Our approximate course schedule for spring 2016 is laid out below; changes will be made, as needed.

weeks 1-7 : Book Sprint + InDesign project
weeks 7-15 : Advanced Software (MadCap Flare) team project

wk 1 – tu, jan 19

  • Introduction / overview of the course, textbooks, major assignments.
  • Make sure that you can still access our course UDrive (the same one we used for 380).
  • Quick overview of Google Apps/Docs.
  • Assign groups.
  • Set up a Google doc for your group and share it with me at prettytypewriters AT gmail. Each group member should write a sentence in this document indicating that they are able to access and edit it. You can read more about chat and other collaboration features here.
  • Introduce InDesign project and assignment #1.
  • As time permits: Begin researching and taking notes for assignment #1.
  • Discuss reading for Thursday.

HOMEWORK: 1) Read the course syllabus/policies carefully. 2) Read Van Laan, pp. 1-24 (Ch 1-3, on UDrive).

Questions to guide our discussion on Thursday:
1) Since you all have taken 380, much of what was covered in the Van Laan readings should sound familiar to you. However, Van Laan’s book is much more recent than our Barker textbook. Was there any way in which this reading made you think differently about technical writing? If so, how?  2) Are here any ways that you can see the Van Laan readings connecting to our book sprint topics?

wk 1 th, jan 21

  • Discuss Van Laan reading and professionalism/qualities in tech writing.
  • This tech writing blog is a great resource for beginning tech writers: you can browse the archives or use the site’s own search box to type in keywords and see if there are any posts on those topics.
  • In class: Continue your preliminary research for the book sprint and developing your Google doc draft. Familiarize yourself with the MadCap Flare website. What are Flare’s capabilities? What types of support (resources, documentation, etc.) are offered on the site? Use your google doc(s) to compile your group’s notes. You might want to look ahead to readings assigned in week 2 for help with your Sprint content.

HOMEWORK: Read Van Laan, Ch 8 The Deliverables (Types of Technical Documentation) and Ch 12: You Want it How? (Tools and Technology). Take notes: what information can you use to help you with Assignment #1?

wk 2 – tu, jan 26

  • Work on Book Sprint in your groups.
  • Continue to familiarize yourself with the MadCap Flare website.
  • Use a search engine and try out different key words and phrases to figure out what the Internet says about Flare (or related concepts). Look for other perspectives to balance out the information from the MadCap website (e.g., blogs, forums, tech magazines, etc.). How do these different sources contribute to your understanding of Flare or associated concepts? Use a shared Google doc to keep track of the sources that seem most useful to your team so that you can reference and cite them later.

HOMEWORK: Continue working on your booklet content. Read “DITA: The Least You Need to Know” (UDrive). Recommended: DITA’s output does not require separation of tasks from concepts

wk 2 – th, jan 28 — Workshop draft

  • Due: Have a complete rough draft of the content for your Book Sprint doc ready to workshop. Bring at least 2 copies per team.
  • In class: intro to InDesign

HOMEWORK: Revise your Book Sprint assignment (due Tuesday). In your Cohen InDesign book: skim the TOC subtitles for Ch 1 and Ch 2 in the Cohen, then browse those chapters to get a general idea of their contents. Bring your book to class with you on Tuesday.

Monday, February 1 : Add/Drop Deadline

wk 3 – Tu, Feb 2 – Bring your Cohen InDesign book to class with you today

  • due: completed content for Book Sprint (Google Docs)
  • In class: Time to prepare your group demo presentations. You will need your Cohen book with you in class for this.

