Technical and Academic Writing Online and Onsite with Teaching Business

Contributed by:
Sharp Tutor
THIS PDF FOCUSES ON SUPERIMPOSING R.E.A.L. PRINCIPLES
ON THE PROJECT WRITING PYRAMID:
A PARADIGM SHIFT IN TEACHING
PROFESSIONAL WRITING
1. Teaching Business,
Technical and
Academic Writing
Online and Onsite
2.
3. Teaching Business,
Technical and
Academic Writing
Online and Onsite:
A Writing Pedagogy Sourcebook
Sarbani Sen Vengadasalam
4. Teaching Business, Technical and Academic Writing Online and Onsite:
A Writing Pedagogy Sourcebook
By Sarbani Sen Vengadasalam
This book first published 2021
Cambridge Scholars Publishing
Lady Stephenson Library, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE6 2PA, UK
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
Copyright © 2021 by Sarbani Sen Vengadasalam
All rights for this book reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced,
stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means,
electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without
the prior permission of the copyright owner.
ISBN (10): 1-5275-6873-3
ISBN (13): 978-1-5275-6873-0
5. To my daughter
Puja Vengadasalam
Who lights up my days
To my husband
Pannir Vengadasalam
Who supports me in every possible way
To my brother
Subhas Sen
Who inspires me to better my best
And to my parents
Jagadindra Nath Sen and Chandana Sen
Who taught me that working hard is the way to being
good and great.
6.
7. TABLE OF CONTENTS
Preface ........................................................................................................ x
Introduction ............................................................................................. xiv
William Magrino Ph.D.
PART ONE: PEDAGOGICS, INSTRUCTIONAL PRINCIPLES, AND SYLLABUS
Chapter One ................................................................................................ 2
Superimposing R.E.A.L. Principles on the Project Writing Pyramid:
A Paradigm Shift in Teaching Professional Writing
1.1 Introduction ..................................................................................... 2
1.2 The Employers Weigh In: The Problem ......................................... 4
1.3 Pedagogical Challenges: The Background...................................... 6
1.4 Methodology: The Project Writing Pyramid: Search-Test-Deliver ... 9
1.4.1 R.E.A.L.: R for Reader Oriented .......................................... 12
1.4.2 R.E.A.L.: E for Extensively Researched .............................. 13
1.4.3 R.E.A.L.: A for Actionable Solution .................................... 14
1.4.4 R.E.A.L.: L for Looped Composition................................... 16
1.5 Using R.E.A.L. Principles: Results ............................................... 18
1.6 Discussion: Why is this a Paradigm shift? .................................... 19
1.7 Conclusion: Significance of the Paradigm Shift ........................... 20
Chapter Two ............................................................................................. 24
Transformative Pedagogy and Student Voice: Using S.E.A. Principles
in Teaching Academic Writing
2.1 Introduction ................................................................................... 25
2.2 What is student voice? .................................................................. 25
2.3 What is Transformative Pedagogy? .............................................. 28
2.4 Academic Writing and The Transformative Approach ................. 29
2.4.1 S.E.A. Principles: The Empowerment of Transformation .... 32
2.4.2 S.E.A. Principles: The Expanded Awareness
of Transformation .................................................................... 34
2.4.3 S.E.A. Principles: The Scaffolding of Transformation......... 35
2.5 Conclusion .................................................................................... 38
8. viii Table of Contents
Chapter Three ........................................................................................... 44
Publish or Perish!: Sharing Best Practices for a Writing Instructor-Led
‘Writing for Publications’ Graduate Academic Writing Course
3.1 Introduction ................................................................................... 44
3.2 Interdisciplinarity as an Instructional Strategy.............................. 45
3.3 The Modeling Approach ............................................................... 49
3.4 The Feedback Triangle ................................................................. 51
3.5 The Way Forward ......................................................................... 59
PART TWO: FACILITATING ONLINE DISCUSSIONS, INCORPORATING DIGITAL
MULTIMEDIA ASSETS, AND USING VISUAL TOOLS
Chapter Four ............................................................................................. 62
A Learner Centered Pedagogy to Facilitate and Grade Online Discussions
in Writing Courses
4.1 The New Challenges ..................................................................... 62
4.2 The New Online Learner............................................................... 63
4.3 Towards a New Online Discussion Pedagogy .............................. 69
4.4 The W.R.I.T.E. and W.R.O.N.G. of Pools .................................... 70
4.5 When Pools make Threads and Trees ........................................... 72
4.6 The Taxonomy of the Pedagogy ................................................... 79
4.7 The Grading Rubric ...................................................................... 88
4.8 Conclusion .................................................................................... 92
Chapter Five ............................................................................................. 99
Moving Towards an Open Educational Resources (O.E.R.) Pedagogy:
Presenting Three Ways of Interfacing with O.E.R. in Business
and Technical Writing Classes
5.1 The Ongoing Revolution............................................................... 99
5.2 What are Open Educational Resources (O.E.R.) & O.E.R.
Repositories? ............................................................................... 100
5.3 Best Practices with Open Educational Resources ....................... 107
5.4 Three Ways of Using O.E.R. in the Business and Technical
Writing Classroom ...................................................................... 112
5.5 Discussion and Conclusion ......................................................... 115
Chapter Six ............................................................................................. 132
Infographics in Academic & Professional Writing
6.1 Why do we need Infographics? ................................................... 132
6.2 Best Practices .............................................................................. 135
6.3 L.A.T.C.H & C.R.A.P. Principles and Rubrics: Discussion ....... 137
9. Teaching Business, Technical and Academic Writing Online and Onsite: ix
A Writing Pedagogy Sourcebook
Afterword ............................................................................................... 143
How to Have a Self “with” Others in Academia and Beyond
Miriam Jaffe, Ph.D.
