Technology has changed the way people work and their relationship to their work. Increased ability to connect using email, shared documents, and messaging services like Slack means that learning how to write for the workplace is more important than ever.
For many higher ed students, the difference between formal writing and informal writing is clear. But the gray space in between those where informal business communications lives is far less clear.
As a first-year college writing instructor, I feel that it is important to teach students how to create an “electronic voice” to help prepare them for their professional futures. Using blogs is a tool that I use to allow students to practice sharing ideas and cultivate a voice to use in those informally formal work spaces.
The first hurdle for many of my students is making them write. Before you can help them learn to be better writers, you need to get them to try writing. Many students feel that they are either born good writers or born bad writers.
Unlike formal essays, blog posts can be short. They can be based on opinion instead of straight fact which can make students feel at ease while writing them. When I have let students choose the topics, they feel a sense of ownership over their work and ideas. When students feel as though they are the experts on the topic, they write better. The more they write, the better their writing gets. The better their writing gets, the better prepared they are for the future. Many student evaluations have expressed gratitude over the blogs giving them a chance to write and make mistakes in a stress-free way.
Writing To An Audience
When students write for teachers, they know the audience is an authority figure. This means that the writing needs to be formal. When encouraging students to write blogs as part of their coursework, incorporate intraclass sharing. Part of my assignment is having students read each other’s work. Then, students are asked to respond to peers with comments which makes them practice writing to peers and works on their tone.
Once students enter the workforce, they will have to negotiate writing to their peers in a way that is not the traditional academic third person format but also not entirely the friendly first person. Understanding that there is an audience that lives in between the friends and the authority figure is something that blogs can help teach. This “electronic voice” is what they will need in order to write to workforce peers who are not bosses. By working on this earlier rather than later, they will be better prepared for future success.
When students read and respond to each other’s blogs they also learn how readers perceive emotions. Some students say a lot in very few words, but this can be read by others as being terse or unkind. Sometimes, students are surprised that their peers misunderstand their tone. As more work is done using live chat, email, and private messaging, students will need to find ways to write with empathy while not becoming over-friendly. In addition, they need to learn how to agree or disagree with others while remaining civil. Unlike social media where disagreements become linguistically toxic, blogs can provide a public forum to teach students how to approach other’s thoughts and opinions using the written word. By cultivating their “electronic voice,” students who blog will be better prepared to handle the social-professional writing necessary in the professional world.
Teaching “netiquette” skills is becoming increasingly important. Teaching students how to appropriately address and write an email starts them on the road to professional success. However, students will be doing more than sending emails. They will be Skype messaging or commenting on shared documents. This means that they need to learn the skill sets that can help them navigate these new electronic work modes that require writing. Learning how to use an “electronic voice” is an overlooked skill that can easily be incorporated into the classroom through blogging.