HOMEWORK: Read “Why Marketing Should Make the Manuals” (Kathy Sierra), Response to “Why Marketing …” (Sarah O’Keefe), and Balancing Act (on UDrive).

wk 3 – Th, Feb 4


  • Locate a few page layouts that you like (from at least 3 different sources, but feel free to gather more) and submit them to the shared UDrive folder; begin the filename with your first name. Your examples can come from Amazon previews, PDFs you find online, or you can take photos of physical books or magazines from the library.
  • Skim/browse to familiarize yourself with the contents of Chapters 3, 4, 5, and 16 of our InDesign book.

wk 4 – Tu, Feb 9 — team demos begin

  • team #1 demo: Laura, Riona, Tony
    Ch 03—Basic Text
    Ch 16—Typography
  • team #2 demo: Johnny, Kathy, Erin
    Ch 04—Working with Objects
    Ch 05—Working in Color

Color links:
color palette generator (based on photo) — here’s an example using this photo
color scheme designer (browse color wheel)
convert color codes (e.g., hex to RGB)

HOMEWORK: You should be actively familiarizing yourself with InDesign and working on your ideas for page layouts. Take two adjacent pages of book sprint content and bring them into InDesign. Create 1-2 sample page designs as a way to become familiar with the InDesign interface. Skim/browse to familiarize yourself with the contents of Ch 6, 9, and 10 of our InDesign book.

Optional: download InDesign 30-day free trial (Mac or Windows; first check system req’s).

wk 4 – Th, Feb 11

  • team #3 demo: Christina, Nick, Devin, Camille
    Ch 06—Fills, Strokes, and Effects
    Ch 09—Text Effects
  • team #4 demo: Hannah, Lindsay, Sarah
    Ch 10—Pages and Books
  • A note on using effects: Badly applied effects can look amateurish or invite comparisons to a bad PowerPoint template. If you plan to use effects such as gradients or drop shadows in your print or web designs, I suggest that you: 1) take a little time to seek out examples of good (current) designs that use those effects, and 2) study those designs and get a feel for how the effects are used. You should be able to explain what you’re trying to achieve by using effects and why. Googling phrases like “good gradient examples graphic design” will bring up plenty of examples for browsing. The links in the HOMEWORK section below are a good place to start.

HOMEWORK: Prepare, at minimum3-4 pp. of working page designs for a quick workshop on Thursday, Feb 18 at the end of class. These may include ideas for different design approaches, but try to have worked with at least 2 or 3 different pages of book sprint content so that you can begin getting a sense for how that content translates works with your design ideas. Read: Inspiring examplesBe Consistent in Your Visual Metaphors, and Five Former Design Trends That Aren’t Cool Anymore.

Skim/browse to familiarize yourself with the contents of Chapters 8 and 15 in your InDesign book.

Monday, February 15 : Presidents’ Day Holiday

wk 5 – Tu, Feb 16Follow Monday schedule

wk 5 –  Th, Feb 18 

  • team #5 demo: Chris, Jason, Taylor, Elise
    Ch 15—Styles
    Ch 12—Libraries and Snippets
  • team #6 demo: Jeannine, Cole, Sabrina, Alex
    Ch 08—Imported graphics
    Ch 14—Automating Your Work
  • due: Page Design Drafts – PDFs of working page designs (at least 2-3 pages; more is better) for a design-in-progress workshop in the last 20 minutes of class.

HOMEWORK: Work on your page designsIdeally, you should be finalizing your overall aesthetic and a few working page designs that represent the core of your approach (e.g., color schemes, paragraph and heading styles, page number placement …) by the end of this week so that you can spend next week adding content and working out page-level design issues. Begin thinking about a cover design. Read “What Font Should I Use?”: Five Principles for Choosing and Using Typefaces and Best Practices of Combining Typefaces.

wk 6 – Tu, Feb 23 Design conferences

  • Sabrina demo
  • Design conferences – meet with me to discuss your page designs
  • Time to work on your InDesign projects.

HOMEWORK: work on your InDesign project (complete draft due Thurs; final due Tues)

For fun/inspiration: “Thirty Tables of Contents
Extra: an unfortunate use of stock images

wk 6 – Th, Feb 25 Workshop of full InDesign draft

  • due: have a complete draft of your InDesign document (Assign #1) to workshop today (saved as PDF; print at least 1 content page in color)
  • Cover design using the rule of thirds

HOMEWORK: keep working on your InDesign project (due a week from today), both as a digital and printed copy)

wk 7 – Tu, Mar 1 – Workshop

  • Workshop and work on your InDesign assignment

HOMEWORK: Finish your InDesign project to submit on Thursday, both as a digital and printed copy). Read Van Laan Ch 10: Become Your Own Subject Matter Expert.

