Saturday, April 12, 2008

Helping Novice Writers in the Workplace

Yvonne Teems

My research will explore the effectiveness of editing practices in helping novice newspaper reporters improve their writing. Because less research has been done on novice writers in the field of journalism than has been done on transitioning novice writers into the workplace, my research will be two-fold. First, I will review composition research that explores how novice writers transition into the workplace and how their transition can be made easier. Second, I will review journalism and journalism education research that explores editing practices in the journalism classroom and in the journalism field. By focusing much of my research on the deeply researched composition field, and by adding some research from the less researched journalism field, I hope to put together a well-rounded body of research on helping novice newspaper reporters improve their writing.

Adam, Christine. “What Do We Learn From the Readers? Factors in Determining Successful Transitions Between Academic and Workplace Writing.” Transitions: Writing in Academic and Workplace Settings. Eds. Patrick Dias and Anthony Pare. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, 2000. 167-182. Adam bases her analysis of the differences between the expectations of “readers” in the university and “readers” in the workplace – professors and managers – on a former study published in 1994. She conducted interviews with professors at a Canadian university who were teaching students in a bachelor of commerce program and with managers of a major government financial institution. The differences between these readers’ expectations are as follows: A text’s purpose can change in the university because its end goal is for student learning, not a real audience, as in the workplace setting; a professor is concerned more with student learning, while the manager is concerned with the text quality itself; and a professor’s comments on the text are for future reference, while the manager’s comments are for immediate revision purposes. Adam then outlines how novice writers in the workplace may struggle while adjusting to the new reactions of her reader, or supervisor. For example, the newcomer may not incorporate all revisions required because she still feels ownership over the text and she does not realize the text is owned and a product of the organization to which she belongs. Adam calls for sheltering and coaching novice writers in the workplace while they adapt to the new environment, relevant advice for editors and worth considering in my research. Adam’s article also is relevant to my research because it allows editors to see the differences in expectations the novice writer experiences as she transitions from school to the workplace. The text better prepares an editor for how the novice writer might react to written comments on texts and allows the editor to prepare to change the writer’s ideas of what her reader’s expectations will be.

Arwood, John M. What Editors and Educators Say about News-Editorial Education: Toward a Curriculum that Responds to Change. Annual Meeting of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, Aug. 1993, Kansas City, MO. Arwood surveyed 352 editors and 186 news-editorial professors, asking them what are the most important things journalism students should be taught in the academy before entering the newsroom. Arwood’s research was mostly interested in the changing newsroom: More technology; a struggling newspaper marketplace; and new reporting methods because of more accessible information. Arwood’s findings showed that while editors and educators agreed that young reporters must know how to write and how to think critically, they disagree on most other topics. Some of the findings were as follows: Editors don’t think it necessary for students to learn technology, as that can be more easily taught in the workplace, while educators saw that as an important tool; editors think students need to have more basic, practical skills, while educators think they need to teach theory; editors see a need for students to understand how a newspaper is managed and marketed, while educators did not see this as relevant to the curriculum; some editors believed that basic story structures taught in journalism schools should be emphasized less, while educators see the inverted-pyramid lessons as central to news writing courses. While Arwood’s research did not survey students and did not report on what ways students are prepared or ill-prepared in entering the workforce, the survey gives clues to the answer. This is important to my research because it will allow editors to see that students may be more grounded in theory than in practical applications; students may not know much about the marketing of the newspaper and how it operates as a business; students may be decent writers but not creative writers; students may not be up on the new technologies available in the newsroom. This gives insight into how editors must approach novice writers in their newsrooms.

Beaufort, Anne. “Creating a Fit: Socializing Writers into the Community.” Writing in the Real World: Making the Transition from School to Work. New York, NY: Teachers College Press, 1999. 62-102. In this chapter, Beaufort describes the experiences of three novice writers learning the new discourse communities at the workplace of a Job Resource Center. She talks about various knowledge domains that writers use to create texts and how novice writers apply general knowledge to writing tasks and increasingly apply local knowledge as they learn it. The chapter goes extensively into writing roles within the workplace and how writers don new roles as they progress: Writers go from observer and reader, to proofreader and editor, to co-author, to author and finally to inventor, to name a few. The most significant aspects of the chapter to my research are the descriptions of how the novice writers acquired knowledge and learned to write better in their new workplace. These points could give editors hints at how to approach novice writers in their workplaces. Some of the observances that Beaufort made were the following: The novice writer benefited from good feedback in addition to critique; there is such a thing as too much input on a novice writer’s draft; the novice writer learns best by observing senior writers, other texts in the discourse community, and taking expert writers’ advice; mentors should allow novice writers build up from small writing tasks to those with greater responsibility; and teaching and learning happen informally, as “real work” is getting done (as opposed to a more formal setting, such as the classroom). These all are the ways in which novice writers acquire local knowledge and improve skills in a given organization, and they are the teaching/learning methods editors could consider applying when dealing with newcomers.

