Capstone in Professional Writing Image Block

Capstone in

Professional Writing

9:30 - 10:45, Monday/Wednesday, Spring 2019
Dr. Derek G. Ross

During your time as a student at Auburn University you have taken many classes, written many papers, and taken many tests. You have developed as a professional, and as a scholar. This Capstone course in Professional Writing will ask you to expand upon work you have done in other courses to consider what it means to be a professional. Course readings and assignments will ask you to contextualize existing work against different rhetorical frameworks and consider the role of writing in both academic and nonacademic workplaces. In considering how writing works, you will develop and apply your knowledge of effective writing, organization, editing, and design. Assignments will include presentations, reading responses, the construction of a professional portfolio, and writings designed to both reflect on the design process and analyze rhetoric associated with different writing styles and exigencies. 

By the time you complete this course, you should be able to analyze the relationship between university education and professional vocation; assess rhetorical situations and craft writing for multiple audiences and exigencies; discuss the design and rhetoric of writings produced in/for different fields; generate arguments that are coherent, logically sound, and grammatically correct; manage and articulate management choices for workplace-oriented writing projects; articulate the specialized skills and experiences you have gained throughout your university coursework; and produce a portfolio of writing that demonstrates learning in the course and integrates knowledge, experience, and writing gained through other courses.

Contacting me: I am available directly after class on Monday and Wednesdays, Wednesday 1:00 - 2:45, and by appointment. I generally respond to emails within 24 hours, excluding university holidays and weekends.

Week 1:

January 9 (Schedule subject to change)

Class (Wednesday)

Introduction, syllabus walkthrough, presentation sign-up.

Week 2:

January 14 & 16

Class 1, What is technical and professional writing?

Miller, C. R. (1979). A humanistic rational for technical writing. College English, 40(6), 610-617.

Miller, C. R. (1989). What’s Practical about Technical Writing. In B. E. Fearing & W. K. Sparrow (Eds.), Technical Writing Theory and Practice (pp. 14-24). New York: The Modern Language Association of America.

Class 2, The workplace: Knowing your audience

Solving Problems in Technical Communication (SPTC):


2: What are the work patterns in technical communication?

3: How can technical communicators fit into contemporary organizations?

Discussion Posting 1 due before class.

Week 3:

January 23

Class (Wednesday)

Discuss interview assignment and ethnographies

Macnealy, M. S. (1999). Ethnography. Strategies for Empirical Research in Writing (pp. 214-231). New York: Longman.

Bring a printed draft of your letter to someone to interview and a draft list of questions to class.

Week 4:

January 28 & 30

Class 1, Thick Description

Geertz, C. (1973). Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture. The Interpretation of Cultures (pp. 3-30). New York: Basic Books.

Class 2, Ethnography Practice

Bring a notebook/clipboard. We’re going on a fieldtrip to the student union.

Week 5:

February 4 & 6

Class 1, Ethnography discussion

In this class we will work through the data gathered in last Wednesday's class in much more detail.

Discussion Posting 2 due before class.

Extra Credit Assignment (3 points): Following this class, submit to me ~300 words outlining your plan for a formal ethnography based on our informal ethnography and discussions. Provide a research question, method, and what you (would) hope to accomplish, all supported with references to our informal work. Please submit your extra credit by February 24.

Class 2, From student to professional

SPTC 4: How can technical communicators develop as both students and professionals?

Guest speaker: Dr. Rajiv Mohabir

Week 6:

February 11 & 13

Class 1: Group Presentation 1

Class 2, Technical and professional writing: History and Power

Longo: Introduction - Ch. 2

Week 7:

February 18 & 20

Class 1

Longo: 3 - 4

Discussion Posting 3 due before class.