Upload your digital files on Tuesday Thursday before the start of class:
1. Go to UDrive and open the shared_upload > UPLOAD GUIDE with … folders.
2. Create a new folder. Use your name in the filename, then upload a PDF of your guide into that folder. Also upload the editable .idml file (this is the CS4 or later option rather than the .indd). Use your name in both filenames.

wk 7 – Th, Mar 3 – FLARE PROJECT – writing the doc plan

  • introduce Flare project
  • due: submit completed InDesign project
  • Begin drafting your doc plan

HOMEWORK: Browse the Flare Getting Started Guide and other resources on the MadCap website. Read Locker (UDrive) on working and writing in teams. [Let’s talk about this reading in connection with job interviews, too.]

Last day to drop with ‘W’ and select P/F : Thursday, March 3

wk 8 – Tu, Mar 8 – FLARE PROJECT

  • time to work on your doc plans

Recommended: read Van Laan, Ch 9: Process and Planning (Agile vs. Waterfall, etc.).

Note meeting location changes in the coming weeks. Half of us will meet in the DuBois lab and the other half in Bartlett 210 (PWTC lab). We will switch back and forth so that everyone gets access to Flare in the PWTC lab.

wk 8 – Th, Mar 10 – FLARE PROJECT

Due: rough draft of doc plan

SPRING BREAK : March 12-20


[GREEN] Team 1: Hannah, Tony, Cole, Elise
[GREEN] Team 2: Johnny, Christina, Laura
[GREEN] Team 3: Erin, Camille, Riona
[BLUE] Team 4: Sarah, Devin, Sabrina, Jason
[BLUE] Team 5: Chris, Lindsay, Kathy
[BLUE] Team 6: Taylor, Jeannine, Nick, Alex

wk 10 – Tu, Mar 22

  • Flare demo by Rachel
  • You should be reading up on Flare and beginning to work through support documentation or tutorials. I strongly recommend that you get into the PWTC lab and try to create a project consisting of a few topics. Don’t worry about creating usable content at this point — just create a project that you can use to freely experiment with different tools without worrying about goofing anything up. You can use mock content (lorem ipsum, photos of cats), but do try out the sorts of elements you think you might need: screen captures, bulleted lists, etc., and do try out the types of formatting you think you’ll need in order to have a consistent style and solid visual hierarchy.
  • Note: I have pushed back the deadline on the final doc plan so that you can focus on getting into the PWTC lab and using Flare (see below).

HOMEWORK: 1) Go to the PWTC lab and use Flare. Try to at least create some basic dummy content for a few topics that include common features you used in 380 (paragraphs, bulleted/numbered lists, screen captures and other images, and so on. If you want to divide things up in your group so that some people are tackling more advanced parts of the software, that’s fine. Keep a list of questions that you want to ask on Thursday — this is your one chance to ask questions of Diego, our visiting SME.  2) On UDrive: Van Laan “Chapter 11: You Want It When?” — Read p. 1 to the top of p. 6, then skim pp. 9-16 to see if there’s anything helpful for refining your doc plan.  

Recommended resource: MadCap Flare for the Total Newbie

wk 10 – Th, Mar 24

  • Visit from Flare SME and PWTC Alum Diego Alves. Diego is a Senior Technical Writer at Rediker Software, where he creates user support documentation. << Check it out.
  • Moving web content to the server.

HOMEWORK: Finish up any revisions to your doc plan (due Tuesday). Work with Flare in the PWTC lab — you should be actively engaging with the software. As you work with Flare, aim to generate some kind of tangible output, whether that be in the form of notes and/or practice content (in the form of topics, for example).

wk 11 – Tu, Mar 29

Due: final doc plan

  • GREEN groups meet in 1667
  • BLUE groups meet in Bartlett 210 (lab session 1)

HOMEWORK: Work on Flare project.


wk 11 – Th, Mar 31 – Note location changes

  • BLUE groups meet in Du Bois 1667
  • GREEN groups meet in Bartlett 210 (lab session 1)

HOMEWORK: Work on Flare project.

