Spring 2013 — UC Irvine — Information & Computer Science — ICS 139W — David G. Kay
Changing the System
Nothing endures but change.
--Heraclitus (c.540-c.480 B.C.)
Plus ça change, plus c'est la
(The more things change, the more they remain the same.)
--Alphonse Karr, Les Guêpes (1849)
Give us serenity to accept what cannot
courage to change what should be changed, and
wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.
--Reinhold Niebuhr (1934)
For this assignment, you will examine some software system you're familiar with from a variety of perspectives: introducing new users to the system, proposing changes to the system, and promoting the changed system to its users.
Imagine, for example, that you are in charge of UCI's Gmail-based electronic mail system. Periodically you will have to instruct new users on how to use Gmail You might write an introductory document, explaining the basics of electronic mail and the kinds of operations one might expect to perform (creating a message, sending it, receiving a message, printing it, saving it, and so on); later in that document, or in another document, you might give a tutorial providing the details of carrying out those operations (the specific commands to use), perhaps with a set of examples the reader would follow. You might also give an oral introduction to Gmail to groups of new users or create a video of that introduction.
In addition, you might think that Gmail could be improved in various ways (such as a fancier user interface or additional features). Probably you would have to convince someone that these changes would be worth implementing. For UCI's Gmail, it could be the director of UCI's Office of Information Technology or the director of the Gmail project at Google; for some other system, it might be your boss or a committee in charge of deciding what software enhancements are most important. You would make your case both in a written memo and in an oral presentation.
Any change in an existing system is likely to disrupt the system's current users. If your change were implemented, you would want to reassure the current users that the new system will be better for them—to "sell them," in other words, on your changes. Again you might prepare something written, such as a flyer or brochure or memo or web page, and also make a short oral presentation or announcement with the same intent.
For this assignment, you will choose some software that you're familiar with and do each of these things. As you develop each of these different documents (and their corresponding oral presentations), focus on how the audience for each document is different—they have different experience, different needs, and so on, which means that how you write for each will be different, too.
Stage I—choosing a system: First,
you must decide what system you will use for this assignment. Your system
may be conventional application software; it may also be a web site with
significantly complex navigation or interaction. By Thursday, April 4,
send a brief message to theTA, Steve Slota (
that names the system, describes it if it's not something everyone's
familiar with, and sketches out the kind of changes you're thinking
of proposing. Based on his feedback, you will give a one- to two-minute
oral presentation of this information to the class on April 11.
Stage II—introduction for novices: You will write an introduction to the system for novice users, of three to four pages. This document should give a high-level description of the system and its capabilities, describing what tasks the system will perform and giving the necessary background. It should not get into the tedious minor details of which keys to press or which menu items to choose; the "Writing Instructions" project covers that kind of writing, and those details would extend this assignment far beyond four pages in any case. A good draft of this is due on April 17; the final version is due Apri 24. (All written assignments are due at the start of class.) You will also give to the class a two-minute oral version of this introduction (on April 18 or 23); we plan to videotape these presentations for review in section.
Stage III—proposal for change: You will write a proposal for changing this system, of five to six pages plus a brief single-page cover letter. Address this proposal to whatever decision-making authority is appropriate for your software: perhaps the company that publishes it, perhaps an individual or committee in your own organization. Try to find out the actual name of the actual person or group who actually has the authority to make the changes you suggest, and write your proposal with that person or group in mind. Your goal should be to produce a proposal you can actually send.
A draft of your proposal is due for joint editing in class on April 25; a revision based on the joint editing (including your editor's comments) is due on May 2. On May 16, you will give your final oral proposal for change to the appropriate decision maker; each presentation should take four minutes. (We will continue as necessary on May 22, 23, and 28; we will circulate a sign-up sheet so everyone knows when he or she will be speaking.) The final written version of your proposal is due on May 21.