Dias, Patrick; Aviva Freedman; Peter Medway and Anthony Pare. “Students and Workers Learning.” Worlds Apart: Acting and Writing in Academic and Workplace Contexts. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1999. 185-200. In this chapter, the authors describe a learning continuum that defines the learner on the one end in a school setting – called “guided participation” – and on the other end in the workplace setting – called “legitimate peripheral participation.” The guided participation learning is the model in which the purpose is the student learning, while the legitimate peripheral participation model is one in which students learn by participating, but learning is not a goal of the process. The methods are similar in that they are “learning through doing” models; they are social learning techniques; and they are methods in which the learner does not participate on his own, but with the active involvement of mentors. The differences between the models are as follows: The LPP model requires authentic assignments for the learner to engage, while in the guided model, all assignments are from the teacher and are significant; and the guided model is done with a carefully plotted curriculum, while the LPP model includes spontaneity that could interrupt a learner’s learning. The learner’s ability to recognize opportunities for learning in the workplace can be limited, and the learner’s ability to learn often is contingent upon seeing these opportunities. This chapter is relevant to my research because it defines specifically how learning takes place in the workplace as compared with the university. This will help to show what editors will deal with when encountered with a learner who is used to one style of learning, has particular biases and must adapt to a new style of learning.

Dias, Patrick; Aviva Freedman; Peter Medway and Anthony Pare. “Virtual Realities: Transitions from University to Workplace Writing.” Worlds Apart: Acting and Writing in Academic and Workplace Contexts. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1999. 201-221. In this chapter, the authors build on topics discussed in the prior chapter, “Students and Workers Learning,” in the same book annotated above. The authors use examples of students and student-workers on the continuum from school to the workplace to show how student learning environments change: They explore students in school, in internships and in the real working world, as well as other levels in between. The authors conclude that the best learning situations in the work-related experiences occur when teachers/mentors provide some instruction but allow students to work on their own, and then provide feedback. One of the most significant points the authors wrote about at length was the importance of the student-workers’ level of involvement in the new community: In order for the student-worker to learn the new discourse community, he must feel a part of the team. This chapter is less interesting to my research than the prior chapter because it more or less explains different levels at which students learn on their way from the university into the workplace. It does give some points – such as the need for community involvement – for newcomers to the workplace that are important to my research. Overall, the prior chapter is more relevant.

Hickey, Neil. “Rating the Recruits.” Columbia Journalism Review 37.6 (March/April 1999): 37- 39. Editors at the Columbia Journalism Review and workers at the nonprofit Public Agenda polled 125 news directors and editors about the current crop of novice reporters entering the field. Generally, editors think novices: are a worse or about the same quality than they were a decade ago; have less knowledge of public affairs; have less writing talent; are incapable of identifying a news story; and are less motivated than those who came before. Newcomers also feel entitled and are more focused on salary than on serving their communities. On the other hand, the best newcomers are better now than the best newcomers of a decade ago, editors reported. While young journalists have better technical and professional skills than those who came before, their knowledge, motivation and talent has declined. This short report on the poll of editors across the country is relevant to my research because it reveals how editors perceive newcomers, and those opinions may impact how editors deal with newcomers as they adapt to their new workplaces. Editors say they would like to see novices trained at small newspapers (which speaks to the need for basic skills); have better knowledge of basic history and economics concepts; and be better educated on current events (the latter two speak to the need for reporters to read more – a call that editors make explicitly throughout the report).

