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Reading & class notes


Professional writing is a broad generalization that, for the scope of this course, includes the kinds of writing most commonly done in the workplace. While different disciplines have different conventions and genres, most share basic principles when it comes to writing. 

Whether you write for an attorney's office, a marketing team, a publisher, or a non-profit, you will need to deliver information quickly and accurately to a wide variety of readers. Busy people need emails to get to the point immediately. Prospective clients need to know what your organization offers and how it's different from what your competitors offer. Pretty much everyone to and for whom you write needs clear explanations, conciseness, and explicit action requests. Consider these statistics. 

  • Bad writing costs US businesses close to $400 billion every year (Bernoff).

  • Poor communication (including emails that aren't read) is responsible for as much as 40 percent of the cost of managing all business transactions (DuBay).

  • US companies spend more than $3.1 billion annually on remedial writing training, including $2.9 million on existing, rather than new, employees (National Commission on Writing). And this figure has almost certainly increased since the report was published in 2004.

Good writers are in-demand in professions most people have never even thought about. Graduates of SEU's writing major (even some minors!) work in a wide variety of careers. Here are just a few examples. 

  • Video game writing (The Walking Dead and WarGames' Master of Orion)

  • Political communications (Obama's White House, Beto O'Roark, The Office of the Governor of Texas)

  • Magazine Writing (Shape Magazine, Austin Woman, Austin Fit, Austin MD)

  • Publishing (McNally-Jackson, Penguin Books, Malvern Books)

  • Editing (Shell Oil, Siren Books, Junebug Weddings)

  • Technical Writing (National Instruments, IBM Tivoli, Bazaarvoice:, UT Research Center)

  • Marketing (KUT/KUTX, Outdoor Voices, Retail-me-not)

  • Social Media (Main Street Hub, Texas Bar Association, Messina Touring Group)

  • Sports Writing (Scouting for the Tampa Bay Rays)

Our grads are also legal writers, writers and editors for scientific and medical information, and grant writers for charities and non-profits. Alumni have published novels, short stories, poetry, essays, and journalism. 

What do these wildly different professional writing situations have in common? 

  1. They have strategies for planning and getting started on writing projects. 

  2. They know how to get to the point immediately with clarity and precision. 

  3. They write with an appropriate voice, one that reflects their organization and sounds professional. 

  4. They select the organizing strategy that is best suited to the audience, purpose, and occasion of each document. 

  5. They persuade readers to ACT. 

  6. They choose the appropriate tone, the one that conveys professionalism, courtesy, and respect. 

  7. They use common sense when following grammar rules, avoid common errors, and know how to ensure that awkward grammar never obscures their meaning. 

  8. They edit and proofread for clarity, organization, and mechanics

  9. They master emails and other electronic communication to save time and sound professional. 

  10. They tailor their writing to social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. 


11 Characteristics of Workplace Writing

How is workplace writing different from writing typically assigned in school?

Serves Practical Purposes

The most important difference concerns purpose. On the job, you will writer for practical purposes, such as helping your employer improve a product or increase efficiency. Your readers will be supervisors, co-workers, customers, or other people who need information and ideas from you to pursue their own practical goals. Your audience needs information from you to make a decision or take an action. 

Must Satisfy Different Readers in a Single Communication

Students usually write to a single reader, the instructor. At work, you will often prepare communications that address two or more people who differ in important ways, such as the way they'll use your information, their familiarity with the topic, and their professional and personal concerns. 

Addresses International and Multicultural Audiences

When writing at work, you may often address readers from different nations and cultural backgrounds. Many organizations have clients, customers, and suppliers in other parts of the world. Thirty-three percent of US corporate profits are generated by international trade. Websites are accessed by people around the planet. 

Uses Distinctive Types of Communication

At work people create a wide variety of job-related communications that aren't usually assigned in classes, including memos, business letters, instructions, and formal reports. Some genres are unique to specific professions, such as grant proposals for non-profits and press releases for public relations. These genres have both general and specific conventions. 

Employs Graphics and Visual Design to Increase Effectiveness

Tables, charts, drawings, photographs, and other graphics are often as important as written text. To write effectively, you will need to be able to create graphics and arrange them--along with other page or screen elements in ways that make your communications visually appealing, easy to understand, and easy to navigate. 

