Category Archives: writing

More responses to business major article

The reverberations from the “business major is slack” article continue at

Here is one interesting response….

here is the short version: Employers have repeatedly emphasized that they want to hire college graduates whose talents include writing. Ah, writing. Not something that biz majors are expected to do very often.

Here is the very sucko response from a business dean

The same tired line again and again:

Business students could very well be the most broadly educated students at a university. They take the same core writing, speech and general education classes as liberal arts students do. They are as apt to study abroad as students in other majors. But on top of that, they spend considerable time on practical skills.


Representing Discursive Work in the Workplace: Henry CH7

  If our definition of writing is to be the cornerstone of the types of professional writing courses we design, then a quick review of Jim Henry’s Chapter 7, “Representing Discursive Work in the Workplace,” found in Writing Workplace Cultures might help us to revisit our own definitions of writing, and may have us consider some productive alternatives.

  How we view the professional, or technical writer can definitely impact the type of courses we design to educate those writers.  Does the technical writer exist within an organization as a ‘scribe’ who is only to record others realities?  Does a technical writer’s use of machines, and collaborative approaches mean technical writers should pursue only secretarial functions?

   Consider a definition of writing that included not only the processes of writing, but writing also as a “unique form of meaning production and of discursive engagement as shaping realities rather than merely reflecting them” (Henry, 141)  Then our professional writing course design might look radically different then with the former approach.

   If you are interested in viewing a range of views of the professional writer, from ‘secretary’ or ‘scribe’ to the professional writer as an expert in navigating organizational and larger cultures who skillfully represents her discursive work in both document and cultural processing, then Henry’s work is worth reading prior to designing technical writing courses.

Case Studies Revisited

Reflection on our recent study of The Midwest Airlines Case and Lee’s post served as inspiration to delve a little further ito the use of case studies as a pedagogical tool for use in professional writing courses.  I found a few resources that might be of interest.  The third link is for a professional writing course designed around a series of case studies, hopefully you may find some of them useful.

–          Provides a 6 step method for the employment of case studies in research

–          Outlines general advantages and disadvantages of the case study method

–          This site explores several genres of professional writing, including the case study

–          The site provides general descriptions of professional writing genre, as well as specific examples: ie the case study, as well as useful links to other professional writing resources

–          Provides an example of professional writing course designed around a series of case studies.

–          Uses one of our texts for this course:

  • Locker, Kitty O. and Isobel Findlay. Essentials of Business and Administrative

Communication. Canadian ed. McGraw-Hill Ryerson: Toronto, 2009.

Course Description and Objectives

This course aims to introduce you to the basic grammatical and stylistic principles of good, clear, written

English within a specific context. That context is professional writing. You will be introduced as well to

basic theories and concepts in professional writing, given opportunities to develop skills applicable to

writing in a professional context, and encouraged to read about and apply findings from research in

professional writing. More generally, the course aims to help you develop “the ability to communicate

information, arguments, and analyses accurately and reliably, orally and in writing to a range of

audiences” (Ontario Council of Academic Vice Presidents’ statement on “University Undergraduate

Degree Level Expectations” 24 October 2005).

To provide the context for the course assignments, this course makes use of case studies. You will read a chapter about concepts of professional writing in the textbook, and then either create or read in case study materials a case study in which those concepts are operational. After group discussion of the cases, you will be asked to complete a written assignment that incorporates those principles.

the rheetoric of the resume….1984 style

The Rhetoric of the Resume by Steve W. Anderson

Abstract: A conceptual model can be devised based on J. Kinneavy’s formulation of the rhetorical triangle, which states that basic to all uses of language are a person who encodes a message, the signal or language that carries the message, the reality to which the message refers, and the decoder or receiver of the message. In the case of the job search, the encoder or job applicant is an outsider and the decoder or personnel officer an insider. Each has a different perception of the reality being dealt with in the search. This situation can be used by the applicant to help evaluate material for inclusion in the resume. Insiders have control over the description of the type of person they are seeking, but they have little control over how outsiders style themselves to fit that description. The applicants are, largely, what they say they are; that is, the readers of resumes know only what they are told. Outsiders should use this opportunity to make themselves appear to be insiders.

Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the College English Association (Clearwater Beach, FL, April 12-14, 1984)….. if anyone wants to find it….

teaching case studies

I like the Zoetewey & Staggers model, in “teaching the Air Midwest Case,” for a professional writing course built around a case study. I’ll admit that I’m drawn to the case study approach—or some other theme or organizing principle—as much for selfish reasons as any others. Why? For several reasons we’ve discussed over the semester, primarily the need I feel to root this kind of class in as much of a “real world” setting as I can muster in a classroom on a campus amid a culture that many students, I think, see as comfortably removed from what-comes-after-college. Perhaps I’ll feel differently after I’ve taught the course a few times. But for now, I feel like I’ll be a better teacher if I can get students working on and toward something “real,” something concrete. I do have concerns, of course, among them selecting the “right” case or topic (something rich enough to warrant a semester’s worth of attention and work); sustaining student interest; dealing with the ups and downs of intensive collaborative work; and balancing the need for up-front planning and flexibility. So, I think I’m going to take this approach for my course syllabus project—I’ll try to turn the class into a working, information and knowledge producing enterprise from which the students and I can all learn.


