Is “Writing for Teachers” Equipping Students to Write in the Workplace?

>>Dr. Lillywhite has come to us
today from English. He teaches business
writing, editing, writing poetry and other courses
at the graduate and undergraduate levels. He is a past director of
the graduate professional writing program and
current director of the BCLA minor at Towson. He is also co-coordinator
for business writing for the English department. For 30 years he has done
extensive writing consulting with such
clients as NASA, the Government Accountability
Office, GMT Engineering, the Department of State,
NSA, the Department of Defense, the Federal
Highway Administration and many others. His new book, “Mastering
Workplace Writing Skills” is being published and
will be available in 2015. Please welcome
Dr. Lillywhite and enjoy the conference.>>Thank you. I don’t think I have a
microphone so I’ll just speak up. There’s a certain tyranny
– or maybe you’d call it a (unintelligible) in
planning. And I want you to know
that this presentation was very well-planned. But now that I’ve heard
our keynote speaker, I am distracted by a lot of the
things that she said.   So I think I’m going to
just sort of be in the moment. I was interested in this
pen that they gave us in our little black pack. I don’t know if you
noticed, but not only is it a pen with ink, but the
back and the top of it is a little rubbery thing
that allows you to interface with your
electronics, right? This little thing. So, you know, we have
analog and we have digital here, right? Which is pretty amazing. But what’s most important
about this pen is the content that it can
provide for us, right? And so that’s going to be
a kind of theme that I’m going to be talking about
as we go through this whole presentation. To me, writing is 90
percent about the content, 10 percent about the
presentation. What I mean by that is
when you read something, probably, you know, unless
you’re doing an aesthetic reading, you are more
interested – about 90 percent of your attention
goes to the information that you’re pulling out of
what you’re reading. And about 10 percent,
probably unnecessarily, has to do with the way the
thing is presented. It would be nice if it was
a hundred percent content and the presentation was
just a clear window pane that allowed the
information to come through. In this very moment I
would like you to look at the handouts. And I would like you to
look at the document that turns starts out – to
Office of Pipeline Safety Government Oversight
Committee. Do you all see that? So this is a piece of
writing that was sent to me by somebody at the
Department of Transportation. And they were sort of
giving something away here. But they were upset
because they had paid a lot of money to a
well-known company – one of the KPMG – I’ll just
say it (laughter). And they were asked to
look into a particular problem and it turned out
to be a very simple kind of problem. And this is the
information that was presented. And it was the kind of way
they got paid, you know, I guess you would say. So I would like you to
look at this single page piece just for about two
minutes and tell me, do you think it is effective,
useful writing? Yeah.>>Well, it’s very hard to
understand because it’s just big blocks of text
(inaudible).>>So Katie said it is hard
to understand because there are blocks of texts
(inaudible). I agree with that. Any other comments? Yeah. And you have to kind of
shout because I’m half deaf.>>OK, sure. There’s actually, like,
half of it is more info on (inaudible).>>OK, that’s not – that’s
actually not part of their thing.>>Oh, it isn’t? I’m sorry.>>No.>>Sorry.>>It’s just that front
sheet.>>OK. Anyway, I wasn’t sure why
(inaudible).>>OK. Yeah. Weren’t you impressed by
the second paragraph where they had that bold type
and they had numbered items? Isn’t that nice? Did anybody find any
grammatical errors or sentences that were so
baffling to you because they’re poorly written
that you just couldn’t understand them? Were there any
misspellings? Were there any things on
this that an English teacher would dig you for?>>Lots of clutter.>>Visual clutter.>>Visual (inaudible).>>Possibly. OK. Possibly. Well I’m just going to
tell you that this is in the running for some of
the worst writing I’ve ever seen in my life. And it really has nothing
to do with the punctuation or the grammar or even the
wordiness. It has completely to do
with the content. Because I think, given
what they were asked to talk about, it’s
astounding to me that any professional organization
would provide this as a representation of the information they wanted to provide. Now take a look quickly on
the back of that sheet or somewhere in your handout. It should say more info on
ruptured pipelines and smart pigs. Our second reference to
pigs today.   Is this more interesting
to you than the actual memo?>>It’s more accessible.>>More accessible. But just in terms of
information, are you more interested in some of the
things they’re talking about? And if so what kinds of
things are you seeing that are interesting to you? This is not meant to be a
revision of that memo at all. It’s just bits of
information.>>(Inaudible).>>Yeah. I was interested to find
