Real-World Applications of the Long Report, pt. 2

This paper was presented to CCCC in 1990.

Step One: Formal proposal

Once the small group studies were chosen, the students submitted a formal proposal requesting approval to conduct the study and preliminary projections of methodology, cost, and scheduling. The first version of the formal proposals ranged from the overly cautious writers who felt little could be discovered in the allotted ten weeks to the incredibly idealistic who felt that everyone they knew would work with them full-time on this project. The two ends of the spectrum were mediated towards the middle through the process of reading and commenting on each other’s proposals.

Step Two: Two shorter progress reports

Instead of one long progress report per small group, I requested two shorter reports. It was in these progress memos that problems the writers had been working against were expressed and revised into something with which they could cope.

The progress reports also provided a forum through which the group could receive feedback since first versions were read by two people outside the group. There was no sustained written dialogue, but students did point each other in new directions by short comments and questions which generally were requests for clarification of points the writers had not thought through.

Students’ problems and their solutions

The students also used the progress reports to discuss unworkable plans and problems they were encountering. One example of this came from the group working on pricing. They were unable to reach by phone the only videographer operating in the area. They documented two weeks’ worth of phone calls to his business number at various times of the day. I could not suggest a way to get in touch with this elusive competitor.

But by the time I received the second version of their progress report, they had made alternative arrangements. This version of the progress report included the phone numbers of videographers in two other cities demographically similar and noted that the group members were beginning to contact these people for price lists.

Another problem these students were faced with was a question of ethics. The students wondered how they could get the information they wanted from other videographers without lying about why they wanted them. One group took care of the problem by having a friend of one member who was being married in the city where one set of videographers were located call and ask for the price lists. The number of innovative responses to problems the students met with were encouraging.

Copies of the final reports from the students were presented to the people considering starting the wedding video service. They felt that the information was more than adequate to allow them to make a responsible decision in the matter.

Feasibility studies

Two other classes worked on the feasibility of setting up a typing/editing service. These classes also brainstormed to determine possible project divisions. They identified several areas of concern which our “clients” had not thought to consider. This was an encouraging beginning.

To be continued…

Real-World Applications of the Long Report, pt. 1

This paper was presented to CCCC in 1990.

Real-World Applications for the Long Report

Abilene Christian University’s Business Writing students learn the currently accepted formats for written business documents. They are presented with the principles and student in-progress papers for concrete examples of the formats.

Then the students are expected to discover real problems in their work/academic environment which need a solution and, using the cognitive problem-solving strategies of Flower and Hayes, 1) propose an investigation into the problem along with possible solutions, 2) begin conducting this investigation and report their progress, and 3) submit a final report which makes a recommendation based on the data gathered.

Problem

The expectation was that classes would be composed of juniors and seniors. These students would work on reports such as whether a delivery service would be feasible for the pizza shop at which they worked which currently only served in-house or what measures might be used to decrease the amount of time employees spent off the premises of a hardware store. And these problems would be garnered from actual work situations. This approach works well with students who have worked or are working while going to school. However, because a number of sophomores enroll each semester, there were difficulties since sophomores typically have less work experience from which to extract problems.

Solution

In an effort to alleviate these difficulties, I searched for multi-faceted problems which would be complex enough to provide eight to ten collaborative projects. I found several community members who were considering business ventures but did not have the time to carry out a feasibility study. These community-member needs have led to long-term projects for my classes.

Examples

Two examples are the long report sequences covering setting up a wedding video service and an editing/typing service. The third example of a long report sequence presents the university as a community and investigates whether the resumes and application letters taught in business writing are valid for students looking for jobs in video and film production, relatively new specialties in mass communications.

The students who worked on the feasibility study for the wedding video service were presented with the idea for the overall project. They were then asked to propose divisions of the project which coincided with their areas of interest for small group collaborative studies. This discussion allowed them to brainstorm as a class and to find others with similar interests with whom to work throughout the long report sequence. The areas eventually chosen were as diverse as the purchasing of video peripherals and the importance of credibility for videographers.

Flower, Linda and John R. Hayes. “A Cognitive Process Theory of Learning.”  College Composition and Communication 32.4 (December 1981):365-87.

To be continued….