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Using Acrobat in Writing Classes: Teaching Applications

Using Acrobat in Writing Classes: Teaching Applications

I use PDF documents in both Web-only or Web-enhanced courses. Students view documents outside class or during class as model documents or for reference and source material.

Outside Class

Outside class, students view PowerPoint slideshows giving tips and examples for each topic. Each topic has one or several accompanying documents in PDF format. The slideshows and PDF documents are available as links in WebCT. 

Examples of topics and PDF samples for introductory and advanced technical writing classes include the following:



writing for your audience

Documents that illustrate techniques for writing for a lower level audience. Example: any of the Dummies books. Documents on the same subject but for two different audiences.

designing documents 

Documents that effectively use layout, color, graphics.

chunking & previewing

Document such as a technical manual that uses information chunking and advance organizers.

partitioning, classifying and organizing information

Sample documents that organize or classify information.

defining terms

Documents that use different techniques to define terms. Glossaries in PDF format.

summarizing information

Articles and sample summaries.

improving paragraphs

Documents with good paragraph flow and organization.

improving sentence style

Document that uses a variety of sentence styles. Reference sheet that lists various sentence structures.

using technical graphics

PDF file with a collection of technical graphics. Documents that correctly label and refer to graphics.


Editing checklists.

describing objects

Description of an object. See example.

describing a process

Explanations of how things work. A number of these are available on the Web (e.g. How Stuff Works) and can be downloaded and saved in PDF format.

writing procedures and policies

Sample procedures and policies from organizations available from Web sites.

writing short reports and proposals

Sample reports and proposals from organizations available from Web sites. Tutorials on how to write proposals.

writing instructions 

Sample instructions for real products.

editing wordiness

Summaries of tips for avoiding wordiness.

writing manuals

Sample manuals for real products. For example, some excellent manuals are available at the Iomega Web site.

writing a quick reference

Sample quick references for real products.

using style guides

Sample style guides available on the Web.

writing troubleshooting

Sample troubleshooting for real products. You can download samples of numerous ways to format troubleshooting, such as flowcharts, tables, and hypertext.

writing tutorials

Sample tutorials from the Web. Both paper-based formats and interactive tutorials are available.

creating presentations

Sample presentations.

creating a Web page

Sample Web pages saved in PDF format.

using technical writing career info, Web resources

Career and salary information. Links to Web sites saved in PDF format.

As part of their assignments, students must answer questions about these documents. Thus students must apply concepts learned in the slideshow or textbook readings. Students must look at techniques such as writing style, sentence patterns, analogies, definitions, introductions/conclusions, order of points, advance organizers, chunking, and transitions. Sample documents include manuals, quick references, reports, and policies and procedures; these documents allow students to see both the typical writing style and format. They also look at document design techniques, such as formatting and layout, use of color, and use of/types of graphics.

Examples of the types of questions include the following:

  • How does (sample document) use techniques of ____ shown in the slideshow?

  • List five techniques (sample document) uses to _____. (I often list specific techniques and have students provide an example from the document).

  • Based on what you’ve learned about_____, compare the following four documents _____. Use a table similar to the following:


List effective techniques used

List ineffective techniques used

I occasionally use informational articles that give tips or describe other writing techniques. An example is an article from the National Institute of Health that describes how to write for a lower level audience. 

During Class

During class meetings, I use one or two more sample documents to reinforce what students learned outside class. These sample documents are available in both WebCT or on network drives.  I have them open the documents on their computers and either discuss them as a group or in smaller groups. I can also project the same document on a screen at the front of the room, use the zoom feature in Acrobat to enlarge portions of the documents, and point out specific features of the document. During class I also project samples of student papers I have archived in PDF format. This technique allows me to show models of both good and bad papers without actually giving students the documents. 

Other Uses

Besides serving as model documents, PDF files can provide reference or source material. 

I use PDF files as reference material: style guides, grammar and punctuation rules, samples of sentence structure, glossaries, HTML tags, career information (salaries, advice for getting into the field), tutorials (software such as FrontPage). I also provide a variety of writing checklists in PDF format (editing checklists, checklists for various types of documents, etc.).

Finally, PDF documents also provide the source material students can use in papers. For example, I have them write a series of documents on the same subject so that all work can be combined to create a user guide, Web site, or similar type of portfolio-quality item. I give them PDF material on the following topics: how Internet works, CD-ROM hardware, and Adobe Acrobat publishing. This source material includes information such as glossaries, tutorials, graphics, articles, and Web sites.

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