GROUP WRITING

GROUP WRITING

Many college graduate es discover that once they are in business and industry, they must cowrie their documents. Often a committee or a project team – with three or more people – must produce a final report on their activities. Uunless steam members coordinate their activities, the give and take of group vision can cause hurt feelings, frustration, and an inferior report. The best-way to generate an effective document is to follow a clear writing process. For each of the writing stages, you not only must plan for producing the document, but also must facilitate the group’s activities.

Prewriting in a Group: Organizing
In the prewriting stage, in addition to planning about the topic, you must develop your group into a unit with a leader and a plan.Select a Leader The leader is not necessarily the best writer or the person most informed about the topic. Probably the best leader is the best “people” person, the one who can smooth over the inevitable personality clashes, or the best manager, the one who can best conceptualize the stages of the project.

Plan the Group’s Activities You must also think through the group’s activities and develop an overall plan to resolve differences and to manage   group’s activities  Resolving differences is an inevitable part of group activity. Your. group should develop a reasonable method of resolving differences that’s clear to all. The usual methods’ are by voting, reaching a. consensus, or accepting expert opinion. Voting is fast but potentially.divisive. People who lose votes often lose interest in the project. Reaching a consensus is slow but affirmative. If you can thrash through your differences without alienating one another, you will maintain interest and energy in the project. Accepting expert opinion is usually, but not always, an easy way to resolve differences. If one member, who has studied citation methods closely, says that the group should use a certain format, that decision is easy to accept. Unfortunately another group member will sometimes disagree. In that case, your group will need to use one of the other methods to establish harmony.

To manage the group’s activities, the group must make a work plan. The group must clarify each person’s assignments and deadlines in the plan. Members should use a calendar to determine the final due date and discuss reasonable time frames for each stage in the process. The group should put everything in writing and should schedule regular meetings. At the meetings members will make many decisions – for instance, about the style sheet for head and citation format. Write up these decisions and distribute them to all members. Make – and insist on  progress reports. Help one another with problems. Tell other group members how and when they can find you. Attention to forming the group and treating the group’s activities as a project will definitely increase your chances of completing the project successfully  while still enjoying one another’s company.

Writing in if Group
Before actual drafting starts, the group should have a prewriting meeting. At this meeting the group has two key tasks: to clarify assignments and deadlines and to select a method of drafting.

Clarify Assignments and Deadlines To clarify assignments and deadlines, answer the following questions:

*  What is the sequence of sections?
• Must any sections be completed before others can be started?
• What is each person’s writing assignment?
• What is the deadline for each section?

Pay particular attention to deadlines. Work backward from the final deadline. If the report is due May I, and if you need one week to type and two weeks to review and revise, then the deadline for drafting is April 9, three weeks prior to May 1. Select a Method of Drafting Groups can draft a document in two ways: each person writes a section, or one person writes the entire draft. Generally each person writes a section if the document is long or if the sections are highly specialized. In a proposal, for instance, one person might write the technical description while someone else tackles’ the budget. If each person writes a section, the work is distributed equally. However, this method may not be efficient because of possible conflicts of style, format, or tone. To make the document more consistent, one person often writes it, especially if it 1s short. A problem with this method is that the writer gets
his or her ego involved, easily feeling “used” or “put upon,” especially if another member suggests major revisions. The group must decide which method to use, considering the strengths and weaknesses of the group members.

Postwriting in  Group
Finishing involves two activities: editing and producing the final document.

Select an Editing Method Groups can edit in several ways. They can edit as a group, or they can designate an editor. If they edit as a group, they can passes sections around for comment, or they can meet to discuss the sections. Frankly, this method is cumbersome. Groups will often “over discuss’; smaller editorial points (such as whether or not to use all capital letters for headings) and lose sight of larger issues. If the group designates one editor, that person can usually produce a consistent document. The editor should bring the edited document back to the group for The basic questions that the group must. decide about editing include.

• Who will suggest changes in drafts? one person? an editor? the group?
• Will members meet as a group to edit?
• Who will decide whether or not to accept changes?

In this phase the conflict-resolving mechanism is critical. Accepting suggested changes, for instance, is difficult for some people, especially if they are insecure about their writing.

