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Technical Writing Students Revamp Lubbock Water Report

Graduate students redesigned the report for residents who did not understand the scientific wording.

Written by Clay Fuchs

The old report had a lot of useful information, but lacked useful tools to quickly be able to browse the report effectively.

The old report had a lot of practical information, but lacked useful tools to quickly be able to browse the report effectively.

In the past, the Lubbock Water Report always has frustrated residents. Many felt they could never really understand the scientific wording associated with the report.

Graduate students in a 2011 document design course at Texas Tech sought to solve this problem. They redesigned the report, which was mailed to 70,000 Lubbock residents this summer, to help make it more legible and easy to use.

Erin Trauth, Harrison Ownbey, Michael Trice, Vince Robles, Daniel Reifsneider and Khouloud Khammassi conducted user research, prototyping and usability testing to help create a report Lubbock residents could read quickly and easily.

“It’s not often a student project has a chance to touch so many people’s lives,” said Miles Kimball, an associate professor of technical writing at Texas Tech. “The project had a big impact not only because of the number of people who received the report, but because of the importance of communicating water quality information to the people of Lubbock.”

Ownbey, a graduate student in the technical writing program, said their biggest concern was ensuring the information was usable and compliant with state and federal guidelines.

“We found people’s main question regarding the report was, ‘is Lubbock’s water safe to drink,’” Ownbey said. “One of our important redesigns was noticeably printing this summary across the top of the report.”

Trice said the old report had a lot of helpful information, but lacked useful tools to quickly be able to browse the report effectively.

Trice said they targeted 15 to 20 residents for each portion of the research, or about 80 people total, and compared their results with similar-sized counties in Texas, Indiana and North Carolina and found the results were very similar.

Patty Downey, conservation programs educator for the City of Lubbock, said they were very happy with the project and working with Texas Tech.

“It was a good experience, and the students gave some great ideas,” Downey said. “They were professional and followed through with what they said they were going to do.”

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