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Lauer and Brumberger. Workplace Writing as Multimodal Editing. CCC, June 2019. Posted 07/30/2019.

Lauer, Claire, and Eva Brumberger. “Redefining Writing for the Responsive Workplace.” College Composition and Communication 70.4 (2019): 634-63. Print.

Claire Lauer and Eva Brumberger received a grant from the Conference on College Composition and Communication to study workplace writing. They recruited nine professional writers and shadowed them in the workplace for twelve hours each for a total of more than a hundred hours (642). The study included pre- and post-observation interviews that the authors believed not only allowed them a nuanced view of the writers’ work experiences but also afforded a glimpse into features of current workplace writing that the writers themselves may not have recognized (643).

Participants included content and media strategists, technical writers and editors, communications directors, and “UX” or user-experience analysts (642).

The authors describe the current state of professional workplace writing as characterized by ongoing, often rapid and unpredictable change (638). They cite past studies that found that the ability to collaborate with team members and experts, to innovate and adapt to evolving contexts and audiences, to use a range of developing technologies across platforms, and to produce multiple genres were widely valued by employers (638-39). While “writing” continued to be a much-sought-after capability, studies of job descriptions found that new positions such as “content developer” or “social media writer” increasingly appeared. Desirable traits included time management, critical thinking, and “detail orientation” (639).

The authors argue that traditional understandings not only of “writing” but also of “editing” no longer align with what students can expect to find in the workplace. The model of writing taught in classrooms, proceeding from invention of original material through drafting and revision, they contend, is “isolated and siloed” in comparison to what will actually be required (639, 647). Lauer and Brumberger find that in the current workplace, a writer’s job shifts from classical invention and production to finding the best use of information to further an employer’s goals within time and budget limitations (644).

To describe this shift, the authors argue that “editing” can on longer be considered a “review” process separate from writing and intended to improve clarity or correctness or to ensure quality (640-41). Rather, they claim that workplace writing now is “writing-as-multimodal-editing,” in which writers “work with myriad modes of content—often encountered in medias res after the content has been originated by coworkers or consultants” (637).

Multimodal editors are responsible for modifying, adapting, designing, editing, selecting and constructing content in ways that are dispersed, nonlinear, collaborative, and responsive. (637)

To show writers “Working with Existing Content,” they depict “Tom” “extract[ing]” multiple genres from a press release received overnight (645) and “Connie” working with a video provided by a client (646). Though the writers characterized their work as “writing,” the authors contend that “writing-as-editing” more accurately captured their activities (647).

The importance of “Specific Constraints” is depicted by the need to produce video segments with a demarcated time frame and to meet exact requirements for original words in “site content” in order to improve search-engine optimization (648-49). The authors illustrate “Versioned Communication” via Tom’s need to convert press releases and technical documents to forms accessible to “your regular person” and suitable for social media, as well as for audiences in the organization’s “internal education, sales, and management teams” (649-50).

The use of press releases also serves as a demonstration of the “Hybridization of Genre Conventions” (650). Lauer and Brumberger’s observations note how such conventions may be tweaked, as when a printed manual that has been converted to a tablet app for technicians is structured with chapters to more nearly fit what the users found familiar (651). The authors also contend that genre rules may be “ignored” if necessary to meet the required purpose in the given context (653). For example, Madison, a communications director for a small nonprofit, no longer issues conventional press releases because reporters resisted such extensive documents. Instead, she communicates in smaller chunks like emails and on the phone (651-52).

Moreover, when Madison writes press-release language, she now produces it with a more informal tone that can be reused as a blog post, saving herself time and effort (652). The authors write that Madison’s decision to downplay the traditional press release illustrates the ways in which “editing” often involves choices about what “not” to write before any material is produced at all (653; emphasis original).

Participants also perform “Analytic Optimization,” which the authors describe as micro-level analysis of user responses to seemingly minor decisions via analytical software (653). Conducting “A/B testing of a live website” using two versions of a single menu falls under Ryan’s job responsibilities, while Madison assesses the “various click-through rates of email campaigns and messages,” a task that requires her to stay up-to-date with Facebook algorithms (654). The authors note that these tasks must adhere to budgetary limitations so that the writers must prioritize strategically when choosing among the many small changes that may affect audience responses. They argue that “writers (not developers) have the rhetorical training” for these decisions and can highlight the value of their rhetorical skill in their workplaces (655).

