NC State
Professional Writing Resources

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This report grows out of one of the most successful assignments in NC State’s professional communication courses. The assignment asks students to interview someone who has a job they would like to have in five years about the writing and speaking tasks associated with that job.

Students write up the results of their interviews, including quotations from the professionals about their on-the-job communication practices. Often, students are astonished (and appalled) to discover that technical and business professionals spend on average 34% of their time at work writing, and another significant portion in oral communication in person (43%), on the phone (22%), and in meetings (26%).

Most of what students discover in these interviews confirms national survey results from the past 30 years, and from our own survey results over the past 10 years. However, the impact of first-hand information from a role model is far greater than that from a teacher or published text.

We have harnessed the power of large numbers twice before, during the spring semester of 1996 and spring semester 2001. This third survey conducted during the fall semester of 2006 provides a five-year follow-up study. In all three semesters, faculty in the English Department coordinated their assignments so that the results of many interviews could be compiled and compared.

This assignment is not only a successful teaching strategy; it can also be a valuable source of information for instructors and curriculum planners as they try to keep up with the changing practices and problems of the workplace. We have found that when many students gather the same kind of information at the same time, we acquire information that has statistical power as well as anecdotal richness.

Dr. David Covington
Professional Writing Program Director