How can you improve the writing of those you work with? In this week's Teaching Writing podcast I review best practices for designing a writing prompt for students. In this article, I'll try to draw parallels for the workplace.
New employees, including internship and co-op students, may be at a loss when trying to generate the kinds of texts that are standard in your workplace. One researcher (Doug Brent, University of Calgary), when he interviewed internship students at work, found that a key strategy those students employed was to search the web for example texts. This isn't a winning strategy, but it is reasonable when your back is to the wall.
To help students produce better writing in a classroom context, writing researchers advocate that instructors provide more context for the document: why is it needed? who is going to read it? what is the primary purpose of the document (to persuade? to inform? to analyze?)? what kind of document is required (a memo? a white paper? a one-page summary?)? This kind of detail is immensely helpful, but it does take a few minutes for the supervisor to pull together.
In classroom contexts, best practices require that students be given an explanation of how they will be evaluated. In a teaching context, this makes sense and is efficient because of the large number of students. In a workplace, however, where there are only a few employees who are being supervised by one person the time it takes to identify the hallmarks of a good document may not, at first blush, seem worth the effort. Some people will be able to discern the characteristics of a good text on their own; others might be able to do so much more quickly if they have some help.
Where is that help going to come from? It doesn't have to come from the supervisor. Recent research that examines online peer-commenting systems suggests that students who commented on other students' texts learned more than those who did not. I'd suggest that having peers in the workplace offer comments (short, pointed, focused) on each other's texts will accelerate learning for everyone while adding minimally to the work of the supervisor.
"Crossing Boundaries: Co-op Students Relearning to Write," Doug Brent, College Composition and Communication, Vol. 63, No. 4 (June 2012), pp. 558-592.