Academic journal article College Composition and Communication

Redefining Writing for the Responsive Workplace

Academic journal article College Composition and Communication

Redefining Writing for the Responsive Workplace

Article excerpt

[My job relies on] critical thinking... determining what content is supposed to go where at what time and... being able to make those choices.

-Tom, social media strategist for a large aerospace company

I've always been a strong writer, so I think I gravitated toward this role, [but] it's definitely a different kind of writing that I had to get used to.

-Madison, communications director for a small nonprofit

It's remarkable what you can learn over the course of several days shadowing a writer in the workplace. The opportunity to observe a writer participating in countless meetings, projects, discussions, technological interactions-and yes, even doing some actual writing-uncovers a rich complexity of experience. Multiply that observation by eight more writers in eight more workplaces, and the sheer amount of content and commentary swimming through your notes, files, and interview transcripts begs for exposure, so that future writers preparing for future workplaces might know a little more about what to expect when they leave our classrooms and are invited to apply their knowledge and critical thinking skills in new communicative arenas.

Will our students become like Tom, who works in a massive office complex with hundreds of other people and manages the social media and digital content for a large aerospace company? Or will they become like Madison, who works in a glass-fronted brick duplex downtown that doubles as an art gallery and serves as the home of a small-staffed but vibrant nonprofit, encouraging local business support and development. Or perhaps they will fill a role like Beth, who writes web content for a large web hosting company, or Nate, who develops content for a small digital marketing agency, or Connie, who writes help content for the clients of a midsized healthcare solutions company.

Whatever jobs our English majors, rhet/comp majors, or professional/ technical writing majors decide to pursue, it is reasonable to assume that writing will be involved. At the very least, this has meant having some facility with written language and composing technologies and some awareness of audience, purpose, context, and rhetorical appeals. However, the delivery of writing-by which we mean the channels through which it is distributed and consumed-has been evolving so rapidly in the past decade that our fundamental assumptions about writing in the workplace must also evolve. We call this evolving workplace "responsive," borrowing from the practice of "responsive web design," which is the now-standard approach to designing websites so their appearance and usability adapt to various screen sizes, resolutions, and device types. A "responsive" workplace is one in which writers must adapt to making meaning not just through writing, but across a range of modes, technologies, channels, and constraints. To some extent, writers have always had to be "responsive" to changes in technologies, audiences, and contexts. But what sets the responsive workplace apart at this time is the sheer range of responsive action that is now practiced across a vast landscape of contexts and rhetorical practices, affecting our very notions of what writing is and how it gets done.

The responsive workplace is reflective of the reality that information now comes to us not only through written language but also through still and animated images, video, sound, and combinations of these, and other, modes. It is composed not only through a word processor but also through multimedia and graphic editing programs, web interfaces, and cell phones. It is distributed not only through print but also across screens of every shape and size and resolution.

Information is also circulated more rapidly than ever before. Social media channels make for immediate distribution of writing and other multimodal content, which, in turn, has altered the pace at which content is developed and consumed. Social media posts, in the form of written text, still and moving images, and short videos, are expected as events are happening. …

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