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Writing 323 Online: Writing in the Professional World

Winter 2014

Professor Steven D. Krause

603K Pray-Harrold Hall | | 734-487-0985

(Email is the best way to get a hold of me and I almost always will respond to it within 24 hours. I only answer my phone and check my voicemail when I am actually in my office, which is more or less limited to my office hours. So again, if you want to get a hold of me, don’t call; email me).

Office Hours: Mondays and Wednesdays, Noon to 2 pm, and by appointment


Writing 323 is a designated “WI” course that is an introduction to the Written Communication major and the Writing minor. As with other courses in the major and minor, students in English 323 learn about audience, purpose, research, revision, design, collaboration, and technology. Specifically, English 323 focuses on theories, principles, and processes for composing and designing professional texts, analyzing audiences and writing situations, and organizing data and information.

Your projects this term will continually question the course title– that is, what does it mean to “write” in the “professional world?” Along the way, you will complete a variety of writing tasks and documents typical of professional writing– personal statements, resumes and cover letters, memos, complaint (and adjustment) letters, presentations, and both informal and formal reports. As we complete these practical and professional documents, we will also study the rhetorical implications of this work, especially relative to scholarship on writing in the workplace and in technical communication settings.

Required Readings and Tools

There is no required textbook for the course– all of the readings will be available via the course emuonline page and other free sites. When it makes sense– especially with some of the PDFs for the class– I would strongly recommend printing out the readings.

As for tools: you will definitely need a Google account because we will be making extensive use of Google Drive/Google Docs for writing projects, peer review, Google Hangouts, collaborative writing, and so forth.  There might be some other free tools/services I’ll ask you to use this term, too. If your EMU email has been converted to Google Mail (and that should be the case with most of you), then you should use that account for this class.


Online Attendance and Participation

Your online participation is critical to the success of this course and it is worth 300 points.


Writing 323 is an online class but it is not a self-paced/self-study online class. This is a class where you will be expected to “attend” electronically and asynchronously during the course of the week. You might be wondering: “how does he take online attendance? He can’t see if I’m here or not!” That is very true. So the way I count online attendance is through your participation in the discussion forums. If you post at least one comment in the discussions for a particular period of time, you are present; if you don’t post a comment during a particular period of time (even if you are reading the comments of others), you are absent.

The implications of this online attendance requirement are significant. As you’ll see in the section of this syllabus called “Grading,” in order to get an “A” or a “B” in this class, you will need to be present and supportive in our online discussions. Conversely, not being present at all will mean that you are absent.  If you are absent from the class for a week two times, I will dock your participation grade by 30%, or a total of one letter grade for the course. If you are absent from the class for a week three times, I will dock your participation grade by 150% and you will probably not be able to pass the course.

There are no excused absences, so do not bother to email me some sort of note. Excuses that will most certainly not be tolerated include problems with your computer or travel where you will not have Internet access. If something serious happens and we need to make arrangements for health/medical reasons, we can; but generally speaking, there are no exceptions to this policy.

Note also that online classes require you to be computer savvy. Remember, the only interaction you are required to have with me and your classmates this semester is through the computer. I’m happy to answer questions and meet you in person to help with technical issues, but I can’t come to where you live and give you tech support.  So if you are someone who is not comfortable posting stuff online, interacting online, installing some basic software on your computer, and/or if you would describe yourself as “someone who really doesn’t like computers,” then you probably want to think about taking this class when it is offered in person.

Under no circumstances will I accept a “lack of internet (or computer) access” as an excuse for not getting work done on time or for online attendance. This includes foreseen and unforeseen circumstances. For example, if you are planning a two week back country camping trip during the semester where you don’t expect to have wifi access, then you will certainly fail the class. And if your computer breaks or your regular computer access is otherwise interrupted, then you will need to address the problem immediately.


The attendance requirement is about passing or failing the class; the grading for participation depends on the effectiveness of your participation. The details of how participation will work will emerge as the class goes along, but in brief, participation means the following.

  • Discussion. We will “talk” about the readings and writing assignments in the comment sections of posts on this site; this replaces/replicates the discussion we would have in face to face class. To start off each discussion within units, I will write a post that offers introductory comments and frames the discussion. Your responses will take the form of new comments or responses to other comments from your classmates or from me.
    • I take this as a given, but just to be clear: in order to effectively participate in the discussions, you will need to complete and understand the readings for the course.
    • The number of comments you’ll be required to make vary from unit to unit, but I assume everyone will actively participate in all of the class discussions. 
    • The style of these comments on posts should be conversational. I don’t expect anyone to write mini reports– that is, anything more than about 150 words is probably too much. Instead, think in terms of reactions, observations, questions, etc. Of course, you don’t want to write too little, either– comments like “I agree” aren’t useful.
    • Early on in the semester, I’ll give everyone some basic feedback on how you are doing with this part of participation.
  • Peer review.  This means sharing, reviewing, and diligently discussing each others’ writing with the goal of making us all better readers and writers. This is a critical premise of the class: that others (not just the teacher!) are capable of giving effective advice, and you should be willing to both give and receive that advice.

