An Integrated Approach to Introducing Research Methods in Required Business and Technical Writing Courses

By Loehr, Linda | Business Communication Quarterly, December 1995 | Go to article overview

An Integrated Approach to Introducing Research Methods in Required Business and Technical Writing Courses


Loehr, Linda, Business Communication Quarterly


This paper presents a classroom-tested method of presenting a variety of research materials and methods for optimal effectiveness. The integrated approach offers the opportunity for both instructors and their students to share responsibility for creating updated and useful courses that explore communication issues and offer practice in research. The suggested approach is multidimensioned but flexible and modular for ease in adaptation.

In the broad-based courses in which students begin focused practice in business and technical writing, instructors traditionally assign research-based reports. The reports generally serve as a culminating activity for upper-level undergraduates and entry-level graduate students, many of whom are -- or will soon be -- writing reports in organizations. Instructors often weigh the report assignment heavily, allowing as much time as is feasible in the course of a term, for students to do a thorough job of conducting research and presenting carefully considered findings.

But, in practice, something different often happens. Certainly, students perennially produce an abundance of reports, documents often supplemented by oral presentations. Too often, however, like the topical treatments of report-writing found in many standard texts, the report is the last item on the course agenda. Students then tackle the difficult work of researching a report as deadlines loom, hurriedly conducting e research, taking positions, and making recommendations, all with varying degrees of solid support.

The initial outcome can be stacks of reports that accomplish little -- even in the way of honing students' research skills -- documents that students and instructors alike recall with displeasure and distaste. The lingering, long-term impact can be even more damaging:

* new professionals who hold or will obtain

positions of responsibility who do not seek, use, or

value management or communication research

* organizational reporting practices that allow

surface-level research to inform decisions that impact

stakeholders within and beyond the departments

in which reports originate

* the continued widespread use of documents that

do not consider constituencies (that is, audiences)

or have desired effects.

Given that many students take procrastination to the level of an art form -- a variable likely to continue to constrain the report-writing process -- how then can research materials and methods be introduced with greater short- and long-term effect? One idea involves introducing research requirements as an integrated, on-going part of basic courses requiring the conducting and sharing of research-based data.

The integrated system proposed weaves text- and instructor-presented material with research for which students take special responsibility. The three major assignments include (a) a capsule summary of a research-based article, written for an industry audience (like the "translation" articles regularly featured in the Academy of Management's Executive); (b) a profile of an influential voice in the fields of business and technical communication; and (c) a case study of a document in use in an organization. The flexible grand plan, from which many alternative versions are possible, then involves having students digest and present ideas from topical articles in the literature; asking students to research the contributions of people who are key influences in focused areas of the field of business and technical communication (for example, graphics, presentations, Or mechanics); and requiring individuals or small groups to analyze a single document or format within a context.

The Article Summary or "Translation"

Assignment

Course instructors introduce research methods of preference (for example, the literature review, the survey, the interview, and so forth) and methods of access (that is, using library resources, especially online services and support systems, and negotiating on-site access to people).

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An Integrated Approach to Introducing Research Methods in Required Business and Technical Writing Courses
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