10. PREFACE
From one writing teacher to another, this book offers pedagogical insights
and instructional tools for the three key aspects of facilitating a class
successfully: instructional design, participation management, and multimedia
use. When instructors focus synergistically on the three aspects of class
facilitation to plan, engage, and manage their classes, the courses—whether
taught in face to face, blended, or online formats—become holistic learning
experiences for students.
All courses begin with planning. Section One of the book titled
“Pedagogics, Instructional Principles, and Syllabus Design” discusses
various theoretical scaffoldings and distinguishing frameworks that
underpin how writing instructors devise instructional activities. Even
though the syllabus always carries the institutional and departmental stamp
in its course objective, grading policy, and delivery system, so much so that
the individual teacher has little say in the global framework, s/he can bring
his or her unique signature and teaching philosophy into the local on-the-
ground instruction of the course. Since it is through weekly activities,
instructional methods, and actionable assignments that course objectives are
achieved, the way each writing teacher envisages and plans out the course
Teaching project writing in scientific and technical writing classes
or in professional and business writing courses can be confounding because
they need to be both real-world and academic exercises. Chapter One, titled
“Superimposing R.E.A.L. Principles on the Project Writing Pyramid: A
Paradigm Shift in Teaching Professional Writing,” discusses how
professional writing classes, which were set up to prepare students for on-
the-job writing, can better accomplish their goal. To get consistent outputs
from classes that require the writing of project proposals or reports, writing
teachers may want to interpose R.E.A.L. principles onto the Find-Test-
Deliver pedagogical triangle that represents the three phases of their project
writing courses. When any of the R.E.A.L principles, where R stands for
Reader oriented, E for Extensively researched, A for Actionable solution,
and L for Looped composition, are ignored or improperly transposed on the
project writing pyramid, the writing output suffers and is neither workplace
oriented nor academically satisfying. The chapter offers insights into the
rationale behind the principles and proffers suggestions on how instructors
11. Teaching Business, Technical and Academic Writing Online and Onsite: xi
A Writing Pedagogy Sourcebook
could incorporate them into their teaching. Evolving out of a presentation at
the University of Maryland University College’s Sharefair, the chapter was
first published in International Journal of Curriculum and Instruction,
Volume 12, Number 2 in 2020.
Academic writing teachers, too, face pedagogical challenges while
instructing academic writing courses at undergraduate or graduate levels.
Chapter Two, titled “Transformative Pedagogy and Student Voice: Using
S.E.A. Principles in Teaching Academic Writing,” describes how
transformative pedagogy can be a way out since its implementation leads to
the development of distinct student voices. Whether the course is taught at
the undergraduate level through readings, research, and argumentative
writing tasks, or at the graduate level through literature review, synthesis,
and academic treatise writing assignments, teachers will find the article
useful in their mission of helping students grow voices and make
contributions to knowledge. The chapter expands on how principles of
Scaffolding, Empowerment, and Awareness lead to the development of
student expression, and usher in transformation for all stakeholders in the
academic writing classroom. Growing out of a New Jersey College English
Association conference presentation, the chapter was first published in the
Journal of Effective Teaching in Higher Education in its Fall 2020 issue.
There is an urgent need to teach and popularize ‘Writing for
Publications’ classes at the graduate and doctoral levels. While acknowledging
that the debate about who should instruct such classes continues, the paper
proffers methods and practices that writing instructors could use to teach
such a demanding course. Chapter Three highlights how the course could
encourage scholar-participants to opt for modeling as a way to familiarize
themselves with disciplinary and journal conventions. Since peer reviews
are central to the publication process, the chapter especially expands on the
way online peer review workshops could be conducted at milestone points
in the semester to elevate and formalize the peer review process. A sample
syllabus, with week-by-week activity break-up, is offered. Developing out
of a GlobETS conference presentation, the chapter titled “Publish or Perish!:
Sharing Best practices for a Writing Instructor Led ‘Writing for Publications’
Course,” was first published in the Journal of Critical Studies in Language
and Literature in July 2020.
The teacher, whether s/he is teaching onsite, online, or in a blended
format, needs to use discussion spaces for instructional purposes as well as
for encouraging participatory learning. Keeping students engaged and
driven by using multimedia materials, as well as training them to present
complex material through visuals, is the need of the hour. Section Two
touches on these important areas, and is titled “Facilitating Online
12. xii Preface
Discussions, Incorporating Digital Multimedia Assets, and Using Visual
Tools.” It offers detailed knowhow and information on guiding online
participation for writing teachers in general and online teachers in particular.
It also discusses how digital multimedia assets, such as open educational
resources, which are changing the face of education, may be used in the
classroom. In addition, it highlights new methods and best practices in
creating and using visuals, such as infographics.
Moving class discussions up Bloom’s taxonomy scale is an index
of a teacher’s success in steering them in ways that realize the cognitive
goals s/he set up for the course. Since the discussion area on a learning
management system is the space where class interaction and the teaching
and learning happens, Chapter Four offers tools and methods to instructors
to assess discussions and information flow, not only from teacher to student,
but also between student and student, and from student to teacher. The
creation of threads and trees as visible and measurable indicators is
discussed, even as rubrics are offered for use in the chapter. Screenshots
from learning management systems used in classes at various American
universities are utilized to demonstrate the use of the discussion pedagogy
outlined in the article. The chapter builds off a Rutgers Online Learning
conference presentation titled “Of Threads and Trees: How Less is too
Less?” and was first published in Writing and Pedagogy, Volume 5, Issue
2, 2014, under the title “A Learner Centered Pedagogy to Facilitate and
Grade Online Discussions in Writing Courses.”
