English 773: Writing for the Computer Industry

Instructor: Mr. Michael Stowe

Office: Siceluff 341

Phone: 836-5167

Office Hours: MWF 12:05–1:20 p.m. and MF 2:15–3:30 p.m.

Email: michaelstowe@missouristate.edu

Required Texts

Barker, Thomas T. Writing Software Documentation: A Task-Oriented Approach. 2nd ed. New York: Longman, 2003.

Microsoft Corporation. Microsoft Manual of Style. 4th ed. Redmond, WA: Microsoft Press, 2012.

During the semester, you will need to print or read on screen additional assignments. I’ll let you know how to access these materials at the appropriate time.


The goal of English 773: Writing for the Computer Industry is to teach you to compose and design usable, audience-appropriate software documentation. The course emphasizes, in particular, creating procedural, reference, and tutorial documentation in a structured Help and video formats. Accordingly, you will also gain practice with industry-recognized tools to help you develop and deliver your documentation.

Computer requirements

To meet the computer requirements in this course, you must:

Required software

The required software for the course is as follows:


Your attendance is mandatory. Because we meet only once a week, if you miss one class, you miss over 6% of the semester! In addition, because this class relies heavily on technology and requires modifying your writing style, your attendance becomes even more important; otherwise, you will fall behind. Frequent absences will lower your semester grade because you will miss important instruction. If you miss a class, you're solely responsible for finding out what we covered. Further, if you miss often, I won't grade your projects until your attendance improves.

Tardiness and Early Departures

I expect you to arrive on time and be ready for class when it begins. I also expect you to stay for the duration. Arriving late and leaving early is disruptive. Frequent tardiness or early departures will result in your dismissal from the course. If you must arrive late or leave early, discuss the situation with me beforehand.

Participation and Conduct

To be successful, a graduate course relies heavily on student interaction. Make sure you've read the assignments carefully before coming to class. Bring into class not only your texts, media, and note-taking materials but also your relevant observations and questions about our readings. You must lead the discussions and contribute to them to keep them active. Ask questions, no matter how silly or tangential they may seem.

To receive participation points, you must be present for the entire class period, complete the assigned activity, and actively contribute to discussions. Avoid doing anything else during class—such as working on other assignments, accessing your e-mail or Facebook, using the computer or your phone to text or IM, etc.—or you will lose your participation points for the period without warning. Repeat violations will result in your permanent dismissal in accordance with the university's class disruption policy.

If you have a valid, documented absence, you may not lose participation points at my discretion. You must also bring your flash drive and textbooks to every class; you may not attend and participate without them.

Cellphones and electronic devices

The provost's cellphone policy is as follows:

As a member of the learning community, each student has a responsibility to other students who are members of the community. When cellphones or pagers ring and students respond in class or leave class to respond, it disrupts the class. Therefore, the Office of the Provost prohibits the use by students of cellphones, pagers, PDAs, or similar communication devices during scheduled classes. All such devices must be turned off or put in a silent (vibrate) mode and ordinarily should not be taken out during class. Given the fact that these same communication devices are an integral part of the university's emergency notification system, an exception to this policy would occur when numerous devices activate simultaneously. When this occurs, students may consult their devices to determine if a university emergency exists. If that is not the case, the devices should be immediately returned to silent mode and put away. Other exceptions to this policy may be granted at the discretion of the instructor.

In other words, you are not allowed, by university policy and by class policy, to use your phone in any way during class. Silence your phone before class starts, and put it away until class ends. Do not answer it in class or leave the class to take a call. Do not read or write text messages during class. I may make an exception to this policy but only if you've discussed the situation with me first. Remember that violating this policy can lead to serious ramifications.

If you use your cellphone for non-related purposes, you will be asked to leave and not to return until you agree to follow the university's and this course's policy on appropriate cellphone usage.

