International Business Writing Projects: Learning Content through Process

Article excerpt

Like many others, our university has internationalized its business curriculum while simultaneously stressing the development of better communication skills in business students. When we first began our project of developing writing assignments for a course in international business, we intended simply to develop general writing skills. However, as we evaluated the course and taught it a second time, we began to see an opportunity to use those writing assignments specifically to increase students' awareness and understanding of international issues. Like Murray (1994), we aimed to create assignments that would use common business communication genres to help students communicate in international situations; like Hall and Tiggeman (1995), we expected that these written assignments would help students learn key concepts of the course.

If - as Keating and Byles (1991) have claimed - the slow rate of success in internationalizing business school courses is due at least in part to the lack of guidance, evaluation, or reward provided to faculty for undertaking such a project, we propose to provide some practical guidance through this article. By briefly discussing ways business schools approach "adding" international issues and writing to courses separately, we also propose to show how writing assignments can help develop the international aspects of a course. We describe the purpose and organization of one course in international business, discuss how we designed writing assignments to develop both students' business communication skills and their awareness of international business issues, and evaluate the relative strengths and weaknesses of our approach. In the process, we hope to show how spending time on writing assignments will not interfere with time spent on international business concepts but can actually extend the time students devote to it. Writing and learning are then mutually reinforcing activities, rather than mutually exclusive.

"Internationalizing" Courses, "Instituting" Writing

Colleges and schools of business that want to internationalize their curriculum generally opt for one of two choices: either they offer new courses that concentrate on business disciplines in international settings or they redesign existing courses to include concerns relevant to businesses that operate globally (Keating & Byles, 1991). Research focusing on business communication courses has followed a similar pattern, demonstrating ways to adapt assignments to incorporate international elements (Murray, 1994) or suggesting appropriate content, experiences, or assignments for separate courses specifically addressing international business communication (O'Rourke, 1993; Rutherford, 1994).

Similar to the interest in increasing students' international awareness is educators' recognition that their students need improved abilities to communicate in writing. Surveys of business professionals show that they rank communication skills as among those most important to their jobs and that they would like to improve those skills (Smeltzer, 1993). Many business schools address such concerns by requiring students to take a business or technical writing course offered by the English department. Current research in composition studies has produced many articles addressed to English department faculty, suggesting ways the faculty can design such writing courses specifically for business writers (see Faigley, 1982; Tebeaux, 1985). Such research encourages an awareness in English faculty of the issues business writers face and the audiences they address so that their courses can provide students with appropriate ways of addressing those issues and audiences through writing.

Another solution is to incorporate writing into the business curriculum itself. This solution resembles the decision to "add" international elements to existing business courses and results in some similar challenges to faculty who may not believe they have the expertise or the time to teach either writing or international issues. …