Academic journal article The Journal of Business Communication

University Preparation for Workplace Writing: An Exploratory Study of the Perceptions of Students in Three Disciplines

Academic journal article The Journal of Business Communication

University Preparation for Workplace Writing: An Exploratory Study of the Perceptions of Students in Three Disciplines

Article excerpt

This study investigated how Canadian university student interns in three disciplines perceived their educational preparation for workplace writing. The students' perceptions differed markedly according to disciplinary background, with Management students responding very positively about their preparation, Political Science students responding positively, and Communications Studies students responding negatively. The authors discuss how these responses potentially reflect differing student expectations; theory practice linkages; and patterns of integrating instruction and practice in research, analysis, and work place genres across these disciplines. The results suggest that universities can prepare students for workplace writing by providing them with instruction and practice in common workplace genres, relevant research and analytic skills, experience in collaborative writing, ample feedback on their writing, and an appreciation for the socially situated nature of genres and genre acquisition. The authors also point to the benefits of work placement and internship programs and suggest directions for further research.

Keywords: genre acquisition; workplace writing; writing in the disciplines; business writing; internship

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How well do students think university prepares them for the writing they will do in their future work lives? In the exploratory case study that we report on in this article, we set out to investigate this question by interviewing nine students at one Canadian university. The students were from three disciplines--Management, Political Science, and Communications Studies--and all were participants in cooperative education programs in which they completed work-term placements that involved writing in the workplace. We were interested in investigating the transfer of writing skills from university to the workplace, in particular the extent to which workplace genres can be taught outside the workplace. As part of our research into students' experiences as novices writing in the workplace, we probed students' perceptions of their university preparation for workplace writing. Although university instructors might wish it were otherwise, in these days of "student as customer" and in the context of an ever-increasing focus on accountability, what students think about various aspects of their university education has become a factor in designing university programs and in maintaining their reputation.

Among the students we interviewed, we found striking differences in the perceived degree of preparedness for workplace writing according to the students' disciplinary backgrounds: The Management students responded highly positively about their preparation, the Political Science students responded positively, and the Communications Studies students responded negatively. We believe that these differences relate to the differing relationships between theory and practice in these disciplines and to the ways in which instruction and practice in research, analytical skills, and workplace genres are integrated into students' disciplinary studies. We also speculate that students from Management, Political Science, and Communications Studies have quite different expectations of their degrees and of themselves as writers in the workplace and that these differing expectations influence how they perceive their preparation for workplace writing.

Although it is clear that the transfer of writing skills from the classroom to the workplace is a complex phenomenon and that there are no easy answers to the question of how best to prepare students for workplace writing, our research leads us to the position that despite the differences between classroom and workplace writing, universities play an important role in preparing students for workplace writing. We believe that the classroom can provide students with a grasp of the basic conventions of common workplace genres, a grounding in the research and analytic skills integral to particular genres, practice in producing those genres, and an appreciation for the complex nature of genres and genre acquisition. …

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