Participants also undertook “Image Considerations,” for example, deciding about the rhetorical effects of using emojis and animations to convey tone, capture attention, and follow changing communication conventions even in official texts (655-57). The need for this rhetorical awareness, in the authors’ view, should encourage writing programs to introduce students to “the rhetoric of a range of modes” (657).

Among suggestions for preparing students for these tasks are methods of acquiring content for manipulation from businesses and organizations and the creation of “sprint assignments” that help students recognize the importance of working within time and length constraints (657-58). Assignments that focus on “repurpos[ing] content” for a variety of contexts, genres, and audiences can encourage an awareness of the rhetorical possibilities and decisions inherent in the original text (659). The authors contend that this focus on multimodal editing privileges revision in ways that more traditional composition instruction may not (658).

The authors write that students learn the rhetorical skills required by workplace writing in composition classrooms, but could also benefit from recognizing the value of multimodal editing skills they already practice on their own. They could be better encouraged to see their knowledge and learning as assets in future professional writing contexts (660).

We need to rethink our notions of authorship, reconsider our assumptions about the traditional writing/editing process, and modify the ways in which we prepare our students for this kind of professional work. (657)


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Blythe and Gonzales. Using Screencast Videos to Capture What Students Do. June CCC. Posted 09/08/2016.

Blythe, Stuart, and Laura Gonzales. “Coordination and Transfer across the Metagenre of Secondary Research.” College Composition and Communication 67.4 (2016): 607-33. Print.

Stuart Blythe and Laura Gonzales describe a study of students’ writing practices using screencast videos to record their activities. They hoped to shed light on the question of whether students “transfer” their learning in first-year writing classes to other contexts.

Five researchers recruited students from multiple sections of a cross-disciplinary biology course that met a university-wide requirement (610). Coordinating with the professor in charge of a large lecture section, the researchers distributed index cards to students in the smaller discussion sections, instructing students willing to participate in the study to provide contact information (612). Ultimately twelve students agreed to take part (613).

Blythe and Gonzales review studies by multiple scholars that find little or no evidence of transfer of first-year writing content, supporting Doug Brent’s “glass half-empty” interpretation of the issue of transfer (608). Along with Elizabeth Wardle, as well as Linda Adler-Kassner, John Majewski, and Damian Koshnick, Blythe and Gonzales posit that the learning involved in writing is difficult to research because it is non-linear and, according to Joseph Petraglia, does not yield to “‘well-structured’ formulas or algorithms” (qtd. in Blythe and Gonzales 608). The authors also propose that researchers may be handicapped by their use of “a limited set of methods” such as interviews and focus groups (608).

Blythe and Gonzales contend that their use of screen-capture technology improves on interviews because, unlike an interview, this method does not rely on memory or the interaction between the interviewer and interviewee but rather reveals what actually happens “in that moment” of actual composition (Raul Sanchez, qtd. in Blythe and Gonzales 613). The authors also state that, unlike think-aloud protocols, screencast videos do not add an unfamiliar, distracting element to students’ processes; they note that many students “reported forgetting that their work was being recorded” (614).

Students were instructed to upload three fifteen-minute videos over the course of their composition process (613). Each student then joined a researcher in an “artifact-based interview” designed to overcome the failure of the screencast process to record the student’s reasons for various choices (614).

In choosing the biology course for study, the researchers expected to analyze genres such as lab reports, but were surprised to find that “students were being asked to write arguments using published sources,” specifically involving the use of DDT to control malaria (610).

Citing Michael Carter’s use of the term metagenre to denote “ways of knowing and doing that cross disciplines” (610; emphasis original), Blythe and Gonzales locate the biology assignment in such a metagenre. Following Carter, the authors distinguish between “knowing that,” which designates “unique sets of knowledge” specific to each discipline, and “knowing how,” indicating “share[d] ways of knowing” (610). In this view, these “ways of knowing” constitute metagenres (610). Four metagenres listed by Carter are problem-solving, empirical inquiry, research from sources, and performance (610-11). The biology assignment falls into the cross-disciplinary metagenre of “research from sources.”

The software allowed the researchers to code thirty-six videos capturing student composing processes and to generate “visualizations” or graphs that recorded student movement among the texts they worked with as they wrote (614. 616). Major patterns in student processes emerged from this coding and from the interviews in which students affirmed the categorizations recognized by the researchers’ analysis (614).

