Major/Disciplinary Course Interview Project: Exploring a Specific Workplace Writing Situation

Assignments, Resources

Level: Upper-division Students in Major Courses (see variation for first-year students here)

In this assignment you will be conducting an interview of your own to learn more about the writing that happens in a specific workplace and position. You’ll conduct a brief (< ½ hour) interview, preferably in person, with a working professional, asking him or her about their writing and their development as a workplace writer.

Who to Interview?

Your interviewee should work in a field or job that is tied to your major—preferably in a job that you have at least some professional interest in joining post-college. Although you might know personally a seemingly great person to interview, I urge you to seek out someone you have not met in the past. The reason for this is twofold: First, if you already know them, you can ask them about their work any old time. Second, making new contacts in your desired field is always beneficial. You never know what might come of a great conversation. So, instead of interviewing a family friend, (even though interviewing him or her would be “easy”), try to expand your network. You should consider a “dream” interviewee based on your professional goals, and then use your current network to seek out professionals in that field or position. [Note to Professors: You should be prepared to offer advice for students who might need to “cold-email” a prospective interviewee. Also, an in-class networking conversation might help too. Just because Ann doesn’t know someone working her dream job, that doesn’t mean her classmate in the next row doesn’t. Allowing students to use one another as a network to seek out interviewees can do a lot of good.]

Preparing

In preparation for your interview, you should:

  1. Contact your desired interviewee (as early as possible to allow for scheduling complexities!) in a professionally written email [Note to Professors: an in-class discussion aboutthis genre and examples will serve your students well here] and schedule a time to talk, either in person (preferably) or via Skype.
  2. Listen to 2-3 interviews in the Archive (or read the transcripts). Make notes about what you learned that is relevant to you as a future workplace writer. What surprised you? What questions were the most interesting to you? What do you wish the writer had been asked?
  3. Prepare your questions. Your questions do not have to align with the questions in the Archive, but they should get at the same types of concerns, including:
    • Their job title, description, and primary duties
    • An overview of the genres the writer creates in his or her position
    • The writing process he or she follows
    • How the writer believes they learned to write in their job, including strategies or other opportunities for development
    • How he or she believes college writing prepared them (or not) to write in their current job, as well as what they wish they had learned or done as a student in order to better prepare

You should also feel free to ask other questions about the job that would help you envision yourself performing in it down the line. You should prepare approximately 8-10 open-ended questions.

  1. Prepare your recording technology and test it. (Garage Band is a good option, and iPhone recordings are also fine!)

Post-Interview

Write a summary and analysis of your interview (approximately 1,500 – 2,000 words). Provide an overview of the significant points your interviewee made, using direct quotes when useful. (A good rule of thumb to determine when to summarize or paraphrase vs. when to quote is the question: Could I say it as well as they did? If not, use their language and quote them.) Then, consider your current preparedness to do the types of writing that your interviewee performs. Are you familiar with the genres of writing they described? How would you approach one of the less familiar forms if you were tasked with writing it? What’s complicated about the genre? What seems similar or familiar to other writing tasks you have completed in the past? What questions would you need to have answered in order to successfully tackle such writing? Are there specific things you believe you can or should do, based on your conversation with this writer, to best prepare yourself for your own eventual professional writing?

[Instructor Notes: Depending on your goals, you might consider asking students to transcribe their interview, or not. You might adjust the post-interview writing to better serve your specific course objectives, and you also ask students to present (in a formal manner or not) about their findings. If not, an in-class debrief would likely benefit the class and allow them to discuss not only their findings, but also their experiences. Finally, you might also choose to add or adjust the writing assignment below.]

 

Additional Post-Interview Writing Assignment [optional]: Comparison/Contrast Essay

Now that you’ve completed your interview with a workplace writer, you’ll write a comparison/contrast piece relating it to one of the other interviews in the archive. Your audience here is other first-year writing students who want to learn about the writing that takes place in two arenas and gain a better understanding of the complexities of such writing (as well as how to best prepare to complete it).

Ultimately what we’re most interested in here is how writing genres, processes, and rhetorical situations (goals and audiences of texts, at a basic level) are similar or not between jobs. You might choose to compare your interviewee’s experiences to a writer in a similar field in the archive, or you might choose a writer that’s very different. Both options could yield interesting results.

You’ll want to be as specific as possible in your analysis, and that means honing in on one or two elements of writing transfer that interest you here. There are many directions such a paper can go, and we want a focused comparison/contrast, not a rambling list of what one person said as opposed to another person. You might consider the following questions to help you narrow your focus:

  • What genres are the two writers working within? (More on genre here.) What makes them unique to this industry/organization/position? What’s complicated about them?
  • What audiences are the two writers writing to? How does this shape their writing?
  • What are the writers attempting to accomplish in their writing?
  • How are the writers’ processes similar or not? Are differences a product of organizational constraints/opportunities or are they more personal preferences?
  • How prepared was your interviewee to enter the workforce as a writer? What kinds of experiences did they have writing in college that effected this preparedness?

Finally, you don’t want to simply tell your reader what one writer said as opposed to another writer. You want to compare your area of interestbut also provide some insight and analysis about it, including how this audience of first-year students might begin to think about their own professional writing trajectory from the university to the workplace.