Select a Final Production Method I The group must designate one member to oversee the final draft. Someone must collect the drafts, engage the typist, and read for typos . .In addition, someone must write the introduction and attend to such matters as preparing the table of contents, the bibliography, and the visual aids. These tasks take time and require close attention to detail, especially if the document is long. Questions for the group to consider at this stage include.

• Who will writes the introduction?
• Who will put together the table of contents?
• Who will edit all the citations and bibliography?
• Who will prepare the final version of the visual aids?
• Who will oversee producing the final document?

Conclusion 
The group writing process will challenge your skills as a writer and person. It cal) be a pleasant or an awful experience. Good “planning will enhance your chances for a successful report and a pleasant experience. As you work with the group, remember that people’s feelings are easily hurt when their writing is criticized. Be gentle. Or as one student said, “Get some tact.” The checklist below summarizes the special concerns of group writing .

CHECKLIST FOR GROUP WRITING

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SUMMARY
This chapter explains the technical- writing process and the special concerns of the group writing process. In the technical writing process, writers plan, draft, and finish their documents. Planning includes finding the answers to these eight questions:

• Who is my audience?
• What is my goal in this writing situation?
• What constraints affect this situation?
• What are the basic facts?
• What is the expected form? .
• What is an effective outline?

• What format and visual aids should I use?
• What tone should I use?

Drafting consists of writing and rewriting a document in order to make it easier for the reader to grasp. Writers follow a preliminary outline but must employ effective strategies in selecting the words and developing sentences and paragraphs. They must also use such devices as brainstorming and treeing to help themselves if they get stuck. Finishing is putting the document into its final form. Vriters make the text accurate by checking the spelling, grammar, and overall consistency of similar elements in the document. The group writing process requires special activities at each stage of the regular writing process. At the outset, groups must select a leader and devise a plan for completing the document. They also must select methods of resolving differences and clarify assignments and deadlines. As work progresses, members should meet regularly to report on activities, to make style sheet decisions, and to share information. Finally they must select a method for drafting, editing, and finishing the document, paying close attention to assignments, deadlines, and conflict resolution .

EXERCISES
1. Analyze a professional document in your field (an article, a business letter, a chapter in a textbook)to see how the writer answered the planning questions. Then assume that you are an editor at a company that publish such documents. Use your analysis to.write a letter to a prospective author explaining how to prepare such a document for your company.

2. Revise the following paragraph. The new paragraph should contain sections on reasons for writing and format. Revise sentences also.

WRITING ASSIGNMENTS

1. Interview three people who write as part of their academic or professional work to discover what writing process they use.

• A student in your major
• A faculty member in your major department
.• A working professional in your field

Prepare questions about each phase of their writing process. Show them the model of the process  and ask whether it reflects the process  through. Then prepare a one- to two page memo to your classmates,
summarizing the results of your interviews.
2. Write a description of a machine or form that might be used in your field or that you often use. Before you write the description, perform all the following activities:

Answer all the planning questions about your document in a memo to your instructor Write out a time schedule for each stage of your process Hand in your checklist, schedule, and answers with your paper.

THE POSTWRITING STAGE FINISHING

THE POSTWRITING STAGE FINISHING

In postwriting, the last stage in the process, you craft the document into a  product that effectively guides your reader through the topic: This stage consists of two types of activities editing and producing the document .

Editing
Editing means to develop a consistent, accurate text. In this sro: ) ou change the document until it is right. You check spelling, punctuation, basic grammar, format of the page, and accuracy of facts. You make the  text agree with various rules of presentation. When you edit, ask yourself Is this correct? Is this consistent?” To help you edit, construct checklists in which you list all the possible problems that you will check for. Then read your document for all the instances of one problem. For instance, first read for apostrophes, then for heading consistency, then for spelling errors, then for consistency in the  format, and so forth.The following paragraphs demonstrate the types of decisions that you  make when you edit.

A Note on Revising with a Computer Most word-processing companies now offer various revising aids that can facilitate your editing process. Several common aids are dictionaries, grammar checkers, and thesauruses. Dictionaries, also called spell checkers, and their closely related cousins, grammar checkers, can help you find possible problems in your writing.

