For this assignment you'll create a short report, in memo format, from data I provide. The assignment will require you to analyze, synthesize, summarize and present numerical information for a specific client. This should be a reader-centered document.
Situation: Purpose and Audience
I am your client for the assignment. Imagine, if you like, that you're working as my research assistant this semester. I would like a report on the writing background of the students in this section of English 410. You probably recall that at the beginning of the course I administeredthat asked you about your writing background; these surveys (copies distributed in class) will be your data.
What do I want to learn from the report? -- Generally, I am wondering about students' previous experience in writing: the kinds of writing they've done, in what contexts and for what purposes.
More specifically, I'm interested in students' previous experience with professional writing: the genres they've produced, and whether it was for a course (or multiple courses), job or internship. Relatedly, I'm interested in the version of English 302 students have taken, and the kinds of writing they did in that course. (In previous sections of English 410 I've found that English 302, and especially 302B, anticipated some of the genres assigned in 410, e.g. the resume and the problem proposal.)
I'm also interested in students' reasons for taking 410 and their expectations of the course. Again, this knowledge can help me design a more effective course (as well as present the course accurately at the beginnning of the term).
Why do I want this information? -- Generally, I want to design a course that suits students' needs. Specifically, I may want to avoid teaching genres that students have already produced; I almost certainly want to avoid repeating instruction they've already had. And I'd like to draw on competencies and expertise they've already developed.
Who is the audience for the report? -- I am the primary audience, but I may share the report with other instructors preparing to teach English 410.
Composing the Report
The report should -- emphatically -- not be a mere tabulation of answers to each question on. I deliberately designed the survey so that it would not work well as a default structure for the report.
Instead, you should determine the main categories of information (headings) that will be helpful, given my questions and purposes and, perhaps, the results you find in the surveys. There is no predetermined right or wrong way to structure the body of the report. Your task is to consider the audience, her purpose, and the material you're presenting, and to come up with a structure that is likely to be readable and usable, given all those elements.
Remember what we've discussed about making paragraphs easy to skim: start paragraphs with topic sentences/conclusions rather than saving those for the end.
As regards prose style, the report should be precise (clear) and concise. Don't let yourself fall into the style of scientific discourse (e.g. passive voice, jargon).
As regards information, the report should be precise, and it should be thoughtful about its presentation of numerical data. You might say, for instance, that most students have already written a resume. In that case, explain "most": how many is most? Eight out of 15? All but one? Does it make better sense to express this as a ratio, as a percentage, or in some other way?
The report should be easy to skim and navigate. It should begin with an introduction that explains its purpose and main findings and that forecasts its structure and content. It should include a brief section on how the data was collected (here you're anticipating the secondary audiences; of course I know how the data was collected). Headings should be descriptive; paragraphs should begin with conclusions (topic sentences), with explanations that follow.
You might glance over the sample reports posted on the Schedule for Monday's class. Neither of these samples presents the kind of information you're being asked to report, but they do illustrate an array of techniques we've been discussing in class. Note that one of these samples is a very poor model of user-centered design, although it's well written otherwise.
What to Bring to Class
For the draft workshop on Monday June 2: 4 hard copies; email yourself one electronic copy for use in class.
For the final version on Wednesday June 4: 2 hard copies
Criteria for Evaluation
These are drawn from the description above:
- a thorough set of findings
- a structure that accommodates the client's purpose
- includes a subject line, an introduction/summary, a section describing how the data was collected, and a findings section.
- a skimmable, scannable, easily navigable design
- clear concise prose style