In light of our recent readings about and discussions of usability and digital literacy, I found the New York Times’ recent explanation of it upcoming paywall—and some of the immediate reaction to it—interesting. From a usability standpoint, it seems like the Times may have skipped that step. One of the chief complaints about the plan is how clunky (and confusing) it is. Here’s a link to the full explanation, and I’ve copied the publisher’s letter to readers below:


March 17, 2011

A Letter to Our Readers About Digital Subscriptions

This week marks a significant transition for The New York Times as we introduce digital subscriptions. It’s an important step that we hope you will see as an investment in The Times, one that will strengthen our ability to provide high-quality journalism to readers around the world and on any platform. The change will primarily affect those who are heavy consumers of the content on our Web site and on mobile applications.

This change comes in two stages. On Thursday, we rolled out digital subscriptions to our readers in Canada, which will enable us to fine-tune the customer experience before our global launch. On March 28, we will begin offering digital subscriptions in the United States and the rest of the world.

If you are a home delivery subscriber of The New York Times, you will continue to have full and free access to our news, information, opinion and the rest of our rich offerings on your computer, smartphone and tablet. International Herald Tribune subscribers will also receive free access to

If you are not a home delivery subscriber, you will have free access up to a defined reading limit. If you exceed that limit, you will be asked to become a digital subscriber.

This is how it will work, and what it means for you:

• On, you can view 20 articles each month at no charge (including slide shows, videos and other features). After 20 articles, we will ask you to become a digital subscriber, with full access to our site.

• On our smartphone and tablet apps, the Top News section will remain free of charge. For access to all other sections within the apps, we will ask you to become a digital subscriber.

• The Times is offering three digital subscription packages that allow you to choose from a variety of devices (computer, smartphone, tablet). More information about these plans is available at

• Again, all New York Times home delivery subscribers will receive free access to and to all content on our apps. If you are a home delivery subscriber, go to to sign up for free access.

• Readers who come to Times articles through links from search, blogs and social media like Facebook and Twitter will be able to read those articles, even if they have reached their monthly reading limit. For some search engines, users will have a daily limit of free links to Times articles.

• The home page at and all section fronts will remain free to browse for all users at all times.

For more information, go to

Thank you for reading The New York Times, in all its forms.



Publisher, The New York Times


I suppose there’s some irony at work here—a business that (sometimes) makes money by communicating with readers does a poor job of explaining to those readers why it wants to charge them for something they’ve been getting for free for a decade now. Beyond the usability example—which might be the basis for an interesting classroom exercise—I wonder, if the turn to paywalls works for mainstream media outlets, how that might affect this kind of digital literacy. Will it, for example, send consumers to less traditional (and traditionally ‘written’) sources of information, thus complicating the literacy picture even further?

Networks-a practical application

“Ultimately, a network is defined by how well it allows its members to see, decide and effectively act.” —- GEN (R) Stan McChrystal

Over the past few lessons we have focused upon networks and organizations. I found this article by GEN (R) Stan McChrystal, former commander of US special operations forces in Iraq, and all NATO forces in Afghanistan,  relevant to our discussions.  GEN McChrystal describes the construction of a modern networked Army, and provides some insight along the way into the question “How does it work?”

You can read the article here:,1

McChrystal offers several characteristics that define a succesful network, characteristics which might be useful as an example of what Spinuzzi has termed an “activity network.”  For McChrystal, leading a network intended to respond and counter an opposing network, it became paramount that his network enable decentralized decisions that cut across the organization.  In his efforts to expand the network, he first had to encourage the erosion of traditional institutional boundaries, at the same time meshing diverse institutional cultures.  The network valued competency above all else (particularly relevant in a military system which often privileges rank and hierarchical structure).  Networks, he advocates, should seek clear, and evolving problem definition while continually revisiting aims, processes and structures–both internally, and in this specific, case the opposing enemy network.  A succesful network continually grows the capacity to inform itself.

While reflecting upon the article I began to think about the importance of the concept of audience adaptation to technical writers in an expansive network composed of diverse organizational cultures.  Leaders of such a network must “build shared consciousness and purpose,”  technical writers can play a key role assisting leaders attain this aim.  Writing in such a context requires consideration of the reader, the removal of jargon, or the development of lexicon common to all.  It seems to me that technical writers in similiar context would be well served by continually engaging with readers, to ensure not only that messages are clear and concise, but effectively contribute to knowledge production.  The infrastructure of the network McChrystal described provided many alternate technological means to accomplish this reader engagement during the drafting process: f2f, video teleconferencing, document sharing, telephone.