out that there were 7,000 – 6,500 spills, leaks,
fires or explosions nationwide. That was interesting to
me. Seemed notable. I didn’t hear about that
in the other piece. I was interested to find
out what smart pigs were about. I don’t know if you got
far enough in the original memo, but around the third
paragraph they said they would start talking about
smart pigs. And it’s like, I don’t
know what smart pigs are.>>They talk about it in
the second paragraph without defining it. There’s a whole thing
about smart pigs (inaudible).>>Right. Yep, and again, this is
not meant – this page is not meant to be a revision
of the original. What happened is when I
read the original, I went online and Googled four
things. And within 15 minutes, I
was able to cut and paste this information together
– and again, not at all meant to be a revision. But it’s just meant to
show you some of the information that was in
the background, that was behind this and extremely
accessible. I was not getting paid anything to find that information. I found it very quickly. I found out about smart pigs. I found out about how you
get trained for Smart Pigs. I found out about this new
rule that they referenced about requiring Smart
Pigs. And I found out about all
these undetected ruptures and all the stuff that’s
being spilled, right? So somehow I think we’re
going to have to find a way to account for this
information in reporting in the document, right? All right. So I’m just going to put
that piece up front in my presentation. And now I’m going to come
back to my presentation. When I end, we’ll come
back and revise this, and we’ll make it good, OK? All right. So what I’m interested in
talking about is the way we teach writing in
college. And I don’t mean to step
on the toes of my fellow writing teachers in this
room or throughout the universe, but I’m
concerned about the way we teach writing.   So let me just say, to get
the other side of the story out there, there are
lots of reasons why students should write for
teachers. One of the pieces of paper
that I’ve handed around says why writing
assignments are part of effective teaching and
learning. So that’s the other side
of the story, and I’m not going to go through it
with you, but it’s there. It’s very interesting
information, and I think I agree with everything. However, my whole point in
my presentation is that in   teaching students to write
for teachers, we are providing skills that
don’t necessarily translate into the real
world – into the workplace, let me say. And I’ll talk about why
that’s so as we go through this presentation. I’m going to start this
presentation with a particular presentation
format. I don’t know if you’ve
ever heard of these before, but it’s called
PechaKucha. Some people pronounce it
PechaKucha. It’s supposed to be
Japanese word for chatter. And I’ve had five
different Japanese native speakers give me five
different pronunciations for this word. So I’m just going to go
with PechaKucha. And you’ll see this is a
writing assignment that I give my own students. And what they have to do
is they have to provide 20 PowerPoint slides. The slides advance
automatically. Each one is up for 20
seconds. And as the slides advance,
you are supposed to provide a script and talk
the script as the PowerPoint slides are
going through. So the whole presentation
will last – this PechaKucha will last for
six minutes and 20 seconds. When I told them back in
November, December that I was doing a January
conference presentation, they said, you should do a
PechaKucha, and I said, but I’m not a digital
native and I don’t do technology. I’ve never done a
PechaKucha. And they said, yeah, all the more reason you should do it. So here you go. So I’m just going to be
reading from a script for the next six minutes and
20 seconds. And then when I’m
finished, you can start throwing things at me. OK? So can you all read my
mind?   Well, it turns out that
the most effective technology we have to
allow other people to read our mind is still
language. Mind reading turns out to
be kind of important for our survival both
individually and as a species. Our first voice and
language recorder was writing. It’s been a crucial
technology for over 3,000 years. Some people say with the
perfection of voice-to-text apps that
writing will disappear. But for now, it’s pretty
much as crucial as ever, and some people say more
crucial. But writing is massively
complex. We master talking by the
age of 3 and can chatter on endlessly. Learning to write,
however, is a different story, and it’s fraught
with considerable rules and mistakes lurking
behind every comma. Eighty-five percent of
students report in a study I looked at that they hate
writing. But students find out soon
enough at work that writing is kind of
important. However, employers
complain our graduates don’t have strong critical
thinking and writing skills. So what’s the problem? Well, in my humble
opinion, I think that we are teaching writing
wrong. We teach students how to
write for teachers. They write often about
topics they know little about and care little
about for a teacher who has no practical use for
the information except to give a grade. And we writing teachers
