Saturday, April 12, 2008

Transitions for School to Workplace Writing

Carly Schott

The topic of my research project is the writing transition of students from the university to a new workplace or professional setting. Because the focus is on this transition, both managers within various fields of work as well as writing teachers would benefit from the research I found. Managers can use this information to understand how they can help new employees succeed in their new rhetorical situations, and teachers can use it to understand how and if they can successfully prepare their students to make this transition as easy as possible. I began the research process by gathering any information that seemed to relate to my topic. I soon found that a few scholars in the field have written extensively and recently about my specific topic, and so was able to exclude any article or book that did not explicitly address my focus. I also found that the few scholars who did the most thorough research wrote together or referenced some of the same studies. As such, I excluded the information that became redundant, and tried to pick the sources that represented the field of study as a whole. This is why I did not use research that focused solely on writing in specific fields, like social work, because the information complicated my overarching goal of understanding the general student transition. Finally, everything I found was written in the past 10 years, so that my research is the most up-to-date and applicable to current trends in the workforce and university settings.

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. Ed. Patrick Dias and Anthony Pare. Cresskill:Hampton P, Inc., 2000. 167-182.
Utilizing new genre theory, this chapter investigates the two rhetorical settings of academic and workplace writing and how their differences in exigences shape them. Their differences are established by focusing on reader responses of a professor and corporate manager to texts written by less experienced members of their organization. Adam describes these differences between the professor’s and manager’s response to be: the purpose for responding to texts are different, the processes of reading texts are different, and the comments written on texts are different. From this, she concludes that when transitioning to the workplace, students need to be helped to see “how their new readers’ roles and contexts shift their responses” (177). In addition, she explains the differences in writing in each setting, focusing on the different revising purposes, time constraints, and contextualization of texts. She emphasizes that writing programs at universities can help the student transition better by giving assignments that are oriented toward the future rather than the past, like the workplace itself.

Dias, Patrick. "Writing Classrooms as Activity Systems." Transitions: Writing in
Academic and Workplace Settings.
Ed. Patrick Dias and Anthony Pare. Cresskill: Hampton P, Inc., 2000. 11-29.
In this chapter, Dias investigates the practicality of writing courses at the university level, and how effective these courses are in preparing a student to enter the workforce. His work is very reliable, because he is often quoted by other researches and has done a lot of work on the subject. He suggests a new definition of writing courses in the university, one that reflects the social perspective of the writing process. To demonstrate that current writing courses are ineffective, he draws on activity theory, which focuses on the three levels of activities, actions, and operations and how they apply to writing courses. This perspective emphasizes contradictions inherent in these courses, and that the goals of students in class are very different than what they would be in the workplace. As such, Dias offers an outline of a way to make university writing courses more efficient. He suggests that students themselves define course goals in small groups, and this will help them to be more aware of various discourse communities and the ways their writing should be shaped by these communities. This chapter helped my research by establishing the current flaws in writing courses that are not conducive to transitioning into workplace writing situations.

Freedman, Aviva, and Christine Adam. “Bridging the Gap: University-Based Writing that is
More than Simulation.” Transitions: Writing in Academic and Workplace Settings. Ed.
Patrick Dias and Anthony Pare. Cresskill: Hampton P, Inc., 2000. 129-144.
This chapter answered the questions I had after reading a different chapter by Freedman and Adam (“Write Where You Are”). It provides an answer to the question of whether or not it is possible to prepare students for workplace writing at the university. Freedman and Adam outline a practicum course in a business school where the students work for various clients who need to have their workplace computerized in some way. These are real-life problems because many of the clients used the students’ suggestions, and the students had to produce several written documents throughout the semester.

This chapter was useful to my research because it illustrates that this practicum course is more effective than a case-study course in terms of learning to write for the workplace. It demonstrates that in order to bridge the gap between university and workplace writing, a course must have several characteristics that are aligned with the workplace. Freedman and Adam focused on audience, social motive, the reader’s primary concern, the goals of the reader, the reader’s comments, and closure as the factors determining whether a course is able to effectively simulate the workplace. The study reveals that the practicum course aligned most closely with workplace standards, rather than university standards, because the purpose of the writing was a response to a real exigence.

Freedman, Aviva, and Christine Adam. “Write Where You Are: Situating Learning to
Write in University and Workplace Settings.” Transitions: Writing in
Academic and Workplace Settings.
Ed. Patrick Dias and Anthony Pare. Cresskill:
Hampton P, Inc., 2000. 31-60.
This chapter outlines the difference in how a person learns to write in a university versus a workplace setting through two studies of situated learning cases. Freedman and Adam studied an upper-level undergraduate financial analysis class whose goal was to simulate a workplace setting, and also observed graduate students in full-time internships. Their findings suggest that in each situation the processes of learning are similar, but that they the goal of the financial analysis class is learning while the goal of the activities in the internship are more material outcomes.
A large portion of the chapter is dedicated to exploring several differences between these two settings, including the respective goals of writing, guide-learner roles, evaluation procedures, and the learning site. A main idea they present is “when students leave the university to enter the workplace, they not only need to learn new genres of discourse, they need to learn new ways to learn such genres” (53). This chapter helped me begin to understand why transitioning to workplace writing can be a challenge for students, but I was not left with a clear picture of how this problem could be addressed. I did find it helpful that they addressed internships, which is a rhetorical situation that I had not read about until now.

Ledwell-Brown, Jane. “Organizational Cultures as Contexts for Learning to Write.” Transitions:
Writing in Academic and Workplace Settings.
Ed. Patrick Dias and Anthony Pare. Cresskill: Hampton P, Inc., 2000. 31-60.

In this chapter, Ledwell-Brown presents results and conclusions of a study performed on a large organization that was conducted to understand their rhetorical practices and how a newcomer can learn these practices. She claims that the values and attitudes of an organization have a significant influence on the writing produced, and presents the results of interviews with 22 employees that point to the organization’s values and beliefs. She maintains that writing expectations are not usually stated outright, but are implied through manager responses to written documents and are also a reflection of the organization’s overall values. Ledwell-Brown also explores different values within divisions, referred to as subcultures of the organization, which also have different writing expectations. There are several references to discourse communities, and her discussions point to the idea that students entering the workplace must learn the conventions of their new discourse communities the same way they did in school.

Wardle, Elizabeth. “Identity, Authority, and Learning to Write in New Workplaces.”
5.2 (2005). Online. Available:
This article made my research more in-depth because its focus was not on problems in writing classes, but on the actual process of enculturation into a new workplace. The main argument is that learning to write in new situations is more than a matter of texts and cognitive abilities. Wardle claims that understanding identity and authority issues are imperative to understanding how writers learn to write when entering the workplace. She explains how identity and authority are negotiated in the workplace, and that failure to write in effective ways within a workplace community may be caused by identity issues rather than ability. These concepts are demonstrated in a case study of a computer support specialist struggling with his identity in a new workplace. Wardle explains that he was not well-received in his position due to a lack of understanding of his identity within the workplace, illustrating the concept of “modes of belonging” also introduced in the article. This article introduced some new ideas about identity, authority, and experience to my research, helping me to understand the complexities of writing transitions.

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