Return back to composing actual technical documents and do so by way of scenario. Imagine yourself in the following situation. . .
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), under the U.S. Department of Transportation, carries out programs focused on improving the safety performance of motor vehicles and motor-vehicle equipment. The NHTSA also conducts research on driver behavior, vehicle use, and highway safety. You work in the documentation group for the Research and Development (R&D) program at the NHTSA. The R&D program provides scientific evidence to support the NHTSA’s safety initiatives. You help R&D scientists prepare documents reporting the results of research and crash investigations. Often, the scientists’ first opportunity to present their findings is at various professional conferences. The scientists use spreadsheet programs to create the graphics for their presentations and conference papers.
Recently, some scientists have retired and been replaced by new hires. Your boss, Elsa Beardsley, has asked you to help some of the new scientists: “I want you to work with Dana Shapiro, Megan Hamilton, and Allison Yamamoto. All three of them are preparing papers for the 25th International Technical Conference on the Enhanced Safety of Vehicles in Nagoya, Japan. Specifically, I’d like you to review their graphics.”
You ask Elsa why she thinks they need help with their graphics. “They’re all good researchers,” she replies. “However, when they report their findings, they don’t always choose the most appropriate kind of graphics. They also unnecessarily complicate their graphics by adding a bunch of “chartjunk.” The spreadsheet application gives them too many choices when it comes to selecting a type of graphic or modifying a graphic, but the program doesn’t offer them any help in choosing what kind of chart works best for different kinds of information and readers.”
Dana Shapiro and you are good friends, so you decide to stop by her office first. Dana shows you three graphics (Documents 12.1–12.3) that she is planning to use in her conference paper. She also shows you the spreadsheet data she used to create each graphic.
Dana tells you that the International Technical Conference on the Enhanced Safety of Vehicles brings together about 1000 representatives from government agencies, industry, and safety advocacy groups worldwide to discuss research findings and advanced technologies related to vehicle safety. Her paper reports on the development phase of the NHTSA’s research program on improved frontal protection. Specifically, her research assesses the crash conditions that result in the highest number of injuries and fatalities to drivers with air bags.
Look at the attached DOC. for visuals of graphs.
“What are you trying to convey in each figure?” you ask.
“In this first figure,” Dana explains, “I want to show the distribution of frontal crashes into three different crash modes.
In the second figure, I’m showing how the presence of air bags affects drivers’ risk of sustaining serious or fatal injuries in four body regions. I want to show that arm injuries are slightly more likely with air bags than without them, but that lower extremity injuries—the type that often lead to lifelong disabilities—are lower with air bags. In the last figure, I just want to show the average number of moderate lower-extremity injuries occurring annually to front seat occupants in air-bag-equipped vehicles in our data set. I want to communicate the scope of the problem. I want people to know that an average total of 17,669 lower extremity injuries occur annually in frontal crashes involving air-bag equipped vehicles.”
“What type of injuries are ‘tib.plat’ and ‘tib.shaft’?” you ask.
“They’re both types of injuries to the tibia, the lower leg.”
“Thanks. I’ll take a look at these more closely and get back to you later this week.”
You also briefly visit with Megan Hamilton and Allison Yamamoto. You note that their graphics feature the same flaws as Dana’s graphics. You decide that an informal report articulating guidelines for choosing graphics in a spreadsheet program would be useful to the new R&D scientists. In fact, this could be fun—a good way to catch up on the most recent best practices in data visualizations. And besides, the guidelines might save you from repeating the same information to several scientists.
~ ~ ~ ~
Communicating scientific data to a more general audience is one of the cornerstones of technical communication. It requires understanding the complexity of the original data or concept and translating it, simply, for comprehension by one or several audiences. This work is especially important as our world becomes more and more centered around visual mediums. While technical communicators might not be subject matter experts in a given field, they are strong at this type of translation work by understanding the rhetorical factors involved in messaging, such as audience, clarity, and discourse communities.
This project asks students to imagine themselves working in this R&D setting for the NHTSA. This means that the informal report will be composed for a specific audience and with a specific model. The informal report must actually look like it was produced in our scenario. In terms of content, then, this informal report must include:
—an appropriate header, with identifying information, title, and logos; Page 11 of 14 —an introduction that includes (1) a statement of the problem or situation, (2) the task assigned to the writer and the scope of the project, and (3) the purpose of the report and a forecast for the reader on the topics of the report;
—discussion sections organized in any way seen fit by the writer in light of research and issues with existing visuals;
—three visuals (the “corrected” versions of documents 12.1, 12.2, and 12.3 that the student will create) inserted as figures and labeled appropriately, with alt-text;
—a conclusion, that should remind the reader of any action needed and provide some recommend practices moving forward; and
—a references page in APA format that cites the resources on data visualizations consulted in the report (minimum of five reputable sources of any type).
The informal report should follow the expectations of the genre; there are a wide array of conventions around how to best compose an effective informal report, so much of our conversation in Slack will revolve around such considerations.
The informal report will look like an actual report, with APA formatting conventions coming into play mainly in the references page and in-text citations. The report should be at minimum one-thousand words, excluding references but including everything else. Please no appendices. Simple pagination required; do not use a running header. Research on recent literature and best practices on data visualization and graphical design must be conducted by the student. The minimum for sources is five, with the maximum being eight. All sources must be reputable in the student’s judgment. The report should be written in a Word document, with the three visuals inserted into the report itself as figures and not as attachments.
Textbook: is the other doc uploaded, chapter 12 will help you a great deal in finding out what is wrong with the visuals provided and how to fix them.
Questions you may have :
Answer: All these answers are “yes” except for the first. It should follow the informal report format from the textbook. Which does look like a memo in some way
Answer: Chapter 18 would be best. Recommendation report is closer to what this is, really.
Links that could help with visualizations:
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