Grading participation. I divide participation into two equal parts of 150 points each. Because I think it is important for you to be an active participant in the grading process (after all, grades are not “given” as much as they are “earned”), I will ask you to enter into an email dialogue with me in the middle of the term and the end of the term to discuss your participation grade. Essentially, you will email me and tell me what grade you believe you deserve for participation and why, and I will respond, and, if necessary, we’ll talk about it via email until it seems resolved. Note that I will not assign a participation grade until you enter into this dialogue process.


Writing Assignments

The writing assignments for the course are worth a total of 700 points. We will talk about each of these assignments in greater detail as the course progresses, but in brief, they are:

  • The personal statement assignment
  • Email writing assignment
  • Letter of complaint/responses to a letter of complaint assignment
  • Instructions assignment (which will include a PDF version of your instructions, complete with illustrations and other useful media)
  • Informal report assignment
  • Resume and application letter assignment (which will include a PDF version of your resume)
  • Formal recommendation report and presentation assignment  (a project that will include other appropriate presentation media)

Except where otherwise noted, we will use Google Docs throughout the process for these assignments, from draft to peer review to graded version. Google Docs is easy to use, free, and allows for robust collaboration and commentary. The only exceptions are Google Docs is optional for the instructions and resume assignments.

Each of these assignments will also include a writer’s memo from you to me where you introduce and explain your approach to the project.  We will discuss these memos as the class gets rolling; in brief, these are short (200 words or less) memos formatted as a memo and addressed directly to me. Unlike the assignments– where there is always a specific audience and purpose that is not only me and your classmates— the memos are your chance to tell me directly how you thought the assignment went, strengths and weaknesses, and other aspects for specific assignments.

I will assign a letter grade to each of these assignments as we go along. However, you should consider the point value of this work holistically. In other words, this portion of the course is really “one grade” that happens to have seven different assignments.

Late work. I’m against it. I will deduct 10% of the grade (the equivalent of one letter) from the project for every 72 hours  the assignment is late. The only exception to this rule is if you contact me BEFORE the assignment is due, I will often grant an extension.

Unacceptable errors. By “unacceptable errors,” I don’t mean grammar technicalities (for example, the use of “who” versus “whom,” or “that” versus “which”). Rather, as we will talk and read about in some detail as the term gets started, I mean errors that interrupt a reader and that make you as a writer seem less credible and thus less professional.

Given the purpose of and the types of assignments we’ll be completing in this class, avoiding these kinds of errors is critical. Most of the writing assignments are very short, which means that every sentence counts and mistakes standout. And remember, the goal here is to practice writing that takes place in professional settings, a space that is particularly unforgiving of errors.

In an effort to promote this careful approach to writing, I will insist that the final versions of the graded writing projects are as clear and error-free as possible. If I encounter more than two unacceptable errors in grammar, style, or format while reading your project, I will deduct 10% of the grade (the equivalent of one letter) from the project, return the project to you, and ask that you resubmit a revised and error-free version within 72 hours.

Revision. Both at about the middle of the term and the end of the term, I’ll extend opportunities for you to revise writing projects with the intention of earning a better grade. However, there are several important rules for revision:

  • You cannot revise a project to make up for a grade deduction from lateness or unacceptable errors. In other words, if you received a “C” on a project in part because you turned it in late, the best grade your revision would receive is a “B.”
  • You can only revise a particular project once and it must be turned in by the deadline on the schedule.
  • You have to meet with me to discuss your revision(s), either in person, via Google hangouts, or the phone.

In order to pass the course, you have to complete all of the major assignments, regardless of your grade on any of the other assignments.


Given all this, calculating the final grade is fairly straight-forward: A=1000-930; A-=929-900; B+=899-870; B=869-840; B-=839-800; C+=799-770; C=769-740; C-=739-700; D+=699-670; D=669-640; D-=639-600; E=599-0

For more detail on this, see the last section of these policies, “What do grades mean?”


The Fine Print

These are things that are important to include but don’t fit into one of the other categories of policies.

Plagiarism: As the Council of Writing Program Administrators puts it, “Plagiarism occurs when a writer deliberately passes off another’s words or ideas without acknowledging their source. For example, turning another’s work as your own is plagiarism. If you plagiarize in this class, you will likely fail the assignment on which you are working and your case may be passed to the university for additional disciplinary action.”

So, obviously, don’t do this.

