Real-world Applications of the Long Report, pt. 3

This paper was presented to CCCC in 1990.

Revision moves students towards realistic goals

Once the students identified areas of interest, they formed groups in which to work and began writing their formal proposals. Again the expectations expressed in the proposals covered the continuum from pessimistic to unrealistically idealistic. And, again, the peer editing of the first version encouraged a revisioning towards realistic goals.

Possible concerns

Since two classes were working on the same project, and yet each class was a self-contained unit, some of the groups were dealing with the same subject matter. At the beginning, I was apprehensive about this in that I was afraid that they would be duplicating each other’s work and possibly would alienate the business community in which they were doing their research. This did not turn out to be a problem.

Proposed different approaches

Each one of the groups proposed and followed different approaches to their portion of the project. One example of this is what happened in the advertising groups. One group dealt solely with ad agencies in town. The other group assumed a much smaller, and more realistic, budget based on library research they completed during the proposal and predicated their study on in-house advertising. They contacted the local newspapers and radio stations about copy and costs. In their progress report this group mentioned that they looked to the most successful competitor’s advertising for guidance.

Final reports

The final reports were very instructive and provided our clients with sufficient information to enable them to decide that such a project would not be profitable for them. One group, which had chosen to research location ideas, came to this conclusion about the time of the second progress report and wrote that the possibilities they were dealing with would not be feasible and that, therefore, they were looking into other alternatives.

I thought that at this point they were buying themselves trouble and that they would be better off simply detailing their findings and the recommendation that the business not be established in their final report. However, I did not discourage them.

Their final report would not have been of much use to the clients so we did not furnish them with a copy of it. But the contents excited the entire class. This group had discovered that if students were the proprietors of this business that they could operate the business on campus through the campus mail and minimize overhead costs. Three members of the class decided that this idea would work and got together to go about setting up such a service.

Community involvement

The news of these studies have spread through the community. I have had other people call to suggest their project for the long report sequence or to request information on such a topic as advertising budgets for small in-home businesses.

The students in another class were asked to become more involved in the university community by investigating which kinds of resumes and application letters were most appropriate for certain majors. The only stipulations were that no business majors could be selected and no information could be solicited from Fortune 500 companies since these are the standards upon which many business writing courses are set up.

One group decided to work on the resumes and application letters for those seeking employment in video and film production. They had two reasons for choosing this field. The first was that they knew where to get a list of addresses of companies who hired in this area. The second was that the only member of the group who did not already have a job upon graduation wanted to work in this area. Expediency and necessity made this a rational choice.

This group had the most frustrating experience with the project in that only 25% of their questionnaires were answered and an additional 20% were returned by the post office. The students were aware that the low return rate was problematic, but they could do nothing to change it. They simply mentioned the low response level and conjectured that the volatility of the video and film industry might account for it.

Based on the responses they did receive, the students made the recommendation that “resumes should stress previous work experience, including dates of jobs held, titles, and duties, over educational factors like major, name of college, and date of college graduation.” They also recommended that resumes should be sent with the application letters and that these letters should emphasize an understanding of the basic job requirements. The reasons why employers preferred these seemed clear to the group. Video and film production are not common majors and therefore work experience is a much better indicator of ability in these fields.

To be continued…

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.


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.


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.


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….

What is wrong with this?

The Chronicle of Higher Ed, in an article I cannot read, since it is subscription only, talks about a donor to a college. In the email alert they send out it says the donor has “deep financial ties to several trustees and a long track record of giving to conservative causes.”

What is wrong with that?

So what if he has deep financial ties to the trustees? Who ELSE do you think is going to give? Folks with deep ties to the college. Which he has. Through the trustees.

But The Chronicle wrote that as if it were a problem. So, he should give to someone he doesn’t have ties with? Good luck with that.

Also, what is the problem with giving to conservative causes? People should only give to causes that match? Well, surprise! Conservatives believe in education.

I think the real problem, though I haven’t read the article to know, is that The Chronicle doesn’t want conservatives in education. They think his giving indicates a movement on the part of the college. Folks, if he already had ties to the trustees, then there was ALREADY a movement at the college.

There is NOT a problem with anyone supporting the college of his choice. The only problem is that The Chronicle thinks there is a problem. Which says a lot about the paper and its own issues.