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Using Acrobat in Writing Classes: Case Study

Case Study: Using PDF Files in Technical Writing Classes

Wright State University offers a technical writing certificate to students at the undergraduate and graduate level. 

Textbooks do not provide enough examples of documents. In addition, lengthy documents, such as manuals, are not incorporated.  In addition, there are copyright and cost issues involved in printing, duplicating, and distributing handouts to use in class. Using custom printed workbooks required lead time for getting permissions and submitting materials to a printing service. Materials can also not be updated until the next course. 

I use a collection of over 250 PDF files as resource material for the following courses taught in computer labs:

  • Desktop publishing

  • Visual communication

  • Introduction to technical writing

  • Advanced technical writing

  • Writing for the Web

I use PDF documents in these technical writing classes for the following:

  • Models of both good and bad writing techniques. I use both student papers and documents collected from the Internet. I also archive student work, such as their desktop publishing projects and technical writing papers.

  • Samples of types of technical documents and their organization and format

  • Samples of page design and layout  

  • Reference materials

  • Downloaded Web sites to use for reference or for sample Web site techniques

  • Information about technical writing careers and salaries, such as the PDF documents available from the Society for Technical Communication.

  • Image collections to illustrate types of technical graphics or to show students images available for them to use in their projects.

  • My own technical writing notes 

I insert my own checklists into sample documents or merge several samples together into one file. I also add annotations on what students should notice within a document. I have found PDF format useful for grading papers, especially Web pages because I can download them as one file and add comments. I even convert Word documents they submit to PDF because I find the annotation feature easier to use than creating comments in Word.

Using electronic documents allows me to distribute and display course materials both in WebCT and on the computer network without any costs. I have students view slideshows and sample documents before class, then ask them questions about the documents. I use PDF documents to provide sample documents and reference materials during class as well. Learn more.


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