Writing and Workplace Communication

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What type of writing do youth work on in summer jobs and internships?  How is writing in the workplace similar to or different from writing in a classroom setting?  How can youth use classroom experience to build transferable workplace communication skills? How can youth evaluate their workplace writing and communication skills? 

Youth employment programs offer a wide variety of opportunities to explore writing and communication.  Examples from youth employment programs in Massachusetts (from a sample of Work-Based Learning Plans) include participating in the writing of manuals, technical documentation, press releases, grant proposals, newspaper stories, obituaries, sports reports, test and discussion question banks for classroom teachers, story banks for newspapers, websites, form letters, letters, emails, daily logs, patient charts, meeting notes and more.  Examples also included youth helping others with their writing, working as teaching assistants supporting younger children in story writing, or as music production interns supporting musicians in music writing, and many other examples.

Writing in the workplace is highly collaborative. Different individuals may be responsible for setting goals, outlining, researching, drafting,  editing, fact-checking and formatting a document or presentation.  An intern may be involved in specific roles as part of a project.  For example, a web design intern takes text provided by a customer and tweaks it slightly for use on the customer’s website.  Or, for example, an intern working for a funeral home drafts, edits, fact-checks or types obituaries, but always works in collaboration with others to ensure accuracy of this important information.   Or, for example, a group of interns re-write a company manual, using the text of the current version of the manual as a guide, and creating a more readable and user-friendly format. 

Each written product in a workplace may be part of a larger set of products.  For example, a summer intern may produce a research summary, which will provide material for a grant proposal or policy report that will be written sometime later.   Or, for example, interns at a newspaper maycontribute to a “bank” of story ideas that can be turned into full stories in the future.  Or, for example, classroom interns review textbooks, novels and other assigned reading and contribute to banks of vocabulary lists, discussion questions, and quiz and test questions.  

Writing and other workplace communication is very audience-focused.  Each type of writing is customized to meet the needs of the readers.  For example, a grant proposal is designed to show potential funders that a proposed project will fill a community need, match the goals of the funders, and be operated thoughtfully and efficiently.  Or, for example, a research summary is designed to show readers the results of a research project in a way that is easy to read and makes it easy to extract information for future reports, presentations and further research.  Or, for example, a daily log in any workplace is designed to tell supervisors and co-workers important factual information about the events of the day so that they can follow-up, answer questions and make any necessary adjustments to routines.  Or, for example, a survey must be written in a way the makes sense to the audience of survey-takers and provides reliable information.

Formatting and visual presentation are very important in workplace writing and communication.    Various types of workplace writing — text on a website, PowerPoint presentations, press releases, newspaper articles, daily logs, research reports –all use different presentation styles customized to meet the needs of the audience.  Some writing follows specific conventions, such as the Associated Press conventions for journalism and press releases.  Other writing follow more flexible guidelines, though still follow some “norms” about expected style.

Writing in a classroom and writing in the workplace draw on the same essential skills, though with differences in the environment, audience and process.   The Massachusetts curriculum frameworks for English Language Arts provide a strong focus on composition, including learning about writing for different audiences and purposes, as well as learning to assess word choice, sentence structure, paragraph structure and organization and to revise writing.   To make the most of classroom writing experiences, students can take time to reflect on the audience and purpose of each writing assignment and focus on sharpening a variety of writing styles, including analytical, persuasive, creative, and personal writing.

How can students evaluate their writing skills?  Questions to Ask:

– Do I have strategies that help me maintain a steady pace when I’m writing (that is, writing flows along, and I’m not “stuck”)?
– Can I comfortably work with another person to edit and make revisions?
– In my most recent writing project, can I identify and describe the intended audience?
– In my most recent writing project, can I identify what the next steps will be and who will be responsible for next steps?
– In my most recent writing project, can I describe two things I like about the format or visual presentation?
– Can I describe two or more steps I’ve taken recently to strengthen my writing skills?

What are your strategies for effective writing and workplace communication? What are your biggest challenges?  Share your thoughts!

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