Chapter Five discusses open educational resource repositories, the
need for curation, and the challenges facing the open educational resources
movement. Best practices and outlines of a possible open educational
resources taxonomy and open educational resources pedagogy are described.
After offering a checklist/ rubric to help educators decide on the kind of
open educational resource to choose, the chapter describes three ways of
interfacing with open educational resources in writing classes in general,
and business and technical writing classes in particular. The paper reviews
findings before concluding that the future belongs to open educational
resources for their value as multimedia assets. The chapter grew out of a
presentation at the New Jersey Writers Association conference, and was
first published in the Fall 2020-Winter 2021 issue of the International
Journal of Open Educational Resources with the title: “Moving towards an
Open Educational Resources (O.E.R.) Pedagogy: Presenting Three Ways of
Using O.E.R. in the Professional Writing Classroom.”
Chapter Six, titled “Infographics in Academic & Professional
Writing,” focusses on the need to use infographics in academic teaching and
project writing. The special requirements of teaching to the new generation
13. Teaching Business, Technical and Academic Writing Online and Onsite: xiii
A Writing Pedagogy Sourcebook
of students are discussed, and the reasons why it has become necessary for
teachers to use infographics to enhance their teaching and classroom
interaction are detailed. Why teachers of academic, business, and technical
writing classes need to encourage students to use infographics, which are
combinations of texts and images, data visualizations and illustrations,
brought together effectively by the creators’ controlling visions, is pointed
out. Evolving out of a North Eastern Group symposium presentation, the
chapter proffers practitioner details on infographic tools, possible assignments,
and best practices. An earlier version of the article was published under the
title “The Why and How of the Infographic Wow: Infographics in Teaching
and Writing: Best Practices” in the DeVry University Journal of Scholarly
Research Volume 4, Issue 2, Winter 2018.
Every article has grown out of this author’s diverse and variegated
teaching and corporate experiences spread over twenty five plus years. As
an undergraduate and graduate teacher who has taught successfully in online,
onsite, and hybrid formats in over a dozen global institutions, this writer has
written each article with a practitioner focus. Since the author has been a
full time faculty, content expert, and visiting professor of academic,
business and technical writing as well as worked as Marketing Director and
Technical communicator at premier corporate houses such as the
INFINITEE group worldwide, the book contains ideas that can help the
writing teacher connect the classroom to the work world. Again, every
stratagem discussed in this handy sourcebook has been tried and tested
while teaching in online, onsite, and hybrid formats at nearly a dozen
leading American institutions including Rutgers, The State University of
New Jersey, and the University of Minnesota. Hence, writing teachers in
general and the underserved online writing teachers in particular will find
strategies in this handbook that will help them engage and connect to
students better as well as make their classes stand out. In the post-COVID
context that has forced writing instructors to explore online and blended
teaching that are now poised to become the norm rather than the exception,
this pedagogic sourcebook with its collection of best practices is likely to
prove especially useful for teachers trying to excel in remote as well as
hybrid teaching. After all, each best practice in this book is being shared
from one writing teacher to another with one central objective: to empower
fellow teachers to empower students to excel both in academia and the
For comments, speaking, and review requests, please contact the
author at [email protected]
14. INTRODUCTION
WILLIAM MAGRINO PH.D.
William Magrino is an Associate Teaching Professor in the Writing
Program at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. He is also the
lead author of Scientific and Technical Writing: From Problem to
Proposal and Business and Professional Writing: From Problem to
Proposal, now in their fourth editions. Dr. Magrino is the longest
standing faculty director of the Business & Technical Writing division
at Rutgers University, having headed the advanced specialized
program from September, 2007 through January, 2020.
As someone who has worked in the writing classroom for the better part of
the last three decades, Sarbani Sen Vengadasalam has composed an
insightful and vital text for anyone interested in the direction of professional
writing pedagogy in the 21st century. Whether you have been a life-long
innovator in the teaching of the discourses and genres of workplace
communication, a fledgling academic trying to break into the field, or a
member of the business or technical professional worlds with a desire to
share your wealth of knowledge with a new generation of future
professionals, in the traditional classroom setting or online, this guide will
be of imminent value.
Over the past ten to fifteen years, the changing landscape of the
American academy, in accord with the proliferation of shared computing
and new media, has necessitated a reevaluation of the traditional classroom
space. Online instruction, once an ‘experiment’ among a select number of
graduate programs and members of the for-profit educational arena, has
become commonplace at all levels of higher education as we enter the
second decade of the 21st century. Now that we have been able to take into
account the ‘digital divide’ between access and exclusion, once prevalent
among our populations, more students from diverse educational, socioeconomic,
and geographic backgrounds have had the opportunity to take advantage of
the added flexibility of distance learning, along with its wealth of resources.
However, as with any new educational technologies, especially those that
seem to offer so much potential and promise, administrators and instructors
15. Teaching Business, Technical and Academic Writing Online and Onsite: xv
A Writing Pedagogy Sourcebook
are frequently quick to attempt to adopt these tools and apply the related
methods, without conducting the appropriate research in light of the needs
of their students, their colleagues, and the purported mission of their
respective institutions. This is where Dr. Sen Vengadasalam’s practiced
approach offers insight to anyone interested in expanding the boundaries of
their learning spaces, for online, hybrid, or blended approaches, or as merely
a complement to the current limitations of their traditional classroom
The need to reconsider the parameters of the classroom, while
taking advantage of relevant emerging technologies in a carefully considered
way, has been a principal concern in the professional writing academic
fields, in which we desire to train students to develop documents and
projects in the ways they will be expected to produce these deliverables once
they enter the world of work. In this way, Dr. Sen Vengadasalam’s ‘real-
world’ approach to online teaching dovetails with the philosophy I have
advocated for the past ten years. Communicating, collaborating, and
producing text and images within the virtual classroom in the same way as
they will complete these tasks in their future workspaces, are among the
most important skills we can impart to our professional writing students.
