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Newmark, Julianne. Technical Communication, Archives, and Colonialism. CCC, June 2020. Posted 07/31/2020.

Newmark, Julianne. “The Formal Conventions of Colonial Medicine: Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Agency Physicians’ Reports, 1880-1910.” College Composition and Communication 71.4 (2020): 620-42. Print.

Julianne Newmark presents an analysis of government documents related to health services for Native Americans from shortly before to well into the era of the Dawes Severalty Act of 1887. She addresses implications of a study like hers for both technical/professional communications practitioners and scholars and scholars doing archival research.

The Dawes Act, Newmark writes,

sought to allot, in individual allocations, 160-acre plots of formerly communally held land to individual Native heads of household. Provisions concerning farming, Christianization, and enrollment of children in school were elements of the act. (638n1)

The two government documents under study for the article are reports required of “agency physicians” in the employ of the Office of Indian Affairs (621). In these reports, the physicians fill out forms recording specifics of Native health and government-provided health care in a particular jurisdiction. The first, “Monthly Report of Sick and Wounded” (623) was completed in December 1882, by the Pine Ridge, South Dakota, agency physician Fordyce Grinnell. Newmark notes that this report was filed five years before the Dawes Act was passed and eight years before the massacre at Wounded Knee (626). The second document, “Physician’s Semiannual Report,” was written by Charles N. Brooks of the Nett Lake agency in northern Minnesota in 1910 (632).

Although Native physicians did hold some of these positions, Newmark points out that “the vast majority” of the physicians serving Native populations were non-Native, as were Grinnell and Brooks (621).

Newmark argues that not only the purpose and content of the reporting process as illustrated in these documents but also the form and structure of the document templates themselves were “paradigmatic tools of colonialism” (621). She draws on the work of Steven B. Katz, particularly his arguments in a 1992 article, “The Ethic of Expediency: Classical Rhetoric, Technology, and the Holocaust” (622).

Newmark cites this work to argue that valuing efficiency and expediency dehumanizes communities and masks “how these stories might have been told differently” (626; emphasis original). Also turning to Bernadette Longo, among other scholars of the implicit contributions of technical-writing protocols to the ideologies at issue, Newmark discusses the theory that a “military model” (624) designed to promote “an ethos of expediency” above humanistic values forces a Western mindset based on bureaucratic control on cultures that may have quite different values and practices (625).

In her analysis of the Pine Ridge documents, Newmark points to the “tabular data conventions” (628) of the report templates, arguing that they result in “anonymized (or depersonalized) lists,” with categorizations of populations as “Indians,” “Half-Breeds,” and “Whites.” Such enumerations, Newmark argues, reflect the control exerted by the colonial power and the importance given to expediency over capturing the lived realities of the residents (627). Similarly, in Newmark’s view, the use of an “umbrella term,” in this case “Chronic Rheumatism,” that is then belied by extensive lists of specific ailments later in the document, serves to both “flatten out nuance” while demonstrating the existence of “pervasive health problems community-wide” (628).

A second section of the report allows the physician to append some of his own thoughts; for Newmark, Grinnell’s unusually extensive use of this space indicates that he takes his responsibilities seriously at the same time that he reveals the colonizing agenda behind the process by contrasting the services he offers from “civilized life” with the treatment Native communities could expect from “their medicine men with the clangor of tom-toms” (qtd. in Newmark 630). Thus, Newmark argues, Grinnell reports on a “cultural accommodation” to Western, Christianized values at odds with the traditions of the community (630). She posits that the tensions embedded in this contrast may have foretold the Wounded Knee tragedy that lay ahead.

For Newmark, the second document, produced in Minnesota a quarter-century later, reveals the “perpetuation” of the bureaucratic mindset that dehumanized Native populations by recording their experiences in formats designed to foreground efficiency and depersonalization (631). She notes a design consistency she finds telling in that the tabular data in both documents precedes the opportunity for more revealing comment (632).

