ICS 139W Spring 2005
Changing the System


For this assignment, you will examine some software system that you're already 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 the Hotmail Web-based email service. Periodically, you will have to instruct new users on how to use Hotmail. 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 Hotmail to groups of new users.

In addition, you might think that Hotmail could be improved in various ways. Probably you would have to convince someone (your boss, or a committee in charge of deciding what software enhancements are most important) that these changes would be worth implementing. You would likely need to 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 changes 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, brochure, memo, or Web page, and also make a short oral presentation or announcement with the same intent.

The various parts of this assignment

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. The assignment has several parts:

  1. 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 Wednesday, April 13 at 2pm, send an email to me (Alex) that names the system, describes it (especially if it's not something that everyone is familiar with), and sketches the kinds of changes you're thinking of proposing. (Please put "ICS 139W System Choice" in the subject line.) Based on my feedback, you will give a one-minute oral presentation of this information to the class on Monday, April 18.
  2. Introduction and Tutorial. You will write an introduction to the system for novice users, three to four pages in length. This document should give a high-level description of the system and its capabilities, describing what tasks the system performs and giving the necessary background. Your introduction should not get into the tedious minor details of which keys to press or which menu items to choose; the Writing Instructions assignment covers that kind of writing, and those details would extend this assignment far beyond four pages. A good draft of this is due on Friday, May 6; the final version is due on Wednesday, May 18.
  3. Change Proposal. You will write a proposal for changing this system, five to six pages long 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 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 change proposal is due for peer editing in class on Friday, May 20; a revision based on the joint editing (including your editor's comments) in due on Wednesday, May 25. The final version of your proposal is due on Monday, June 6.
  4. Oral Presentation. You will present to the class a five-minute oral summary of either your Introduction and Tutorial or your Change Proposal. A presentation should use between 3 and 10 PowerPoint slides. Although each student will make only one of these presentations, every student will turn in paper drafts of PowerPoint slides for both presentations. A schedule of oral presentation dates will be available in the somewhat near future.
  5. System Change Promotion. Finally, you will prepare a one-page flyer, brochure, advertisement, 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 peer editing in class on Wednesday, June 8; the final version is due on Friday, June 10.

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). 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. These distinctions are summarized, along with the various due dates, below.

Part Due Date Audience Formality
System proposal (email) W 4/13 Alex Thornton Informal
System overview (oral) M 4/18 The class Informal
Introduction and Tutorial (draft) F 5/6 Novices, unfamiliar with the software, but familiar with the problem domain Friendly yet professional
Introduction and Tutorial slides (draft) M 5/9
Introduction and Tutorial oral presentation
  • F 5/13
  • M 5/16
  • W 5/18
Introduction and Tutorial slides (final) Day of presentation
Introduction and Tutorial (final) W 5/18
Change Proposal (draft #1) F 5/20 Decision makers, who know the software and approve the concept of change, but must be convinced of your proposal's value and feasibility Correct and professional, addressing senior management
Change Proposal slides (draft) M 5/23
Change Proposal (draft #2) W 5/25
Change Proposal oral presentation
  • F 5/27
  • W 6/1
  • F 6/3
  • M 6/6
Change Proposal slides (final) Day of presentation
Change Proposal (final) M 6/6
Promotion (draft) W 6/8 Current users of the software, who need to know about the change Brief, professional, eye-catching, and informative
Promotion (final) F 6/10

Hints and suggestions for the written portions

We encourage your effective use of graphics, though graphics may not reduce your prose page count below the specified range.

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.

More about the oral presentations

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.

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, 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), English pronunciation, or the speaker's personality.