Discordant Discourses: Different Writing Standards at the University

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Presented at University of Akron Student Innovation Symposium (UASIS)
April 12, 2012

Awarded “Best Oral Presentation”

Published in: Education, Business, Technology
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  • About me: That working in the law school writing center and having worked and taken classes in business, now being immersed in the composition world has led me to think about the differences (at first, at least) in the writing styles. “We all tend to think and write about what we are surrounded by…” Grammatical Structures + Management Reports + Critical Pedagogy = being hyper-aware of the effect of “scholarly” writing, especially grammatically
  • In many cases, I will combine business and legal writing into one “mega” category, since they both possess very similar structures, as far as a focus on clarity, simple sentence structure, and a wider audience.For this presentation, Legal Writing refers to what is taught at The University of Akron’s School of Law, i.e. a more “Plain Language” style of writing—as opposed to “legalese”Though many of us, as individuals, may recognize these differences, and though there is recognition that writing abilities are much of the basis of a college education (and educated person), there is little “official” recognition that it goes beyond the composition classroom. Though we may be focused on (important to compositionists) details like “voice” and “style,” many outside of the English department would argue that they are more concerned with students (and graduates) who can compose a well-organized piece of writing without grammar and punctuation flaws.
  • An actual quote from a book I found while doing research on working-class academics. To me, this is typical “academic writing”—a complex sentence full of prepositional and infinitive phrases, nominalizations, and (what can be “construed” as) “50-cent” words—and where the basic grammar gets lost.
  • The basic grammar of the sentence is: “To being to describe ways…necessitates a discussion”—which is STILL unwieldy!
  • In legal writing, students are taught to keep sentences (whenever possible) to a Subject-Verb-Object construction. This is ONE revision that accomodates that structure.
  • This quote is from an article that surveyed employers in Silicon Valley about the communication skills of new college graduates. The conclusions of the study included an expressed need for both written and oral presentation and communication skills. This sentiment seems pervasive in the market, and especially because of the economic conditions at present, any seeming deficiency is magnified for the graduating job-seeker. And whereas the law school has a course specifically focused on the type of writing they want, the business school, for example, does not.
  • Students who don’t do “well” writing for a comp course may feel discouraged and like they are not “college material”—when in fact they could be fine in a less writing-intensive setting, or one where the writing requirements are different (Science, Business, etc.)Students who do become English (or other humanities) majors, for example, and master the academic writing style (and text-interpretation), then go on to Law or Business school. They think they “have what it takes” and don’t understand why the writing style they are used to is not acceptable in these other areas. The nature of the university “set-up” insulates us from the other departments, ways of doing things, that can lead to the idea that we are the writing “experts” this THE way to “do” writing, when of course this is not the case.By recognizing and helping our students recognize the differences in writing styles across the university, we can help them learn to adapt to their audiences and learn ways of writing that can help them be successful in other disciplines. We also make ourselves more open and “marketable” and can foster communication across artificial university “boundaries”
  • Discordant Discourses: Different Writing Standards at the University

    1. 1. Discordant Discourses: Different Writing Standards at the University UASIS Conference: April 2012
    2. 2. 2 “How I Got Here” Critical Pedagogy Management Reports Grammatical Structures CBA courses “Discordant Discourses” Law School Writing Center
    3. 3. 3 1. Business + Legal writing 2. Plain Language 3. We may know, but don‟t always remember 4. Focus of writing instruction? Some Caveats Assumptions and Simplifications for the purposes of this presentation
    4. 4. 4 Different Structures (Build different writings) A key difference between academic writing & business/legal writing is sentence structure.
    5. 5. 5 “To begin to describe ways in which working-class „subjects‟ might be construed as active agents rather than as passive subjects necessitates a discussion of the role of experience in social relationships which is often missing from theories that focus on a concept of subjectivity as merely a function of the structure of discourse.” (Sowinska 149-150)
    6. 6. 6 “To begin to describe ways in which working-class „subjects‟ might be construed as active agents rather than as passive subjects necessitates a discussion {of the role of experience in social relationships} which is often missing from theories that focus on a concept of subjectivity as merely a function of the structure of discourse.” (Sowinska 149-150)
    7. 7. 7 S-V-O construction: We should discuss ways that working-class (subjects) can become active agents. When we normally talk about the role of experience in social relationships, we often miss the idea that subjectivity may have an effect.
    8. 8. 8 Different Objectives: Academic writing: Business & legal writing: Focus on theory & removing the “I” Focus on clarity & action “…necessitates a discussion…” “We should discuss…”
    9. 9. 9 If We Don‟t Teach Them, Who Will? “Professors evaluate students‟ writing frequently and are close to the source; however, their perceptions of what is important may differ from supervisors in the employment setting.” (B. Stevens , Emphasis mine)
    10. 10. 10 Implications For Teachers For Students   Some students may feel excluded from the academy Other students may feel over-confident when writing in other fields   It is easy to assume that there is only one kind of “good writing” We can better prepare students for writing in general
    11. 11. 11 Thanks to the classes & discussions with: Professor Cohen, Legal Writing & Research Dr. Dukes, Management Reports Dr. Thelin, Working-Class Culture & Critical Pedagogy Dr. Svehla, Pragmatists Dr. Palacas, Linguistics & Grammatical Structures Evan Chaloupka, School of Law Writing Center (Title of presentation)
    12. 12. 12 Works Cited   Sowinska, Suzanne. "Yer Own Motha Wouldna Reckanized Ya: Surviving an Apprenticeship in the "Knowledge Factory"." Tokarczyk, Michelle M. and Elizabeth A. Fay. Working-Class Women in the Academy: Laborers in the Knowledge Factory. Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1993. 148-161. Print. Stevens, Betsy. “How Satisfied Are Employers with Graduates‟ Business Communication Skills? A Survey of Silicon Valley Employers.” http://www.westga.edu/~bquest/2004/graduates.htm Accessed 11April 2012.

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