Academic journal article College Composition and Communication

Writing about Writing and the Multimajor Professional Writing Course

Academic journal article College Composition and Communication

Writing about Writing and the Multimajor Professional Writing Course

Article excerpt

Introduction

This article is motivated by what we believe is a fairly common experience in the broad universe that is composition studies, that of teaching what Donna Kain and Elizabeth Wardle have dubbed the introductory "multi-major professional communication course" (114). We imagine that for many, the experience may go something like this:

You are a newly hired comp/rhet specialist or an assistant/associate professor moving between colleges, and you have joined a Department of English (or Writing/ Rhetoric) where you have been asked to teach a section of a course currently called Business Writing. Your chair has made it clear how excited he is to have someone who "actually knows something about business writing" to teach a course that is, he admits, frequently staffed by adjuncts or faculty with marginal knowledge of or interest in professional communication. As you read through the sample syllabi your chair has shared with you, you recognize the shape of the courses your colleagues are teaching-the assignments they are giving (e.g., memos, letters, proposals, reports) and the titles of the textbooks they are using. While your area of expertise is not professional or technical writing, you know enough to know that just teaching business genres divorced from context is not an approach grounded in the theoretical and empirical knowledge of the field. As you think more about your dilemma-how to design a course in professional writing for an audience of multimajor undergraduate students whose only exposure to workplace literacy will be your class-you begin to feel frustrated: How, you wonder, have others worked through this problem? What books or textbooks have they used, what assignments have they created? What can you teach here and now that might help your students in the future, when they're actually out there in the workforce, writing each day?

In this article, we seek to connect this pedagogical dilemma, a dilemma that is neither new nor likely to go away anytime soon, with two important contemporary discussions in composition studies: the conversation about the pedagogy called writing about writing (WAW) and the conversation about the transferability of rhetorical knowledge from school to work. In the process, we hope to reinvigorate conversations in the field about the teaching of multimajor professional writing (MMPW) courses that are populated by thousands of undergraduates each year at both four-year and two-year institutions.

First, with regard to WAW, we see in this approach a viable solution to the problem articulated in the scenario above, a solution that we know, anecdotally, is already in use in practice, if not in name. We see in WAW an opportunity to, borrowing the language of Doug Downs and Elizabeth Wardle ("Teaching"), teach students in MMPW courses not just how to write professionally but also "about" (553) writing in professional contexts. This shift in emphasis accommodates our increasing awareness that what students take with them across the academic-workplace boundary is less a set of explicitly transferable skills and more a generalized rhetorical capacity that enables them to successfully adapt to new rhetorical situations. In light of this, we propose a reorientation of the pedagogy for the MMPW course-from that of teaching professional writing as a baggy set of genres and rhetorical skills to teaching professional writing as an area of inquiry and a problem-solving activity. We propose transporting into the context of professional settings the questions that motivate Downs and Wardle's Introduction to Writing Studies course: How does writing work in professional settings? How do people use writing in professional settings? What are problems related to writing and reading in professional settings, and how can they be solved? (558). We propose that those engaged in the work of teaching and theorizing MMPW courses consider what we have come to call WAW-PW (writing about writing-professional writing) as a rich pedagogical practice uniquely suited to the MMPW classroom. …

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