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Newsletter Assignment Independent Study Large corporations often have in-house newsletters to update employees on decisions, benefits, activities, and general information. It is your job to provide the how-to's of writing every month. Therefore, you write a short column monthly about how to write well and keep current in the business world. Every month, you choose a different topic: aspects of grammar, punctuation, mechanics, clarity, conciseness, whatever you notice that needs correcting in the workplace. You give advice about one specific aspect of writing to colleagues or novices in your field or related field. This text will be short, but informative, and illustrated with appropriate examples. Audience: Your audience is beginners or colleagues in your career field or related career fields. You may assume your article will appear in a newsletter designed for employees of your company. You can create your audience by carefully wording the first few sentences that let the reader know what group you are targeting specifically. Purpose: Your purpose is to help your colleagues improve their writing in some specific way. Try to show them how to do one thing well rather than give a lot of general information. For example, give a short lesson on how to decide between using who and whom. Give advice on what to include in the summary section of a proposal. You can be creative here in deciding what to present. Assuming you write a column monthly, you can stretch out your ideas. Don't try to do too much at one time. Use a search engine to look for writing ideas and information. There are many out there. Feel free to use any source that will back up your information. Consider your voice also. You should be engaging and amusing, if you can. Write this like you are speaking with someone and want to entertain while you teach. Your goal is to have employees read your column and put your advice into action. One way to do that is to give advice and examples that are easy to understand and presented in an amusing or interesting way. Length: The size of a typical newsletter column is about 500 words of printed copy or about 2 1/2 pages of double-spaced text. The guidelines for your newsletter article is slightly less: 350-400 words. What follows are student submissions of newsletter articles. Note two things: 1. They often start with a question, like an Ann Landers' column, that has to be answered. That is one technique that you can use if you like. However, you don't have to. You could start with an amusing error you saw recently. For example, I'm always spotting spelling errors or incorrect grammar usage on advertising signs, etc. 2. These are student submissions and therefore, they are not perfect. However, they will give you an idea of what to shoot for and go beyond. When you read these student papers, critique their effectiveness by using the following criteria: (a) Does the writer state clearly what he/she wants the reader to learn? (b) Does the writer create interest through the introduction? (c) Does the writer make the readers see the importance of the advice? (d) How many examples or statistics are used to convince the reader or help the reader understand the material? How many do you think you need? (e) Would other information be helpful? What what you include or do differently? Example 1: Writing Workshop with Jane Doe Question: I know that teachers have many audiences. They write a lot of letters to parents and colleagues as well as their students. How can I be sure my meaning is clear to my readers? Answer: Clearly, writing for parents and other audiences is important in the teaching profession. Writing by teachers ranges from evaluations of students, to writing for other professionals that is technical and objective, to writing to students, which must be clear and concise. The readers are most likely to be interested in how a student is doing in class and what improvements can be made to increase the student's learning and achievement. However, where educational professionals want facts about student performance, parents are often looking for reassurance that the student is doing well or that improvements can be made. Writing for these two groups takes knowledge of the audience's needs and their understanding of the education profession. A teacher must realize that when writing to parents rather than colleagues, the document must be easy to understand. Writing to parents can be difficult. Parents are as diverse as the students in your classrooms. They differ in socio-economic background, ethnicity, and educational background. Some parents may not have a high level of education. So, writing should be clear, but not patronizing. The letter should also be somewhat more personal that a professional document to other educators. It is easy for parents to become defensive if they believe that their children are not being treated fairly. Writing to parents should be objective, yet reassuring. If you must give some difficult news to a parent, be sure to mention something positive about the student and reassure the parent that there are things that the parent and child can do to assure success. Material should be comprehensible so as to avoid any miscommunication between teacher and student. It all boils down to knowing your audience. The classroom teacher must be able to discern between the different possible audiences and write appropriately