Chris S. and Samantha P.
Preparing for the Journey…
In the technical writing field, there are many aspects to creating a document of professional standards. One of the first steps in creating this document is research and planning. Research and planning is the backbone of the document in which you want to create, for it organizes all of the necessary information which, you as the writer wish to convey to the audience.
RESEARCH AND PLANNING
Before you begin…
Some planning is required before beginning any project. Organization is key to any project that is created in a professional manner. So with any good plan, you must start with an idea. See figure 1.1 for a web that will jump start the brainstorming process.
Brainstorming is used to explore different subjects, ideas, and topics to determine which is best to research. By taking the time to brainstorm, you envision your project and what outcome you wish to achieve. This will help lead you to the steps required to achieve that outcome. The first is finding the topic you will be basing your research on.
In the Technical Communication field, you are usually given the topic or product in advance by the client or manager, who then determines the subject matter in which to research. In most circumstances when the topic is chosen for you, it will be of interest not to you, but to the selected audience. Once your topic has been chosen, the next part is to decide how you want to conduct your research on the given topic and to convey your information to the audience you are writing your document for. By brainstorming, it will give you the opportunity to find the best ways in which to research your topic whether it be through periodicals, online research, polls, surveys, ect.
With online research, as the writer you must take heed in the information you come across. Because of the open nature of the Internet, not all information out there is correct. You need to find which search engine is best for your research and will produce the most credible sources of information. With online research you will come across many different routes in which to process your information.
One way you can conduct your online research is to type in the information you are searching for into a search engine and sift through documents until you get to the information that is useful to your document. This particular method is time consuming and the information is less likely to be from a credible source.
The second route in which to take, is to search for journals, scholarly articles, polls and surveys that deal with your particular topic. This way of gathering information is less time consuming. You must always validate the information you decide to use in your document to verify that it is a credible source of information.
With online research, as stated before, the information may or may not be credible. One thing you must always be wary of is if the information you are using is credible. One way to do this is to validate the information. There are various things you, the researcher, can do to find a credible source. When looking at information ask yourself questions such as:
• Why did they put the information on the Internet?
• What is the web site trying to do?
• Why was it created?
• Does it sell things like services and products?
• Does it try to entertain you or just present information?
• Does it promote a certain point of view and seem to try to convince you to believe that POV?
• Or is it entertaining you while trying to sell you something and/or trying to convince you to believe in it's POV?
• If someone important is talking, why isn't it on national TV or the world news?
These are just some questions that will help you validate the source using information you probably already know. Other tricks include paying attention to who wrote the information or who is presenting it on the page. The address or URL can tell you a lot about the web site - and it's author(s). URLs that end in .state.us, .gov, .edu, and .mil will have a higher credibility than sites that end in .biz, .com, and .coop.
Also if available find the author of the content. If the information of the author is readily available, then that is a good sign that your information may be credible.
Primary vs Secondary Sources
When looking at sources for your research, you must consider not only the primary sources, but also the secondary sources.
Primary source is a term used to describe source material that is closest to the person, information, period, or idea being studied. Primary sources include first hand experiences where one gathers information through field observations, interviews, interaction with the product, discussions with audience members or subject matter experts. While secondary source is a document or recording that relates or discusses information originally presented elsewhere. Secondary sources include articles in journals, professional publications, and trade publications about the product, process, or whatever the subject matter is. Secondary sources involve
generalization, analysis, synthesis, interpretation, or evaluation of the original information.
You as the researcher need to be able to distinguish between the two, and know when it is appropriate to use either source. Validation is something that will be needed with secondary sources as well.
Library research is completely different than that of online research. Online research can be confusing because of information overload, library research while taking more time can be considered productive as well. One positive about library research is that for the most part the information presented will mostly be primary sources, and the need for validation decreases.
The best place to start when working with Library research is the catalog. The catalog holds the information of the location of the books in which you must find. Most libraries use computers instead of card catalogs to locate books. Every library’s searching system will be different, but most allow you to search by either title or genre. In addition to normal books, many libraries have journals and periodicals that are geared more towards technical subjects. Once you locate the material you need through the library’s search system, all that’s left is to go to the area in which the book is located and read through the information within the book to find the specifics you are looking for.