A spell checker will read your document and indicate any words that are not in its dictionary. If you have made a typo, such as typing with the checker will highlight the word and allow you to retype it. Some checkers even suggest several alternate spellings. A problem with these programs is that if your typo happens to be another word – such as “fist” for “first”  the program will not indicate the problem. While these devices find typos easily the do not help with misuses of words. So if you type
“to” instead of “too,” the program will not indicate an error. Grammar checkers seldom actually check grammar, such as problems in subject-verb agreement. They do, however, highlight features of your writing that you should check. For instance, the checker will highlight all the forms of”~ be” in your paper, thus pointing out all the possible places that you might have used the passive voice. A good grammar checker points out sexist and racist language, overused phrases, and easily confused words. Although the checker will highlight every “your” and “you’re” in your paper, you will have to decide if you have used the correct form. A thesaurus is a collection of groups of words that have the same meaning. Like the book-version thesaurus, a computer thesaurus will suggest other words that mean the same as the one you select on your computer. You use a computer thesaurus when you want to find a sharper word than the one you have.

Producing the Document
Producing a document has two dimensions: the physical completion of the document and the psychological completion of it.

Physical Completion Physical completion means typing or printing (if you use a computer) the final document. This dimension takes energy and time. Failure to allow enough time for this stage and its problems will certainly cause frustrations. For instance, many people have discovered the difficulties of this stage when their disk crashed or their printer failed for some reason. Although physical completion is usually a minor factor in brief papers, it is a major factor in longer documents, often taking more time than the drafting stage.

Psychological Completion psychological completion means to attend to your emotions as you near completion and to manage your time properly. Poor writing is often the result of “finishing too soon.” If you prematurely decide that you are finished, you probably will not listen to other readers’ suggestions (or heed your own perceptions that more revising is needed). Often these suggestions are very good, and if you acted on them, you could produce a much better document. If you have finished too soon, however, such suggestions only cause frustration because you don’t want to be bothered with reworking a document you feel you have completed.

Many people enter into projects with a hidden time agenda. They decide at the beginning that they have so many hours or days to devote to a particular project. When that time is up, they must be finished. They do not want to”hear any suggestions for change. A similar problem with time management often occurs in research projects. A researcher, fascinated with the reading, will continue to read “just one more” article or book, thus taking valuable time away from writing the report. When he or she begins to write the report, there is not enough time left to do the topic justice. The result is a bad report. As you grow in your ability to generate good documents, you will also grow in ability to estimate accurately the time that it will take you to finish a writing project. You will also develop a willingness to change the document as much as is necessary to get it right. Developing these two skills is one sure sign that you are maturing as a writer. Below is a checklist. to help you with editing .

CHECKLIST FOR EDITING

  • Set up a specific time schedule. Work backward from the due date
  • Make a checklist of possible problems. Check your document for each problem.

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THE WRITING STAGE DRAFTING AND REVISING

THE WRITING STAGE DRAFTING AND REVISING

In the writing stage, you produce drafts. You already have done careful planning and produced an outline, and now you start the actual writing. You try to put on paper the words that explain the ideas in you outline. Theoretically, if you have planned thoroughly, all you need to do is flesh out the outline and describe the visual aids. But most writers don’t accomplish their goals that easily. Writing the document is a difficult, often messy chore, full of false starts. you must select, reject, and reformulate your words and sentences, and find the organization that best conveys your meaning Drafting requires concentration and energy, even if you have done extensive planning.

A Preliminary Word about Drafting

The object of drafting is to produce and to improve writing until it effectively conveys your message to the reader. Drafting has two primary  aspects: clarifying and discovering. As you draft, you clarify your ideas for your reader. Like most people, you probably produce writing in bursts, often in prose that makes sense to you as you write, but makes less sense to others as they read. During drafting, you clarify this material, changing your initial, often hard rounder stand rusts into prose that is clear to readers. But writing is also discovery. Often as you write you will suddenly conceive of new ideas or new ways to present your examples. You must evaluate these new ideas, deciding whether to use or reject them. As you write your manual, you might suddenly see that you should delete one visual aid and replace it with a better one; the replacement will lead you to write completely different but clearer instructions for the operation in question. In fact, you may discover an entirely new way to organize and approach the whole topic, one that causes you to discard much of your tentative planning. Good writers give themselves enough time to incorporate the insights that they discover in the drafting sage.

