Mindful Technical Writing: An Introduction to the Fundamentals
Dawn Atkinson, Montana Technological University
Stacey Corbitt, Montana Technological University
Copyright Year: 2021
Conditions of Use
According to the preface, "Mindful Technical Writing" is designed for courses with a variety of focuses, including developmental, technical, workplace, and academic writing. At 770 pages, the textbook can realistically only be used by selecting... read more
According to the preface, "Mindful Technical Writing" is designed for courses with a variety of focuses, including developmental, technical, workplace, and academic writing. At 770 pages, the textbook can realistically only be used by selecting chapters relevant to specific course outcomes. Topics covered include an introduction to technical writing, style and mechanics, document design, doing research, college success strategies, and genres associated with workplace and academic writing. Because the textbook spans so many topics, at times the content lacks necessary depth, so this book would best be used as a supplement to other courses texts. The core strength of this textbook is actually the substantial, 12-chapter unit on academic success, which covers topics such as organization, time management, understanding assignments, reading and note-taking strategies, how to access college resources, and taking online courses. As such, this book’s unit could also be used in a variety of introductory courses beyond writing, especially those focusing on college success.
The content is accurate and error-free. It does not overly rely on disciplinary jargon, but it does present concepts typical of introductory rhetoric, composition, and technical writing courses.
The content is up-to-date comparable to most commercial technical writing textbooks; however, similar to those, it does not dedicate sufficient space to writing in digital environments. It does not rely on current “hot topics” to explain concepts, so the content will not be rendered obsolete in a short period of time.
The most significant weakness of this textbook is not the language itself but the cluttered and non-intuitive visual layout that makes the organizational scheme of each chapter exceptionally hard to follow. The book would benefit from an entire reworking of the document design. There are too many headings, subheadings, sub-subheadings, images, activities, boxed content, bulleted points, numbered points, and case studies, which need more distinct visual delineations and white space to keep the reader clear on how concepts are related to each other.
The content is consistent. However, the visual clutter mentioned above makes it difficult to follow the textual organization so that even if technically consistent, the organization of chapters feels jumbled.
Portions of this text can be strategically selected based on specific course outcomes. While selecting certain chapters should be simple for instructors, it would be more difficult to select only portions of chapters because of the lack of visual clarity, as well as the lack of subheadings in the Table of Contents.
The textbook also presents a number of in-class and homework activities associated with each chapter that will be useful for students as well as novice instructors who may need guidance on how to structure effective class sessions.
The Table of Contents does not number the chapters and does not list subheadings to chapters, which will make it difficult for students and instructors to find relevant information. This labeling is particularly necessary for a book of this size because it covers so many diverse topics. A more thorough listing of the organization in the Table of Contents is also necessary because chapter and units jump around in a non-intuitive manner. For example, the book starts with technical writing concepts, then moves to using sources typical for composition research papers, then addresses student success strategies, then goes back to genres associated with technical writing, and finally ends on general academic writing in college courses. The book does not include an index or glossary, which would also help with its accessibility problems.
Users should note that the downloaded PDF does hyperlink the Table of Contents to specific chapters, but the text does not do so when accessed directly from its location on a Google drive. Most images and figures in the text are frustratingly pixelated but still legible. All of the hyperlinks I followed still worked.
I did not notice any typos or grammatical errors.
The textbook itself does not use language that is insensitive or offensive. However, the content does not sufficiently address intercultural communication, diversity, bias, ethics, and non-inclusive language. (There are a few instances in the text where these issues are mentioned, but they do not receive significant treatment.) Instructors will need to supplement this absence with other course materials.
Overall, the strength of this textbook is its focus on strategies for academic success, which could be used in many classes beyond those dealing with writing. The content in this area is substantial, useful, and far more detailed than most introductory writing textbooks. New students in a variety of classes would benefit greatly from this information. Instructors may also find individual chapters useful to supplement course content but would find using the textbook as a whole uneven and unwieldy. If a document or graphic designer could re-do the visual layout in future editions, the book's accessibility and usefulness would be greatly enhanced.
Though the text’s title suggests a focus on technical writing, this book offers much more. Technical writing is a type of writing in which an author conveys information in the form of directions, instructions, or an explanation. It is typically... read more
Though the text’s title suggests a focus on technical writing, this book offers much more. Technical writing is a type of writing in which an author conveys information in the form of directions, instructions, or an explanation. It is typically regarded as different from creative, academic, or business writing. While this book does cover technical writing in Unit VIII, the authors’ expanded view of technical writing embraces academic writing as well. To ensure audience and purpose are addressed, both academic and technical writers must aim for writing that is clear, coherent, concise, concrete, correct, complete, and courteous. And like a pun within a pun, this text on technical writing is a well-written piece of technical writing. It can serve as an instructional manual for the many types of writing one might perform in the workplace, as well as in academic settings. In this way, the text also serves as a reference guide to writing for students, instructors, and other uses seeking information about how to write in various situations.
As will be discussed in Modularity, this text could be used in parts or in whole. If in whole and for a course, an instructor likely would need to reorganize and select units to fit the goals of a course. The comprehensiveness of the text would make it difficult to cover all units in a single academic semester. Further, some topics are covered more in-depth than others. For example, Unit IV Working with Sources, Unit V Conducting Research, and Unit IX Producing Academic Writing are units where the authors provide both depth and breadth. Other units, such as Unit III Attending to Design, attend only to breadth, serving more as introductions or overviews.
Though the text does not have an index, the table of contents makes it easy to make decisions about what units to include. An index, however, would have facilitated finding micro-topics or -skills that are covered in multiple units. The text does not include but would benefit from having a glossary. Topic and skill-specific vocabulary are introduced at the beginning of each chapter, but a glossary would allow a user to look up terms used when they are used in context.
