14. Thinking about Writing

A lot of people find that they really learn how to be a writer the first time they have a job. They have a boss who is a stickler for proper grammar, they discover that their colleagues think they are too long winded in an email, or they discover that a report they wrote is barely understandable according to the conventions (the “rules”) of the field in which they are working. In all these situations, the reason a writer finds that they are really learning how to write is that they are getting immediate real time feedback from a reader–and that is really what distinguishes a lot of the writing that is done in the professions compared to an academic setting.

Unfortunately, this learning process can be a slow one. Although the feedback is immediate, it means that there is not someone necessarily instructing you in how to write. Instead, you yourself must reflect on the reactions that you are getting each time you write and learn how to anticipate those reactions. In other words, you have to become your own teacher.

One of the things you can do to improve your ability to write in workplace settings is to change your mindset. Rather than focus on each individual piece of writing you might need to do, it is worth taking a step back to get a sense of the bigger picture–the context–in which the professional, technical, or workplace writing you need to do takes place. This chapter will teach you to approach learning to write in a new setting as a writing researcher, a term that refers to people whose job includes studying why and how people write (and, therefore, how people work and think).  This includes technical writers, communications specialists, speech writers, linguists, and rhetoricians, as well as other social scientists.

Why focus on writing researchers?  Because the work of these professions can and often is used in developing effective communication and is closely linked to the kind of work that any professional whose job includes writing must do in order to be successful (this includes just about everyone!). By approaching writing from their perspective, with their particular “tools of the trade,” you will set yourself up to be a successful writer in any context or situation.

First, this chapter will review the important role of curiosity in conducting meaningful research. Then, it will define key concepts for research into writing: genres, genre sets, and genre systems. Finally, it will explain various methods that can be used in order to analyze writing in various professional fields.


This chapter was written by Allison Gross, Portland Community College, and is licensed CC-BY 4.0.


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Technical Writing Copyright © 2017 by Allison Gross, Annemarie Hamlin, Billy Merck, Chris Rubio, Jodi Naas, Megan Savage, and Michele DeSilva is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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