Virginia Montecino

English Department
George Mason University.
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Examination of the Writing Culture in Your Major 

This assignment is a two (2) part project: Please read the whole assignment before you begin. 
Part I - interview a professional in your major about his or her writing in the discipline.
Part II - examine and write a technical report on various documents in your discipline written for different audiences and purposes . 

The purpose of this assignment is to help you become familiar with some of the forms of writing produced by professionals in your discipline. Many students think that their writing days are over when they leave school. Depending upon your career, you may be composing business letters, memos, proposals, support documentation for computer programs or other instructional material, technical manuals, research papers, employee evaluation reports, committee reports, articles for popular magazines on subjects in your field, newsletters, justifications for promotion in your job. Those specializing in health or science fields may be writing patient diagnoses, patient treatment plans, write-ups of original scientific research.. The list goes on....

Part I. Interview someone in your field (a computer scientist, engineer, biologist, doctor, nurse, professor, or other individual who can speak to writing in your field of science). Remember to get permission to share the interview. At the top of your interview, right hand corner, include the title "Interviewer - your name." Below that put "Interviewee - and that person's name, title, institution or business address, and phone number/e-mail address. The interview should be in a Q & A format, typed, double spaced, edited for mechanical errors, with appropriate margins. Make an appointment with the prospective interviewee and ask the questions included with this assignment. Be open to any additional responses the person wants to add. Let the person you interview be aware that this is a class assignment and get permission to share the information with the class. Please focus on the writing aspects for your interview. 

Conduct your interview with a professor or other professional in your major based on the set of questions below: 

  1. What kinds of writing do you do in your profession and what are the subjects? 
  1. What kinds of audiences do you write for? What different levels of specialized background do you have to be aware of when you write in your field? What kinds of adjustments in your writing do you make to allow for different levels of specialized background? 
  2. If you were considering publishing your writing, to what journals or other publications might you send it to for review? 
  3. Can you give some examples of the kinds of resources/materials that are collected for professional research and some the ways you acquire this information for your research and writing? After the information is acquired, for what professional or scholarly purposes may the information be used?
  4. What kind of information is generally documented with sources? What style of source citation and reference page is the standard in your field? How does the documentation vary according to the audience and purpose?
  5. What kinds of professional publications do you read? What kinds of information do you look for and how does it enrich you professionally?
  6. What is your composing process? 
  7. Do you write in collaboration with others? On what kinds of projects? What are some advantages and disadvantages of group writing? 
  8. Do you get feedback from peers before you finish your final version of your text? Is peer response beneficial to you as a writer? 
Ask the person you interviewed if he or she could give you samples of his or her writing. If the person is published in his or her field you can acquire some examples from the library or other publishing medium such as the Internet. When you compile the material from your interview, submit a typed copy and include a section on what you learned about writing in your profession. 

Remember to send a written "thank you" to the person who took time out from his or her busy schedule to answer your questions. Now---- on to Part II.

II. Write a technical report on your analysis of at least three different types of documents in your field written for various purposes. One article of the three articles must be a research paper with a reference page. No more than one should be a research paper. One of the three may be a web-based document. The other two may be in the form of a letter, memo, a proposal, a write up of the proceedings of a conference, or other type of professional document. Some documents sent over e-mail are professional documents. It may be possible to include a document from the person you interviewed and a research article you will use for your research paper. Also look at professional journals in your field (preferably on a subject you can use for your research paper), from your job if you work in your field, and from other individuals in your field. If necessary, for privacy's sake, you can blank out any names of individuals, companies or product names in the documents (unless they are published in the public domain) and in the examples you will attach as appendices when you turn your report in your portfolio. 

You will be analyzing the different approaches the authors use (the format of the documents, the form of citation, use of supporting evidence, specialized or non- specialized language, types of graphics) because of the different purposes and perhaps for the different audiences for which the articles were written. When analyzing the research article, the journal in which the article is published can give you clues about the audience. Try to get the full journal, not just a copy of the article. How an article is situated in a professional journal can say a lot about audience, purpose, etc. What's the title? Do the other articles give you any clues about the audience? Describe the ads. What are they trying to sell? What does this tell you about the interests of the readers? Do all the articles deal with variations on a particular subject or a particular area of scholarship? Are the articles written on a variety of subjects? Do any of the articles have a research format with bibliographies? What do these clues tell you about audience and purpose? 

Number all pages beginning with the Executive Summary. Double space before and after each heading, and leave 1 inch margins all top, bottom sides. 

Be sure that the texts you analyze and report on are clearly identified. Use clear, concise language. Use the active voice. It is okay to use "I" in your report where appropriate - for example, in explaining your research methods and your conclusions and in other cases where the use of "I" fits naturally. Assume your report will be read by a broader audience than people only in your field of study. Define any technical terms and don't assume your audience will know any acronyms or abbreviations. 

Proof read your report for punctuation, spelling, grammatical errors.

Your analysis should be in the form of a technical report with these required parts: 

Cover Page with the title (3-4 in. below the top of the page) that explicitly covers the report's purpose and subject. If the title is longer than 6 or 8 words, put on two lines, centered, single spaced. Drop 7 spaces, then center on separate lines, single spaced - the course info - Professor's name, course, semester. Drop 7 more spaces, then center on separate lines, single spaced - your name, section #, email address. Drop 10 spaces and center date. 

