been done but it doesn't fit the assignment, for example—I will give a "No Grade," which means the assignment must be re-written and re-submitted.

Note on Word Requirements

The word/page requirements for the assignments are given as guidelines and should be treated as such. If I've asked for around 1000 words and you write an excellent 800 word paper, the fact that you are "200 words short," won't hurt your grade, nor will handing in a mediocre paper that's padded out to 1200 words raise your grade. Concentrate on quality; I'm not grading by weight.


Late assignments are always accepted, but there will be a penalty. All assignments must be completed in order to receive a passing grade in the course.

Grade Calculation

Your final grades will be weighted, as follows:

Writing Assignments (63% Long Assignments, 7% Short Assignments.) 70%
Class Participation 14%
Oral Presentations 16%

Access to the Instructor

You are encouraged to bring any and all questions or problems that you have about or with the class to me. I will also appoint one or two ombudspeople during the first week or so of class; should you wish to communicate information about the course less directly, you may speak to them. I will also distribute an e-mail list to facilitate communication among members of the class.