Class 2

Longo: 5 - 6

Assignment 1 due by midnight: Interview & Analysis

Week 8:

February 25 & 27

Class 1

Longo: 7 - Conclusion

Discuss Workplace Analysis progress

Class 2: Group Presentation 2

Week 9:

March 4 & 6

Class 1, Review for Midterm, discuss eportfolios, discuss Assignment 3

eportfolio resources

Class 2, Midterm Exam

Week 10:

March 18 & 20

Class 1

Bring a past paper to class. We'll start discussion on these if time permits.


Class 2

SPTC 9: How can technical communicators work in an ethical and legal manner?

Week 11:

March 25 & 27

Class 1

SPTC 10: How can technical communicators plan for users?

Discussion Posting 4 due before class.


Class 2, A rhetoric of inquiry

SPTC 5: How can rhetoric inform the practice of technical communication?

ROHS 1: Rhetoric of Inquiry

Assignment 2 due by midnight: Workplace Analysis

Week 12

April 1 & 3

Class 1

ROHS: Reader's choice (other than 5, 8, or 20). Be prepared to offer a 3 - 5 minute overview of the chapter you chose in class

Class 2, Darwin & Rhetoric

ROHS 5: Charles Darwin: Rhetorician of Science

Week 13

April 8 & 10

Class 1, Citation & the intellectual's role in society

ROHS 8: Codifying the Social Scientific Style: The APA Publication Manual as a Behaviorist Rhetoric

ROHS 20: The Rhetoric of Social Science: The political Responsibilities of the Scholar

Discussion Posting 5 due before class.


Class 2: Group Presentation 3

Week 15

April 15 & 17

Class 1: Rhetoric Test

Class 2

SPTC 15: What do technical communicators need to know about writing?

Have a copy of your paper ready to share (either in hardcopy or electronically) in class for peer review and discussion

Assignment 3: Paper Revision Due Before Midnight, April 19

Week 16:

April 22 & 24

Class 1, Discuss & workshop résumé

SPTC 16: What do technical communicators need to know about information design?

Ross, D. G. (2018). Résumé design and career advocacy in a Goodwill Career Center. In G. Agboka and N. Matveeva (Eds.), Citizenship and Advocacy in Technical Communication: Scholarly and Pedagogical Perspectives (pp. 175 – 198). New York, NY: Routledge.

Bring existing résumé to class

Class 2, Workshop portfolios

Bring draft of cover memo to class

ePortfolios are due by end of exam period, 10:30 am, Monday, April 29.

Texts and Technologies

Longo, B. (2000). Spurious coin: A history of science, management, and technical writing. SUNY Press.

Nelson, J. S., Megill, A., and McCloskey, D. N. (1987). The rhetoric of the human sciences: Language and argument in scholarship and public affairs. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Johnson-Eilola, J., and Selber, S. A. (2013). Solving problems in technical communication. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

Relevant academic articles via pdf.


ON FORMATTING: All writings in this class should follow APA format. This is not a genre class (one focused on teaching how to write essays, proposals, research papers, etc.). Instead, this class is designed to teach you how to understand, and apply, multiple design theories and approaches. It is your responsibility to make sure that you are submitting your work in an appropriate format. For help on APA style please see the APA handbook or the Online Writing Lab (OWL) at Purdue.

Interview & Analysis (10 points)

Interview and Analysis: Interview someone who has a job that you would eventually like to do one day. If you want to go into editing a scientific publication, for example, pick out a scientific journal, find out who edits that journal, and get in touch with them. Ideally, you should find someone who works for an organization, or in an industry, that you want to go in to. You may conduct your interview electronically, in person, or over the phone. Write up a report summarizing your interview. The content you write (not including interview responses) should be roughly 500 words long. To effectively complete this assignment, you should:

  1. Identify an organization, a job within that organization, and an individual to whom you will be writing
  2. Develop a short list of questions to either ask in person or email. For credit on this assignment you must include some version of questions listed in bold. Questions should be designed to help you understand what they do, and how they got that job. For example, you might ask: What are the primary responsibilities of your job? How did you get in to this line of work? Could you take me through, briefly, a standard day in your line of work? What would be your advice to someone who wants to get in to this line of work? How does writing play into your job on a daily basis?
  3. Write and proofread an interview request--please take time to make this polite and professional
  4. Submit a report which includes a brief summary of the workplace your interviewee is in and a brief bio of your interviewee; the reason you selected this workplace and person; your list of questions and their answers; and a section discussing what you learned from their responses.

