A New and Different Way to Teach Workplace Writing

A New and Different Way to Teach Workplace Writing

In order not to go crazy

teaching business/technical

writing for 35 years in college, you go out into the world

and work with real writers in the workplace who are writing

for real readers.

                                In the process you lose the theory

and the usual academic approach and discover the obvious

first principles of communicating useful information to people

who need it.

Then you write a textbook that focuses on these

fundamental concepts and techniques and you teach them

to students, whom you have in class for less than

40 hours, realizing how easy the principles are to learn

but how much practice it takes

before they become

second

nature.

Here’s that textbook, Mastering Workplace Writing (MWW).

UX

UX

According to Interaction-Design.org,

“User experience (UX) design is the process of creating products that provide meaningful and relevant experiences to users. This involves the design of the entire process of acquiring and integrating the product, including aspects of branding, design, usability, and function.”

In teaching business/technical writing—I call it WORKPLACE WRITING—UX should be our main focus.

Currently, college classes in workplace writing tend to emphasize genres, teaching students formats for memos, reports, resumes, blog posts, letters, technical directions, process descriptions, etc., etc. Workplace- writing instructors seem to believe that introducing students to these generic formats and having them practice a few of them throughout the semester will give students useful writing skills.

I disagree.

How much more useful would it be to students to give them writing skills they can apply to any kind of practical writing wherever they end up in the world of work?

That’s the approach I take, the approach used in my textbook, Mastering Workplace Writing. It emphasizes UX, the whole process of UX!

You Should Know & Teach Writers the 4 Elements of a Finding

You Should Know & Teach Writers the 4 Elements of a Finding

A lot of people think of “writing” as presenting messages, but it’s more than that.

Yes, “writing” is mechanics (punctuation, grammar, spelling, etc.); it is words (chosen for accuracy, tone, and effect); it is sentences (the way readers breathe as they read); it is paragraphs (little houses built of sentences); it is document design (visual structure for the reader); it is organization (logical structure for the reader).

BUT…it is also CONTENT (answers to the reader’s questions about the ISSUE in question).

An important part of evaluative content is a set of critical-thinking tools known to performance auditors as THE 4 ELEMENTS OF A FINDING. These include criteria, condition, cause, and effect. These elements allow a writer to evaluate anything and, if necessary, make a compelling recommendation for change/improvement.

Here’s a description of this set of critical-thinking tools, which is best thought of as a three-step evaluation process. Everyone should know about the 4 Elements; all students in any writing class should learn to use them. (They are actually far more helpful for evaluative thinking/writing than the more common 5Ws from journalism: who, what, when, where, and why.”)

The 4 Elements of a Finding Are an Invaluable Critical-Thinking Path (for evaluation)

Why I've Just about Given Up on English Departments' Ability to Teach Writing

Why I've Just about Given Up on English Departments' Ability to Teach Writing

I love English departments. I love the teachers who labor in the freshman-comp salt mines. But I don’t always like how they teach freshman composition. Usually I don’t like it. (Of course I can’t know every department’s approach to this class, but much of what I see bothers me greatly.)

I don’t see that freshman comp classes are giving students the strong writing skills they’ll need to do well at work. In fact, many students turn against writing after they take freshman comp. So let me make my case….

What Makes Sentences Interesting?

What Makes Sentences Interesting?

I think it’s important to see that "writing" sits on a wide spectrum from writing-to-inform at one end to writing-to-entertain at the other. An owner's manual for a new car is at one end. Poetry is at the other end. Reviews are usually someplace in the middle. If you're reviewing car batteries, you're probably not going to do much to entertain your reader, who’s just in it for the info. But reviews of more aesthetic experiences, such as restaurants, movies, music, and books, tend to have more entertaining language.

So what makes sentences interesting?

Your Writing Students Must Leave Your Writing Class with these 10 Writing Skills!

Your Writing Students Must Leave Your Writing Class with these 10 Writing Skills!

Your writing students (or your children at any level who are in writing classes in school/college) should be learning the following 10 fundamental writing concepts/skills. If they have these skills, they will be well on their way to mastering “practical writing,” the kind of writing they’ll need to do in school/college and for the rest of their lives at work.

If they don’t have these skills, you should be asking their writing teachers why not!

Task Analysis...the one-step-at-a-time approach to teaching/learning how to write well

Task Analysis...the one-step-at-a-time approach to teaching/learning how to write well

Most people, including most students, are practical; they learn best when they feel they're gaining a skill that will actually be useful to them in their lives. Once convinced there's something truly useful to learn, they learn best when the skill is broken down into its component steps and taught to them one step at a time. (One phrase for this approach is Task Analysis, an approach well known to computer program designers.)

My beginning observation is obvious enough...so it's important when teaching writing to ask two fundamental questions: 

  1. what is the practical use of writing that students will want to learn?

  2. how exactly does my approach to one-step-at-a-time writing instruction work?