Katz, Susan. “An Opportunity for Socialization.” The Dynamics of Writing Review: Opportunities for Growth and Change in the Workplace. Stamford, CT: Ablex Publishing, 1998. 55-71. In the fourth chapter of her book, Katz discusses how the writing review in the workplace – the face-to-face meeting a novice writer has with a supervisor about a document – can allow the novice to socialize into her new environment. Not only does the writing review allow time for the supervisor to talk about necessary revisions to a text, but it also allows the novice insight into the organization culture, insight that will help her with her work and her writing at work. By studying several relationships between novices and supervisors across various organizations, Katz concludes that, in the writing review, the novice can: Learn about her role in the workplace; ask questions that will further her understanding of workplace culture; challenge workplace norms; and learn about politics, relationships and appropriate behaviors. Katz’s work answers the question of how writing reviews impact a novice’s socialization and ability to learn to write in the workplace, which deals directly with my research. Katz notes that the ability for a newcomer to adapt to the workplace impacts her ability to perform well there.

MacKinnon, Jamie. “Becoming a Rhetor: Developing Writing Ability in a Mature, Writing- Intensive Organization.” Writing in the Workplace: New Research Perspectives. Ed. Rachel Spilka. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1993. 41-55. To tackle the question of how educated adults learn to write in the workplace, MacKinnon studies ten novices to the workplace of the Bank of Canada. She interviewed writers and their managers when they first started and then over a year later when they’ve had time to progress in their writing. MacKinnon found that: Writers improved significantly; writers learned that using feedback benefited them, and they began to value that; they became more confident; and they recognized their abilities to improve as writers. Much of the study is significant to my research: MacKinnon found that novice writers improved by being challenged as novices and receiving and implementing feedback. Writers also adapted better if they challenged managers, if they had better interpersonal skills, and if they better understood their audience and their writing as rhetorical. MacKinnon also discussed how improved writing and learning about one’s job and workplace culture are intertwined: The more workers understood the workplace culture, the better they were able to write. This means that writing trainers (and in my case, editors) must keep in mind that a social knowledge of workplace culture and audience are integral to the writer’s ability to improve. These are all concepts that editors must keep in mind as they try to help novice writers adapt to their new environments.

Pitts, Beverly. “Model Provides Description of News Writing Process.” Journalism Educator 44.1 (Spring 1989): 12-19, 59. Pitts talks about the successful reporter’s writing process and how it is different from or similar to traditional composition processes as described by Flower and Hayes. She does this by researching professional journalists’ writing processes over the course of a six-year period. Some of the biggest differences in Pitts’s writing model for reporters and the Flower and Hayes model for composition writers are as follows: Reporters spend more time developing the lead, which directs them where to go with the rest of the text; reporters set short-term goals and mostly ignore overarching goals; reporters re-read the completed text a higher number of times and with a better awareness of audience. Pitts also talks about how the reporter’s writing process – what novices will need to know how to do – doesn’t match up with current journalism school curriculum. Journalism pedagogy ignores that the lead for the writer helps direct the rest of the story; instead, journalism schools teach that the lead must be written with audience in mind at all times. This is relevant to my research because it reveals to editors the process their novices are adapting to and how their backgrounds in composition and journalism classrooms prepare them, or leave them ill-equipped, for their new writing roles. This article shows where the novice journalism writer stands upon entering the workforce and what writing processes the writer must adapt to in her first year – all information that could help the editor make the writer’s transition easier.

Wiist, W. Michael. “Seeking a Coaching Style of Teaching News Writing.” Journalism and Mass Communication Educator 51.4 (Winter 1997): 68-74. Wiist advocates using a coaching style in the journalism classroom as opposed to the traditional teaching style of writing comments on papers and handing them back to students without opportunities for revision. Wiist makes his argument by talking about the research and commentary of others, including Donald Murray and Poynter Institute researchers Roy Peter Clark and Don Fry, as well as his experiences as a journalism teacher and a journalism graduate student. A coaching style of teaching is simply conferences between teacher and student in which the teacher can prompt the student to talk about his or her writing, its good points and its downfalls. It allows the student to better identify problems in their writing and improve upon their weaknesses in the next assignment. The article applies to my research in that it draws the distinction between the real-world newsroom and its growing trend of the coaching style of editing and the journalism classroom and its traditional style of teaching news writing. It shows that students entering as novices into the journalism field may be unfamiliar with the coaching style and it advocates a coaching style as an effective method for improving novice writer’s writing.

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