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Assignment: Classify Writing in Your Discipline

posted: 7.1.14 by Traci Gardner

Writing in the disciplines was all the rage when I began teaching college writing, and at the time, many of us asked first-year writing students to investigate the kind of writing that was done in the fields they had chosen for their majors.

The one minor problem I had with this activity was that frequently students hadn’t decided on a field yet. In some cases, they were legitimately undecided. Some had a major, but they weren’t sure what kind of job they wanted to pursue. Others knew exactly what career they wanted to pursue, but had little sense of the writing skills the field demanded and few contacts in the field to help them learn more. The assignment seemed to have more challenges than strengths, so I stopped using it.

Now that I’m teaching technical writing, however, I’m reviving (and re-envisioning) the assignment, pairing it with an in-depth analysis of a specific piece of writing from students’ fields of study. First, I’m asking students to do a thorough analysis of the writing in their fields. I want them to survey the kinds of writing people in their career do and come up with a fairly comprehensive list of kinds of writing. I’ll have students classify the kinds of writing, matching the different kinds of writing to the chapters in our textbook, Michael Markel’s Practical Strategies for Technical Communication. I’ll ask them to provide a short description of the different kinds of writing and identify the typical audience and purpose.

Alongside that classification activity, I will adapt an assignment I used last semester to have them to look closely at one example of writing from their field. The first technical writing project I used during the spring semester, adapted Kristin Arola’s assignment, asked students to find a piece of writing from their field and evaluate how it met the criteria for effective technical writing from our textbook. My plan has students choose one of the items from their classification lists for a similar analysis. My goal is to have them move beyond lists to an essay-type report.

That’s my plan so far, but I am considering how I can complicate the genres and modes of expression for the assignment to make the assignment a bit more challenging and engaging. More on that next week….

[Photo: Reporter’s notebook by Roger H. Goun, on Flickr]

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