Executive Summary: Put on a separate page - cannot be longer than one page. This will be an informative summary which will should stand alone as a mini-report. This mini report should be readable by all the members of the class, not just the ones in your discipline. Be brief, but try to include the main points. It should include: 

  • the purpose and scope of the report, overview of your research methods and the types of articles you will analyze. 
  • A brief referral to your appendices and what they contain (the documents you researched and any other additions you find appropriate). 
  • A brief overview of your findings. 
[The rest of your report will, naturally, cover the same things as your summary, but the summary is a "stand alone" document which the reader reads to decide if he or she is interested in or will benefit from reading the full report.] 

Introduction Discuss in more depth what the purpose of your study is, how you gathered your material for the study, what you hope to achieve by analyzing the documents for this report. 

Profile of Documents: Discuss why you chose these documents and what types of communication they represent. Identify each by title and author and give a very brief summary of the purpose and content of each. Analyze each in the same order in which it is introduced. 

1. Analysis of (identify each document by title and author):

You need to provide evidence from the documents (quote when appropriate to make your point and if the document is lengthy, provide the page number) to support the points of analysis you are making. Relate these points of analysis back to the audience and purpose. Discussion should be based on:

  1. What is the author's purpose for writing the document? What is the controlling idea (the thesis? - the primary message each is trying to convey?)
  2. Who is the primary audience? Explore the language the writer uses. Does the writer use technical jargon or theory? Does the author assume the readers know the terminology? Does the author use analogies to make his/her points clear? Does the author write from personal experience? Does the author use first person, "I," or does the author remain removed from the subject? The "I" perspective is increasingly used in scientific writing. Is the author writing up his/her own experiment? Does the author use slang, irony, humor? Does the author have a strong opinion? If so, what language tells you this? 
  3. Does the title give you a good picture of what the document will be about? Does the title seek to attract the audience, or is it strictly informative? Analyze what you think is the significance of the treatment of the title.
  4. Ascertain what you think the author's purpose is. For example, is the author proposing a plan of action, trying to sell a product, a service? Is the author explaining a process or concept, sharing the results of scholarly research, writing an efficiency report, summarizing the findings at a conference, writing documentation for a product? What clues form your opinion? 
  5. How is the document organized? Even if there are no obvious keys such as headings, all texts, ideally, have a logical organizational pattern which fits the purpose. Discuss the organizational pattern and relate it to purpose and audience. Does the article have a scientific format (abstract, introduction, methods, results, discussion, list of references)? Is the text a technical report? Does the author use subheadings to organize his/her material? Are the subheadings designed to entice the reader or to inform? Does the text under the subheadings fulfill what is advertised? 
  6. What kinds of sources, if any, does the author use and why? Does the author use authorities in that field to back up a particular point of view? Does the use of these authorities lend credibility to the author's points? Why would the mention of past studies in a research article be significant. What are some of reasons why a reference page is so essential in a scholarly report (Of course, one reason is to avoid plagiarism.) Is the article strictly personal opinion? Relate these points to purpose and audience. 
  7. What is the author/authors connection to the subject he or she is writing about? Can you find out what the author's credentials are from looking at the document itself, or accompanying introductions? If there are no obvious clues to the speaker's authority, are there clues within the document itself? The credibility of the author is essential when he/she speaks from a position of authority, as in a scholarly research paper. 
  8. Do pictures, illustrations, or graphs accompany the documents? If so, describe them. How do the graphics complement the text? What is the purpose of the graphics? Relate them to audience and purpose. Do they also assume the reader knows certain terminology and theory? 
2. Analysis of (identify your second article): 

Cover the points above 

3. Analysis of (identify your third article): 

Cover the points above. 

Conclusion: Interpret your findings. Based on your analysis of the documents, draw some conclusions about the kinds of writing some professionals produce in your major (taking into account, of course, that this is a small sampling and does not represent all possible texts produced in your discipline). It is NOT your purpose to decide if the writing is "bad" or "good" writing - don't set yourself up as on authority on writing in your field. But if you feel that, as a reader, you couldn't understand some of the documents because you are not yet a full member of this discourse community, or if you felt any of the documents were not clear to you for whatever reason, you can make that point and explain why. But don't critique the documents as if you were giving the authors a "grade" or setting yourself up to show them how to write. 

Also include what you learned by analyzing these documents. Did you learn anything new or add to your knowledge about your discipline? What value do you think these types of documents have in your field? What kinds of political implications can various documents have within a profession? What did you learn about writing for different audiences and purposes?

Appendices: Make each document a separate appendix, lettered accordingly, for example: APPENDIX A - Memo discussing arrangements for the Cincinnati Convention. 

Use the APA format. Include the documentation for the primary sources used - the documents themselves. For the published articles, include full bibliographic information.

If the articles were not published except "in-house," get permission to use the documents for this class. Also use the APA style of documentation for the unpublished documents. Mention where you got the articles, address of organization, contact person, job title, and other contact information, if possible, such as e-mail address. Please try to use documents that do not involve privacy issues. If there is a confidentiality issue, when you turn in your report with attached documents in your portfolio, and you want only me to be privy to the documents, I will honor the confidentiality. Of course, no classified documents will be allowed.

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