Three major conclusions resulted. First, “[s]tudents select sources rhetorically” (615). Specifically, students chose sources that they thought would meet their instructors’ approval (622). Although they used Google to generate ideas and plan, they cited only information from library databases and Google Scholar, as specified by the assignment (623). In conducting searches, the students did not venture beyond the first entry in a results list and thus often cited the same sources (624).

The authors remark that:

Students were not concerned with learning about DDT and malaria as intended by the assignment guidelines. Instead, students used sources to constantly ensure they were meeting the assignment requirements in a way that would please their instructor. (622-23)

Second, “[s]tudents coordinate multiple texts” (615). The screen captures revealed that students moved rapidly among six different kinds of texts, for example, from their drafts to websites found on Google to the assignment rubric (618). They spent an average of 12.14 seconds on each type of text (619). The preferred process was to paste text from sources into the paper, reword it, then cite, resulting, in one student’s example, in the construction of the paper “sentence by sentence” through the search for “necessary piece[s] of information” (620).

While Blythe and Gonzales agree that pasting and rewording might constitute what Rebecca Moore Howard terms “patchwriting,” they contend that using what Shaun Slattery refers to as “textual coordination” to “find bits of text from multiple sources and rework them into a new text designed for a particular purpose” resembles the process followed by professional writers engaging with a topic on which they lack expertise (627). They cite Howard’s claim that this writing technique can be useful in “finding a way into” a new discourse (qtd. in Blythe and Gonzales 627). The authors argue, though, that students lack the social and professional networks that scholars like Stacey Pigg and Jason Swarts find underpinning the work of professional writers. Students relied on the assignment rubric for their understanding of the purpose and possibilities of their task (628).

Third, students do not generally credit their college writing courses for teaching them the skills they deem important in crafting a paper. All students in the study stated that they used strategies learned in high school; Blythe and Gonzales found that many relied on “adjusting the same basic structures” like the five-paragraph theme (625). First-year writing, according to this study, served as “another space in which they get to practice the writing strategies they learned earlier in their academic careers” (626). Such practice, students seemed to believe, contributed to improvements in their writing, but interviews suggested that their sense of how these improvements occurred was vague (626).

The authors close with recommendations that first-year-writing instruction can usefully focus on “expand[ing] the resources and networks” that can contribute to students’ writing processes, introducing them to “specialized communities or connections” (629). Blythe and Gonzales further suggest that transfer studies might attend more carefully to what Elizabeth Wardle calls “meta-awareness” about writing, particularly awarenesses that students bring to writing classes from prior experience (630).

 

 

 


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Dush, Lisa. When Writing Becomes Content. CCC, Dec. 2015. Posted 02/21/2016.

Dush, Lisa. “When Writing Becomes Content.” College Composition and Communication 67.2 (2015): 173-96. Print.

Lisa Dush compares the concept of “writing” that has historically grounded writing studies to the new forms of written communication engendered by technological change. In these new forms of communication, what has always been thought of as writing must now be understood by keeping in mind its nature as “content.” Extant ideas of what “writing” means, she contends, should not “be erased”; rather, the field should understand and acknowledge the tensions created by writing’s migration into new spaces and forms (183).

Dush argues that “writing” and “content” are metaphors with “attendant bundles”; those surrounding writing can be hard to identify (179). For Dush, writing implies an “agentive composer” producing what Jodie Nicotra calls a “discrete textual object” (181); an audience that can be analyzed and known to some degree (177); specific spaces; and specific and known social and professional roles such as “author, editor, and publisher” or relationships such as “famous author to fan, good writer to bad” (179-80). For Dush, this metaphor does not capture the emergent features of writing for digital spaces and does not furnish the conceptual tools to adequately critique or respond to the changes (181).

Dush defines “content” as “conditional, computable, networked, and commodified” (176; emphasis original). “Conditional,” she writes, refers to the degree to which creators of texts cannot easily know exactly where and how their work will be used; content is “characterized not by being finished or published, but rather by [its] availability for repurposing, mining, and other future uses” (176). It is “computable” in the sense that it is composed of numeric data, a form that allows “machine audiences” to “mine, rank, process, match, reconfigure, and redistribute it” (176); its format may change and fragments might appear in such places as search-engine lists (177).

“Networked” denotes the relationship of content not to the “speaker-audience dyad of classical rhetoric” but rather to audiences so vast as to call for machine analysis; because the audience cannot be authoritatively known, texts must tend toward “adaptation” to various audiences rather than “prediction” of an ideal fit (177). Dush cites Clay Shirky to note that the networked nature of content favors the production of more rather than less text, and “more arguably, democratic participation over hierarchy” (177).