Style, Organization, and Reader Interest
Your planning will give you a good sense of your audience and your content. As a result your words will flow better. But in addition, you must have a sense of what to do as you manipulate words. Three areas which you should consider when drafting are .

  • style
  • organization
  • reader interest

Style – What Is a Good Sentence? You should try to write shorter sentences (under twenty-five words),’to use the active voice,’ to use parallelism, and to use words the reader understands. You will not always achieve these in the first draft, but you will be amazed how much’ you can achieve even in a .first draft if you develop an awareness of them.

Organization – What Is Clear Organization? The strategies that make ideas easy to grasp are the “obvious organization” strategies referred to in Chapter 1 and  You need to remember to make lists’, repeat key terms, use heads, use definitions and use  terms the reader can understand.

Reader Interest – What Makes Writing Interesting? You create interest by using devices that help a “picture” the topic thus imaginatively involving him or her in it. The picturing devices apply to both your writing and your visuals. When writing, include helpful comparisons, common examples; brief scenarios, and narratives Visual devices include any graphic item that helps the reader visualize the topic – from pictures to drawings to tables and graphs (Duin, Slater).

Activities That will Help When You Get Stuck

Brainstorming Brainstorming means listing every single item you can think of about your topic.’ Suppose that to write the Page maker manual you need to describe how to print documents with a laser printer. To write the appropriate section, you have to decide how many steps are involved in actual printing. Because you know how to print, you realize that there are enough steps to confuse an inexperienced user. You might not be. sure how to start describing these steps. Brainstorming will help you. Just start a ‘list. Write down everything, whether or not it seems relevant.

In no time, you will generate enough material to expand into a good section. Not everything you list will be something that you can use, but much of it will be. As you continue to list, you will r’warm up,” and more items will come to mind. Brainstorming can help you generate ideas at any stage of the writing process, but it is especially effective when you are stuck.

Treeing When treeing, the writer indicates relationships by drawing lines between words arranged in descending rows. Each word represents a concept that can be broken down into sub concepts in the next row and the lines indicate the relationship. For instance, the concept direction could.

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Revising
Revising,  basic activity in this stage,list reworking the document, hanging sentence structure, paragraph organization, and overall organization, and evaluating the need for effective examples. As you perform this activity, you evaluate your writing against a standard: the reader must clearly comprehend the subject matter. When you revise, ask yourself: “Will myreader understand this?” You can see this process in action in the following revisions of sentences and of paragraphs.

Changing Sentences You must revise sentences so that a reader can easily grasp their content. First-draft sentences often reflect an author’s thought process. They are a record of the ideas just as they occur. Often these sentences are too long, contain too many passive verbs, or contain strings of ideas short bursts of content whose. relationships are not clear. Consider these sentences from the drafts of the Page maker manual:

Turn on the printer and be sure you turn on the laser writer, You can have a real problem  you’ll lose everything if you try to print before the. test page prints, so
wait until it prints.

This sentence contains all the basic ideas but is too long and rambling. The following more concise sentence expresses the idea clearly for a reader. Notice that the dash and the “if so” construction are eliminated. Turn on the Laser writer; do not begin the next step. until it has printed its test page.

Revising Paragraphs Here are two paragraphs – the original and a revision  from the Page maker manual. The first, organized solely in terms of the writer’s thought process, presents data in terms clear only to the author The second presents the data that the reader needs in an organization that the reader will understand.

Conclusion Drafting is messy work, requiring a lot of energy. You must engage the reader with the writing. To do so, you must decide, “Is this best for the reader?” If the answer is no, you must revise the writing. Since your first wording often reflects only your initial thoughts, you may reject it. Developing the confidence to change is  major goal in a writing course. Of course, if you change, you must select from a range of possible options. Throughout this book, we will explain options in sentences, paragraphs, introductions, organization, and design. Many revision options  are explained  Below is a checklist you can use to help you with darting.

CHECKLIST FOR DRAFTING

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THE PREWRITING STAGE PLANNING

THE PREWRITING STAGE PLANNING

.In the prewriting stage, writers discover the dimensions of their topic. In this stage writers use a number of techniques to discover everything theyneed to know to write clearly. They treat this stage carefully. Experienced writers ask and clearly answer eight important questions .

