Students discover history of popular products

By Mia Albaugh

Students in the readings in professional and technical writing class look to the past, present and future as they give their end-of-semester projects a topic of their choosing.

YSU professor Ron Fields has been teaching at YSU since 2018. He is a co-coordinator of the writing studies program at YSU and the professor of the class.

For the first few weeks of the semester, the class studied the theory of technical writing. After this, it examined artifacts comprising a variety of technical writing. 

Fields said the purpose of the final assignment is to apply theories of writing to instructions: how they are laid out for consumers and how the audience shapes both the content and form of these contents.

“If we can understand that about these objects, then we’re going to be able to market these objects in a more effective way,” Fields said.

The class analyzed and discussed instruction manuals such as Lego building guides, the instruction manual for the Pet Rock and more, Fields said. Afterward, the class examined field guides such as “Stray Shopping Carts,” “Tiger Beetles of Florida” and marketing campaigns.

“My students have chosen an object to research during the course of the semester. Along the way, they collect pieces of ephemera relating to that object and compile that in a dossier,” Fields said.

Students in the class gave passionate presentations and demonstrations, including items such as a record player and a stand mixer.

“They look at patent applications, instruction manuals, packaging, advertisements and more, and then present their dossier to the class in the form of an exhibit with a complementary PowerPoint presentation,” Fields said.

The informative presentations broke down the thinking of manufacturers and advertisers of various products.

“As an instructor, I’ve enjoyed the project. I get to learn about new things,” he said. “We know what a KitchenAid mixer is, but I don’t know what it is beyond just its utilitarian purpose of something to just mix food. Having a KitchenAid mixer is different from having one by Sunbeam and there’s an entirely different ethos around the product identification,” Fields said.