In the Minnesota document, the physician is specifically instructed to use his space for remarks to comment on the state of the buildings under his jurisdiction: “The physician is asked not about patients, but about facilities” (634; emphasis original). In his remarks, Dr. Brooks, expressed the need for “an infirmary for the very old people” who often “live in solitude, and are ill prepared to look after themselves” (qtd. in Newmark 634-35). Newmark maintains that the specific instructions Brooks followed made it less likely that he would address the cultural issues that characterized Grinnell’s report and less likely that he would feel free to speak to real human needs (635).

The author contrasts the work of the non-Native physicians whose reports she studied with the tenure of Dr. Carlos Montezuma, who served in North Dakota contemporaneously with Grinnell and later at the Carlisle Indian School (635). Montezuma, Newmark writes, grew frustrated with his inability to provide the needed support through government agencies and became an independent activist through his own medical practice and a newsletter, Wassaja (636).

Newmark notes that a Native physician, Charles Alexander Eastman, was appointed agency physician at Pine Ridge in October, 1980, three months before the Wounded Knee massacre (631). In the text and in an extensive note (639n3), Newmark presents the implications of the fact that Eastman’s reports on his role during the massacre are missing from the Kansas City National Archives even though the archives contain formal documents from other physicians of the time. Queries to archives have not produced the missing materials.

From her studies of what the archives do contain as well as what is less accessible or missing, Newmark sees the need for scholars of technical and professional communication interested in the relationship between bureaucracy and colonialism to search for records of the work of Native physicians, exploring how they may have responded to and perhaps resisted the rhetorical demands of their roles (637). She urges scholars to consider how research conventions in their own work may be complicit in what Linda Tuhiwai Smith deems a process of “classification and representation” implicated in power issues (637). Worth study, in Newmark’s view, is the nature of archives themselves, which must be assumed to be incomplete (640n7).

The Western tradition answers the question “What is real?” by placing what is deemed to be real—reports, authorized histories—in official archives. The genre of the report is a genre of the presumptive authoritative real. (637; emphasis original)

Newmark includes figures showing the documents she discusses and her notes link to zoomable copies of the materials.


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Wible, Scott. Design Thinking for Creative Problem Solving. CCC, Feb. 2020. Posted 04/19/2020.

Wible, Scott. “Using Design Thinking to Teach Creative Problem Solving in Writing Courses.” College Composition and Communication 71.3 (2020): 399-425. Print.

Scott Wible describes an upper-level course in a professional-writing minor in which “design thinking” is central to the course design and outcomes. In Wible’s view, the processes inherent in design thinking lead students to more creative responses to problem-solving assignments.

Wible notes that the 2011 Framework for Success in Post-Secondary Writing, by the Council of Writing Program Administrators, the National Council of Teacher of English, and the National Writing Project, includes “creativity” as one of the “habits of mind” for successful student writing, defining it as “the ability to use novel approaches for generating, investigating, and representing ideas” (399-400). Wible cites scholarship advocating creativity as an important writing outcome and advancing strategies for encouraging it (400). Adding reviews of composition scholars and others who promote design thinking, Wible presents design-thinking as “a human-centered process” that derives its effects from intensive interactions with stakeholders as well as an emphasis on learning as a way of expanding the invention phase of composing (400-01).

In the “large suburban public university in the Northeast” (403) where Wible directs the Professional Writing Program (425), students complete a “series of linked assignments” focused on identifying and proposing a solution to a problem (403). Wible became concerned that traditional assignments did not inspire students to conduct serious inquiry or to think creatively, but rather allowed them to seize on preconceived notions of the ideal solution and then, as noted by Carolyn D. Rude, “approach their remaining work as an exercise in defending that thesis” (404).

In contrast, Wible argues, design thinking uses a set of writing exercises or genres to preclude early closure and engender the kind of thinking needed to address what Richard Marback calls “wicked problems”: those that are “highly contextualized, value-laden, and solvable in more than one way” (404-05).