Honing her knowledge after twenty-five years of teaching
professional writing around the world, both physically and virtually, Dr. Sen
Vengadasalam offers us a unique view into the practices of the 21st century
higher education classroom facilitator. Not only is Dr. Sen Vengadasalam
acutely aware of the current state of instruction of our professional writing
population, at both undergraduate and graduate levels, she has been at the
forefront of its evolution, and will assist us in leading our students and
colleagues into its inevitable next stage. An expert in all styles of
instruction—from face-to-face, to hybrid, to blended, and with native
speakers, as well as non-native speakers of English—Dr. Sen Vengadasalam
is uniquely qualified for this task. I can attest to Dr. Sen Vengadasalam’s
expertise, professionalism, and teaching excellence. She has been one of the
leaders and most innovative members at our Business & Technical Writing
division of the Rutgers Writing Program, and you will quickly identify that
many of the principles, observations, and techniques in this book are derived
directly from the fine work she produces in our program.
In Part One of this text, titled, “Pedagogics, Instructional Principles,
and Syllabus Design,” Dr. Sen Vengadasalam offers us an insight into the
primary tension faced by all teachers of professional writing–the need to
foster real-world veracity–while at the same time, refusing to compromise
a given assignment’s academic credibility. On one hand, in our classrooms,
we all aim for our students to experience the demands of professional
16. xvi Introduction
writing and practice the discourses we want them to master, while
composing authentic and viable documents that would fulfill, and even
exceed, the expectations of a given workplace. At the same time, in our
colleges and universities, there is always the more immediate demand that
the work of our students fulfills the academic requirements which we all
agreed on when deciding to teach, develop, or take a given course. I
specifically encounter the need to strike this balance in my research
proposal writing classes, especially with students who are currently
members of the professional arenas. In response to this tension between the
‘real’ and the ‘academic,’ Dr. Sen Vengadasalam offers us the R.E.A.L.
principles of project-based writing courses. Here, R.E.A.L. refers to R for
Reader Oriented, E for Extensively Researched, A represents Actionable
solution, and L is for Looped Composition. In her assessment, Dr. Sen
Vengadasalam makes a strong case for this approach in light of the writing
and communication skills expected by prospective employers in the existing,
and emerging, 21st century workplace.
In the section on “Facilitating Online Discussions,” Dr. Sen
Vengadasalam advances the use of electronic media regardless of class
design. As I exhort, “In the 21st century, if you want to teach professional
writing in the way that will benefit your students to the greatest extent
possible, even the traditional brick-and-mortar classroom needs to be
presented in a hybrid format.” As Dr. Sen Vengadasalam illustrates, today’s
ingenuity in terms of classroom design and delivery is rooted in the
integration of new media in original and thoughtful ways. Here, appealing
to both the innovator and the traditionalist, Dr. Sen Vengadasalam dutifully
points to effective uses of the discussion tools of any learning management
system (L.M.S.), while explaining how they could help our students climb
the levels of Bloom’s taxonomy. Even the most cautious of classroom
educators will find a significant amount of practical value in Dr. Sen
Vengadasalam’s techniques and resources.
Part Two of this original and timely volume, “Incorporating Digital
Multimedia Assets & Using Visual Tools,” looks ahead to the rapid
proliferation of Open Educational Resources. Here, Dr. Sen Vengadasalam
identifies the current state of O.E.R.s, how they have changed higher
education, and their potential for the future. Evaluating these resources
through the lens of the ‘Six P’s’ of proposal writing, from my work at the
Rutgers Writing Program, one can see how an assiduous instructor should
be able to evaluate, integrate, and curate O.E.R.s based on the criteria of an
individual assignment, while simultaneously enhancing their students’
engagement with a larger world.
17. Teaching Business, Technical and Academic Writing Online and Onsite: xvii
A Writing Pedagogy Sourcebook
I truly hope you find Dr. Sarbani Sen Vengadasalam’s book as
relevant, astute, and practical as I did. Rooted in the traditions and discourses
of professional writing instruction, while remaining open to the opportunities
for the future, this text directs us toward new and, at times, necessarily,
winding, pedagogical avenues in our rapidly evolving academic and
electronic landscapes. As someone constantly looking for ways to enhance
my students’ experience in becoming proficient in professional writing, as
well as increasing their chances for employment based upon mastery of
these skills, I am certain that this text will remain one of my most valuable
resources for years to come.
18.
19. PART ONE:
PEDAGOGICS, INSTRUCTIONAL PRINCIPLES,
AND SYLLABUS DESIGN
20. CHAPTER ONE
SUPERIMPOSING R.E.A.L. PRINCIPLES
ON THE PROJECT WRITING PYRAMID:
A PARADIGM SHIFT IN TEACHING
PROFESSIONAL WRITING
Abstract
Institutions of higher education introduced professional writing classes as a
way of preparing students for on-the-job writing. To better accomplish the
goal, as well as to get a more consistent output from these classes that
require the writing of a project proposal or report, writing teachers may want
to incorporate R.E.A.L. principles onto the Find-Test-Deliver pedagogical
triangle that marks the three phases of their project writing courses. When
R.E.A.L principles, where R stands for Reader oriented, E for Extensively
researched, A for Actionable solution, and L for Looped composition, are
used, the writing output becomes both academically sound and workplace
appropriate. The article delves into the rationale behind the principles and
proffers suggestions on how teachers could incorporate them into their
teaching. It concludes that such an approach is a paradigm shift in
professional writing instruction. The chapter was first published with the
same title in the International Journal of Curriculum and Instruction,
Volume 12, Number 2 in 2020.