have an odd way of reading. We start with the very
first word and we read every word consecutively
until we get to the end – very odd. And then we mark mistakes
as we go along. Luckily, we’re paid
handsomely to read in this most highly artificial
way, I think. And students do – we also
assign 10-page papers. And students do learn to
get to page 10. They make the font bigger,
the margins a little bigger. They use plenty of quotes. And they begin with an
introduction with the words, it all started back
in Mesopotamia, the land between the rivers, right? You’ve probably read these
essays. Another problem may be
that we writing teachers are literature
connoisseurs who appreciate sophisticated
writing and work hard to make our students
eloquent. It’s no wonder they hand –
pull out the thesaurus to find words like
supercilious. Or they might write, I
drove to campus, but that’s only four words. So then they say, as my
final semester approaches termination on that frigid
morning, incognizant that I had but a single test
more to conquer, I put the pedal to the metal and
soon dropped anchor on campus. And that’s 36 words. And that’s closer to
getting page 10 done. Expecting our
undergraduates to write eloquently, again in my
humble opinion, on topics they care little about is
like trying to teach me differential calculus or
trying to teach beginning music students to play
Rachmaninoff or actually it’s like requiring our
composition students to fly. I’m only half kidding
here. We, writing teachers, give
higher grades to writing that seems more
sophisticated. In a study I looked at
said, we reward complex syntax, lexical diversity
and uncommon words. And I hate to say it, I’m
a university professor, but our students don’t
need to fly. These three features I
talked about are also three features that make
text harder to understand. At work, people are busy. They don’t read, unless
they have to. Instead they skim and scan, foraging for useful information. They like writing that
keeps their level of interest high and their
level of effort low. Aristotle noted two main
purposes for writing – writing to inform and
writing to entertain. Workplace writing is done
more to inform and I think students should learn that
kind of writing. So I’m going to call that
kind of writing that is highly readable writing,
practical writing. And you’ll see I define it
here as writing whose main purpose is to meet the
needs of a reader who wants useful information. And what I will say in the
rest of my presentation is that there is a discrete
set of writing skills that help students learn
practical writing. It begins with the
realization that writing is a body of information
we make available to our readers. And just as our human
bodies are composed of harmonious but separate
systems, every text has at least seven interdependent
systems that work separately together. And I call those seven
systems the higher order and the lower order
concerns. And you’ll see that I –
under higher order concerns, I list content,
organization and document design. And under that, there is
something like style, paragraph sentences, word
choice and mechanics. If you were to look at the
system of content and I’ll – this is what I’m going
to be focusing on as we move forward – it really
has four moving parts. It starts with an issue,
then the readers’ questions about the issue,
the answers to those questions and then the
supporting information.   I would like to make a
distinction between message soundness on the
one hand – having good content, useful content –
and message presentation on the other – the way we
present it. They’re both important. But I think that we spend
more time talking to students about
presentation and not really enough time talking
to them about the content that we have. So what I’m going to end
up saying here, as I end this PechaKucha, is I
think we should be teaching students how to
read their readers’ minds to give them good content,
to discover the key questions that readers
have about the issue they’re writing about, to
develop methodologies to research the answers their
readers needs to then present the information in
a way that is highly readable and practical.   I had a life-changing
moment in 1987. I was asked by the
Government Accountability Office to come down and
help them with writing. I have a Ph.D. in writing. I know everything there is
to know about writing. I was more than happy to
oblige. Within about 15 or 20
minutes of trying to teach these people writing, I
started getting questions back from them that I had
no idea what they were talking about. And that’s where I had the
realization that I had been learning as a student
and then teaching as a teacher students to write
for teachers. And it’s sad that when we
write for teachers when they are not the main
person who is interested in this information, when
information is not instrumental to you, when
you can’t use it as a reader, what good are you
for the student? The student should be
writing to a real reader and that reader should be
giving a grade. I need to know if I should
buy an electric car. So I ask my students to
write me a paper – I gave them a thousand words – on
electric cars. And the information I got