This change proposal is the most formal presentation you will make. Visual aids are customary in such presentations, and you will prepare them (in the form of PowerPoint slides or the equivalent) and use them when you present your proposal. You will submit a draft of these slides (on paper) with the draft of your proposal on April 25; you will revise them along with your revision due on May 2, you will use them in your oral presentation, and you will turn them in with your final version. You will find PowerPoint easy to learn even if you've never seen it before, but we would recommend trying it out more than just a day before the first draft is due. Instead of PowerPoint, you may use Apple's Keynote or open-source equivalents to PowerPoint or even Prezi.com; however, any compatibility issues are your responsibility to resolve before your presentation.
Stage IV—promotion for users: Finally, you will prepare a one-page flyer, brochure, memo, or web page announcing, describing, and promoting your change to the current users of the system. This "promotion piece" may be one- or two-sided and may be relatively informal in tone—just so that it gets the message across without its readers dismissing it as a joke. A draft is due for joint editing in class on May 30; the final version is due on June 4. You will also give a two-minute oral presentation with the same focus, in class on June 4.
Each part of this assignment shares the same underlying subject matter. What's different in each part is the intended audience (and thus what knowledge you assume, what you cover explicitly, and the level of formality). The table on the next page shows this.
Suggestions and advice: Choose software that you know something about, and more importantly, that you care about. The best writing (and the easiest for the writer) is writing where the writer has experience with the topic and really cares about getting it across to the reader. So choose something that matters to you.
Always be mindful of your audience. Novice users have different needs and a different set of assumptions than decision-makers, for example. Moreover, the appropriate level of formality is different for each of your different audiences. This table will help you focus on these distinctions:
Change proposal synopsis (oral), describing
what changes you're proposing
Our class, who may know something about the
software (depending on your choice) and who may have suggestions about the
changes you propose
Introduction to the current system (written,
Novices, unfamiliar with the software, who
need to learn its purpose and basic functionality
||Friendly yet professional|
Change proposal (written, oral), describing
and justifying the changes
[including slides and cover memo]
oral 5/16, 22, 23, 28
Decision makers, who know about the software
but must be convinced of the need to change (and the feasibility and advisability
of the changes you propose)
||Correct and professional, addressing corporate higher-ups|
Change promotion (written, oral)
Current users of the software, who know what
it does now but need to know what the changes mean
informal, yet professional
We encourage your effective use of graphics, though graphics may not reduce your prose page count below the minimum.
To the extent applicable, you should state your sources of information in your written proposal, backing up whatever facts and figures you used. This need not be gathered all together at the end as a formal bibliography—it is better to mention the name of the source at the point where you use its information in the body of the paper. If your word processor supports automatic footnotes, use them, but do not waste time trying to include footnotes manually—an in-line citation is fine. Citations should provide enough detail to allow the reader to find the cited work and follow up on the information and all the citations in a document should follow a consistent format, but the precise format you use is not crucial for this assignment.
There's a big difference between spoken and written language. For the oral portions of this assignment, do not simply read from a script. Of course you will use notes, but speak naturally rather than reading a "canned" speech. On the other hand, the presentations are relatively formal in tone; joking banter and slang are not appropriate.
We will be happy to advise you on any aspect of your proposal. We're a valuable resource; take advantage of our assistance.
Grading of oral presentations: Oral presentations are nerve-wracking enough for most people without the addition of grade pressure. The main criterion we will use for evaluating your oral presentations is that you show up to give them, and that you're well prepared. We will not grade down significantly for speaking style or loudness of voice or oratorical polish, though we do expect that you will try to address your intended audience appropriately. We will not grade down at all for nervousness (though we hope that will abate as the quarter progresses) or English pronunciation or the speaker's personality.
You will have an opportunity to give your classmates written feedback on their presentations; you will receive some credit towards class participation for each presentation you comment on.
Stage IV alternative: Instead of doing the promotion piece, you may prepare your own résumé and cover letter according to the guidelines described in class. The promotion piece gives you a chance to apply some of the design skills we discussed, but working on your résumé is also valuable. The choice is yours; the due dates and the course credit are the same with either alternative.