Keywords: Professional writing, Technical writing, Business writing,
actionable solution, looped composition, reader oriented, extensively
1.1 Introduction
Colleges and universities began to offer professional writing
classes as a way of preparing students to write in the real world. Though
they go by different appellations, these undergraduate courses can be
21. Superimposing R.E.A.L. Principles on the Project Writing Pyramid 3
grouped into two buckets: technical and business writing classes. While
technical writing courses offer exposure and training in preparing technical
proposals, user manuals, and scientific papers to students majoring in the
sciences; business writing classes give students majoring in business, social
sciences, and the humanities opportunities to gain expertise in writing
official memos and letters, resumés and feasibility studies, proposals and
reports. While these Writing Across the Curriculum (W.A.C.) courses
include assignments on different forms of technical and business writing,
with varying weight, they all feature a proposal or report writing assignment
that requires students to write about how the implementation of their
research-backed plans solves real-world problems.
To contend that college graduates can learn to do this realistically,
with only on-the-job training, is to assume that universities can play no role
in, or have no understanding of, the broad contexts of activity their
graduates are bound for. Since business and technical writing classes are
specialized Writing Across the Curriculum (W.A.C.) courses, their
development not only reflects revisions of local assumptions about the place
of writing in and across the curriculum in higher education, but also
highlights the evolving realization that academic institutions need to cater
to corporate developments and workplace requirements. What W.A.C.
professional writing courses need to do is to be very explicit about
connections between real world needs, real world information, and real
world skills to be learned. In this context, it becomes necessary to find how
far that has happened, and probe into principles that can help instructors to
help their students acquire mastery in business and technical discourses,
while reifying the social relations and expectations of which those
discourses are a part.
This paper focuses on the project writing component of W.A.C.
professional writing courses, and offers fellow instructors a teaching
methodology based on R.E.A.L. principles that can be superimposed on the
three vertices or phases of the find, test, and deliver apices of the project
writing pyramid. The paper discusses how such project writing instruction
is different from product-based professional writing, and may be successfully
taught in online and hybrid courses, as much as in onsite modes of
instruction. The paper finally concludes that the paradigm shift in project
writing instruction that R.E.A.L. introduces leads to students successfully
receiving training in college in the kind of on-the-job writing they will need
to do when they join the workforce.
22. 4 Chapter One
1.2 The Employers Weigh In: The Problem
Business and technical writing programs were set up to prepare
students for the workplace. However, as far back as 1982, Faigley and
Miller's surveys of employers in businesses and industry found that the
required composition courses and elective courses in business and technical
writing were not producing competent writers, with 78% of the upper-level
managers in business and industry commenting that the writing done by new
graduates on the job was poor. The finding was backed up by Bizell (1982),
who pointed out that a wide gulf had crept in between what colleges were
delivering and what industries expected their students to know.
We want our students to succeed in the dominant culture. The theoretical
question suggested by this conflict–and it is especially urgent for
researchers and teachers of professional and non-academic writing–is the
relation of discourse to social practice…I am not condemning research and
teaching in professional writing; rather, I am making the claim that this
research and pedagogical practice do not go far enough. If we recognize
and explore the challenge presented by the relationship between discourse,
teaching, and social reproduction, we may be able to discover ways to
intervene…This would, of course, require that we expand our research
goals and significantly alter our teaching. (p. 7)
The alteration did not happen, and the gulf continued to grow, prompting
Herndl (1993) to warn that current pedagogical practices were producing
“students who are not aware of the ideological development of discourse
and who do not understand the cultural consequences of a dominant
discourse or the alternate understandings it excludes” (p. 349). To bridge
the chasm and to ensure greater levels of “job readiness among graduates”
(p. 11), Lee Harvey (2000) called for renovations of higher education
curricula. There was not only an evolving perception that a new
methodology was required, but also the realization that it is necessary to
listen more keenly to the feedback from, and be more sensitive to, the
requirements of the workplace.
To many, a college education is as good as the way it prepares
students for their careers and their professional roles. As industries
increasingly monitor how effectively universities are fulfilling their roles,
they find that institutions of higher education are not able to endow students
with satisfactory communication, especially writing skills. A McKinsey &
Co.-sponsored survey (2012) found that less than half of employers believe
that new graduates “are adequately prepared for entry-level positions”
(Mourshed et al., 18). In contrast, 72% of educational providers consider
their graduates to be work-ready. Given the difference in the perceptions,
23. Superimposing R.E.A.L. Principles on the Project Writing Pyramid 5
the authors affirmed that the two sectors seem to “live in parallel universes”
(Ibid.). The report's summary of recommendations noted the desire of
businesses to see greater alignment between university curricula and the
needs of industry, and a greater emphasis placed on the development of
specific employability skills such as communication skills in university
programs (p. 209). Jackson (2013) took the point further when she highlighted
that “there is a need for role and attitudinal changes to the assumption of
transfer” as well as to perceptions that workplace skills can only be acquired
in “workplace settings” (p. 776). The absence of these changes not only
holds graduates back from gaining satisfactory employment, but, as Moore
& Morton (2017) point out, it also has an inhibiting effect on the
performance of employing organizations, and ultimately the broader
economy (p. 591). Hence, the 2018 National Association of Colleges and
Employers survey went so far as to say that, “when it comes to the types of
skills and knowledge that employers feel are most important to workplace
success, the large majority does NOT feel that recent college graduates are
well prepared” (Bauer-Wolf). The AAC&U report (2018) goes on to add,
“This is particularly the case for applying knowledge and skills in real-
world settings, critical thinking skills, and written and oral communication
skills–areas in which fewer than three in ten employers think that recent
college graduates are well prepared” (Ibid.). The emergent consensus is that
college students need to develop proficiency in various workplace
document types for them to be successful.