back was pitiful. It sounded like advertisements for various models. They’d never thought
about, as a real reader who really was interested
in buying an electric car, what should they talk to
me be about? And I became aware that
that area of their writing skills and writing
resources hadn’t really been focused on and
concentrated on. So, for me, the problem
begins – I already mentioned that I think
that practical writing is really 90 percent about
content – connecting with the reader. But to me the problem
comes from the way we think about communication. We have swallowed pretty
much hook, line and sinker the idea from information
theory that communication happens when a sender
encodes information, transmits it to a receiver
who decodes the information. This is called the transmission model of communication. It turns out it comes from
Bell Labs from 1947. The two authors are
Shannon and Weaver and on – toward the beginning of
the document they say this model of communication is
not meant to apply to any language that conveys
meaning. (LAUGHTER)>>It is talking about sending radio signals from a
transmitting station to a receiving station. And when they talk about
noise they’re talking about sun spot activity,
electrical storms, high winds, right? The problem with this –
and I know that people have tinkered with this
and tried to add feedback loops and so on and make
it more human – but the problem with this theory
for me is that it privileges the sender. Whatever the sender wants
to send – beautiful. Send it out into the world
because they assume that there’s receivers where
these empty vessels just waiting for information to
pour in. That is not how I
communicate. When my oldest son was 13,
one day I said something parental to him, he threw
up his hands as kids were doing in those days and
said, Dad, talk to the hand because the head
don’t care. I always forget how the
second part goes ’cause I was so astounded that he
would do that to me. And I said, Jake, just
stand there for a minute, please. I think now I understand
why the transmission model doesn’t work. You are the receiver and
as the receiver you have to delete key. You have the power in this
communication transaction to delete everything I
say. And that is really
interesting to me, all right? This model really doesn’t
account for that. When we do practical
writing we are writing primarily to meet the
needs of the reader. It’s not a matter of the
dissertation, the wonderful knowledge I have
to send out into the world to whomever might be
interested. It’s a matter of
communicating to somebody who needs that
information. So we need a better model. A simple human
conversation is a better model to me for writing
and for communication than is the old transmission
model. A conversation means
taking turns. Verse means to turn. Con – with, right? We take turns. I send, you receive. You send, I receive. It goes back and forth. But what powers a
conversation, as it turns out, is a loose string of
questions and answers. I ask you, how was your
weekend? What magical thing happens
when I ask you a question? You give me information
back, right? The conversation begins. We went whitewater
rafting. Oh, I’m interested. Questions are the
manifestation of our interest. When we are interested, we
ask questions. This is what writing
should be getting at. It should understand that
we write to people who are interested in an issue, an
area of shared interest between us and them, and
that they have a series of questions about that
issues that, if we were face to face, we would
talk about and discuss. What electric car should I
buy? What’re your selection
criteria? I have 15 or 20 different
questions that they could answer right off the top,
right? So good writing starts
with the awareness that you have an issue to write
about that somebody else is interested in and then
factoring that issue into a series of questions that the reader needs to have answered. So when we go back in a
second and we look at the “Smart Pig” piece, we’ll
see that the failure in that piece is a failure to
register the reader’s important questions about
that issue. So a simple conversation –
questions and answers are a great way to think about
generating content. And when I look at a
student’s piece of writing, the first thing I
look at is, did you anticipate the questions
that your reader actually have? And if they didn’t, I stop
right there, and I ask them to think more. Talk to me about those
questions. This is why it’s so
important, I think, to get students to write, as best
we can, to a real reader. You know, I love service
learning – going out into the community, writing for
real people. Well, if you’re going to
write effectively to them, you better know what
questions they have. Sometimes they can tell
you some of the questions, but sometimes they are not
expert enough to know what questions they should ask. And so as the expert, you
have to understand the questions they have, as
well as the questions they should have. And then you should answer
those questions. So when I talk about the
four moving parts of that system called content, I’m
talking about the issue, the area that brings us
together that we’re both interested in, the
