Department of English/Professional
Writing and Rhetoric
How can I better prepare students to transition rhetorical strategies learned in coursework to future workplace writing situations more confidently?
As an Assistant Professor of Professional Writing and Rhetoric, I am interested in how students develop the ability to successfully apply rhetorical strategies to achieve a desired purpose with a specific audience. One of challenges that students experience when making the transition between school and work is accurately assessing multiple audiences in order to communicate effectively.
Students are adept at assessing the teacher-audience but are decidedly less so in assessing complex, unknown, or even known, professional audiences, which therefore limits their rhetorical effectiveness in new situations. The ways students interact with a teacher-audience and use instructor feedback to improve their work does not necessarily parallel the ways in which feedback must be integrated in the workplace nor does it account for the multiple levels of audience most workplace writing must satisfy.
Based on these interests, I began to wonder: How can we introduce students to more complex audiences with real power as a way for students to receive real feedback and as a way to facilitate their transition from college writer to workplace writer?
From this theme, I developed two specific questions:
- How do students completing a publication project apply audience analysis strategies learned in past classes to work for a complex client audience?
- How does receiving feedback on their work from a real client affect students’ perception of that work and the project audience(s)?
Pre-Study Pilot Course
Concerned with these questions, I began experimenting with a project-based pedagogy in my upper-level Publishing elective courses. In the Fall 2008 pilot course, I attempted to break students out of their comfortable class expectations to encourage more active development of audience awareness and rhetorical confidence through workplace-like rhetorical decision-making. The students jointly created an identity for a consulting agency; worked for a campus client to research and redesign four brochures; and proposed a new student publication in response to a funded University grant.
My initial pilot findings suggested that students develop an authentic and applicable appreciation for the complexity of audience analysis and their own rhetorical confidence when challenged to integrate received rhetorical strategies with the realities of meaningful, iterative projects for actual audiences.
During the 2009-2010 academic year, I further tested this hypothesis using intensive semester-long client projects in my upper-level courses.