Assignment deadlines

I don't accept late work. To maintain fairness, assignments are due at the established date and time, not at your convenience. If you have a valid reason for missing a deadline, contact me immediately. I may decide to accept your work upon hearing your rationale and reviewing your documentation. If you don't use class time effectively, for example, you won't receive any deadline extensions. If I do accept your late work, I reserve the right to assess whatever penalty I deem appropriate and to place your work at the bottom of my work to grade. Submitting work improperly (such as forgetting or neglecting to submit work electronically by the deadline or uploading the incorrect file), being held up in another building or at work, experiencing computer or peripheral problems, and attending university activities aren't valid reasons for missing a deadline. Note due dates and plan accordingly, double-check your work prior to submitting it, and confirm that you submitted the correct material by the deadline.

Project submission

Projects you submit must be professional in content and appearance and should merit inclusion in your writing portfolio. Projects must also meet the guidelines established in respective assignment sheets and in class discussions. These guidelines will include the manner in which you submit the work. Additionally, projects must adhere to the principles of quality technical communication. That is, the writing you submit must be clear, concise, complete, honest, accurate, and thoroughly proofread. Further, any material you submit must be solely your work created specifically for this course during this semester. I will penalize severely or not accept projects that fail to meet these criteria.

If you have questions about content, format, grammar, punctuation, style, and so on, consult the Microsoft Manual of Style, 4th ed., the industry style guide your class projects must conform to. You may also visit with me about these issues during office hours or after class. As you will discover, software documentation and Microsoft style both differ in many ways from how you're used to writing. Of course, you must not only learn but also use these guidelines throughout the semester. We will spend time reviewing these important concepts through assignments and discussions.

Religious accommodation

The university may provide a reasonable accommodation based on a person's sincerely held religious belief. In making this determination, the university reviews a variety of factors, including whether the accommodation would create an undue hardship. The accommodation request imposes responsibilities and obligations on both the individual requesting the accommodation and the university. Students who expect to miss classes, examinations, or other assignments as a consequence of their sincerely held religious belief shall be provided with a reasonable alternative opportunity to complete such academic responsibilities. It is the obligation of students to provide faculty with reasonable notice of the dates of religious observances on which they will be absent by submitting a Request for Religious Accommodation Form to the instructor by the end of the third week of a full semester course or the end of the second week of a half semester course.


You receive feedback on work and other course information via your university email account. In addition, I'm happy to answer questions through email, but your message must clearly identify you, contain a relevant subject line, and convey a professional tone and message throughout. (If you've never read about "you attitude," now's a good time to do a Google search for the phrase.) In other words, when you write, address me as you would a supervisor. Do not write to whine about your work schedule; express frustration with me over things I can't control, such as open lab hours or your inability to install trial software; chastise me for enforcing policies, and so on. Also allow reasonable time for a response; I don't constantly access my email.

If you ask a question, especially about something that may require an elaborate reply, send an email message back to me if you've resolved the issue since you sent the prior email. Please don't make me spend time researching the issue and replying to you only to discover you didn't need the response after all.

Finally, don't submit projects to my email account without prior approval. Faculty are on a different email server, which filters out some types of attachments, so I may not even receive your attachment or email message.

Academic integrity

Missouri State University is a community of scholars committed to developing educated persons who accept the responsibility to practice personal and academic integrity. Students are responsible for knowing and following the university's student honor code, Student Academic Integrity Policies and Procedures, which is also available at the Reserves Desk in Meyer Library. Any student participating in any form of academic dishonesty will be subject to sanctions as described in this policy.

All work you complete for a grade, including all writing assignments and tutorial exercises, must be solely your work completed for this class during this semester. Cheating, plagiarism, and lying have serious consequences in this course. At my discretion, the sanctions range from losing credit on the assignment to failing for the semester. Serious violations could result in your receiving an XF grade. Copying and pasting information wholesale from a source, for example, will earn you an XF for the semester. If you don't know whether a practice is plagiarism, ask me immediately. Ignorance isn't an excuse.


Missouri State University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action institution and maintains a grievance procedure available to any person who believes he or she has been discriminated against. At all times, you have the right to address inquiries or concerns about possible discrimination to the Office for Institutional Equality and Compliance, Park Central Office Building, 117 Park Central Square, Suite 111, (417) 836-4252. You may discuss other types of concerns (that is, academic concerns) with your instructor or your instructor’s department head.

