At the start of a recent workshop, I asked graduate student supervisors what they most wanted to know. While the answers are of interest to supervisors, graduate students might gain some insight from listening in. Research labs function as small development units, so there may be value in listening to the answers if you are a supervisor of a non-academic unit at a large organization.
In this episode of my Teaching Writing podcast, I provide an edited version of my answers. Here are the questions:
Q1: Efficiency. How can you get your co-workers writing better, faster. I've had success in the past working one-on-one with people who, at the start of our relationship, were having trouble producing texts that their supervisors liked. We had success by studying models of good writing drawn (often) from the supervisor's written work.
2. Feedback. Providing good feedback takes time and is not particularly efficient. More importantly, research suggests that the person providing the feedback is the one who is doing most of the learning. So if you are providing great feedback to your employees, you are learning a lot about their writing but they aren't learning nearly as much as you are.
Solution: structure opportunities for co-workers to comment on each other's work. Reward those who provide constructive, insightful suggestions.
3. Non-native speakers. Non-native speakers vary widely in their ability to write in English. Some are fantastic and indistinguishable from native speakers. Others will require a lot of help.
For sentence-level help, I would take the second group--those who need help--and insist that they use a grammar editor before submitting documents for review. Google docs have several add-ons, and programs such as Grammarly can be structured to work with browsers as well as various word processors. This will help those writers produce standard English, but it won't help with the larger concerns about how to structure a document appropriately. For that, you'll need to do what has been covered in the first question above.
More than anything, you need to start with a new student or employee by getting a sample of their writing and identifying what they need to work on to improve. Then you need to put together a plan for helping them improve. Maybe that means $35 for a grammar checker; maybe that means having co-workers review their writing; maybe that means creating models of good writing with notes to explain why they are good. But the key is having a plan.
To find out more, visit wecanwrite.ca or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for advise or suggestions.
Recent research into online peer feedback shows that people who give feedback to others on what that person has written benefits the person giving the feedback more than the person receiving it. This isn't typically what people expect: they will pay for feedback on their writing and then revise it. That will solve the immediate problem with that specific piece of writing, and if that solves your current problem, great!
To improve as a writer in the long term, however, you need to go beyond receiving feedback. You need to learn to "read as a writer": find texts similar to the one you are trying to create, and then analyze them to find out how they are put together. If you then try to explain (to yourself, if you do not know the author of the text you are analyzing) to the person who wrote the text how you see the text working (or not working!), then you've taken the next step.
Over time, you ability to see opportunities for revising your own work will improve. It helps if there is some standard or criteria for your text. We can help do an initial analysis to identify the features of your target texts, and we can also help you improve your ability to comment on other writer's texts in ways that are productive for you and them.