Workplace Analysis (10 points)

Based on the methods discussed in class, conduct an ethnography of a workplace of your choosing (make sure you obtain appropriate permissions). Write up your findings in the form of a 1500 word scientific report using the IMRAD format.

Revision Project (10 points total)

Rewrite/revise an existing paper written at any point in your college career in light of course readings. Include revised paper, extensive justification for revisions (and examples), and explanation of intended impact of revisions re: audience and purpose. You should refer extensively to the literature we have discussed in class. The reflective component of the paper should total 1000-1500 words.

Portfolio Project (20 points total)

Your portfolio can be a valuable tool in helping you find a job, get into graduate school, and/or show others your skills, abilities, and interests. The portfolio you submit for this class will have three major parts:

  • A reflective cover memo (2000 words) which explains your document choices in relation to our class readings. This should be full of references to both theory and practical application. Use APA for citations. In this document you should discuss theories relevant to professional and public writing, and discuss how you specifically apply those theories in the documents you chose to include in your portfolio. (7.5 points)
  • Résumé (5 points)
  • 5 well-edited, carefully-chosen pieces of work from any classes you have taken at the university you believe to be representative of you as a writer, formatted into a professional-quality portfolio. Your grade for this aspect of the include will include both your revisions and the way in which you present your professional portfolio. Please make your choices specific to your post-graduation intentions/ If, for example, you intend to go into editing, please make sure that your portfolio includes evidence of your editing skills (documents showing markup, for example). (7.5 points)

Group Presentation (10 points total)

Working as a group (3 - 5 people depending on class size), plan an entire class day designed to sum up the material/lessons covered in the previous section of class and solidify potential workplace application. Your day should consist of AT LEAST a lecture/presentation component, a discussion component, and an activity. EACH INDIVIDUAL GROUP MEMBER must have a speaking role of at least 5 minutes. Your day does not have to consist soley of lecture/slide discussion--for example, you could engage the class in a game, create an interactive excercise, and more. No more than 10 minutes of the entire alloted time, however, may be spent showing video from an external source. I will wave this limit if your group creates their own video.

Reading Responses and Engagement with Online Discussion (20 points total)

Five times this semester you will post to our discussion board responses to the prompts I have listed below. The first response is to prompt 1, the second response to prompt 2, and so on. Your responses should be clear, coherent, well-edited, and cite source material where appropriate. Either use APA style, and append references to the end of each posting, or direct the audience to the source material through hyperlinks and parenthetical citation. Responses should be at least 300 words long.

You will also respond to your classmate's discussions. While I do not expect you to respond to every post every time, I do expect to see engagement. This response component is worth 5 points, assessed as follows: 1 - 5 responses over the course of the semester = 1 point. 6 - 10 responses over the course of the semester = 3 points. 11 + responses over the course of the semester = 5 points.

The prompts are as follows:

  1. What is the role of the technical/professional writer, and how has the material from any one of your NON English-based classes helped prepare you for better technical/professional communication? (3 points)

  2. What is the importance of audience analysis and understanding the workplace for a technical/professional writer? Reflect on a paper or assignment completed for a different class, and consider how audience analysis/workplace ethnography might help you re-envision this work for improvement, your portfolio, or another purpose altogether. Make sure you consider our recent class research. (3 points)

  3. How does codified academic knowledge (like that found in textbooks) work to discipline you towards particular ways of knowing? (3 points)

  4. Examine a paper written for any other class: What was the role of rhetoric in shaping the information you used to form the basis of the paper? For this posting read any other chapter in SPTC that you feel applies to your work. (3 points)

  5. You’ve been asked to cite source material all through your university career. How do the different styles (APA, MLA, Chicago, ACS, etc.) meditate the way we present and read information? (3 points)

Midterm (10 points total)

Rhetoric Test (10 points total)



You will fail the class if you do not attempt and submit ALL major assignments. Late assignments will receive a grade of zero (0).

Grades on assignments will be determined according to the following criteria:

A (90-99%) The document is superior. It exceeds all the objectives of the assignment. The presentation and discussion is ethical, sophisticated, thorough, thoughtful, and ideally suited for the audience. The style is clear and appropriate to the subject, purpose, and audience. The organization and design of the document make the information understandable, accessible, and usable. The mechanics and grammar are correct. Typography and design elements are sophisticated, ethical, and appropriate to audience and purpose. Outside information is cited appropriately.

B (80-89%) The document is good. It meets all of the objectives of the assignment, but requires minor improvements or contains only easily correctable errors in organization, style, design, grammar, or mechanics. Presentation and discussion are good, but could be addressed in more depth. Typography and design elements are good, ethical, and appropriate to audience and purpose. Outside information is mostly cited appropriately.

C (70-79%) The document is adequate. It omits useful information or requires significant improvement in organization, style, design, grammar, or mechanics. Presentation and discussion are superficial in places.Typography and design elements are not entirely suited to audience and purpose, have questionable ethics, and/or require significant improvement in order to function for their intended purpose. Some outside information is cited appropriately.

D (60-69%) The document is disappointing. It meets some of the objectives of the assignment but ignores others; the discussion is inadequately developed, omits important information, or displays numerous or major errors in organization, style, design, grammar, or mechanics. Typography and design elements are poorly suited to audience and purpose, lack awareness of ethics, and/or largely fail in their intended purpose. Most outside information is not cited appropriately.

F (0-59%) The document is unsatisfactory. It omits critical information, does something other than the assignment required, or displays major or excessive errors in organization, style, design, grammar, or mechanics. Typography and design elements fail to accomplish desired goals and/or lack ethical awareness. Outside information is not cited.

Projects submitted more than 7 days after the due date will not be accepted for a grade (they will receive a zero), though I will be happy to look over the project and offer constructive commentary.

Team Assignments

Team assignments receive grades based on group and individual work. It is possible that unsatisfactory participation in team assignments will result in a lower participation grade or a lower grade on the team assignment itself. You may be called upon to evaluate your own or your team members' performance on group assignments.


You are allowed 2 unexcused absences from this class. Each unexcused absence beyond the 2 allowed will result in the loss of 1 point from your point total for each absence.

Do not show up late to class. If a participation grade or quiz is given during the first 15 minutes and a you arrive late, a grade of zero (0) will be received for that assignment.

You will be excused from attending classes or other required activities, including examinations, for documented University-approved functions (such as competing in an athletic event), or the observance of a religious holy day and the time necessary to travel for this observance. You will not be penalized for the absence and will be permitted to take an exam or complete an assignment missed during the excused absence. The policy applies only to the documented University-approved events and official holy days of tax-exempt religious institutions. No prior notification of the instructor is required, though is requested. Other than exceptions related to university-related events and religious circumstances, only a note from a doctor or death notice for an immediate family member will result in an absence being excused. Personal circumstances are not considered acceptable for excusing an absence. Please see Auburn University's policies for additional materials relating to what constitutes an "excused" absence.

Dropping the Course

If you drop the course, you must do so in person at the Office of the Registrar. I cannot drop you from the course. It is your responsibility to make yourself aware of the drop dates.

Due Dates and Submission Technology

You will fail the class if you do not attempt and submit ALL major assignments. Late assignments will receive a grade of zero (0). It is your responsibility to turn in your work on time. Computer-related excuses will not be accepted. In the event of difficulties with our course management system (i.e., Canvas), you may email me your work to get it in on time, though you will still be responsible for submitting it through the appropriate channels when the difficulties are resolved. If you believe you have a legitimate excuse for submitting late work you may submit to me a formal appeal. I reserve the right to reject your appeal.

