ENGL 421

Technical Writing ENGL 421

This overview of English 421 (Technical Writing) provides core information about the course used by instructors to design individual sections. It is primarily a resource for Purdue students, faculty, and academic advisors who have general questions about the course. Questions about a specific section of the course should be directed to the individual instructor. English 421 is also offered as an online course (ENGL 421Y). Visitors and prospective students can read our Guide to Online Courses in Professional Writing to learn about the online version of the course.

Course Background

English 421, Technical Writing, is a course offered by the Department of English every Fall, Spring, Maymester, and Summer semester. The course serves over 700 Purdue students per year (in about 35 sections), students chiefly majoring in the areas of engineering, technology, computer science, science, and agriculture. The course is taught by faculty and graduate teaching assistants, most of whom are PhD students in the Department of English. All new teachers of technical writing complete a graduate practicum in the teaching of professional writing and attend regular professional development workshops. All sections of English 421 are offered in networked computer classrooms or exclusively online so that Purdue students taking the course are prepared for the writing environment of the high technology workplace.

Official Course Description

English 421 helps students become better technical communicators, whose work is characterized by the presentation of technical material in written and visual formats that are user-centered and aware of audience and context. The course and its principles are grounded in rhetorical theory and informed by current research in technical communication.

Communication across multiple audiences and for multiple purposes continues to be a desired skill set in technical and professional fields. Beyond field-specific knowledge and experience, successful and ethical communication drives the professional world. This class, in content and form, models these successful communication practices. Working individually and in groups, students learn effective strategies for communicating about and with technology, particularly in networked workplaces and through usability testing. To achieve success in this course, students must display the ability to succeed in their future workplaces by developing a variety of informative and visually effective print and electronic documents.

Course Goals

These are general course goals outlined by the Professional Writing Program. Instructors will articulate how each specific project incorporates the course goals.

Writing in Context

• Analyze the invention, manufacture, and distribution of technologies in context and use writing to communicate these attributes in a variety of media and genres
• Write to the different levels of technical expertise of a range of audiences and stakeholders to foster technical understanding
• Understand the ethical implications of working within the nexus of technology and culture

Project Management

• Understand, develop and deploy various strategies for planning, researching, drafting, revising, and editing documents both individually and collaboratively
• Select and use appropriate technologies that effectively and ethically address professional situations and audiences
• Build professional ethos through documentation and accountability

Document Design

Make rhetorical design decisions about technical documents including
• understanding and adapting to genre conventions and expectations of a range of audiences including both technical and non-technical audiences
• understanding and implementing design principles of format and layout
• interpreting and arguing with design
• drafting, researching, testing, revising visual design and information architecture
• ensuring the technical accuracy of visual content


Learn and apply strategies for successful teamwork, such as
• working online with colleagues to determine roles and responsibilities
• managing team conflicts constructively
• responding constructively to peers’ work
• soliciting and using peer feedback effectively
• achieving team goals


Understand and use the research methods and strategies necessary to the production of professional documents, including
• working ethically with research participants, subject matter experts, and technical experts
• locating, evaluating, and using print and online information selectively for particular audiences and purposes
• triangulating sources of evidence
• selecting appropriate primary research methods such as interviews, observations, focus groups, and surveys to collect data
• applying concepts of usability research, such as user-centered design


Use and evaluate the writing technologies frequently used in the workplace, such as emailing, instant messaging, image editing, video editing, presentation design and delivery, HTML editing, Web browsing, content management, and desktop publishing technologies.