Created Collaboratively

The experience you have at school of writing collaboratively will benefit you on the job. For long documents, the number of writers and co-writers is sometimes astonishingly large, into the hundreds. Even when you prepare communications alone, you will probably consult with co-workers, you boss, and even members of your intended audience as part of your writing process.  A common form of collaboration involves submitting drafts for review by managers and others who have the power to demand changes. Some drafts go through several cycles before final approval. 

Created in a Globally Networked Environment

Increasingly, writers work collaboratively in globally networked environments. Using the internet, team members write reports, proposals and other documents even though these people may be located in different countries. Teams may hold work sessions entirely online and never meet in person. Members may come from different cultures and have different native languages. 

Shaped by Organizational Conventions and Culture

Each organization has a certain style that reflects the way it perceives and presents itself to outsiders as part of its brand. For example, one organization might be formal and conservative while another is informal and conversational in its communications. You will be expected to understand the style and tone of your organizational identity and employ it in your writing. The old tech writing axiom that "a good writer is invisible" means that you create communications in the "voice" or your organization. 

Shaped by Social and Political Factors

Every communication situation has social dimensions. In your writing at school, the key social relationship is that of a student to a teacher. At work, you will have a much wider variety of relationships to your readers, such as manager to subordinate, customer to supplier, or co-worker to co-worker. Sometimes these relationships will be characterized by cooperation and goodwill and others by competitiveness as people strive for recognition, power, or money for themselves and their departments. To write effectively, you will need to adjust the style, tone, and overall approach of each communication to these social and political considerations. 

Must Meet Deadlines

In many jobs, deadlines are more significant--and changeable--than most deadlines at school. A deadline may be pushed back or advanced several times during a project, but not mater what the deadline is, the work must be completed on time. For example, when a company prepares a proposal or sales document, it must reach the client by the deadline the client has set. Otherwise, it might not be considered at all, not mater how good it is. Employers sometimes advise that it's better to be "80 percent complete than 100 percent late." 

Sensitive to Legal and Ethical Issues

Under the law, most documents written by employees represent the position and commitments of the organization itself. Company documents can even be subpoenaed as evidence in disputes over contracts and in product liability lawsuits. Even when the law is not an issue, written communications can have moral and ethical dimensions. 


At work, writing is an action; At work, writing supports the reader's action. 

Some people don't do well at professional writing because they think of writing as a byproduct of education or an afterthought, merely recording or transporting information. Writing at work, however, is an ACTION. When you write at work, you act. You make something happen. You change things from the way they are now to the way you want them to be. 

Just as writing is an action, so is reading. Audiences read professional writing because it gives them helpful information. It informs and instructs. As a professional writer, your goal will be to serve your readers: to help them do their jobs, to create and maintain professional relationships, and to create and share knowledge. 

2 Essential qualities of effective writing at work: usefulness and persuasiveness


To be useful, a communication must help readers perform their tasks effectively and efficiently. Many features of a communication affect its usefulness. Communications must contain all the information that readers require, but exclude unnecessary information that would make if difficult for readers to find what they need. Writers must organize and present information in a way that makes it easy to use. 


A communication's persuasiveness is its ability to influence readers' attitudes and actions. In most communications, either usefulness or persuasiveness dominates: usefulness in instructions, for example, or persuasiveness in proposals. However, both are necessary for success. Instructions are useful only if the reader can be persuaded to read them. A proposal can only persuade if its readers can easily find and understand its content. 


Think constantly about your readers

Imagine your readers standing right in front of you. What do they need? What rhetorical choices can you make to support their reading, understanding, and retention? 

Imagine your readers in the very act of reading. Not after reading, but WHILE reading. Extensive research gives us three basic principles of reading: 

  • Readers construct meaning

  • Readers' responses are shaped by the situation

  • Readers react moment by moment

All three demonstrate that writing is not a passive activity for readers, but a dynamic interaction between readers and texts. ​

Readers construct meaning

The meaning of a written message doesn't leap into our minds solely from the words we see. To derive meaning from the message, we interact with it. We employ a great deal of knowledge that's not on the page but in our heads. 

Consider, for example, the knowledge that we must possess and apply to understand the simple sentence, "It's a dog." We must know about letters and language to decipher the words and to understand their grammatical relationships--young children and non-English speakers do not possess this knowledge and cannot read the sentence. We also understand the context: Are we talking about someone's pet or evaluating the new computer? 

You should learn as much as possible about the knowledge your readers bring to your communication so that you can create one that helps them construct the meanings that you intend. Readers are lazy; do the work for them. 

