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Technical Writing Exercise – Search and Research

Back in the Dark Ages when I started in this business, we worked with things called pencils and typewriters and telephones and books. When we needed to do research on a topic we didn’t know anything about – such as the piece I did on bacterial vaginosous – we looked it up. Now, back then, when we “looked it up,” it usually meant going someplace and looking in a book.

For that job, the SME, a doctor, told me to check Stedman’s Medical Dictionary and Gray’s Anatomy (not the TV show – the book) to get a general idea of what the subject was about before we talked. Not having Amazon.com to turn to, I went to a book store where I discovered that these are really good books that cost a whole lot of money. Next stop, the library.

OK, fast forward to the early 21st Century. The point is that now we’ve got so many great research resources literally at our finger tips. Being able to go online and key in a subject is so much better than the old way.

That doesn’t mean that you never need to go on-site or go to a library or get out and talk to people. It does mean that much of what you need to know you can find quickly right on the Web. The amount of information is amazing. Having this resource saves time that you can use to refine your research and produce a better product.

But, whether it’s Fred Flintstone or George Jetson, there are some things that don’t change. I’m still a tech writer, and how I process information is still more important than where I get it. It’s still my job to gather, evaluate, and organize data. The very fact that there’s a lot of data available pretty much ensures that it’s not all equally good. Finding it is easier. Making it useful is just as hard as ever.

The exercise this week is to look at some online sources and decide which ones you’d be most likely to use as a basis for your tech writing task. The task is to research a list of eight people who are considered prominent in their fields. Then you have to make a recommendation as to which two should be interviewed by your client, based on their area of expertise and level of education, as likely candidates to fill out a team studying the economic effects of drought in African nations.

Here’s your list of 8 people to research:

o Benson, Charlotte

o Clow, Barbara

o Clow, Kenneth

o Elbadawi, Ibrahim A.

o Thompson, Lonny

o Tilahun, Tewodros

o Weinhold, Janae

o Wilcox, David

When you’re done check the solution below.

Exercise – Answer

Your task was to Web research eight people who are considered prominent in their fields. You had to make a recommendation as to which two should be interviewed by your client, based on their area of expertise and level of education, as likely candidates to fill out a team researching the economic effects of drought in African nations.

Using both the person’s name and key words such as drought, research, and Africa, you found a large number of citations. Then it was a matter of researching areas of expertise and education to find the two candidates who most likely fit your client’s needs.

Your information should include:

There are two prominent people named Charlotte Benson :

1. Charlotte Benson is a charter member and five-term president of the Arizona Society of Astrologers and has no degree.

2. Charlotte Benson is a PhD and a professor of economics and a Senior Research Associate.

There are two prominent people named Clow:

3. Kenneth E. Clow is a Ph.D. and Dean of the College of Business Administration at the University of Louisiana at Monroe.

4. Barbara Clow has an MA from the University of Michigan and is an astrologer, channeler, and New Age entrepreneur.

There are two prominent people from Africa:

5. Tewodros Tilahun is the Managing Director of the Ethiopian Insurance Corporation.

6. Ibrahim A. Elbadawi is a member of the African Economic Research Consortium in Nairobi, Kenya.

There are two prominent people named Thompson:

7. Lonny G. Thompson is a professor of geological sciences at Ohio State University.

8. Lonny L. Thompson is a PhD in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Clemson University.

9. Janae Weinhold has a PhD in child psychology and operates the Carolina Institute for Conflict Resolution and Creative Leadership which specializes in evolutionary resources for shifting consciousness.

There are two prominent people named David Wilcock:

10. David Wilcock is a PhD from Basel, Switzerland, working on the Sustainable Livelihoods Approach to solving hunger.

11. David Wilcock is a professional intuitive consultant with no degree

Now, the task is to narrow down these eleven people based on the client’s specifications. Here is how I approached it.

First, I eliminated seven people whose areas of expertise didn’t fit the specifications.

1. Charlotte Benson, astrology

4. Barbara Clow, astrologer

5. Tewodros Tilahun, insurance

7. Lonny G. Thompson, geology

8. Lonny L. Thompson, mechanical engineering

9. Janae Weinhold, shifting consciousness

11. David Wilcock, intuitive consultant

Of the remaining four, I eliminated two who least fit in with the subject of the research.

2. Charlotte Benson, economics

3. Kenneth E. Clow, insurance

I settled on these as the final two whom the client should interview.

10. David Wilcock, hunger reduction

6. Ibrahim A. Elbadawi, African economics

There are certainly other ways of slicing and dicing the list, but whomever your final picks were, the important thing is that they were based on a lot of research and on choosing what resources you felt were the most credible.

By the way, if you wonder how the client came up with the original list, I can only say that it’s no stranger than a lot of the information you’re given to work with in this business.

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