New Technologies and Writing Instruction [college research paper] (part 5)

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Of more practical import were the new attempts to determine the nature of job related writing, including NIE supported research by Lee O’Dell of SUNY Albany and Dixie Goswami of the University of Tennessee, and a new FIPSE project with the New York City Police Foundation. (Meyer et al 99) A successful labbased college course, developed with FIPSE support at York College, CUNY, is now being applied experimentally at a major hospital and for customer service representatives at the Commonwealth Edison Company. (George 127)

Such applications will test the extent to which a general strengthening of the ability to generate clear prose will help with fairly specific writing tasks, usually seen as self-contained in company training programs. Most writing teachers are convinced that the generic skills of organization and communication are transferable for different writing needs. This would be a hard proposition to test completely, yet there is much circumstantial evidence. The “plain English” movement also works toward what once would have been called a lingua communis -especially vocabulary and syntax which are immediately understandable by readers of modest education. (Rose et al 120) Such usage is independent of any specific information or style. Perhaps this should be a widespread curricular goal, replacing the former dominance of literary models.

Linda Flower of Carnegie Mellon makes an important distinction between “writer-based” and “reader-based” prose (Atwell 114). The latter is organized according to the understanding of the audience rather than the author. This is both consistent with traditional rhetoric, and a call for writing instruction which draws the reader in new and more direct ways: for example, through simulations which put the student in the position of writing documents on which decisions are made (e.g., a briefing document before a vote, or instructions and directions and then playing out the results).

Such work is probably more feasible for more advanced students, yet the idea that writing assignments should involve their intended function has implications for most writing instruction. This is clearly not the same as trying to keep up with a proliferation of genres and formats. The time is past when the formal, reflective essay was the only worthwhile kind of writing to master; but the dimension of generic application is still a crucial aspect of writing instruction. “There is now a greater incentive to learn writing as public communication, and for this we need to understand the purposes of writing.” (Bullock et al 145)

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