for each. Write in your own natural voice, but keep the audience in mind. Most of your readers will appreciate writing that is pleasant to read and easily comprehensible. In the case of a parent, describe to yourself the average parent of students in your classes. This could vary greatly from school to school, and neighborhood to neighborhood. Write to that parent based on their perceived education level and attitude about education. Some parents are high school dropouts with little understanding about educational systems and procedures, some parents are professionals with masters degrees or higher. They may be doctors, lawyers, or educators. Writing effectively for all types of parents is beneficial to get the student the help he or she needs and will help communication become easier, both written and oral. Effective writing is beneficial to teachers and schools as a whole. Parents will think more highly of the school and its teachers who write tactfully and appropriately. Example 2: Writing Corner by Smack Smith Question: I have just entered the police force and have been warned that my reports can "make or break" a case. How important are reports in achieving a conviction, and what do I need to remember when writing them? Answer: Heed the warning. A 1997 survey revealed that 98% of Minnesota county attorneys felt that police reports were either critically important or very important to the successful prosecution of criminal cases. During an interview, Sergeant Butch Weegman, DPD, revealed that a good report always demonstrates the use of the active rather than the passive voice because it enables you to "Say what you mean, mean what you say, and say it accurately." As H. S. Becker in Writing for the Social Scientist maintains, "We seldom think that things happen all by themselves, people do things and make them happen. Active verbs almost always force you to name the person who did whatever was done." Furthermore, a paragraph written almost entirely in the passive voice does not provide the clear and specific evidence the prosecutor needs in the case because the facts are not attributed to any sources. As an example, in a recent criminal case, the reporting officer wrote: "The weapon was found in the bushes where it was thrown." His use of the passive voice lacked the specific evidence required at the preliminary hearing, and, as a result, he was subpoenaed by the prosecuting attorney to testify. Unfortunately, his testimony revealed that his partner, not he, had actually witnessed the suspect's action and had retrieved the gun. Since his partner was not available on such short notice, and because without his testimony the necessary elements of the crime could not be established, the case was dismissed and had to be re-filed. This situation could have been avoided if the reporting officer had instead used the active voice by writing: "Officer Jones found the weapon in the bushes where the suspect had thrown it." As this example illustrates, writing every report in the active voice can mean fewer rewrites, fewer trials, less court time for officers, and more police time in the field. The active voice clarifies "who is doing what to whom." That knowledge can make all the difference between a conviction or a dismissal. Example 3: Rotten Resumes by I. Ron Bars As a personnel manager at a federal medical prison, Festus Carmichael receives hundreds of resumes and applications from recent college graduates every year. His biggest complaint? Grammar, grammar, grammar! The use of proper grammar often proves to be a deciding factor in whether a prospective employee will be hired. Often, its misuse is read as an indicator of carelessness as well as a lack of education, or worse, as a sign of ignorance. Dr. Steven Norton, prison psychologist, says that grammatical errors are key ways of telling when a person is not well educated. "Grammar is stylistic and not used regularly in daily writing," explains Dr. Norton. "People get used to jargon and become detached from proper stylistic writing techniques." In a competitive job market, small differences tend to make large impacts on prospective employers. Poor writing techniques often tip the employer that hiring the individual would entail additional time and energy to try to correct bad writing habits. Worst of all, additional time and energy for training means additional expense for the company. Not many companies will overlook those savings when choosing between one candidate with strong grammar skills and another without them. Earle Dunford, accomplished writing critic, says that a poor writer makes for a bad employee. "Common sense should tell you that the applicant whose writing is poor has no chance of being hired," asserts Dunford. Steven Ward, an expert in evaluating writing skills, says that written work submitted by applicants is most often problematic. "Much of the applicant's writings are riddled with sentence fragments, run-on sentences, dangling participles, lack of subject-verb agreement, misuse of punctuation, and spelling errors," complains Ward. These people are not being hired. Those who are skilled writers and communicators are not only preferred, they are hired, given promotions, and respected by colleagues. Employees should take pride in the writing they do on the job and be concerned enough about their skills that they learn the proper techniques before they get on the job.
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