A Compilation of Gender Isues Noted in Technical Writing Classes, pt. 2

This paper was presented at MLA in 1992.

The topics chosen by my students seem to be influenced or divided by gender.

Credibility
One semester I had students working for a real client on the possibility of setting up a wedding video service in the city in which the university was located. One of my students, a female, proposed looking into the amount of personal credibility a videographer needs when starting a business and the manner in which the credibility is established. None of the videographers she interviewed, all men, thought that credibility was an issue. None of them had ever been asked for references or questioned about their past experience.

This student was surprised by this finding, since in her work she had often had to justify her competency. She did not investigate whether the videographers received all their clients through personal referrals, a circumstance which would have provided credibility for them. Even if most of their clients were referrals the fact that the videographers did not expect them all to be is shown by the advertizing they did.

Superior-subordinate relationships
In teaching technical writing I have had many women deal with the question of superior-subordinate relationships, but no men. The two highest quality papers dealt with two different aspects of these relationships.

One dealt with the question of ability and equality. Joyce argued in her paper that though individuals have many different skills, our society rewards some subordinates with pay equal to or greater than their abilities, while others are paid less than their competence warrants. The jobs she discussed as examples are dominated by men in both the superior and subordinate positions, but her career as a secretary clearly influenced the recommendations she made at the end of her paper.

Another paper on the same topic focused on the role of the female subordinate in corporate America. Judy discussed inequities within the system, reasons for them, potential problems when they are removed–such as executives traveling together and the attitudes of their spouses to this long distance mixed group situation, and indications that these inequities are being slowly reduced.

Stereotypical coverage
Topics covered in the major papers have included sexual harassment, gender differences in leadership, and the problem of balancing a family and a full-time job. Yet my students seem to choose topics that fit the stereotypes, or cultural expectations, of their respective sexes.

Only my female students have written about superior-subordinate relationships. Perhaps this is because my female students are more aware of their position of subordinates as they enter the workplace. Perhaps it is because my male students feel challenged by the idea that they should be underlings (Tannen).

My student who wrote on personal credibility was amazed that the videographers did not consider the relevance of credibility. She had, probably because women tend to be more concerned about relationships that are developed in all spheres of their lives (Gilligan). Only my female students cover topics on gender-related issues. I suppose this is because they see the implications of it for their lives.

Works Cited
Gilligan, Carol. In a Different Voice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1982.

Tannen, Deborah. You Just Don’t Understand: Men and Women in Conversation. New York: Ballantine, 1990.

To be continued…

A Compilation of Gender Isues Noted in Technical Writing Classes, pt. 1

This paper was presented to MLA in 1992.

My experience
In teaching technical writing to approximately four hundred students over the past six years, I have noticed differences in my female and male students’ approaches to their long report assignment. The major paper for the class is a study of a problem or situation that the student thinks will be useful in their work experience, although sometimes their choice has to fit into an overarching scenario, such as setting up a new business.

How topics chosen
Topics are generated by the students with approval being contingent on the feasibility of the study for a semester long project and a ten to fifteen page final paper.

I have found that topics which are stereotypically female– superior-subordinate relationships, personal and professional credibility, family-career balances, and gender issues– are never chosen by my male students, though I have several papers on these topics each semester.

I have also found that my students’ methods of argumentation are slightly different. My female students often intersperse personal comments or relate the material to themselves within the text while my male students, despite their personal involvement with the subject, do not.

Even with these two differences, the language of the two groups was not as differentiated as I expected. Few of my students paid any attention to the directions to avoid sexist language; both female and male students used male inclusive language. In this paper I will present the topic, argumentation, and language differences and similarities that I have found in my classes’ writings and present theories to account for them.

To be continued…

Real-World Applications of the Long Report, pt. 4

Realistic frustrations

These real problems brought into the classroom have led the students to experience some of the frustrations our “clients” have felt: the inadequacy of available data, lack of expertise in composing questionnaires, receiving minimal response to those questionnaires, finding they have proposed unworkable solutions, and having to be more creative in their search for data and solutions.

Writing as learning evidence

These frustrations have provided evidence for Applebee’s theory of writing as learning because the structure has required explicitness and the medium is permanent and the students have used their reports to discuss alternative methodology and solutions. They have often found creative innovations which have made for interesting and useful final recommendations. In writing these reports the students have discovered that the formats they have learned have real business uses.

Ideas for involving the business community

There are many ways of involving the community in the business writing class. Presenting the principles of various types of business writing in such a way that the substance is a real business writing issue and as important as the form has been very successful. The use of this idea in the long report sequence has already been discussed. It is equally effective for other types of business writing.

Memos outlining policies of gender neutral language, after a presentation of the idea by a business leader, involve the students in business writing issues as well as business writing formats.
Complaint letters involving real situations which have frustrated the students are useful. When the final version and a copy are turned in, the students also present a stamped addressed envelope. Then the letters are mailed by the professor. Often students will bring in the responses they receive later in the semester. This gives everyone, including the students who have not received a response, the knowledge that letters do make a difference.

Good news letters can be written as compliments for good service received. Like the complaint letters, these letters can be mailed by the professor and are often replied to by the management.

Job search information to be used in the writing of resumes and application letters can be garnered from interviews with a person in the same field and/or at the same company after information from printed materials has been exhausted. This interview allows the student to get a better idea of the area she is entering and it also publicizes the concern of the university in the business community.

Interview thank you letters can be written.

Through these formats, which we teach in business writing classes, we can be involved meeting community needs and involve the community in meeting the needs of our students.

Problems and responses in the long report sequence

PROBLEM: Sophomores with insufficient work experience to complete the long report sequence.
RESPONSE: Create class projects which do not presume work experience.

PROBLEM: Unrealistic expectations in first versions of proposals.
RESPONSE: Peer editing allowed the students to revision for themselves using other students’ goals as models.

PROBLEM: Group unable to reach competitor for price lists.
RESPONSE: Contacted competitors in demographically similar towns.

PROBLEM: Ethical question of asking for price lists for a reason other than possible use of the service.
RESPONSE: Arranged for contact person to be someone who did plan on using a wedding videography service.

PROBLEM: Unrealistic expectations in first versions of proposals.
RESPONSE: Peer editing allowed the students to revision for themselves using other students’ goals as models.

PROBLEM: Groups in two different classes working on same aspect of the project. Potential for duplication.
RESPONSE: On their own groups initiated different approaches.

PROBLEM: Project determined unprofitable while in the progress report stage.
RESPONSE: Group came up with radically different possibility for the service, though not for the client.

PROBLEM: Low return rate for questionnaires.
RESPONSE: Noted. Conjectured possible reason: volatility.

Work Cited

Applebee, Arthur N. “Writing and Reasoning.” Review of Educational Research 54 (4):577-96.

Part 3
Part 2
Part 1

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.

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….