1. Who is my audience?
2. What is my goal in this writing situation?
3. What constraints affect this situation?
4. What are the basic facts? V
5. What is the expected final form of the document?
6. What is an effective outline?
7. What format and visual aids should I use?
8. What tone should I use?

As a writer you must ask these questions. The more you clarify the answers, the more easily you will generate the document. The following sections look at each question in more detail.

Who Is My Audience?

The audience is the person or people who will read your document. The more you clarify who they are, the better you can write to them. You  should ask these questions about your audience .

  • Who will read this document?
  • How much do “they know about the topic?
  • Why do they need the document?
  • What will they do with it or because of it?

In every writing situation, you must clarify the answers to these important questions. The answers will vary in different situations. Suppose y u are the only person in your office who has a thorough grasp of Page maker, a desktop publishing program. And suppose that you lose a lot of time from your own work because you have to answer questions from people who don’t know how to use the program. To stop these interruptions, you decide to write a brief manual. To begin your manual, you ask and answer the planning questions. Who will read the manual? The readers will be the people who work with the computer program in my office. How much do they know? This question has two sub questions: How much do they know about the type of com-outer we use? And how much do they know about Page maker? They all know how to operate Macintosh computers, but most don’t know how to use the Page maker program. Why do they need the manual? They need it to give them basic information about the software program. What will they do with or because of the manual? They will use it to guide themselves through the basic operations and because of it they will become -more independent  .

What Is My Goal in This Situation?
You actually have two goals: to communicate a specific message and to . achieve a specific purpose. In other words, ‘you ask and answer two questions:

  • What is my basic message?
  • What is my purpose?

In general, your message is. your content; your purpose is how you want to affect your audience. As you continue your planning of the Page maker manual, you would answer the two questions this way:

My basic content will be specific beginner-level procedures in Page maker- such as opening a document, designing a page, or placing text. My purpose is to inform readers so that they can perform basic tasks independently.

What Constraints Affect This Situation?

Constraints are physical and psychological factors that affect your ability to write the. document and your readers’  By thinking about constraints, such as time and money, you achieve a clear picture of how you can produce the document. Experienced writers think through constraints carefully in order to eliminate frustration. Basic constraints are , listed in the left-hand column below. Each constraint has a different implication  for the writer and for the reader.

Let’s consider the constraints on you as a writer of the Pagemaker manual. How much time can you devote to this project? To write a manual requires hours of actual writing, field testing to check if you described the functions correctly, rewriting, and producing the final document. If all these tasks demand, say, thirty hours, but in the next month you have only ten hours free, you have a problem. You need to drop the pr~ject, shorten the ‘scope of the manual, find someone else to do it, or rearrange your schedule to find more time.

How long should it be? While the traditional answer is “long enough to cover the topic sufficiently,” you know that people will ignore a long, complicated document, so it has to be relatively short. Will the project cost money? Probably not, if you do it at the office or lab and use all the available facilities and paper. But suppose you want to put it in a nice hard cover to protect it; you must purchase the cover. How will you produce the document? You will use a computer program and printer that you have easy access to.

Let’s consider the same constraints from your readers’ viewpoint. How much time will they need to spend reading before they can use the program? Since mCist people will claim that they are “too busy” or that they want to “get right at it,” you need to make the information concise and easy to find. How long can it be? Most people tend to ignore’ thick manuals, so yours can’t be too long. Is cost important? No, because the reader will not be buying the manual. Are there physical limits? Yes, readers must be able to handle the manual while they are sitting at the  computer. So it h as to lie flat and not take up too much space. Then too it must be stored near the computer, Will it be easy to read? Yes, because you’ will use a laser printer.

What Are The Basic Facts?
.Determining the basic facts for your doey-,mentis a key planning activity. You must spend time collecting these facts by reading, interviewing, or observing. ‘For the Page maker manual, you must decide exactly which procedures you want to include. You also need to know the basic facts about each procedure. You would begin to list the procedures, determining the items in the list by considering your audience’s needs: You might recall the operations that you have been asked to demonstrate repeatedly. You might ask some of the users what operations they would like explained, or watch to see what mistakes they make. In order to be sure you explain the steps correctly, you might have to work through all,the operations, taking notes for yourself.