Disability accommodation

Before I can give you an accommodation for a disability, you must work through the proper channels. To request academic accommodations for a disability, contact the Director of the Disability Resource Center, Meyer Library, Suite 111, (417) 836-4192 or (417) 836-6792 (TTY). Students are required to provide documentation of disability to the Disability Resource Center prior to receiving accommodations. The Disability Resource Center refers some types of accommodation requests to the Learning Diagnostic Clinic, which also provides diagnostic testing for learning and psychological disabilities. For information about testing, contact the Director of the Learning Diagnostic Clinic, (417) 836-4787.

Emergency response

At the first class meeting, students should become familiar with a basic emergency response plan through a dialogue with the instructor that includes a review and awareness of exits specific to the classroom and the location of evacuation centers for the building. All instructors are provided this information specific to their classroom and/or lab assignments in email prior to the beginning of the fall semester from the Office of the Provost and Safety and Transportation. Students with disabilities impacting mobility should discuss the approved accommodations for emergency situations and additional options when applicable with the instructor. For more information go to http://www.missouristate.edu/safetran/51597.htm and http://www.missouristate.edu/safetran/erp.htm.

For our classroom, if we have a severe-weather warning, leave the classroom and congregate in the 3rd-floor hallway, away from any windows. If we have to evacuate because of a fire, gas leak, etc., exit the building, and head toward the lower level of Plaster Student Union.

Dropping the course

You're responsible for understanding the university's procedure for dropping a class. If you stop attending but don't drop the class properly, you will receive a failing grade and will also be obligated to pay for the class. For more information on dropping this or any class, contact the Office of the Registrar, (417) 836-5520. You may also wish to refer to the university's academic calendar for the various drop deadlines.

Staying in the course

By remaining in the course, you acknowledge you have read and agree to follow all the policies covered in this document. If you do not agree to adhere to these policies, you must drop the class.

Grading criteria

Know up front my standards are high, and grading will be tough but fair. In assessing your writing, I rely upon the following grading criteria established by Dr. Sam Dragga of Texas Tech University:

Grade Standard
A = 90–100% The document is superior. It exceeds all the objectives of the assignment. The information is ethical, sophisticated, thorough, and ideally suited for the audience. The style is clear and appropriate to the subject, purpose, and audience. The organization and design of the document make the information understandable, accessible, and usable. The mechanics and grammar are correct.
B = 80–89% The document is good. It meets the objectives of the assignment, but requires minor improvements or reveals easily correctable errors in organization, style, design, grammar, or mechanics.
C = 70–79% The document is adequate. It omits useful information or requires significant improvement in organization, style, design, grammar, or mechanics. It may be formally correct but superficial in its discussion.
D = 60–69% The document is disappointing. It meets some of the objectives of the assignment but ignores others; the discussion is inadequately developed, omits important information, or displays numerous or major errors in organization, style, design, grammar, or mechanics.
F = below 60% The document is unsatisfactory. It omits critical information, does something other than the assignment required, or displays major or excessive errors in organization, style, design, grammar, or mechanics.

I won't answer questions about grades on projects until you have thoroughly reviewed my comments and the grading criteria. In addition, I won't assign incomplete semester grades except in extraordinary circumstances, such as a documented family emergency.

I will calculate both project grades and semester grades using the same scale listed above. In other words, this class does not use plus-and-minus grading.

Projects and grades

The projects in this class are designed to introduce you to concepts you will encounter as a writer in the computer industry. Because you're enrolled in a 700-level course, I expect graduate-level writing, editing, and work, and I will evaluate your projects accordingly.

The following is a list of projects and respective point values.

Project Points Possible
RoboHelp 2015 tutorial 200 points
Procedures 200 points
Captivate demonstrations 200 points
Help system or tutorial 300 points
Participation 100 points
Total score for English 773 1000 points

I reserve the right to change the types of projects and assigned point values should the need arise. Any changes will be announced and discussed in class.