Note: This is simply a continuation of the topic idea discussion from week one. This is where you submit the final draft of your topic ideas for my approval. Technical reports in the real world are not usually about generic technical topics like alternative fuels, autism, or cloud computing. More often, the reports may involve a technical topic, but are written for a specific situation. For example, most speech therapists will rarely write a report on the subject of autism but might write dozens of reports on specific children with autism. An engineer is unlikely to be asked to write a report about the broad topic of soils, but may be told to write a report on a soil sample from a particular building site. Technical writing, therefore, often involves applying general information to specific situations. To replicate that in this class, your final report will need to be about a general topic as it may be understood or applied in your community. For the topics assignment, your community can be your city or county; an organization for which you work or volunteer; a public entity (such as a school or local government). You need to document the process by which you choose two or three possible topic ideas for your final paper. This week, you are posting your ideas for your peers to critique, and next week you will submit a final draft to me for approval. This is your chance to choose what you will write about for most of the rest of the term, so it is important to take this discussion seriously. Also, it is important to note that all work for this class must be original for this class, so do not reuse an idea you have already written about. Step 1: Brainstorm at least five (more is better) general topics of interest to you. Examples: Alternative fuels; hybrid cars; autism; cloud computing; art therapy; music education; mental Health, obesity. Feel free to use any topics on this list that appeal to you, but I need to see at least 5 general topics in total, and at least three that are your own ideas. Remember that while brainstorming, you should not try to judge your ideas but simply get down as many as you can in a short time (maybe give yourself 10 minutes to complete this step). Step 2: Brainstorm at least three specific places in your community to apply the general topic. Examples: The city or county where you live; OSU; your old high school; your workplace; a place where you volunteer your time. For this step, you can use any or all of the above ideas in your own list, and while it would be great for you to come up with your own ideas as well, it is not needed so long as you list at least three ideas. The places you list here must not be generic. For example, you can apply your general topic ideas from step 1 to OSU, but not to the much less specific “schools.” Also, it will NOT work to list the world, the U.S. military, America, or even a state as your place to apply your topic. Applying your general topic idea to such a broad area really does not focus it at all. Writing about solar energy in the U.S., for example, is really just writing about solar energy anywhere. Writing about solar energy in Banks, Oregon, focuses the paper tremendously. So, the smaller the entity, the better. Also, if you choose an organization (e.g. a company or a non-profit) it must be one that you have some connection to. If, for example, you do not work for IBM, but want to write about IBM developing a certain technology, how will you get your information if that very topic has not already been written about? You may choose to compare two locations (such as two adjacent counties or two high schools, as in the example below) if you plan to write a comparison. Step 3: Combine the two lists and create at least three possible topic ideas. Example 1: If you are interested in energy, and you work for or volunteer with a small enough organization, your idea could be to do an energy audit of that location. You would be applying what you learn about reducing energy use (such as the efficiency of light bulbs, computers, and other devices) to a specific place (your company). The research for the final report would include information about the organization’s current energy use and how much could be saved if changes were made. Example 2: If you are interested in education, you could compare the graduation rates of two high schools to see if you could understand why they are different. This works best when comparing two schools with some similarities (for example, they are roughly the same size and both in Oregon), and some differences (in graduation rates as well as other factors, such as demographics of the communities). You would research what factors affect academic success and graduation rates, and then you would look for that factors in each school or community. More Examples: OSU moving to cloud computing for its computing needs; creating a volunteer music education program at John Q. Public Elementary; the City of Corvallis converting its entire fleet of vehicles to alternative fuels within 5 years. Step 4: Check to see if the topics are appropriate for an upper division technical writing course. Ask yourself the following questions: Is the general topic one that seems unlikely to be discussed in a college class? Would the topic be more appropriate in a business writing class? Is the topic controversial and appropriate to use in an argument paper? Can I find all the information I need to in one source? If you answered yes to ANY of these questions, your topic will not work. Some topics just are not appropriate for a college class, so I do not want to see you propose writing about flyfishing or why a particular team will never win the World Series. Some topics are appropriate for college classes but not technical writing, so I do not want to see a business plan or a paper that answers whether something ?should? be done (a good sign you have an argument paper on your hands). Finally, I want to see you write a paper that is unique and not just a rewrite of other people?s ideas. If you can find all the information you need for your report in any one source, I wonder why I am reading your report and not just looking at the original article. To use one of the examples above, you can find articles about cloud computing, and you can find information about computer use at OSU, but you probably can?t find a single source that looks at OSU switching to cloud computing. Until you do the research and write the paper, that report does not yet exist. You are using quality information from a variety of sources and combining it to create new ideas and a fresh report. Because of the requirement that your topic be new and unique, some topics won?t work even when you have focused them by applying the general topic to a particular area. For example, wolf populations (general topic) in Yellowstone National Park (specific application of the general topic) has been written about so many times you cannot bring anything new to the discussion. Step 5: Write out at least 10 questions for each of your three combined (general topic in a specific situation) ideas. At least five of your questions must relate to the general topic and at least five of your questions must relate to your specific location. This is to help you decide if there is enough breadth to the topic for an 8-12 page, single-spaced report (which is the requirement for the final report you will submit finals week). If you cannot come up with at least 10 questions, the topic probably will not work. Step 6: You do not need to write out anything for step 6, but do ask yourself, “Where will I find the information to answer each of these questions?” I ask you to do this because each term students pose questions that they cannot possibly answer. For example, I have had students want to write about alternative fuel vehicles in Portland, and they ask questions such as, “What are Portlanders’ attitudes towards alternative fuels?” You may be able to find a source that would answer that (although I doubt it), but if so, it is likely your source will probably answer all your other questions about alternative fuels. So, if you end up asking a lot of questions for which you will not be able to find the answers, you do not have a good topic and should abandon it now before you get frustrated later on in the term. To build on the example above, I will use the idea of comparing the graduation rates of two high schools, Corvallis High School and South Albany High School. This topic applies a general idea (graduation rates) to a community (the Linn-Benton area). You would research what factors affect graduation rates, such as socio-economics, teacher/student ratios, spending per student, etc. You would also research relevant information about the community, such as the graduation rates for each school, average income, percentage of children living in poverty; percentage of children who are homeless, school budgets, etc. When you combine all of that information in your report, you and your reader will have a much better understanding of how and why the graduation rates may vary between the two schools. You will have taken information you learned and applied it to the real world. Once you have done all this, post your topic ideas showing steps 1 ? 3, and step 5 by Wednesday night. You do not need to the answers to the questions in Step 4 or the sources in Step 6, but you should have considered them (because I will when grading your final submission next week!).
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