Using our Mastering Workplace Writing textbook in your business or technical writing class means less time grading for you and more specific writing skills for your students.


Traditionally a business or technical writing class in college is built around having students write some combination of the following: a good-news letter, a bad-news letter, a short report, a research report, a résumé, a job letter, a blog post, an infographic, etc., in an attempt to mimic formats used in the workplace.

This approach does not give students the writing skills they’ll need when they go to work for real. (We know because we’ve worked with newly hired college grads over 30 years at such places as KPMG, the GAO, NASA, NSA, JMT Engineering, Catholic Charities, the Departments of State, Justice, Commerce, and many, many others.)


The HOCs (Higher Order Concerns) and LOCs (Lower Order Concerns) approach we use in our textbook, Mastering Workplace Writing (MWW), breaks the critical-thinking and writing process down into specific techniques students can easily learn to develop

· Useful content for the reader

· Logical, efficient organization

· Helpfully designed documents

· Focused, unified, coherent paragraphs

· Clear, concise sentences

· Plain English word choices

· Correct mechanics


You can teach more and grade less. (If you want, you can turn your class into your own research department, having them write specifically to you about topics that actually interest you--more on that in an upcoming post.)

You probably spend a huge amount of time giving helpful comments on every aspect of every student assignment. Unfortunately, students don’t spend much time reading the comments…just the grade. (Research suggests that the feedback we provide on student work has minimal effect on their future work. - See more at:

Here are 7 ways you can be more helpful to students and spend a lot less time actually marking errors.

1. Comment specifically on HOCs, holistically on LOCs. (HOCs are content, organization, document design. LOCs are paragraphs, sentences, word choices mechanics.)

Readers in the workplace care 90% about the content…just like you when you confront email and other “business” documents you must read. True, the presentation must be clear, concise, and error free. In fact, you’d like the presentation to become totally invisible and the useful information to leap out. But don’t turn your class into a remedial class on comma usage, basic sentence structure, or a spelling clinic. This is a big-time drain that doesn’t help students.

2. Send students to the writing lab for remediation. If you have students who make a lot of sentence-level and mechanical errors, set up a remediation contract with that student. Send them to the writing lab to upgrade their basic skills. Make part of the course grade contingent on successful completion of the contract.

3. Make students responsible for finding their own errors. If you find too many mechanical errors, tell the student generally what kinds of errors you’re seeing. Then make her discover her own errors, identify them for you, and fix them before she gets a grade on that assignment. This works well in conjunction with #2.

4. Assign more posts and comments. Instead of grading every assignment in detail, set up discussion boards on BlackBoard, or whatever course management/virtual learning environment you use. Have them analyze real business email, web pages, and reports, etc. They should analyze these using the MWW concepts for all the HOCs and LOCs. Grade posts/comments on a point scale: A=10; B=8; C=6; D=4. Give a brief rubric describing expectations for each grade. Leave a one-sentence comment: “Jessica, be more specific in your analysis—see rubric." Saves a ton of time.

Have students comment on each other’s drafts and on each other’s posts. Count their responses as part of the class participation grade.

5. Assign more holistically graded assignments. Students need to practice the specific techniques they’ll learn in MWW. Have them write more! But you don’t need to give intricate comments on all assignments. Just give an overall grade with a brief comment tied to your rubric.

Give a numerical grade for CONTENT, another for ORG/DOC DESIGN, and a final one for STYLE. So a student might get a grade of 8/10/6. They go to the rubric and see what that means. I tell them the grade in my grade book is the lowest of the three. Just as a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, a document falls to the level of its weakest element. Great content and document design but poor style = poor grade. Poor content and great doc design and style = poor grade. Students soon get the message…big time!

6. Emphasize 1,000-word email reports. Having students write extended email is great basic training. They should learn to use the subject line to state their main point. They should learn to write a brief INTRODUCTION that tells the reader why they’re writing and why the reader should care and previews the main points to be discussed. They should learn to build a DISCUSSION that addresses the reader's questions and chunk and label main sections using helpful headings. They should learn to create an ENDING that tells the reader what, if anything, will be done next.

Above all, they should learn to focus on and answer their reader’s questions about the issue in question. We consider this 1,000-word email format to be the boot camp for learning MWW techniques. Keep in mind they should ALWAYS write to a real reader about a real issue the reader actually cares about. (That reader can be, and probably should be, you!)

7. Assign more preliminary documents. Instead of giving an assignment and waiting for the results to avalanche in, have students submit an outline of the reader’s questions they will answer. Grade the outline. If they don’t have good questions, the content will not be useful to the reader. Have them write a 100-word summary before they draft the whole document. Learning to summarize is a great skill. If they can’t do a summary, how can they do the document? You know that many students write an assignment the night before it’s due. This process helps you edit for content and organization before they draft. This is a huge help to them and a big time saver for you.


The last thing you want your students to do is follow directions. Well...the last thing you want is for them just to follow directions. Students wait for you to tell them what to do. Then they try to follow directions. It’s a horrible trap. They need to be creative problem solvers for themselves. Sure, you need to explain your expectations. You need to give them the skills to meet your expectations. And you need to hold them responsible for meeting those expectations. But you need to make assignments that require them to do analysis, research, and information design.

Students benefit from MWW by learning useful critical thinking skills. They learn that it’s up to them to discover how to interest the reader (by discovering, researching, and answering their pertinent questions about the issue in question).

Students must learn to take responsibility for their content and its presentation.

Students must learn to review and edit their own writing.

Businesses want to hire college grads who know how to take care of themselves…AND THEIR READERS!

I hope these suggestions have been helpful and thought provoking.

What would you like to ask me about spending less time grading and having students learn more using MWW?