Finally, content is “commodified.” Dush builds on John Trimbur’s distinction between “use value— . . . how well a thing meets human needs— and exchange value—value based on profit” (178; emphasis original). She illustrates this feature by noting that a tweet is not valued for its utility but for “the number of clicks and retweets it accumulates,” thus metamorphosing into advertising revenue (178).

Dush argues that recent attention to multimodal composition has not abandoned the metaphorical implications of “writing” as opposed to “content” (181), an approach that is not attuned to “what Jim Ridolfo and Danielle Nicole DeVoss call ‘rhetorical velocity'” (qtd. in Dush 182): that is, the rapid circulation of material via the manipulation of managers and strategists, both human and machine. Dush points to the ways in which this shift from “writing” to “content” risks a “disempowered” view of writers (183). She quotes Rahel Anne Bailie and Noz Urbina, authors of Content Strategy: Connecting the Dots Between Business, Brand, and Benefits, who recite a list of the ways that “[w]riters can’t be expected to be experts” and should therefore be subordinated to managers versed in content manipulation (qtd. in Dush 184). Dush responds that writing-studies professionals should take up this challenge: “[T]o avoid being written out of the work of writing, perhaps writers must indeed become experts at working with writing-as-content” (184). Such a focus, she argues, should be part of the curriculum at all levels of writing instruction (184).

This refocus, she writes, should embrace the fact that some of this approach already appears in some writing curricula, and, moreover, central aspects of writing-as-content lend themselves to applications and critiques grounded in rhetorical theory (184-85). She examines the “quad,” a figure from Kristina Halvorson and Melissa Rach’s Content Strategy for the Web, that surrounds a “core strategy” with four quadrants: substance, structure, workflow, and governance (185-86). Substance, Dush states, involves choices about the appropriate information in a message; she relates structure to James E. Porter’s arguments addressing the relation of circulation to delivery and cites work “in writing studies about composing in networked space” (187). Workflow and governance are the “people components” that echo writing studies’ emphasis on the “social and material nature of writing” (188).

Dush suggests that in considering where elements of content management are already being taught, for example in technical communication and in courses such as Writing for the Web, compositionists can move beyond document design to considerations of platforms and the rhetorical concerns that arise as information moves across them (188). Course designers should consider including more “content” vocabulary both in curricula and in course titles in order “to better signal to employers that our students are prepared to do content work” (189). Multimodal courses can move beyond applications that limit students’ ability to apply strategies central to content creation like tagging and search-engine optimization (189).

Dush addresses challenges raised by the shift to “content” such as inadequate working conditions imposed by the need to be constantly connected to social media and the disparity between the “humanistic” values of writing studies and the profit- and efficiency-driven impulses of the content-oriented workplace (191). She sees as important concerns the degree to which writing itself may be “devalued” and the possible corollary that writing as traditionally understood will no longer be “a feasible profession” (191).

For Dush, in order to foster the values of writing studies while addressing the shift to content, the field should determine appropriate “core strateg[ies]” to place at the center of Halvorson and Rach’s quad. Using knowledge of content management to further humanistic organizations and causes, developing critical language to interrogate such phenomena as the effects on working conditions and consequences for users, and resisting the naturalization of the changing relations between writers and industry should direct the field’s response to the shift (192-93). Ultimately, Dush writes

the risks of ignoring writing-as-content or, likewise, dismissing it, are that we may miss an important opportunity to expand the conceptual, research, and pedagogical purview of writing studies in ways that are appropriate to the digital age. (193)

 


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Read and Michaud. Professional Writing as Rhetorical Education. CCC, Feb. 2015. Posted 04/21/15.

Read, Sarah, and Michael J. Michaud. “Writing about Writing and the Multimajor Professional Writing Course.” College Composition and Communication 66.3 (2015): 427-57. Print.

Sarah Read and Michael J. Michaud propose an enriched version of the undergraduate professional writing course that will allow students to become more rhetorically “savvy” (432) in negotiating workplace writing contexts and to more successfully transition from school writing to writing in other environments.

