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Essay Format: All papers should be typed in 12 pt. font, double-spaced, with one inch margins all around, and should follow the guidelines of the MLA style of formatting. Label all papers in the upper left hand corner with your name, course name, and date — no cover page. Pages should include page numbers and a running head in the upper-right corner beginning with page two.

ENGL 1010

UNIT #1 DISCOURSE COMMUNITIES and WORKPLACE WRITING

Your writing objective for essay one is to understand and fully articulate the role of written and spoken discourse within your professional workplace community and how a member’s discourse practices – primarily written discourse, reflects their position, authority, and often their success within their discourse community.

Words: 950-1000

For your first essay, you will explore the notion of discourse communities and investigate the role of writing in your future (or current) professional workplace. Our workplaces are common communities where discourse among members is necessary for meeting goals and where the various members will participate at different levels and in different ways.

Before writing your essay, you first need to understand a few important concepts, beginning with the definition of a discourse community.

Prewriting – Step 1: Become familiar with the concept of a discourse community.

John Swales, in “The Concept of Discourse Community” presents “six defining characteristics” of discourse communities. In brief, they

  • Share Common Goals:
  • Have Mechanisms for communicating those goals:
  • Exchange Information and feedback from these mechanisms
  • Utilize/depend on some genres to impart certain types of information
  • Have a specific lexis or vocabulary
  • Have a threshold level of membership

A breakdown of these characteristics follows:

1. “A discourse community has a broadly agreed set of common public goals.” Collectors of antique and collectible animal traps share a goal of finding, admiring, and discussing rare, old traps.

2. “A discourse community has mechanisms of intercommunication among its members.” This might include emails, messages, phone calls, meetings, and face-to-face communication, whereby some members are the deliverers of information and others are recipients. Though not always clearly delineated, these lines are generally not crossed. A new member, unfamiliar with the protocol, may step out of line on occasion.

3. “A discourse community uses its participatory mechanisms primarily to provide information and feedback.”  Information might pertain to fundraising, upcoming events, potential setbacks, new opportunities, etc.

4. “A discourse community utilizes and hence possesses one or more genres in the communicative furtherance of its aims.” This pertains to the type of medium a discourse community finds useful for carrying out their common goals, such as blogs, discussion threads, electronic or paper newsletters, and conferences. A flyerwould be suitable for an upcoming event in a resident hall, and a newsletter would be better for reporting on that event after the fact. In the trap collector discourse community (above), members might participate in a discussion thread about the value of a rare style, or create blogs and other websites to show off their collections and provide feedback to inquiries. School board members might gather at national conferences to share successes and concerns.

5. “In addition to owning genres, a discourse community has acquired a specific lexis.” This refers to the vocabulary, abbreviations, acronyms, etc. used by members, and not readily accessible to non-members. The following statement, by a collector of old and collectible animal traps, for example, uses a distinct vocabulary to describe some of his finds: “I have several with cast jaws and one Newhouse with cast jaws and pan. I also have several with hand forged swivels and rivets.” I’m assuming this is impressive, but only members of this discourse community would know . . .

6. “A discourse community has a threshold level of members with a suitable degree of relevant content and discoursal expertise.”  The varying and evolving levels of knowledge and experience within discourse communities, from novice to veteran, create order and expectation. New members come in, and long-time members move on or retire.

With this criteria in mind, think about the discourse communities to which you belong(ed), such as a high school or college athletic or arts club; a hobby or interest you have (jewelry design, videogaming, birdwatching, photography, etc.); a summer or full-time job, and so forth. Add as many as you can to the table linked here

(The table on the link is identical to the example below.) Post your completed form to the Discussion Board (See Unit One Schedule, below).

Discourse Community Agreed set of common public goals Mechanisms of communication among members information and feedback through these mechanisms Utilizes and possesses one or more genres to further its aims Has a specific lexis (vocabulary, etc.) Threshold level of members

Prewriting – Step 2: Become familiar with workplace discourse conventions

Though they may not be specifically stated, there are discourse norms for every workplace. For instance, in this class, I communicate with the entire class via Blackboard announcements, email, and face-to-face. Just as it would go against the expected classroom etiquette if a professor ate his lunch during class time, it would also be odd if I gave out one paragraph of the syllabus per week, and to only half the students. There are expectations for all writing situations, and workplace writing is no different.

An employee who doesn’t understand or bother to practice the accepted norms of an institution will generally be unsuccessful, overall.  However, there is usually an acceptable “trial period” for an employee to adapt, and doing so often depends on that employee’s own perception of their value, power, and contribution to the workplace.

The following is an example of a discourse dilemma:

A staff member continually stepped outside the norms of her discourse community by scolding faculty via email for not collecting their mail or using too much paper. She also continually forwarded emails from colleagues in other departments without asking their permission and hit “reply all” when only the sender needed the information. Her vocabulary and sentence structure were also more informal than the original senders of the emails, which called into question her awareness of the institutional goals.

To further build your understanding of discourse community practices, read Learning to Write in a New Workplace: Alan’s Story,

case study borrowed from the open source journal: http://enculturation.net/5_2/wardle.html.

*Optional: Post your response to the question: What’s Alan’s problem? (See schedule)

Writing the Essay: Now you are ready to investigate the written and spoken discourse of your future profession and workplace. Research the written and spoken discourse of your future profession. If you know a professional who is already working within the field, you can interview that person. Perhaps you are already working in your chosen profession, but not in the role you anticipate filling after earning your degree. Use the knowledge you have, and conduct research to fill in the rest. Once you’ve completed your research, answering the following questions will provide you with the information you need to write your essay. (This is for your use only.) You will decide which details to include and how to organize and present them.

The Discourse of Your Profession: Questions with explanations and examples:

1. What image does your future workplace project externally?

For instance, Governors State University reflects lifelong learning, knowledge, cultural diversity, awareness, and success. The workplace writing and discourse should reflect those ideals.

2. Describe your general responsibilities within your future profession:

3. Describe the workplace writing you will do. This might range from daily communication to formal, published documents.  I write syllabi, assignments, emails, letters of recommendation, retention narratives, grant applications, and more.

4. What are the genres, codes, and conventions of your workplace writing?

These terms should be familiar from the readings: Genres, codes, and conventions refer to the various forms (genres) of communication and the (often) unspoken rules (codes) and expectations for correctness (conventions). In my profession, the expectations are that my syllabi and assignment handouts are grammatically perfect, stylized, and thorough. My email communication is professional and proofread – no lowercase names, offensive language, or careless errors. Consider the story of Alan. They did not adopt the discourse conventions of their workplace and ultimately, were disappointed with their outcomes.

5. Who are your readers?

My readers are students, staff, administrators, and colleagues.

6. Does your writing reflect a sense of authority? If yes, from where does this authority come? In other words, have you been granted “institutional authority” by virtue of your position, or have you earned it through your writing?

While my position carries the expectation that I will be a competent writer, I do not have “institutional authority.” I earn the respect of those in authority and establish my credibility through my writing proficiency. Along with writing well, I keep my emotions intact, proofread my work, and stay current in the field of writing.

7. Will your profession require you to adapt to new genres, new discourse, and new standards? 

We now offer more on-line classes, which requires adapting our syllabi and assignments to a virtual classroom setting. This is not merely a change in our language, but a change in our teaching style, delivery, and expectations as well, which is reflected in our writing.

Be sure to

  • Properly cite your sources;
  • Follow formatting guidelines (See Syllabus);
  • Proofread!  

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