Readers' responses are shaped by the situation

Reactions to communications will be shaped by context--including readers' purpose for reading, their perceptions of your purpose in writing, their personal stake in the subject, and their past interactions with you. The range of situational factors that can affect a reader's response is obviously unlimited. To predict how your readers might respond to your communication, you must understand as much as possible the context in which they will read it. 

Readers react moment by moment

When we read a funny scene in a novel, we laugh at the words or sentences as we read them. We don't wait until we've finished the whole book. Similarly, people react to each part of a memo, report, proposal, or tweet as they are encounter it.  In most cases, we don't actually even read words: we predict what's coming next based on our experience as readers. People react to information moment by moment. The first word, sentence, or paragraph will affect how they derive meaning from the next. To write effectively, you must try to predict these responses and design your messages accordingly, keeping readers' needs, goals, preferences, feelings, responsibilities, and situations in mind as you compose. 


6 Strategies for Reader-Centered Writing
  1. Identify the action request: What is the specific task that your readers will perform using your communication? Are you asking them to do something, know something, or see the relative importance of a piece of information? Knowing this will help you decide what level of detail they need. 

  2. Know your readers' attitudes toward the topic: Do your readers feel positive, negative, or neutral about this information? Knowing how they'll receive the information will help you come up with the best strategy for presenting it to shape the most effective response. 

  3. Help readers find what they need in order to act: State your main points at the beginning ("answers first") rather than the middle or end of your communications. Use headings, topic sentences, and lists to guide readers to the specific information they want to locate. 

  4. Use an easy-to-read style: The simplest way to make your communication useful is to simplify the language and organization for clarity. Cut unnecessary words; use the active voice rather than the passive; use active verbs and name clear, consistent subjects. 

  5. Highlight points your readers will find persuasive: Present the information your readers will find more persuasive before you present the information that they'll find less persuasive. Show how your action request will help them achieve their own goals. Look for points that your readers will find credible and compelling. 

  6. Talk with your readers: If at all possible, ask your intended readers what they want in communications and how they're going to use the information. Use their feedback when planning, drafting, and revising your communication. 


Characteristics of Successful Social Media Campaigns
  • Promote a product or service

  • Build brand awareness

  • Create a sense of community

Good social media campaigns unite people around common experiences and, ideally, create trends. 

Social Media Trends
  • Increasing consumer engagement: social media users are increasingly willing to mention brands in their posts and they appreciate direct responses from organizations. 

  • Customizable chatbots: Organizations know the value of responding directly to their clients, but what if your organization gets hundreds of client contacts a day? Several platforms now offer customizable chatbots to take over some of the direct contact, saving time and increasing customer satisfaction. 

  • Instagram Stories: Since introducing its stories feature, Instagram's user base exploded. One of the most attractive features (most viewed, most shared, most likely to initiate contact) is "ephemeral" videos--short videos that disappear after a brief time. Brands will likely use this information to create more of these videos to attract engagement. 

  • Augmented reality and facial filters: Yes, people still find these hilarious and fun to use. Brands like Taco Bell have partnered with SnapChat to create specific promotional filters like the Taco Head. 

  • Social call-out culture and taking a stand: With the success of campaigns like #MeToo and #TimesUp and the like, consumers are increasingly feeling empowered to use social media for advocacy and calling the powerful to account. A recent study by Sprout Social found that 81% of customers believe that social media has increased accountability. 

Professional Writing Concepts
  • All information is divisible

  • All professional writing can be categorized as instruction, description, or a combination of both

  • Answer readers' question "Why Are You Bothering Me With This?" as soon as possible 

  • DMMT (don't make me think)

  • Action request

  • Organize for skimmability

  • Common informational patterns 

  • Design for usability

  • Good professional/technical/business writers are invisible

  • Voice

  • Tone

  • Diction

  • Organizational Identity

  • Chunking

  • Credibility

  • Relationships drive voice and tone

  • Three kinds of readers (accepting, hostile, and neutral)

Writing and Rhetoric Concepts (Analytical)
  • Writing is social: you are always writing "to" an audience, even if that audience is yourself or a theoretical or imaginary audience.

  • Writing is generative: writing is not summative; we don't do all the work in our heads and then "write it up." Writing helps us know what we think, see, and mean. 

  • Writing is a process (see above note on "generative"). The process involves invention, prewriting, drafting, revising, and editing is a recursive process. Recursive means recurring or repeating; these steps constantly circle back on each other. I think of them as having an ongoing conversation. 

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