Their approach incorporates the tenets of writing-about-writing (WAW), which they argue will move students beyond reproducing the standard forms of more traditional “business writing” courses, such as memos and letters. In order to function successfully in the rhetorical environments they will encounter beyond college, writers must be able to analyze how writing works in specific situations among specific audiences and stakeholders and to adjust their responses across changing contexts. Drawing on the work of Doug Brent and Doug Downs and Elizabeth Wardle, Read and Michaud posit that such rhetorical flexibility demands that learning shift from “skill transfer,” in which students can produce a particular written artifact, to “learning transformation,” in which the focus is on learning about learning: learning how to study and respond to new contexts as they occur (429, 434). Read and Michaud write that students’ ability to take what they learn in writing classes beyond the classroom is an important outcome for the field of composition studies; they argue that making the study of professional writing a study of how writing accomplishes tasks across diverse environments renders it “a rich pedagogical practice uniquely suited to the [multimajor professional writing] classroom” (429).

In order to develop their proposal for enhancing students’ rhetorical fluency in professional-writing situations, Read and Michaud review two extant models for fostering recognition of the rhetorical nature of professional writing and enabling the transfer of learning across the school/work interface. The “genre-based” model positions students as researchers of professional writing artifacts and how they function socioculturally in use outside the classroom. This model must overcome drawbacks in that analyzing genres in classrooms as isolated objects differs from studying them in authentic contexts, where they are used to accomplish “strictly instrumental” goals (432). Moreover, students may not understand the dynamics of the particular contexts well enough to recognize the nuances of genre use in a given location (432). Genre-based models overcome these obstacles by incorporating activity theory in order to locate the genre in actual use and by incorporating “structured reflection” to draw out students’ awareness of “what they have learned about learning to write” (434; emphasis original).

In “client-based” approaches, in contrast, students occupy a “protoprofessional” role in which they work on specific projects within a workplace context (435). While this approach allows students to experience writing as an authentic professional activity, it must incorporate strategies to make the experience “generalizable” beyond the specific application (435). A strength of this approach is that it allows students to share in a sociocultural interaction that develops rhetorical awareness (436). Read and Michaud argue that WAW integrates the strengths of both these approaches.

They use as a primary source Doug Downs’s “seven rationales for WAW” developed for first-year courses. Of these, the most relevant are those that emphasize “transfer” and “authentic” experiences (436-37). They each provide an overview of a course they have designed that draws on WAW to expand the rhetorical content of a professional writing curriculum.

Read’s course “teach[es] professional writing as a research activity” (438). Students choose a participant in a specific workplace site to study in depth over a semester. They are taught analytical tools used in writing studies as well as field research practices such as interviewing and data collection (440). Read provides them with an online tool, GEMviz, in order to create “genre ecology models” mapping the rhetorical context in which their participant works (441-43). Students are encouraged not only to use the analytical and online tools but also to critique and adapt them, even to the point of “abandoning [them] for a better tool” if necessary. This active critical role “foregrounds how knowledge production is a highly dynamic, recursive, and rhetorical process in both academic and professional environments” (443). Read argues that the three most relevant “rationales” from Downs’s list are difficult to teach: understanding that writing is more than “the transcription of language to print” and casting writing as “studyable” confound students’ expectations for a writing course, while designing truly authentic experiences places complex demands on the course itself (439). Similarly, the two course goals exist in tension with each other: developing “[s]trategies for encountering new workplace writing situations” at the same time students learn conventional forms and practices (440). Read finds that a reflection letter asking students to explore the ways in which they have learned the difference between rhetorical strategies and conventions reveals a heightened awareness of “the nature of learning in general” (446).

In Michaud’s course, students acquire “declarative knowledge” that they then “operationalize” through field research of a particular workplace participant and a particular genre of their choice (449). The course is built around the concept of the “knowledge society” and how writing functions in roles students themselves will adopt in such societies (447). Students read work by scholars of knowledge production like Deborah Brandt, then interview their participant and report via informal assignments and two formal reports on their use of this scholarship to learn about the participant as a knowledge worker (447-50). Reflection built into each report allows students to focus on their discoveries about the transition from academic to professional environments (450). Michaud reports that students enter the course unaware of the concept of “knowledge society” and of the importance of writing in that society (449); their reflections reveal learning not only that “there would be writing after college [but also that] there would likely be a good deal of it” (452; emphasis original), they also learn that this writing as well as the contexts in which it will occur will require “new learning” which they must approach through the application of what Doug Brent calls “flexible general knowledge” (qtd. in Read and Michaud 451). This flexible knowledge allows them to “transform” knowledge to meet new needs.

The practices of both courses, Read and Michaud contend, make a professional writing course a “rhetorical education” that functions as “another site within a liberal arts curriculum for enculturating students into the habits of lifelong learning” (454).