Since professional writing programs had taken up the task to
prepare students for workplace writing, a best-practice approach was one
that required all prescribed assignments to be written in the format of
business documents. As Hancock et al. (2008) put it:
The most common feature of workplace writing was the need for brevity
and concision. A related area was the need to avoid the frequent use of
academic and technical language in one's writing. It was pointed out that
in the professions, the recipient of any written communication–both within
an organization and outside–will typically not share the same technical
background & expertise as the writer, so there is a need to constantly
monitor and adjust one's language…[A]nother parameter was the action-
oriented nature of writing in the professions, such that all messages are
somehow concerned with prescribing or responding to some form of
action…, hence an important written communication ‘skill’ that needs to
be developed in students is the ability to recognize the specific
circumstances and constraints that shape any writing episode (purpose,
audience, etc.), and to be able to 'adapt' their writing to suit such contexts.
(p. 11)
24. 6 Chapter One
While it is clear as to what the goal of the new kind of professional writing
instruction is, the change, even if necessary, brings several pedagogical
challenges that need to be both explored and overcome.
1.3 Pedagogical Challenges: The Background
That professional writing classes have to train students to write to
audiences both inside and outside the office has various implications for
professional writing teachers. Signposting and structuring become very
important since, as Faigley and Miller (1982) rightly point out, lack of
clarity and poor organization of messages in the workplace lead to wasted
time, misunderstandings, and poor public relations (p. 564-69). As per Price
(1985), business and technical writing instructors need to accept the
1) teachers have an obligation to make sure their students leave professional
writing classes with the writing skills and composing strategies they will
need after graduation, and 2) teachers must design courses that expose
students to the various forms they will use and to the rhetorical
considerations they will encounter in on-the-job writing. (p. 3)
Composing strategies (such as signposting), which need to be
taught, are direct outputs of audience centeredness. Unlike academic writing
classes, the instructor—a member of the academic community—is not the
audience. Instead, s/he and the student writer are working together to
compose messages and produce writing for corporate and workplace use. It
can be pedagogically challenging for both the instructor and the writer to
remember to be conscious of the external audience. The need to teach
students to be audience centered, where the audience comprises of
institutional decision-makers, cannot be overemphasized. As professional,
or on-the-job writing is conscious of organizational objectives and targets,
it is always cognizant and clear about what it wants the audience (the reader)
to do. Since it wishes its reader to give an order, reply with a clarification,
connect to someone, and so on, workplace writing needs to be more
audience-oriented and reader-friendly than academic writing. Since
workplace writing caters to, and seeks to persuade its audience to take action,
teachers need to work on the development of a persuasive skillset and acute
audience consciousness in their students. To present and teach this to
professional writing students is important, even if it entails teachers taking
up the challenge of having to put themselves in the shoes of their students’
intended audience.
25. Superimposing R.E.A.L. Principles on the Project Writing Pyramid 7
Several discourse studies have focused on the types of contrasts
noted between written communication in academic writing and professional
writing domains. As Lannon and Gurak (2013) point out, ''Proposals attempt
to persuade an audience to take some form of action: to authorize a project,
accept a service or product, or support a specific plan for solving a problem
or improving a situation'' (p. 582). The persuasion has to be done through
targeted research that involves the ability to perform investigations into
theoretical domains, case studies, and best practices. Student writers,
consequently, need to be guided through, and develop, expertise at research
methods that not only include academic writing research into library academic
databases, but also interviews, surveys and other modes of primary research.
The challenge of professional writing curriculum design, therefore, is to
evolve one that bridges domains of academia and industry as well as theory
and application. What is needed in our professional writing courses is not
just instruction in the writing of specific workplace genres, such as emails,
letters, memos, instructions, white papers, proposals, reports, and so on, but
also exposure to a range of experiences and tasks that will help student
writers learn how to shape their acquired knowledge and expressive
discourse in distinctive and communicatively appropriate ways. Hence, the
assignment of writing a real-world proposal or a report offers exposure and
opportunities to be trained in multiple communication tasks which prepare
students for their workplace writing very well. However, the challenge is to
evolve and break up the assignments into looped deliverables that do not
overwhelm learners.
Proposal or report writing, henceforth referred to as project writing,
is often a significant part of a larger course in technical and professional
communication. Research on course design finds that there are not many
courses solely dedicated to teaching this important area of technical and
professional communication, and they almost always include other forms of
professional writing. As the differences between technical writing and
business writing courses are often arbitrary, and are always accompanied by
assignments that involve the drafting of a letter or a memo, a resumé or a
manual, a technical description or a white paper. As dissertation researcher,
Price (1985) puts it, both classes could feature “a memo to a subordinate, a
letter to an irate customer, instructions to a consumer on how to assemble a
bicycle, or a written advertisement for a computer,” and be classified as
professional writing practice (p. 1). If a technical writing course often
includes the writing of a technical guide or a user manual, a product
description or a technical paper aimed at informing readers, so they can
understand the parts, operate a device, know a product, or understand an
issue; business writing classes require students to write website comparisons,
26. 8 Chapter One
social media analyses, or position papers that require them to learn how to
evolve parameters, understand content & design principles, and take stands.