Fall registration begins : Monday, April 4

wk 12 – Tu, Apr 5 – Note location changes

  • GREEN groups meet in 1667
  • BLUE groups meet in Bartlett 210 (lab session 2)

HOMEWORK: Work on Flare project.


wk 12 – Th, Apr 7 – Note location changes

      • BLUE groups meet in Du Bois 1667
      • GREEN groups meet in Bartlett 210 (lab session 2)

HOMEWORK: Work on Flare project.

wk 13 – Tu, Apr 12 – Note location changes

  • GREEN groups meet in 1667.
  • BLUE groups meet in Bartlett 210 (lab session 3)
  • due: GREEN groups bring first 1/3 or more of your total module (or topic) content to workshop. BLUE groups will workshop on Thursday.

HOMEWORK: Work on Flare project.


wk 13 – Th, Apr 14 – Note location changes

  • BLUE groups meet in Du Bois 1667.
  • GREEN groups meet in Bartlett 210 (lab session 3)
  • due: BLUE groups bring first 1/3 (or more) of your total module content to workshop today.

HOMEWORK: Work on Flare project. Read Van Laan, “Ch 19: Front and Back Matter: Or Do They?” (TOCs, Indexes). BLUE groups: bring your Flare questions to class for web conference with Diego on Tues.  

Links related to my Wednesday email:

Monday, April 18 — Patriot’s Day Holiday

wk 14 – Tu, Apr 19  Short Q&A session with Diego 

  • GREEN groups meet in Du Bois 1667.
  • BLUE groups meet in Bartlett 210 (lab session 4) – bring your Flare questions to class for web conference with Diego.

>> By now, you should have 2/3 (or more) of your content drafted.

HOMEWORK: Work on Flare project. GREEN groups: bring your Flare questions to class for web conference with Diego on Thurs.


wk 14 – Th, Apr 21 Short Q&A session with Diego 

  • BLUE groups meet in Du Bois 1667.
  • GREEN groups meet in Bartlett 210 (lab session 4) – bring your Flare questions to class for web conference with Diego.  

HOMEWORK: Work on Flare project. Have full draft ready to workshop on Tuesday.

wk 15 – Tu, Apr 26last class meeting of 381

  • All meet in DuBois lab
  • Due: Bring full draft of your project. If you are producing output to print/PDF, please test-print at least 2 module/topic pages. If you are creating web output, test your content in different browsers. Groups will have time to meet, workshop, revise front matter, and so on.

wk 15 – Fri, Apr 29

  • Flare manuals (hard copy, PDF) and cover memos due Fri, April 29.

Final project deliverables — Due Friday, April 29:

  • Print content and memos:
    Leave printed memos and manuals (if you are working with a PDF output) in my mailbox (1st floor, Bartlett) or under my office door (Bartlett 210). Early submissions are welcome.
  • Digital content:
    If you are creating a PDF, please email it to me as an attachment.
    If you are producing web output, send me an email with the link to your site (submitting a printable copy of your content–as a Word doc, for example–is much appreciated).
  • Final cover memos:
    Include a section in your cover memo that outlines in detail each group member’s contributions to this project (writing, editorial, design, organizational, technical/troubleshooting, etc.). Make sure that the memo has been read, approved, and initialed by all group members.
    As I have mentioned, your memo is a place where you can gain additional credit by describing in specific terms your process (how you went about troubleshooting specific problems, for example). What were your toughest challenges, what are you most proud of? What did you learn? What would you do if you had more time to work on this? (etc.)



Last Day of UMass Classes – Wed, April 27

Reading Day – Thurs, April 28
Final exams – Friday, April 29 through Thurs, May 5
Second Reading Day – Sunday, May 1
Graduate and Undergraduate Commencements – Friday, May 6

Final grades due by Midnight – Tuesday, May 10


Additional resources: