I’m feeling a sense of deja vu as I write this post.
Back in November, I reflected on the value of blogging as a tool to learn business writing skills after delivering an eight-week business blogging assignment to my first-year advertising students.
At that time, I marvelled at the improvements I saw in almost every student’s writing, not just in writing mechanics but in students’ ability to think and write critically and to craft beautiful-looking documents.
With complete confidence, I can say that almost every student in my Writing for Marketing class became a better, more conscientious writer by crafting a weekly post on what they were learning about their industry in the classroom and in the outside world.
Indeed, a number of students wrote their final posts about how much they felt their writing had improved through blogging. Perhaps first-year student Emm Fawcett said it best (some words removed for brevity):
“When I first received this assignment my initial reaction was that I REALLY didn’t want to do it. But I progressed from week to week, and towards the end I discovered why my professor Frank Armstrong gave us this task in the first place,” says Emm. “Blogging helps you become a better writer.”
Here’s why, said Emm:
“As you blog more, you write more. I found that it got easier to complete my blogs as time went on. A natural flow came from practice, and now I feel like I can whip these blogs off pretty comfortably.
“Another great benefit to blogging is that you get to proofread your work on a pretty regular basis. Once you’ve applied a grammatical rule more than a few times it sticks with you. Eventually, if you write enough blogs you’ll gain your flow and become a grammar master. That’s a pretty unstoppable combination if you ask me.”
Emm mentioned the application of grammatical rules and I’ll tell you about that in a sec.
First of all, second-year marketing students are writing about the industry in which they will soon start their placements, so they’ll become somewhat knowledgeable about the organization where they’ll be doing their placements by the time they walk in the door. The hope is that they’ll knock the socks off the hiring managers at those companies and maybe eventually land a job or at least a solid letter of reference.
But that’s just a side benefit. After all, Comm 57 is all about improving student writing.
More than anything, Comm 57 is about helping students to become better writers. As Emm said, practice makes perfect (or nearly so), especially when you’re getting critical feedback every time you write. I evaluate five out of students’ seven weekly blogs. They also evaluate each others’ blogs weekly, so pretty well everyone gets some critical feedback every week. Students get marked for the quality of their feedback, not for the feedback they receive from one another.
We’re all using the same checklist, a checklist that reinforces the principles of good business writing and formatting: short paragraphs, short sentences, punchy writing, the use of examples to back up opinions, facts, and arguments, and the use of citations to back up all those claims.
As well as their weekly blog, students must also complete five grammar reports. Each time they write a post, I point out a writing challenge in it such as grammar, punctuation, or sentence structure issues. I label the type of error that they’ve committed, but I don’t tell them how to fix it. Using resources I provide, they must say why they made an error, fix it, provide examples of correct usage, and describe a strategy for preventing repetition of that error.
While we’re not using the APA-style referencing methods that we employ in our more academic assignments, the blogs are a great way to prepare students for future academic and business reports because they demand many of the same basic required skills.
At the same time, our marketing students get a chance to work with WordPress, the blogging platform that the advertising and marketing industries have told us they want our graduates to be able to use.
I imagine that many of the students in my current second-year Communication Skills for Marketers were skeptical about the value of the assignment, but as we approach the assignment’s final week, the feedback in the evaluations shows that many now see its value, particularly for marketing students.
Even if they don’t see the value, the evidence shows that more than half the students in the class have become better, more conscientious writers.
But don’t take my word for it. Go back through my top 5 marketing blog choices from the last seven weeks and you’ll see the improvement between Week 1 and Week 7. Students are demonstrating more pristine writing with fewer errors, cleaner formatting, more competent WordPress use, and much more consistent use of evidences and reference.
Indeed, for this assignment, the proof is in the prose.