WRD 522: Writing in the Professions (Online), Spring 2015

Course Description

Most professions value similar qualities in writing—for example, audience-aware content and structure, brevity, frontloading, visual organization, and plain style. In WRD 522, we will practice these conventions by writing in standard professional forms, such as emails, memos, proposals, and reports. However, because the norms and genres for writing differ across professions, and because most writing in professional settings is socially complex, successful professional writers must understand more than just these standard forms and their conventions. Therefore, another goal of WRD 522 is that you learn how to assess the complex dynamics of writing in particular workplaces and professions. This you will do by reading classic and contemporary workplace writing research and using the ideas from this research to conceive of and conduct your own research project on workplace writing.

By working through the materials and assignments, you should complete the class with an expanded ability to

  • Write in standard forms typically used in professional settings, including emails, memos, proposals, and reports.
  • Write with the plain style, brevity, frontloaded organization, and visual design elements characteristic of professional documents.
  • Use the concepts and specialized language of workplace writing research to describe the importance and complexity of writing in workplaces and professions.
  • Use theoretical concepts and qualitative methods to better understand the dynamics of writing and the experiences of writers in particular workplaces and professions.
  • Effectively review the writing of your professional colleagues.


Beaufort, A. (1999). The institutional site of composing: Converging and overlapping discourse communities. In Writing in the real world: Making the transition from school to work (pp. 30–61). New York: Teachers College Press.

Brandt, D. (2015). The rise of writing: Redefining mass literacy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge UP.

Canavor, N. (2011). E-mail: Your everyday chance to build a professional image. In Business writing in the digital age (pp. 113-134). Los Angeles: Sage.

Faber, B. D. (2002). Narratives and organizational change: Stories from academe. In Community action and organizational change: Image, narrative, identity (pp. 69–107). Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.

Federal Plain Language Guidelines. (2011, March). Retrieved March 1, 2015, from http://www.plainlanguage.gov/howto/guidelines/FederalPLGuidelines/TOC.cfm

Hart-Davidson, W. (2010). Content management: Beyond single-sourcing. In R. Spilka (Ed.), Digital literacy for technical communication: 21st century theory and practice (pp. 129–143). New York: Routledge.

Merriam, S.B. (2009). Excerpts from Qualitative research: A guide to design and implementation (pp. 95-107; 109-115). San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.

Oliu, W.E., Brusaw, C.T., & Alred, G.J. (2013). Writing that works: Communicating effectively on the job (11th ed.). Boston/New York: Bedford.

Paradis, J., Dobrin, D., & Miller, R. (1985). Writing at Exxon ITD: Notes on the writing environment of an R&D organization. In L. Odell & D. Goswami (Eds.), Writing in nonacademic settings (pp. 281–307). New York: The Guilford Press.

Schryer, C. F. (1994). The lab vs. the clinic: Sites of competing genres. In A. Freedman & P. Medway (Eds.), Genre and the new rhetoric (pp. 105-124). London: Taylor and Francis.

Spinuzzi, C. (1996). Pseudotransactionality, activity theory, and professional writing instruction. Technical Communication Quarterly, 5(3), 295–308.

Yates, J., & Orlikowski, W. J. (1992). Genres of organizational communication: A structurational approach to studying communication and media. The Academy of Management Review, 17(2), 299–326.


  1. Professional Writing Packet: To practice those conventions and forms generally understood to apply across professions, you will create a packet of texts written in typical professional forms, including the following: 1) a short (<3-page), informal report in memo format, 2) a process description or instructions, and, 3) two ‘bad’ emails, analyzed and revised. Items 1 and 2 will be created in response to scenarios that you design, and should be accompanied by scenario descriptions.
  2. Online Discussions: Online discussion is a vital component of the course. The discussions provide opportunities to process the readings, advance your understanding of ideas in discussion with others, and demonstrate to me that you’re meeting course objectives. We will have seven discussions over the term: six to discuss course readings and one to discuss your interviews and final project ideas.
  3. Interview Transcript with Cover Memo: To better understand how course theoretical concepts relate to the work of actual workplace writers, and to gather data for our final research projects, each of you will conduct a <45-minute face-to-face or video chat interview (no email interviews allowed) with a workplace writer of your choice. We will use a shared set of interview questions, which will allow us to gather an interesting set of related data. You will need to transcribe the interview (warning: this takes time!), plus write a <2-page summary memo that reports demographic data about your interviewee and highlights interesting comments.
  4. Proposal: To prepare for your formal report or journal article, you will write a 3-4 page, single-spaced proposal to conduct and write up research, with me as its audience. In the proposal, you will describe the proposed form and audience for your report/article, define your research question, present a work plan (i.e., interim steps and their due dates), preview findings, present a tentative outline, and articulate questions or concerns.
  5. Formal Report or Journal Article on Your Own Workplace Writing Research: Using the interview data gathered by our class, supplemented, if necessary, with additional interviews, workplace documents, or observation data, you will produce a 3500-5000 word formal report or journal article on a topic related to professional writing or writers that interests you.