In Wible’s representation, design thinking encompasses five modes: Empathy Mode, Define Mode, Ideate Mode, Prototyping Mode, and Test Mode (405). These modes, embodied in written genres, provide students with templates for exploring the complexities of a problem and opening pathways to innovation, enabling them, as encouraged by Linda Flower and John Hayes, to “create ideas, not simply find them” (402).

Wible’s class was commissioned by the Office of Faculty Affairs to develop a video for new faculty at the university. Envisioned as a basic introduction to university life, the project as enriched by design thinking, in Wible’s view, recognized and addressed the needs of this group with deeper understanding and effectiveness (405).

An overriding principle behind the five modes and the genres through which they are implemented, he reports, is the need, in the words of “entrepreneur educator” Steven Blank, for students to “get out of the building,” (qtd. in Wible 407), recognizing that effective problem solving does not result from “huddling in a conference room” but rather from “empathy research” that involves firsthand engagement with stakeholders. This kind of research assumes that the inquirer is ignorant and in need of exploring the problem in unfamiliar contexts beyond traditional research (407). The genres facilitate this kind of inquiry.

In Empathy Mode, Wible reports that students present the new faculty stakeholders with a set of “User Empathy Cards” containing “activities and experiences likely common” to the new faculty; respondents sort the cards into priorities, an exercise that elicits conversations leading in unexpected directions (408). Students compose follow-up “empathy questions,” again beyond the expected, to elicit “detail-rich, value-laden stories” that encompass multiple facets of respondents’ situations (409).

The Definition Mode, Wible explains, results in “User Empathy Maps,” which students create through collaborative sharing of their notes, with salient points listed quickly and briefly on sticky notes. Emerging trends in these lists lead to the map, which includes the categories “Say,” “Think,” “Do,” and “Feel.” He gives the example of “academic loneliness” expressed by new STEM faculty trying to develop research agendas (411).

The synthesis afforded by the map leads to the POV Statement, a template in which a specific “user” is said to “need” a certain outcome based on conclusions from the mapping process. Wible contrasts these statements with project statements from a more typical course, in which a solution would often be embedded in the definition of the problem (412). The goal, he writes, is to capture “the emotional depth and breadth of a person’s experiences rather than only their material needs” (413).

Instead of proposing “import[ed]” solutions in the Ideation Mode, students use their POV Statements to compose “How Might We” statements that define the needs, then move on to an intensive collaborative brainstorming session. Wible emphasizes what he considers effective brainstorming, in his case, characterized in part by using the limited space afforded by sticky notes to capture ideas without getting bogged down in developing each one (415).

This process leads to “Idea Selection.” Wible urges moving beyond the commonly applied criterion of “feasibility,” which he argues results in “many imaginative yet undeveloped ideas get[ting] lost” (415). His students broke into teams charged with producing videos, with one considering feasibility, but two others looking for the idea “most likely to delight the user” and another considering the “potentially ‘biggest breakthrough’” (416).

In the Prototyping and Testing Modes, students presented possible “rough” solutions to their respondents and gathered feedback. This step, offered in multimodal genres, led to further revision. Genres included “[a]nnotated sketches,” and “role playing.” Because they had been asked to create a video, the students chose to create “eight-panel storyboards” (418). Wible continues to emphasize how the design process results in deeper knowledge and creative insights about context and needs:

The aim of creating and testing prototypes . . . is not to seek confirmation about a solution idea but rather to bring designers together with users to think with and through the prototype-as-tentative solution. . . . (418)

Students finally “pitch” their solutions, but Wible argues for moving them away from foregrounding their product to foregrounding their learning. They synthesize an “Innovation Story” and a “Learning Story” that detail how they created their solutions through the design modes (419-20).

Wible promotes the value of writing as a means to explore and focus the learning resulting from the use of design thinking and advocates integrating the methodologies students encounter in their varied majors with design processes (422). He reports critique that, unless specifically structured to include it, design thinking can overlook learning from past cultural moments, including “humanistic and social research that happen through reading” (423). He notes that design principles should not be seen as monolithic solutions for better writing outcomes but rather as part of a pedagogical strategy to inspire deeper, more creative engagement in problem-solving methods.


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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).