WRITING AS A SOCIAL AND RHETORICAL ACTIVITY

You are already a very good writer.

You already write well. If you did not write well, you would not have advanced this far in your studies. This is true whether you speak and write English as a first language or as a second language. In the latter case, you not only write fluently in your native language but have begun to do so in a second or even third language as well.

Being a "good writer" is not enough, and not the focus of this course.

This short course in business writing will require you to shift the ways you think about writing and the ways you think about yourself as a writer. This course is not about "good" and "bad" writing in any general way. Some very good writers in academic settings do not write well in business settings, and a well-written essay will rarely persuade a business manager to take a particular course of action.

The organizational context within which business professionals write (and all business professional write) differs greatly from academic contexts. Businesses exist to produce and exchange goods and services. Academic institutions exist to produce and teach knowledge. Business writing, therefore, tends to be more transactional than academic writing. In other words, business professionals write to get certain kinds of work done -- to plan strategies, measure performance, sell products, manage quality, document compliance with regulations, enter into contracts. This short course in business writing aims, therefore, not to make you a "good" writer in general, but to help you adjust your writing strategies to meet the different purposes and audiences for which business writers write. (See "Differences Between Academic and Business Writing.")

Business writing is a social activity in every sense of the word.

Beyond serving the particular social and economic purposes for which businesses exist, busienss writing, as a social activity, often involves the collaboration of many, different persons. By the time a finished document reaches its destination, any number of persons may have contributed to its production and review. Therefore, the credit for producing a successful document goes to the organization as well as to individual writers and editors. Successful business writers do not often describe themselves as either "good" or "bad" writers. Instead they describe themselves as persons with enough organizational savvy to get things done. Writing simply becomes another way of doing the work of the organization -- providing a vision, solving problems, working with others, keeping people informed, moving the organization in the right direction.

Business writing is a rhetorical activity.

As a rhetorical activity, business writing serves the purposes for which the organization exists and meets the needs, interests, and expectations of various audiences stakeholders in the organization. If successful business writers do not often describe themselves as "good" or "bad" writers, neither do they describe their writing as "good" or "bad." Instead they describe their documents as "effective" or "ineffective," "successful," or "unsuccessful" with their audiences. A business document either works, achieves its intended purposes with its audiences, or it doesn't. Whether or not a piece of writing works, can be measured in terms of the outcomes it produces. A sales letter boosts sales with potential customers. An employee handbook clarifies the responsibilities and privileges of employees by eliminating procedural and legal ambiguities. A business plan gives direction to managers and produces a competitive advantage for the company. An annual report satisfies a legal requirement and encourages investors to invest more money.

To write effectively, remember your readers.

Business writers write within increasingly market and consumer driven organizations. Just as businesses today, in order to grow, must closely attend to the needs and interests of consumers, business writers must pay close attention to the needs and interests of the audiences for whom they write. Even documents designed primarily to inform must also convince their readers. "Facts" only become facts within organizations when people believe and act on them. Writers who overlook the need to build credibility for their words produce unconvincing documents that produce no differences in the ways an organization goes about its business. Furthermore, audiences for business writing are typically very complex. Even if the primary audience for a particular memo is the personnel manager, other employees, managers, and stakeholders in the company may read a copy of the memo. Successful business writers always write first to their primary audience yet adjust their communications to meet the anticipated needs and expectations of potential secondary audiences as well.

Business writers plan their documents rhetorically.

Several researchers have concluded that professional writers differ from novice writers in one significant respect. They understand the contexts within which they write and know how to plan their documents rhetorically. The make deliberate choices about their writing based upon their wide, tacit knowledge of how an organization works. Therefore, you will be required to write a rhetorical plan for the project proposal and report and to execute this plan when you draft and revise your documents.

You write within a complex context.

The question of "context" for you in this course will be complex. You study in an academic context. Yet this course requires you to practice various forms of business writing and imagine the real organizational purposes and audiences that inform the decisions business writers must make to write effectively. The project proposal and report you will write for this course, in particular, require you to research and solve an organizational problem rather than an academic problem. How can the Lundquist College of Business better prepare its students for their professional careers? To write effectively in this course, you will need to closely examine the real purposes and audiences that shape this project. Your position as a student within a Lundquist College of Business course enables you to view the College as an organization and bridge the gap between academic and business writing, at least on this important issue -- improving the delivery of career services to students like yourself. What you write could actually effect organizational policy.