The content is accurate and largely error-free. The lead author has had educational preparation in journalism and linguistics and at the time of this review is serving as the campus writing director at a university. The second author, too, has had educational preparation in technical writing and is serving as a writing instructor. These qualifications lend to the confidence one might have in the accuracy of the text.
The text incorporates website screenshots, handouts, and other visuals from secondary sources. Though this reviewer did not critically analyze each of these tools, those reviewed did appear to be accurate and error-free.
As for bias, the incorporation of these secondary sources helps to provide a broad perspective on the elements of writing. Further, the written text incorporates and cites many references, many for which a link to the original source is provided. These features help to reduce the potential for bias.
The skills and styles taught reflect the current practices of many recognized writing styles (e.g. APA, Chicago, MLA, etc.) Table 1 in the Selecting a Style Guide chapter in Unit IV Working with Resources makes this clear. That said, given that these styles are frequently updated, it's possible that the text could become out of date if used at a later time. This means that instructors and users of the text might need to check with individual style guides to assure currency. As for topics, the text does include necessary writing skills for current times such as email correspondence and social media posts. As new forms of communication are developed, the text would need to be updated to reflect these.
The text is written by authors whose background is in writing and it was delivered as such. Defined vocabulary, examples, graphic organizers, and tables help to provide clarity consistently and adequately.
Although this text incorporates many secondary sources, the authors provide the narrative and structure. This allows for consistency in terminology and the organization of each chapter. Each chapter has a summary, objectives, introduction, and vocabulary. Each chapter ends with a conclusion and a homework assignment for further practice. Only one chapter, the Introduction to Technical Writing, contains a strong voice from a contributor that serves as an expert. However, that chapter is co-written with the text’s lead author.
Per the text’s authors “This book’s modular design and ample coverage of topics and genres means that it can be used flexibly over semester-long or stretch courses, allowing instructors and students to select the chapters that are most relevant for their needs.” At 770 pages, course instructors using this text will need to select which units and chapters to incorporate. For example, a college first-year experience course might only use Unit VI: Employing Strategies for College Success. An introductory composition course might use Unit II: Writing Documents, Unit IV: Working With Sources, and Unit IX: Producing Academic Writing. A mid- or upper-level methods course might use Unit IV: Working With Sources, Unit V: Conducting Research, and Unit IX: Producing Academic Writing. An introductory business or career-related writing course might use Unit VIII: Producing Instructions, Short Reports, and Presentations or Unit VII: Producing Correspondence, however, they would need to supplement with other sources to fill out their course. If the text is used for reference only or self-study purposes, the table of contents coupled with the individual chapter introductions and objectives can help the user to identify which units and chapters are most relevant.
Topics and skill-sets are well-organized into units and chapters in a logical and clear fashion. Each chapter is organized the same way, thereby making it easy for a user to settle in with a predictable format.
The text is free of significant interface issues. Many secondary sources visuals are included. Some are more clear than others, but all are legible. If printed out, some of these pages could be blurry. But given our digital age, it is not likely that these pages would be printed out. Graphic organizers, work-space boxes, and tables created by the authors are all clear and reproducible but mainly serve as cues for practice. Navigation problems are limited, in part, due to the absence of hyperlinks connecting the table of contents to the individual chapters or a glossary to terms. A second or revised edition would benefit from the inclusion of unit/chapter names at the top of each page so users know “where” they are.
The text contained no obvious grammatical errors. As indicated previously, many secondary sources are included in the text and this reviewer did not critically analyze all of these.
This text honors best practices in culturally responsive teaching (Hammond, 2014; Major, 2020). The text addresses both the affective and cognitive aspects of teaching and learning writing skills. Writing exercises prompt users to incorporate their own experiences into their writing such that they are writing about that which is most familiar. Skill development is scaffolded and many examples are provided. The consistency in which each chapter is structured provides a cognitive routine and this predictability helps to reduce overall cognitive load. The inclusion of essential vocabulary and the objectives at the beginning of each chapter provide all readers with background tools and clear expectations. Finally, the text is written in a conversational tone, it is accessible to a wide variety of users.
Overall, this is an extremely useful text and it is apparent throughout that the authors are passionate about their craft. Our academic program intends to incorporate different units into different courses to support the development of writing skills in context. A second or revised edition would benefit from a hyperlinked table of contents so that the user does not have to scroll through hundreds of pages to arrive at the chapter that they need. This reviewer also recommends that the authors either remove or further enhance the unit on design as this unit lacks enough detail to serve as a reference or comprehensive teaching tool.
Table of Contents
- Unit I: Exploring Technical Writing Fundamentals.
- Unit II: Writing Documents.
- Unit III: Attending to Design.
- Unit IV: Working With Sources.
- Unit V: Conducting Research.
- Unit VI: Employing Strategies for College Success.
- Unit VII: Producing Correspondence.
- Unit VIII: Producing Instructions, Short Reports, and Presentations.
- Unit IX: Producing Academic Writing.
About the Book
Welcome to Mindful Technical Writing: An Introduction to the Fundamentals, an open textbook designed for use in co-requisite course pairings of developmental writing and introductory technical writing, or indeed in other lower-division college writing courses that focus on building study skills alongside effective workplace and academic writing skills. It offers a no-cost alternative to commercial products, combining practical guidance with interactive exercises and thoughtfully designed writing opportunities.
This book’s modular design and ample coverage of topics and genres means that it can be used flexibly over semester-long or stretch courses, allowing instructors and students to select the chapters that are most relevant for their needs. By blending new material with reviews of key topics, such as academic integrity, the chapters provide fresh perspectives on matters vital to the development of strong writing skills.
About the Contributors
Dawn Atkinson, Montana Technological University
Stacey Corbitt, Montana Technological University