You might be helping people write like a pro in either a school or a workplace setting. A while back, I started integrating resources for instructors of professional writing into the main content of Pros Write so they’re easier to find. I updated this page in October of 2015, but it’s still something of a grab bag of ideas. If there’s something you’d like to see, just let me know.
The resources listed here are meant for use by instructors helping students of all ages write more successfully within the context of the workplace. For younger students–those without professional experiences–the number one goal is to get them to explore how readers who are not teachers react to the linguistic and visual cues in texts at work. For more seasoned students, the focus is building rhetorical sophistication within the genres they produce at work. All students need to learn processes for creating effective documents as efficiently as possible. (You can explore content under the category, “Focusing on process.”)
Where to Start
If you’re new to instructing people in workplace writing, here’s how I suggest you begin.
First, read 3 guidelines for coaching novice workplace writers. As I wrote in that post, the reference to “coaching” is deliberate. Teaching and coaching are similar. But not identical. Think about a golf pro. She holds a one-hour teaching clinic where 10 or 15 students learn about chipping. Her primary focus is on explaining a body of knowledge and offering general guidance to the group. The golf pro provides declarative (abstract or theoretical) knowledge. In this situation, she teaches and her students learn ABOUT chipping.
The golf pro also offers one-on-one coaching lessons where her focus is on improving the chipping performance of an individual student. She makes declarative knowledge more meaningful by showing how it applies during an individual’s actual experience. She also provides individualized drills for experimenting with new behaviors, and she prompts the individual to reflect on his/her own performance relative to a standard. The golf pro in this situation promotes procedural knowledge. She coaches and her student actually learns TO CHIP. Check out Theory? Or experience?
Teaching declarative knowledge is necessary. But it is not sufficient to change individual behavior. How likely are you to change your eating habits by listening only to a lecture? If you’re listening to a lecture with 100 other people, the likelihood you will change your behavior is even lower. Coaching to improve procedural knowledge of any skill requires repeated attempts with detailed feedback. That means time and individual attention. How much will you improve your basketball skills in a 3-hour boot camp? If you attend the boot camp with 30 other individuals, the probability of change is lower.
The point of the analogy is to clarify that for students TO WRITE like a professional requires significant coaching of their individual communication behaviors. No one can teach more than ~25 students TO WRITE in 45 hours (a 3-credit-hour, semester-long college course). If you have more students or less time, all you can do is teach your students ABOUT WRITING. You’ll provide mostly declarative knowledge. Students will gain an intellectual understanding, but their behavior will not change. People who haven’t taught writing usually fail to understand the disconnect between their expectations of what students will gain from instruction and the actual resources (time, expertise, etc.) that are required to meet those expectations.
Second, follow the 3 guidelines from that reading mentioned above.
- Make the consequences of workplace document quality explicit.
- Teach principles that explain differences in document quality.
- Provide deliberate practice, with individual support and feedback.
Design your time with students so that they read and analyze sample documents. This should occupy up to one-third of your time together. Here is a plan for helping novices read samples thoughtfully. Check out the sample documents here on Pros Write or ask students to collect some from their own or their family members’ workplaces.
Students must write and get feedback on their writing. A lot! This is the primary source of learning so you should spend at least two-thirds of your time on it. To be more efficient, have students write parts of documents or rewrite an existing document. To get higher quality documents and mimic real-world writing practice, have students submit drafts and then revise them. You can also provide feedback without grading. In addition, get help from other students when providing feedback. Even untrained students have perceptions of what they read so they can share those. If you have taught principles that explain performance quality, then you and your students should provide feedback based on those principles. All of the video tutorials on Pros Write teach principles and show how they apply to sample workplace documents.
Third, seek out others who coach workplace writers. You’re gonna need a place to vent. And also people to share your victories with! To start, there’s the Association for Business Communication, the Association of Teachers of Technical Writing, and the IEEE Professional Communication Society.
Scholarly or Research Communication
If you’re teaching doctoral students to communicate their research to peers, I’ve posted my syllabus and schedule for a semester-long course. It includes links to relevant posts here on Pros Write.
3 Things You Need to Know About Writing in the Workplace
If you want an idea of what you can do with some experienced students in a short time-frame, check out the agenda and materials I used for a full-day workshop.
Writing Scenario Assignments
The writing assignments listed below all require the creation of routine or non-sensitive correspondence (email or letter). I’ve used similar assignments with both experienced and novice workplace writers.
I had some trouble with the formatting so please check to make sure I didn’t create errors before you share with your students! Here is rubric for assessing responses. I haven’t added any assignments we could classify as “sensitive” as I opted for sharing the rhetorically less complex ones. Nonsensitive messages are the norm for the vast majority of people in the workplace.
2. Real Estate Plan Scenario (originally published in Kynell & Stone’s 1999 Scenarios for Technical Communication from Allyn & Bacon)
Projects for a Real Client (iFixit)
I visited iFixit in May 2014 to learn about their technical writing partnership with universities. We have implemented their project in an undergraduate course twice now. They convinced me (and all of the other folks I’ve talked to) that their motivations are only indirectly about profits. Although they don’t partner with high schools yet, they do offer some suggestions for appropriate writing projects, which I’ve copied below.
1. Grammar Fix-Ups:
Grammar matters. Users are far more likely to engage and trust a site with proper grammar. Since we have users from all walks of life, some for whom English is not their first language, many posts on iFixit could use some grammatical correction. Have students find guides, questions, answers, or wikis that need grammatical improvement, then make them better. We even have a page that shows the guides that are in need of some serious grammar edits. Be sure to have students show before/after versions or review the history of the guide to see the improvements made. These small changes will really help users get the information they need to repair a device.2. Answering Questions on Answers:
There are over 35,000 questions on iFixit. Some have answers; some don’t. Students can help develop great writing skills by moderating questions and answers. Have students look for questions and answers that need help with grammar, spelling, clarification, or research. We highly recommend having students research and respond to questions by pointing users to helpful resources on iFixit, or elsewhere, and using the resources to help answer their questions.3. Creating a Device Page:
Device pages are the hub of information for a device. They host questions, guides, and troubleshooting information. Students can create device pages that help orient users to a device. Check out Milestone 2 of our university technical writing project for details on how to create a device page. If you plan to have students working on device pages, be sure they are for devices that we don’t already have documented on iFixit, or devices that don’t already have device pages.