questions that probe that issue, the answers that we
get through our methodologies and our
research and then the supporting information
that supports those answers. And that’s what I think of
as message soundness. So I want to kill the idea
of the perfect text. I’m so tired of seeing
people, when they edit things or review things or
grade things, get right into trap changes. Oh, there’s passive voice. Oh, that comma was wrong. You really misused this
word. That’s a kind of high
polish that happens at the very end of the reviewing
and editing process. The very first thing you
need to do is say, does this piece have good
content because if it doesn’t, why are you
polishing it? Why are you wasting your
time? And I see well-meaning
people editing things, and they try to capture
everything at once. Not only was the content
bad, but you misspelled a word. And you were wordy, and –
why are you even talking about that until we’ve
gotten the content right? So as I said, content
about the issue, the questions that come out of
that issue, the answers we have, the support for
those answers – students should learn to write for
a real person who truly needs the information, not
to teachers who are just reading for other
purposes. And as I said up front,
there are many legitimate reasons why we, teachers,
should have students write for us. What did you think of the
story? What did you think of the
scientific experiment? That’s all fine and good,
but as far as writing skills that translate out
into the workplace, students need to spend a
lot of time understanding what content is and
focusing on content. That’s the critical
thinking, or at least a big part of the critical
thinking apparatus that, I think, students need to
have. And I’ve just found, in
teaching undergraduates in business writing –
graduate students, even – that one of their big
weaknesses is the failure to be able to read their
reader’s minds in the sense of knowing what
questions they need to answer. So I’m going to end this
piece quickly by showing you a technique I call
question factoring. We have two minutes –
good. Every sentence, every
paragraph, every section of your document, every
document is the answer to a question. Every sentence is the
answer to a question. Every paragraph, every
section is the answer. So as a reader or
reviewer, you should look behind that answer and
say, what question is this document answering with
this sentence, and is it the right question at the
right time? So let’s just take a quick
look at the “Smart Pig” piece. And I just want to show
you, it’s not – in the   first paragraph, they tell
you about how many inspectors there are and
how many inspections they do and so on. Are these the right
answers? Well, if my question were,
how many inspectors do you have, then they would be. But the question is really
the issue that’s in the very last paragraph. There have been ruptures
in pipelines. Hundreds of gallons –
thousands of gallons of pollutants are spilling. Why? Well, because these
inspectors were only looking at the outsides of
pipelines, and when they saw cracks, guess what was
coming out of it? So there’s a new rule to
send smart pigs – what’s a pig? A pipeline integrity gizmo
– actually the name. It’s an MRI device that
you put into a pipeline and it goes for hundreds
of miles, and whenever it sees an anomaly inside it
pings out a coordinate and the inspector can now come
and look at that particular spot from the
inside, right? That’s the issue here. There is a new rule that’s
going to require the inspectors to receive
smart pig information from the pipeline vendors and
be able to understand it. The only question on the
table here was -is the current training given to
inspectors sufficient to allow them to understand
smart pig information? That was the only question
on the table, right? So the question should
have been no. You’ll see a revision of
this. Once you say no, people
are going to have other questions, right? Like, can they get it in
time? How much is it going to
cost? And you’ll see that the
revision that I’ve done – and I’m sorry I don’t have
time to go over that – but it is a better revision,
not because I wrote it, but because it addresses
the readers questions that are appropriate to that
particular issue. It has good content. Now, we can argue about
the presentation, right? Presentation is a
legitimate thing to study, but not until you have
good content, OK? We’re done. No questions?>>Oh, we do have time for
questions. Beautiful. OK. I thought we were
done-done. OK, good. We stopped 10 minutes for
questions so (gasp) let me take a deep breath. Are there any?>>(Inaudible)>>OK. Let me talk a little bit
about that. First of all, I had a
student from China who was in my business writing
class. And she wrote me the best
writing I’ve ever seen. I tell them pick a problem
at Towson at the beginning of the semester. Look into it and write me
a report about how you might recommend fixing it. So everybody picked
parking.   So she picked parking. Her report looked at laws. For every student on
campus, the law says you have to have X number of
parking places. It looked at bus and
parking situations for universities that were
like Towson in metropolitan places. This report – I should