If you are absent the day a physical assignment is due, I will not accept the work via email. You must make arrangements with me to submit work before the deadline or put your work in my department mailbox. If extenuating circumstances apply (see below), your work will be due the day after your return from your athletic event or the day after you attend the emergency appointment or funeral.

Electronic documents must be saved in the following format: lastname_firstinitial_assignmentname.

Documents saved in the .docx format are generally compatible across systems. However, formatting is a major aspect of this class. To that end, you may wish to save your file as a .pdf to insure that all formatting appears exactly as you intended. There are several free options available to you, beyond those offered by most office software suites, including bullzip,pdfill, and cutepdf, among others. The excuse "it didn't look like that on my computer" will not be accepted.

I may give quizzes at any time during the class. These quizzes cover the specified readings, but they may also cover material introduced in previous classes/chapters. I do not offer make-up quizzes for any reason other than absences for university business (and only with proper university documentation), documented illness (a clinic must document the episode of illness if you have a chronic illness), or the death of an immediate family member. Additionally, late homework exercises will not be accepted under any circumstances.

Basic Technology Requirements


You are expected to be familiar with the day-to-day operation of computers including email (and sending attachments) and standard software. If you are not familiar with basic computing skills, speak to me as soon as possible, so that I can familiarize you with basic procedures.

You are also expected to have regular access to computing technology whether it be your computer at home or the computers provided by the university. The statement, "I don't have access to a computer" is not acceptable.

Hardware and Disk Media Requirements

It is your responsibility to ensure that the computer(s) and disk(s) you use are functional and that you have, in the case of technological failure, backed up your data. Bring a USB drive to class, or use the cloud, keep your work on it, and keep your work updated.

Email Requirement

You are required to have a viable email account. When sending email please ensure the subject line is formatted as: RE: ENGL 4150- [Your Last Name]

Identifying emails from students is difficult, especially when sent from accounts outside of the university. If you do not include a valid subject line it may go straight to junk mail, or I may delete your email myself.


Plagiarism includes any use of words or ideas of another writer that would allow readers unfamiliar with the source to assume that the words or ideas originated with you. THIS INCLUDES USE OF IMAGES. Policy does not allow me to judge whether an instance of plagiarism is accidental or deliberate. If I find in your work 1) another writer's work inserted without quotation marks or acknowledgment, 2) a close, unacknowledged paraphrase of someone else's writing, or 3) another writer's research or analysis presented without acknowledgment, then I will treat it like a plagiarized assignment and deal with it appropriately. Sanctions range from failing the assignment to expulsion from the university. I take the issue of plagiarism very seriously, and will enforce the university's plagiarism policies to their full extent.

Please see Auburn University's policies relating to plagiarism and penalties.

Special Needs

Auburn University makes reasonable accommodations for people with documented disabilities. I will adapt methods, materials, or testing for equitable participation. Students who need accommodations are asked to electronically submit their approved accommodations through AU Access and to make an individual appointment with the instructor during the first week of classes – or as soon as possible if accommodations are needed immediately. If you have not established accommodations through the Office of Accessibility, but need accommodations, make an appointment with the Office of Accessibility, 1228 Haley Center, 844-2096 (V/TT).

Religious Holidays

Students requiring to miss class due to the observance of an officially recognized religious holy day are asked to consult with me in advance so I can schedule missed work accordingly.

Diversity Statement

This classroom is a safe space for all students, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, physical ability, nationality, age, religion, sexual orientation, economic status, and veteran status. As Auburn's Office of Inclusion and Diversity notes, "These and other socially and historically important attributes reflect the complexity of our increasingly diverse student body, local community, and national population." I will not tolerate any language or action which diminishes those around you, and encourage you to speak to me, or the Office of Inclusion of Diversity, if you have questions or concerns regarding the treatment of others.