What Is the Expected Final Form?

Many technical writing documents require a particular final form. If you know what form is expected, you have a place to start. For instance, a report on an experiment always has a section on materials and methods, so the writer can plan that section, then go on to another. In many companies, certain reports must always use the same standard form. All trip reports, progress reports, or position papers must have certain information . in the introduction followed by certain information in other specified section Knowing what is expected makes documents easier to write because you know which information to include and where to place it. For the Page ranker manual, you know that a brief manual usually has two sections .

 One section explains the function of each main part, and the other section gives instructions for performing basic procedures. You want to set up your manual in. a similar fashion, explaining what certain items mean when they appear on the screen and then explaining the procedures.

What Is an Effective Outline?

As you begin to think about drafting, you should first construct a preliminary outline. The indented outline is  common,”‘an informal list of major and minor points you want to make. You arrange your material into an order that will guide you as you write. Without such an order, you can easily go off on tangents. or needlessly repeat material. The standard form of the document will often provide you with a broad outline, and  results of your investigations during the planning stage will provide you with the fine points~ Outlines are treated .

What Format and Visual Aids Shall I Use?

You need to decide how your page will look. It is important to select a format and choose visual aids that will help and not hinder your message. The two basic format elements are margins (the distance type is set from the left edge of the page) and heads (the phrases that indicate the contents of the section following). You must decide on the size of your margins and the look and placement of your heads. If you have an advanced word  processing program, you must also decide which font to use. These decisions constitute your style sheet, a description of the specific margins, type, and placement of heads: Most sophisticated word processing programs, Microsoft Word, for instance, allow you to determine these before you type. Then you can automatically control them as you write. For your Page maker manual, you must decide how wide to set. the margins, how far to indent paragraphs and lists, how to indicate levels of heads, and how to indicate major sections.

You must also choose visual aids – pictures, tables, graphs, and drawings that clarify the topic. Since visual aids will often help convey meaning more clearly than words, experienced technical writers rely heavily on them. Suppose, for instance, you need to tell people how to interact with a certain Page maker screen – say, the page-setup screen, on which the user arranges margins and other technical details. The easiest way to explain the process to your audience is to make a visual aid of the screen. The more visuals you can select before you start to write, the easier your  writing will be.

What Tone Should I Use?
As you begin to draft, you must consider the tone of your document. Unfortunately,
tone isn’t a very objective term. It means what your writing sounds like. Should it sound funny or serious? Should you give silly examples or “in” jokes from work? Technical writers usually try to sound serious, but not so serious that they sound like robots. For the Page maker manual, you probably would choose a straightforward tone  people want to absorb the content, not be entertained.

Conclusion
The time you take to answer the planning questions will be amply repaid. Below is a checklist to help you with the planning stage.

CHECKLIST FOR PLANNING

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AN OVERVIEW OF THE PROCESS

AN OVERVIEW OF THE PROCESS

The goal of the writing process is to generate a clear, effective document for an audience. Experienced writers achieve this goal by performing three types of activities.

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The Technical Writing Process
Prewriting:       Planning
Writing:            Drafting
Postwriting:    Finishing

Planning is discovering and collecting all the information you will need to start drafting~Drafting is selecting and arranging all the ‘elements in the document Finishing is editing the document into final form.  is a flow chart of this process (adapted from Go swami 38). The main sequence is emphasized by the heavy black arrows. The light arrows, however, indicate a basic truth about this process – you should and must be ready to return to earlier stages to help yourself generate a clear document.

The Technical Writing Process

The Technical Writing Process

  • AN OVERVIEW OF THE PROCESS
  • THE PREWRITING STAGE PLANNING
  • THE WRITING STAGE  DRAFTING AND REVISING
  • THE POST WRITING STAGE  FINISHING

Documents don’t write themselves. A writer must use a process to transform a blank sheet of paper (or a blank computer monitor screen) into a final document to send to a reader. To generate a document you need to write it, of course, but you must also perform other activities, such as researching facts~electing visual aids:’ and “preparing the final version’ Like all processes, the writing process has stages, certain activities performed in a sequence. If you understand what to do at each stage, you can woodcutter documents more effectively. This chapter explains each of these stages and also introduces you to writing as a member of a group, a phenomenon common in industry and business.