If it’s not available in the Library…
If a book is not available at the specific library in which you are attending, you have other options in obtaining the information from the books in which you are looking for. Within recent years, complete books and articles have become available online as well as in PDF format.
If certain books are not available in the library, you can try searching through specific search engines, such as Google Books, and find the particular book you wish to obtain your information from. This search engine will produce the book in its actual format, including the cover page, publishing information, table of contents and original pages. With the book still in its original format it allows you accurately research as if you were looking at the actual book itself. While this course of research works for some, there is a chance that this course of research may not have the particular book you may be searching for, it can be a ‘hit or miss’ approach.
Yet there is always the chance that through PDF format (Portable Document Format created by Adobe) you may find the information you're looking for. Some books and article have been put into PDF format for ease of accessibility not only in the Library setting, but also on the Internet. Through the search engine you have chosen to use for your research you have the opportunity to find these books and articles online. A common way to search for these articles is through the specific search engine Google Scholars. This particular search engine brings forth the accredited articles and books, most within PDF format.
When dealing with research and planning for a project, there may be times when it will take more than one person to complete a project. This is where collaborative research comes into play. When in a situation where there are others involved such as group collaboration, research and planning goes into a whole different spectrum. By having others assist you in the research, it not only allows for more ares to be covered efficiently, but collect other points of research to consider.
Yet as now one of the writers, not only are you now responsible for your information, you are responsible for others as well. Group research takes effort from each member to complete the project in a timely and professional manner.
One of the most important decisions when working in a group is selecting the members of the group. You must take care in choosing who the members of your group are and understand their strengths and weaknesses. You may not always have the option to pick who you work with. In these instances you still need to observe the group members to get a feel for what their strengths and weaknesses are. This will allow you to strategically assign tasks to your group members. This balancing of strengths and weaknesses will help create a level group and improve the overall work flow.
You can get a feel for the strengths and weaknesses of a team by holding a group meeting to discuss the project. See what kind of personality each member has. Try and assign tasks to members that have similar personality types to help minimize conflict.
When working in a group with more than two members, it is a good idea to delegate someone as group leader. The basis of having a group leader is to make the overall process of the group collaboration run smoother and to mitigate any discrepancies that may arise between group members or in the report.
As a group leader, you need to assign members to specific tasks. You can have a group divided into sub-groups. Use one sub-group to survey potential customers, while another questions an expert in the field. Effective use of the “Divide and Conquer” tactic will ensure that all group members are active and help minimize halts in progress.
When working with others, it is best to plan and delegate tasks. It is expected when working in a group that each person take on a responsibility and impart some of their knowledge to the project. Having the team leader divide the work load and delegate tasks not only helps maintain a fixed schedule, but eases the overall work load as well. The team leader, taking the strengths and weaknesses into account, needs to divide the work fairly among members of the teams and continue to monitor the progress of the project to make sure each member adheres to the schedule set for them. An effective strategy is to assign members that are more active to critical tasks and assign less active members to tasks that are not mission critical to progress on the project.
While working in a group it is inevitable that conflicts will arise between colleagues. It is then that the team leader needs to intervene. Steps need to be taken to resolve the conflict in a professional manner that has positive effects on both parties. If a conflict is too much for the team leader, then help from an outside source, such as a manager, should then be implemented.
Tasks and Time management
Whether you work in a group or as an individual, the ability to follow a schedule and complete tasks on time is very important.
By creating a schedule and sticking to it, you as the researcher have the ability to stay organized and on time. By using management tools such as Gantt charts and timelines you will stay better organized and on task.
Gantt charts are a type of bar graph that denote progress on a project. They are used to visualize how long a task is taking and what tasks are overlapping.
Delegating tasks is not only for group collaboration, but also something that needs to be addressed when working individually. Setting specific tasks for group members and yourself will help alleviate stress when working on the project. It is best to set tasks that are reachable within a fixed amount of time. Having an open-ended end time for a task can lead to procrastination and general “feet dragging.” Working on one task at a time will help keep the project concise as well as on schedule.