have sent it up (laughter). People should have seen
this. It was amazing. Beautiful. The only problem was that
she wrote with an accent. So there was no sentence
that was probably 100 percent idiomatically
correct. But in terms of content,
it was the masterful. The University should have
paid her $10,000 for the study. Beautiful. I had another student in
the same class – an English major. And he gave me a report
also on parking and the (unintelligible). It was wonderful. He could write a sentence
like nobody. But I know he did it the
night before because I was an English major who knew
how to write well myself. And I could tell that he
had not paid attention to the bigger issues. He had asked his roommates
– do you think parking is a problem? Yeah. All students at Towson
think parking is a problem, right? Well, all students? Well, I talked to Bob and
Jim, you know? They thought it was a
problem. It was horrible. So I gave the woman from
China an A-minus because I thought it was such a good
report. I gave the English major a
C and he went to the chairman of our department
and complained, right? So the way that answers
your question is presentation is important. Spelling is important. Every aspect of a piece of
writing is important. If the 10 percent – which
I’ve called – presentation is bad, that can sink the
whole ship, just in the way a gash in in the
Titanic sunk the whole boat, right? But what people want out
of that information is the content. And so her piece of
writing, as flawed as it might have been at that
level – and for understandable reasons –
was so far superior to the piece of – I won’t use
that word – but, the piece of writing that I’d gotten
from the other person. And he was just used to
being facile with his language and just trying
to impress me with the flair of his style. But here’s my real answer. I found that when students
pay more attention to content, the writing gets
better. When students are confused
about the content – I don’t know what the
teacher wants. I don’t know which way I
should go. That is manifested, oddly
enough, in a lot of problems with the writing. And plus students are
trying to be eloquent. They’re trying to impress
their teachers. And so they end up getting
into sentence structures that they don’t
understand, you know? They’re in foreign
territory. So I think there are a lot
of – a lot of problems that come from students
not knowing or caring what they’re talking about and
trying to impress me as a teacher. And I found that the more
time I spend with my students in developing
good content in the way that I’ve tried to
demonstrate here, strangely enough, their
writing gets a lot better. I’m not saying it’s
perfect, but it gets a lot better, right? You know that’s
interesting.>>(Inaudible).>>Yeah, research certainly
supports that. So, you know, I’ve been
working with the College of Business and Economics
for at least 10 years because they get calls
from employers who say your students can’t write. And so CBE gets – comes
over to English and said why aren’t you teaching
our students to write? And so I go over there and
they say, well, what do you mean we’re not
teaching them to write? And what I’ve heard – I’ll
– you know – not from everybody – and this is –
probably doesn’t reflect the current people who are
there. But what I heard initially
was lots of surface errors, right? Passive voice. You know, it’s
interesting. So, you know, being a kook
I said can you give me your syllabi for all of
your cornerstone classes? And they did. And I went through and I
found many, many surface errors in their syllabi,
right? And I didn’t mean to
embarrass them. But it’s like we – you
know, mistakes happen, as the famous bumper sticker
says, right? What’s important is that
syllabus that we have a good contract and we
understand what we’re talking about, not that it
should be bad – I’m not advocating bad writing. I’m just saying that
content, to me, is more important than
organization or the document design or
paragraphs or sentences or word choice or mechanics
because if you don’t have good content you’ve got
nothing. So I look at that first,
but when I look at that then I look at how it’s
organized. And I talk about the logic
and why you would put this first and what questions
are more important. Then I look at the way
you’ve designed the piece. What medium have you
chosen to present it – electronic or analog? Then I get into issues of
paragraphs. Then I get into issues of
sentences. Then I go into actual word
choice. And it’s interesting
because anything I touch up here affects stuff down
here. And when people try to
capture all of the mistakes at once, it’s
horribly inefficient and horribly confusing to
students because for every big content mistake,
students will make 10 or 15 little mistakes. And so I have 10 or 15
comments about the little mistakes and one comment
that’s really important about the content. And what are they to
assume from that? I’m more interested in,
right, in this other thing. So when I grade I look at
content and if there’s a problem I shut it down. I get them to revise and
when that’s fixed then we can go on. We have – that’s what
revision means. Students don’t know how to
