We had a question come up over in the Office regarding topics and scope for the Description project that I thought was better addressed here. (Original message is posted as the first comment here) . I’m hoping this will get you all thinking about jumpstarting your projects.

Some quick review

One of the most important things to keep in mind when you’re doing the Description project is that you’re not telling someone how to do something (you’ll do that in the Instructions Project coming up next); you’re explaining how something happens over time. For this project, you need to choose a process, i.e. an activity that occurs over time. See page 187 of the text if you’re unsure about whether you’ve selected a process, a mechanism, or an object. 

Also remember, your readers want to understand the process. They do not need directions that will help them perform the process. In addition, you’re explaining a process that is related to your field, but you’re explaining it for lay readers who aren’t familiar with your field. That means you should choose a topic you understand well enough that you feel like you can explain it to your mom, or your brother-in-law, or someone else who isn’t at all familiar with the concept.

Descriptions vs. Instructions 

You can see the difference between the descriptions and instructions here:

 Key info in text

Pay careful attention to the “Analyzing the Writing Situation” portion of Chapter 9 and to the “Process” portion of the Writer’s Checklist at the end of the chapter. Your description must:

  1. Clearly indicate the scope and nature of the description
  2. Introduce the description clearly
  3. Provide appropriate detail (think about what your readers need to know, what they already know, what they want to know — this will have an effect on how many and where your descriptions go, how much and what type of overview and background information you include, what kind of visuals are necessary, etc.)
  4. Conclude the description.

Defining audience, purpose, limiting your scope

Remember that we’ve left the context for this assignment kind of open. I haven’t specified an audience other than a “lay audience” and I haven’t specified the purpose of your description. As the textbook notes, these sorts of descriptions most often appear inside larger documents. It will help you enormously (and give you smart stuff to talk about in the Project Analysis Memo you do at the end of the project) if you specify for yourself how and where your description might eventually be used and who your readers will be. These things are completely open and your call. Topics are completely open and your call.

I’d encourage you to shoot for a topic you think you can explain adequately in 4-5 pages including some visuals and page design/formatting.

I’d also encourage you to ask lots of questions and brainstorm your ideas here. I’m happy to give you feedback and suggestions on any ideas you might be kicking around. And since we have lots of people in here from similar majors, you all might be able to give each other excellent feedback, too.

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