Technical Writing One: facilitator's guide

This facilitator's guide helps prepare you to lead Technical Writing One.

Who can facilitate this course?

Any good facilitator can lead this course; you don't need to be an expert in technical writing to lead this course. We designed this course to have students teach each other. Granted, facilitators with experience in technical writing can provide additional insights during the class.

Gaining access to the slide deck

To gain access to the slide deck, you must first become a member of the group. Joining this group enrolls you in a world-wide community of technical writing facilitators. To build that community, use the list to do the following:
  • Share training insights with your peers.
  • Answer questions respectfully, supportively, and generously.
  • Advertise any upcoming public technical writing courses.
Never do the following:
  • Harm, bully, stalk, slander, or belittle anyone on this list.
  • Send messages not pertaining to technical writing training. Do not spam the list.
In short, treat others as you wish to be treated. If you treat others poorly, we will remove you from this list.

Finally, only humans may join this list. Machine learning is remarkable, but it doesn't belong on this list.

Note: We reserve the right to change these guidelines.

Take the following steps to become a member:

  1. Visit the group page.
  2. Click Apply for membership.

Course contents

The course consists of the sections shown in Table 1.

Table 1. Course Sections

Section Length (in hours) What students do What facilitators do
pre-class exercises 2 - 3 Read short lessons and work through quick exercises. Assign pre-class material to your students.
In-class slide deck and
in-class exercises
2.0 - 2.5 Work through six writing exercises. Participate in peer reviews and class discussions. Facilitate the peer reviews and class discussions.

Preparing to facilitate

To prepare to facilitate this class, please do the following:

As with any class, we recommend the following:

  • Practice the material prior to leading a live class.
  • If you have teaching assistants, decide what each of you will do during class.

Why split pre-class work from in-class work?

The pre-class exercises build foundational skills. The in-class exercises help students integrate those foundational skills.

The pre-class exercises provide explicit instructions on discrete foundational topics. For example, one pre-class exercise teaches students to convert passive voice sentences to active voice. Another exercise teaches students to reduce the number of words in a sentence or to convert lengthy sentences into a list.

The instructions for in-class exercises are less specific than the pre-class exercises. For example, two of the in-class exercises simply tell students to "improve these sentences." Students must integrate lessons learned in pre-class exercises to determine what to do.

Much of the pre-class and in-class material attempts to unite engineering process and theory with technical writing process and theory. We encourage facilitators to draw parallels between the two worlds whenever possible. (The speaker notes can help you draw those parallels.)

We've heard people refer to the pre-class content as "design patterns for technical writing," which is a reasonable description. We've aimed to keep these patterns relatively simple to remember and easy to implement. As you facilitate this class, some students will object to a few of these patterns, noting that real-world writing is more nuanced and complex. You can reply that these design patterns are guidelines rather than hard-and-fast rules. You can additionally note that professional technical writers often rely on these patterns.

If a facilitator is not available (and students can't experience the in-class material), the pre-class material is still valuable.

Partner discussions

Consider the following proverb:

To learn, read a book. To learn better, take a course. To learn best, teach the course.

How do you get 20 students to each teach the material simultaneously? If students are accustomed to reviewing their peers' work, then the class will quickly fill with animated conversation as students teach each other the material. However, those students unaccustomed to peer review may feel shy or awkward about defending their answers or offering useful suggestions. Be prepared to assure your students that their feedback helps their partner. For a very shy class, consider role-playing how to give appropriate feedback.

Encourage students to change their solutions based on feedback.

Class discussions

Each unit ends with a slide that asks some conversation-provoking questions. Your job is to incite discussion and then to extinguish that discussion when you are ready to move on. Generally, students will provide ideas, but be prepared with conversation starters should your class get a little shy. We've added a few conversation starter suggestions in the speaker notes.

The following list contains a few general tips about leading discussions:

  • Be positive. Encourage students whenever possible. "That's an excellent answer. Can anyone build on that answer?"
  • Build a class where students feel comfortable giving answers. To break the ice in a shy class, ask questions that have no right or wrong answers.
  • Seek opinions. When there are several possible answers to exercises or questions, ask students which answer they prefer and why.


We usually schedule the class for 2.0 or 2.5 hours. If a large percentage of students speak English as a second or third language, then schedule the class for 2.5 hours. Regardless of the overall class length, try to keep a fairly brisk pace.

Each class has a different personality and pace, so don't expect your class to match Table 2 exactly.

Table 2. High-level timing for a 2.0 hour course

Time from start What you'll cover
0 - 30 Exercise 1 and Exercise 2
30 - 55 Exercise 3 and Intermezzo
55 - 95 Exercise 4 and Exercise 5
95 - 120 Exercise 6 and end-of-class slides

For a 2.5 hour class, try to follow the schedule in Table 2, but don't be too concerned if some units take longer than shown.

Each exercise ends with one or more discussion slides, so make sure you factor those slides into your pacing.

Ideal course size

An ideal class has somewhere between 12 and 20 students. With too few students, it can sometimes be difficult to get good class discussions going. With too many students, class discussions can become awkward.

For large classes, we recommend having one teaching assistant for every 20 students (beyond the first 20 students). For example, for a class of 60 students, we recommend one facilitator and two teaching assistants.

Classroom setup

You need a way to project the slides in a Google Slides deck. Therefore, you need the following equipment:

  • A laptop that has a network connection and can display Google Slides. Verify that you can project the slides before the class begins.
  • A projector or screen that can display the images on your laptop clearly to the entire class.
  • Access to power sockets so that students can charge their laptops. (If power sockets aren't available, email students before class and tell them to charge their laptops before attending.)

Arrange the tables or desks in the classroom so that students can see the projected slides. Ensure that chairs are arranged so that students can easily talk to and trade laptops with their partners.

For large classrooms and to help those with hearing issues, we also recommend the following audio equipment:

  • a microphone, preferably wireless so that the facilitator can walk around
  • speakers, especially for large classes
  • a hearing loop (also called an audio induction loop)

When students don't have access to their own laptops, consider also bringing the following to class:

  • paper
  • pens or pencils

Though not a requirement, some facilitators bring toothpaste tubes and toothbrushes so that students can act out Exercise 3.

Course stability

We will fix bugs in the course and we might make a few additional small changes, but we don't anticipate making any big changes. We'll chronicle all significant changes to the course in the log.

Facilitation tips

Here are a few tips:

  • When you assign an exercise, be absolutely clear on what students should do. Give students time to ask questions.
  • Read the room, trying to find the right balance between hurrying students along and giving them just enough time to complete (or nearly complete) the exercises.
  • Unstick any stuck students.