revise because they think it means just changing a
few words or sentences. Revision is – have you
answered all the questions that the reader has? And in doing my work I
didn’t realize that all these were questions I
hadn’t anticipated, but now in my revision I can
put in answers to those new questions and develop
new sections. That’s a big part of what
revision, right?   Yeah.>>I think a lot of
teachers – you know, we have a 15-week – 15 weeks
to get this done.>>Yeah, and that’s…>>And that’s a problem.>>It is.>>Because – I integrate my
students writing a draft for a case study or
whatever it is that they’re doing, but it’s –
they’re not grading it twice, you know? But it has to be – the
system has to also support you in the process of
giving that feedback.>>Yeah, I totally
understand. And again I’ve read
studies that show that English teachers continue
to give higher grades to documents that have, as I
said, more complex sentence structures,
especially sentences that are what we call
right-branching periodic sentences, right, that
seems to be more sophisticated to us. Using a variety of words –
so if I say doctor the next time I’ll say
physician and the next time I’ll say the white
coated sage or the emissary of Caduceus or
God knows what. So the next time you go to
your doctor, ask your physician if your health
provider can supply you, and if you write that way
in the real world people are like what are you
talking about? I have no idea, right?>>Yeah, but I’m just
saying…>>Yeah, yeah.>>The system needs to
support (inaudible) writing teachers.>>Yeah, I agree.>>In the process
because…>>I mean, I wish freshman
– you know, humbly I submit – I wish students
learned what I call practical writing from
first grade on up. And in freshman writing I
wish they would learn the reality of writing for
people who care. I mean, even if it’s – I’m
writing for you and you like video games. How’s the new video game? Fine, I’ll write a review. What questions do you
have? And I can go through and I
can create a network of questions. What’s odd to me is when
students come to me and say, Dr. Lillywhite, I’m
writing this paper for Professor So-and-so and I
don’t know what she or he wants. And I look at it and say,
well, let’s break it into questions. What is the issue? And what questions – well,
there is no reader. I’m supposed to imagine a
reader. Somebody out there and
it’s like – already those assignments are doomed. I mean, case studies are
better than nothing, right? Yes.>>So how do you think you
can help your faculty colleagues frame or set
writing assignments that will foster this emphasis
that you place on question, content and
reader? How can you help us think
through that?>>Right, right. It all starts with having
a real reader and a real issue for that reader
because if you don’t have that primary setup now we
are writing in a very artificial situation. And a case study at least
gives me some semblance of a real person. Because understand what
content is – first of all, it’s about an issue
defined as an area of shared interest between
you and the person you’re writing to. You have to have that
otherwise the person won’t be interested – that is,
they won’t have questions. And once you have an
issue, teach students how to factor it into a list
of questions. I was taught
brainstorming. Write down everything you
know about the topic. That’s not useful. No reader wants to know
everything I know as an expert about a topic,
right? What you should be
brainstorming are the questions that are
appropriate for that issue. And you should interview
the person and say, hey, what do you want to know
about electric cars? Are you interested in the
way to finance them, the range that they get on a
single charge? You need to talk to
people. In the workplace – I work
with tons of people and, you know, I’m called into
places, like GAL (ph). My people can’t write. It’s never the case. The case is that they
manage the writing process poorly. There are huge, what are
called, agency costs. People run off doing all
kinds of things and there’s not good
communication that has to do with the fact that
we’re looking at this problem, issue, area of
risk – whatever you want to call it – and we have
to agree on the questions before we move forward. I’ve handed you a 10-step
information queuing assignment. These are the 10 things I
have my students do before they’re allowed to write a
draft. The idea is, hey, do a
draft and then we’ll talk about it – very wasteful. Get people to do outlines.   Show me the questions. I start an assignment to
answer your question. I start an assignment by
telling my students send me the questions that
you’re going to answer. And that is an area of
negotiation for longer than it should be. It’s amazing how students
lack that simple ability to imagine what questions
does my reader need to know about this. And that’s a huge part of
critical thinking. People talk about
syllogisms and enthymemes and that’s critical
thinking. Well, that is part of it,
but a more practical part is the idea of having a
simple conversation, an exchange of information,
which is based on questions and answers. I think we have to end.  

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