Even if courses differ across universities in the number of assignments and
student deliverables, they all feature a project writing component that is the
focus of this article. While there is a consensus that all courses have a project
writing component, there is little agreement on whether these projects are
to be simulations or implementable solutions, or on how these projects are
to be taught and graded. Moreover, the trend is to teach project writing in a
vacuum because it is pedagogically easier to do so. This can be self-
defeating, because the outputs students produce cease being like on-the-job
writing, and the importance of customizing writing to an evolving situation
stops being a course objective. Realism definitely needs to be reinstated into
the proposal writing pedagogy if the courses are to fulfil their mission of
being academically sound while teaching students to write in ways that are
relevant to, and required in, the workplace.
Even though realistic project writing is so necessary, analyses of
course syllabi and assignments reveal a need to redress the limited spaces
in which project writing is being taught today. A scrutiny of business and
technical writing textbooks, as undertaken by Lawrence et al. (2019),
reveals the need for texts and courses to fully explore proposal writing
through active and practical experiences, so it can achieve the following:
1. Textbooks offer rhetorical advice about proposals, describing them as
persuasive documents that must be attentive to the audience and the
needs the proposal is meant to address.
2. Textbooks offer practical advice about proposals, which emphasize
the multiple modes of communication required in a proposal, as well
as the basics of proposal components and the proposal process
(identifying, reading, and responding to a solicitation, modulating
texts and projects to an audience, and producing ethical, impactful
results or changes). (p. 36)
While course texts need to discuss how proposals function across various
spaces ranging from basic requests for institutional or workplace policy
changes to generation of business and sales development tools, what the
teaching needs to emphasize is how the proposals’ complexity, range of
purposes, and audiences, impact the writing. Encouraging students to write
about campus-wide or township improvement initiatives may be effective
ways to teach the rhetoric of proposal writing in terms of its persuasive
functions, while incorporating realism and real world factors into the
writing project.
27. Superimposing R.E.A.L. Principles on the Project Writing Pyramid 9
If the teaching of technical and professional discourse is to be
successful, the classes need to build abilities of students to persuade readers
to take purposive rational action and resolve institutional and organizational
problems. As Lawrence et al. put it (2019), “Instead of a form-based
conceptualization, proposal writing instruction and research must emphasize
the differences in the rhetorical situations in which proposals are written in
order to equip student writers and researchers with a wide set of rhetorical
tools for analyzing and understanding the writer's role, audience, resources,
limitations, and intended proposal action, in the development of a proposal”
(p. 44). The proposal writing assignment in an undergraduate course
replicates the rhetoric of proposals in corporate environments when it offers
an opportunity for students to evolve and practice the skills they will be
called upon to use in developing on-the-job writing proposals and
workplace reports in the future. To help enhance proposal instruction and to
bring in synchronization with how project writing operates in the workplace,
it may be worthwhile to explore the methodology of superimposing the
principles of Reader orientedness, Extensive research, Actionable solution,
and Looped composition on the three aspects or vertices of the proposal
writing pyramid: search, test, and deliver. This superimposition may be the
way to bridge the gulf between proposal/ report pedagogy and real world
proposal/ report writing practices.
1.4 Methodology: The Project Writing Pyramid:
Search-Test-Deliver
Business and technical writing are taught in face-to-face, hybrid,
and online formats. Irrespective of the mode of delivery, instructors may
want to center their teaching, not on telling students what to do for their
current projects, but on developing a skillset that will help them write
project documents in the future. All projects and project writing broadly
follow the three phases of ‘find,’ ‘test,’ and ‘deliver.’ If the writing task is
envisaged as a triangle with three vertices, it begins with a search, climbs
up to testing, and devolves into composing a plan that is delivered and
presented in proposal, report, or presentation formats.
In the real world, the project writing process begins with ‘Request
For Proposals,’ or R.F.P.s. Hence, the student's writing task begins with the
search for a project to write out a proposal or report for. The question to
spark off the search is this: What is the key problem that my project proposal
needs to find a solution to write about? When students search for possible
topics, they find one that is in line with their professional interests, career
goals, and disciplinary knowledge. At the beginning of the semester, the
28. 10 Chapter One
answer to their question is indeterminate. As students search, investigate,
and probe into disciplinary matrices, case studies, and best practices, their
research converges towards what could be a solution. As their research
coalesces, the question around the midpoint of the assignment sequence
becomes: Are the solutions I am recommending and the plan I am evolving
from my research feasible? In order to be able to answer that question,
students need to be tutored in testing procedures or feasibility investigations,
such as surveys, interviews, and other instruments of primary research.
When the feasibility testing is completed, the delivery stage sets in. In this
phase, student writers offer their research and their feasibility results, their
recommendations and their action plans in written format as well as in
presentations. In this stage, students practice conceptualizing, organizing,
and structuring their data in a real-world environment such that it answers
the question in the audience's mind: What is the guarantee that the solution
will work?
Even when the class is taught remotely, all business and technical
writing classes feature a formal presentation component using synchronous
tools like Skype, Zoom, and WebEx or asynchronous tools like VoiceThread,
Voice enabled PowerPoint, and Screencast, so students learn how to present
their projects using technology. Project presentations, like project
documents, must have an official tone and take place in a formal setting.
