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 surprised to discover how much time technical and business professionals spend writing each week.

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 17 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 three times before, during the spring semesters of 1996 and 2001 and the fall semester of 2006. This fourth survey conducted during the spring semester of 2012 provides a follow-up study. In all four 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