The University Writing Center (115 Halle Library)
The University Writing Center offers one-to-one writing consulting for both undergraduate and graduate students. Students can make appointments or drop in between the hours of 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Fridays. Students should bring a draft of what they’re working on and their assignment. The UWC also offers small group workshops on various topics related to writing (e.g., Reading in College: Tips and Strategies; Incorporating Evidence; Revising Your Writing). Workshops are offered at various times Monday through Friday in the UWC. For more information, visit

The Academic Projects Center (116 Halle Library)
The APC offers one-to-one consulting for students on writing, research, or technology-related issues. For more information, visit

Disabilities Resource Center (240 Student Center)
If you have a documented disability that affects your work in this (or any other) class, the Disabilities Resource Center can provide support for you. Call them, or let me know and I can help you to call them, at 734-487-2470 to make necessary arrangements to ensure you success in this course. For more information, visit


What do grades mean?

I have been teaching for a long time– I started as a graduate assistant in 1988!– and I’ve learned over the years that there is sometimes a disconnection and confusion between me and my students about what exactly grades mean. So in an effort to head that off a bit, I thought I’d conclude this syllabus with a few thoughts on the matter.

Let me start with four broad assumptions I make about grades and grading:

  • I think grades are earned and they are “student-centered” rather than “teacher-centered.” As a professor, I don’t see myself as someone who “gives” grades as if they were gifts so much as someone who does the best job I can to assess the work that students do.
  • Grades don’t really matter to me– they certainly don’t matter to me the same way that they matter to you. I want everyone to do the best work they can do and earn the grades that they expect, but I don’t see my successes (or failures) as a teacher linked to your grades. Extending the opportunity for students to learn is what’s important to me, and students who earn “Cs” often learn more than student who earn “As.”
  • I never know what a particular grade means to a particular student. Sometimes, one student will have earned a “B” on a project and that student will say “oh no, I got a B!” while another student who also earned a “B” will say “YES! I got a B!” So again, it’s really up to you.
  • Frankly, I’d just as soon skip the grading process entirely and just concentrate on creating the opportunity for you to learn something. And by the way, I don’t know and have never known any teacher or professor who particularly looks forward to grading student work; no one finds grading all that interesting or rewarding. But my employer expects me to give students grades and you expect to receive them, so here we are.

Okay, with that in mind, let me try to spell out in very general terms what I think particular letter grades mean:

“A” writing projects demonstrates a superior command of the subject matter and they present that information so effectively that the reader finds the writing interesting and informative. “A” writing demonstrates a clear pattern of organization which captivates an audience and keeps them involved throughout. “A” writing projects are “fully developed,” meaning they make excellent use of both quotes and paraphrases in order to support a clearly defined “point.” “A” writing projects reveal a sophistication in style and voice, are comprised of complete sentences appropriate in size, and involve transitions and connections between different parts of the essays, both within and between paragraphs. “A” writing projects demonstrate selectivity in terms of word choice and contain no noticeable grammatical or mechanical errors. Appropriate adjectives for the “A” writing project include “excellent,” “superior,” “wonderful,” and “very good.”

“B” writing projects demonstrate a good command of subject matter and present information effectively enough so that readers are not bored and are still informed. “B” writing is organized enough so that audiences can follow the writing, but it isn’t as engaging as “A” writing. “B” writing projects are “adequately developed,” meaning they make good use of both quotes and paraphrases in order to support a fairly clear “point.” “B” writing project are stylistically sound in that they demonstrate a good awareness of voice, they are made up of complete sentences, and they make  connections between different parts within and between paragraphs, though “B” writing doesn’t do this as well as “A” writing. “B” writing projects demonstrate good word choices and contain few if any noticeable grammatical or mechanical errors. Appropriate adjectives to describe the “B” writing project include “good” and “above average.”

“C” writing projects are generally competent, but they often demonstrate a less than complete understanding of the complexities of the subject matter. “C” writing is frequently not as clearly organized as it should be, and it tends to be significantly less engaging for its audience. “C” writing projects are frequently “under-developed,” meaning they don’t use enough quotes and paraphrases in order to support a point, and that point is not as clear as it should be. “C” writing projects have some awareness of issues of voice, sentence construction, connections between paragraphs, word choice, and the like, but there are also noticeable places where these things are problems. “C” writing projects often have mistakes and errors in grammar and mechanics that interrupt the reading process. Appropriate adjectives to describe the “C” writing project include “average,” adequate,” and “passing.”

“Below C” writing projects are those that don’t meet even the standards described of “C” writing projects. They are not competent, they don’t demonstrate an adequate understanding of their subject matter, they are unorganized, and they are not engaging. “Below C” writing projects are always “not developed,” making almost no use of evidence and having no clear point. “Below C” writing projects have numerous problems with voice, sentence construction, transitions, word choice, and the like. “Below C” writing projects usually have significant grammatical and mechanical problems. Appropriate adjectives to describe the “below C” writing project include “poor,” “not passing,” and “unacceptable.”


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