Each student practices his or her persuasive skills in presentations where
each attempts to convince the class (who stand in for the real-world
audience) that their data and their recommendations are sound. Facilitating
presentations sessions, which are followed up with question and answer
exchanges that are either live or recorded, become occasions to proffer
suggestions to presenters, and are valuable opportunities for students to
prepare for their future role as workplace presenters.
Even if the pedagogical pyramid, with its vertices of search, test,
and deliver, is useful in course planning, teachers need to be offered
strategies to use in the three phases. In Ballantine’s (2010) words, “Public
works require public words…The best way is to offer an open and flexible
professional and technical writing curriculum” (p. 236). Each aspect of the
pedagogical pyramid presents instructors with unique challenges and may
require instructors to create a subset of assignments that leads to the final
project document. As the student writers needs a lot of handholding before
they reach the final delivery stage, business and technical writing textbook
writers and teachers may need to create mini-lessons and lead up
assignments in the ‘find,’ ‘test,’ and ‘delivery’ stages. Again, workshops
and instructional aids may be required to help students through the cycles
29. Superimposing R.E.A.L. Principles on the Project Writing Pyramid 11
of drafting, reviewing, and revising, before the project documents can
actually be delivered to the patron.
Given the onerous responsibility on them, instructors may require
a pedagogical set of principles to help them in their teaching of workplace
writing. Integrating R.E.A.L. principles onto the ‘find,’ ‘test,’ and ‘deliver’
vertices of the pedagogical triangle, which mark the three phases of their
project writing courses, is empowering for the teacher as well as a way to
get consistent and workplace-appropriate project writing assignments. To
advance the purposes of the class and the needs of the students, the teaching
pedagogy and syllabus may need to incorporate R.E.A.L. principles where
R stands for Reader oriented, E for Extensively researched, A for
Actionable solution and L for Looped composition.
Before going into the details of the method and offering some
practitioner tools for incorporating each principle into the teaching
methodology, it may be necessary to explore how these principles map to
the ‘find,’ ‘test,’ ‘deliver,’ instructional pyramid. R or Reader orientation is
the first principle of R.E.A.L. that project writing and project writers are
likely to find helpful. Being conscious of the needs of the audience, or
reader orientedness, is what makes or breaks on-the-job writing. Being
mindful, knowledgeable, and aware of the audience—whether it is an
institutional entity or a corporate/ technical reader—not only influences the
way students conduct their upcoming research, but also impacts the tone
and techniques they choose while writing, and their ability to successfully
persuade their audiences. If in the ‘find’ stage, students zero in on a problem
in their workplace or institutions, or in their schools or communities, they
embark on the search for a solution in the stage that follows. Examining
theoretical frameworks and illustrative case studies helps writers to identify
ways and means to both scaffold and test their solutions This is what the
second postulate or the E for Extensive research principle is all about.
Students need to be guided to find a problem in their disciplines or their
communities, as also when they attempt to test the feasibility of their
solutions through library explorations, market research, and survey
projections. The Extensive Research principle maps onto both the ‘find’ and
‘test’ vertices of the triangle, as they offer writers a validation opportunity
for their proposed plan. As students move on to the delivery stage, the
Extensive Research principle needs to work in tandem with the Actionable
solution postulate, since the critical differentiating principle between
academic writing and project writing outputs is that students write in the
latter about how an actionable solution was, or can be, implemented.
Writing teachers not only need to instruct students about how to cite their
research, but also teach them how to validate their proposed solution
30. 12 Chapter One
through local level fieldwork. The fourth principle of Looped composition
guides students in arguing for the workability and actionability of their
proposals. The need to bring in opportunities for constructive critiques and
peer feedback in conferences and workshops in the ‘delivery’ stage cannot
be over-emphasized. Put differently, the looped composition principle is
necessary in all phases, but particularly impacts the ‘deliver’ phase of
project writing instruction when the project documents are being made
ready for the patron or audience. Going through multiple drafting rounds,
review workshops, feedback cycles, and presentation sessions, makes it
possible for student writers to come up with detailed, well-supported,
actionable plans in presentation, proposal, or report format.
While it is easy to see how R.E.A.L. principles coalesce into each
other and impact every phase of project writing instruction, it is necessary
to explore the method by which the four principles may be introduced and
integrated into professional writing instruction in more detail.
1.4.1 R.E.A.L.: R for Reader Oriented
At the cost of being repetitive, it must be emphasized that
professional writing is reader-oriented. Put differently, professional writing
is writing with a ‘you’ attitude that focuses on reader benefits. As project-
writing teachers need to find opportunities to make students aware of
different writing tones and the need to write differently for different
audiences and for different purposes, a suggested mini-assignment is an
audience analysis summary. A P.A.T. (Purpose-Audience-Technique)
brainstorming lesson, followed by an audience analysis micro-assignment,
can be helpful, since students study their audiences against their purpose
with the intent to understand what kind of an argument would be most
effective for them. As students explore what the best Technique could be,
given their Purpose or objective in their project writing, an analysis of the
Audience's needs helps them to not only develop reader orientedness but
also arrive at a successful methodology for argumentation. Appealing to the
need to surpass competition might work with one audience, while return on
investment, adding brand value, or being compliant with laws and regulations
might work with others. Introducing audience awareness during their ‘find’
process leads to students adopting and adapting their styles and content to
audience tastes, requirements, and situations.
Just as creating a new drill user manual for a novice requires more
explanations in contrast to composing one for a drill press operator in a
maintenance shop, project writers, too, need to learn to write in different
styles for the different audiences they deal with while they work on their