A New Year and a New Start

January is usually a time for resolutions, and it’s already February—but really, a good idea, the inspiration to do something different or better, or the opportunity to take a new path can happen any time of the year.

For my part, I try to do something new or different at least once a semester in one of my classes. I know…I know…. Our classes are full and overloaded, and we seem to continually add to our curriculum without ever taking anything out. Who has the time to do something new with so much already to be done?

But our students know when our material isn’t fresh or when we are not at our most energetic. If you are looking for an opportunity to recharge and refresh, why not consider the following?

Join the Association for Business Communication

Have your students participate in the annual writing contest. Read the newsletter. Join a committee. So many opportunities….

Attend an Association for Business Communication regional conference or international conference

Network, learn what your colleagues are doing in their classes, present your latest project, or just socialize with like-minded researchers and professionals. Did I mention that the annual conference in October is in Dublin? (That’s Ireland, not Ohio.)

Try a new teaching tool, such as Socrative

It’s an interactive app that lets students and you immediately assess student understanding in class. Plus, your students can use their phones or computers for purposes actually related to your course.

Introduce a new game

Are you teaching teamwork, conflict resolution, or negotiation? Try “Divide the Loot.” Students are given a set of conditions and then must work in teams to divide a pot of money equitably. Or try “Hanabi,” a card game where team members have to collaborate to create a winning fireworks display. Or try “You’ve Been Sentenced,” a board game that can help students understand parts of speech and sentence structure.

Find a real client

There’s nothing like a real client to get students interested and invested in a writing assignment. Many companies, both nonprofit and for profit, will welcome students’ research about a communication issue in their workplace.

This is a short list. Of course, trying all of these ideas at once might be overwhelming, but if you are looking for something new, why not try one or two?

If you have ideas to share, please do. We would be excited to hear what you are doing in your classes to keep your material fresh, current, and engaging.

Celebrate Grammar!

Did you know that Wednesday, March 4, is National Grammar Day? If you’re looking for a lighthearted way to talk about grammar in your classes, you may want to observe this exciting holiday. Mignon Fogarty (Grammar Girl) hosts the 2015 National Grammar Day celebration. You can learn more about the history of the day and find tips for celebrating by visiting her Quick and Dirty Tips: National Grammar Day site.

Here at UW-Eau Claire, we have t-shirts and buttons we wear in honor of the day, a College of Business Facebook grammar contest (with really cool prizes), cookies decorated with punctuation marks, and an open house in our Business Writing and Presentations Studio. It’s a fun way to reinforce the importance of good grammar, and it’s just a great day all around. In my classes, we will also enjoy chocolate and a few grammar cartoons.

Do you celebrate National Grammar Day? If so, what do you do?

Submitting Résumés and Cover Letters by Email

A couple of weeks ago, our Business Communication Advisory Board met to discuss various workplace communication topics. We enjoy hearing from these professionals, who represent a variety of business fields—accounting, human resource management, education, local government, health care administration, and many more.

One of the main topics we discussed is what employers really want when they tell applicants to send their materials electronically. Does this mean they want the cover letter and résumé in the body of an email? Should applicants attach Word documents (a cover letter and a résumé) to an email? Should applicants attach PDF files or Word files? Is the email the cover letter, or should a separate cover letter be attached to the email?

Essentially, our board members said that how applicants submit their documents is not as important as the stories they tell within those documents. However, they shared the following thoughts regarding their experiences.

  • PDF files work better as attachments than Word documents, as the PDF file will likely always open and preserve a document’s format.
  • Fewer attachments are better. If both the cover letter and résumé are attached to an email, they should be in one PDF document.
  • Generally, a concise, well-written email will work for a cover letter.
  • Whether a cover letter is sent as an email or as an attachment, it needs to be short and concise and must tell the applicant’s story well—and honestly.
  • Applicants who send a cover letter as an email must be sure to keep the same level of formality that they would in an attached cover letter or printed cover letter. One board member says that applicants who send cover letters via email tend to use a tone and style that are too informal.
  • Applicants should keep in mind that employers use the quality of the writing in application materials—regardless of how they are submitted—as a measure an applicant’s communication skills and overall competence.
  • Applicants should send thank-you notes immediately after the interview and follow up if they have not heard from an employer within two weeks. Interestingly, while board members say email thank-you messages are fine, they prefer a handwritten note. After emails are read, they are likely deleted or lost in the volume of inbox messages. A handwritten thank-you note will likely sit on the interviewer’s desk and continually remind him or her of the applicant. Email messages, they say, work well if the employer has indicated that a hiring decision will be made within a day or two.
  • Board members say it is also fine with them if they receive both the handwritten and email thank-you note. Regardless, the message should thank the interviewer, address a high point or major qualification that was discussed in an interview (not recap the entire interview), and end with a confident expression of interest in the position.

Does all of this advice sound familiar? Sure. We have been sharing a lot of this advice with our students for years. However, it’s nice to tell our students that we know the advice will work because professionals in their (the students’) anticipated careers have told us this is what they look for.

Getting Ready for a New Semester

Where has the summer gone? I don’t know, but I do know that the time has come once again to think more carefully about what I will do in my classroom this fall. The following links have come through my various newsfeeds and social media accounts. I am finding them useful as I prepare my fall courses and hope you do, too. Of course, if you have links to material you think we might enjoy, please send them our way. Happy planning!

Syllabus & Course Design

Course Delivery

Student Competencies

Productivity & Assessment

Technology

A Quick Number Use Review & Worksheet

Finally…It’s summer…For many of us, it’s time to slow down, take stock, and perhaps think ahead to the courses we will teach in the fall. If you teach standards for using numbers and are looking for a quick review for your next course, here you go.

The standards for number use in the table below are summarized from Rentz, K., and Lentz, P. (2014). Lesikar’s Business Communication: Connecting in a Digital World, New York: McGraw-Hill. If you use the table in your course materials, we’d be grateful if you’d cite our book accordingly. We hope you find this Number Use Worksheet helpful as well. If you have any creative activities or methods for teaching number use, please share them with us.

Spell Out Use a Numeral
The Rule of Nine: Numbers nine and below (except as noted in the “Use a Numeral Column”): I ordered six boxes of pens. Numbers 10 and above: I ordered 12 boxes of pens.
A number at the beginning of a sentence: Twelve employees were promoted. Numbers in a series that refer to related items, where one of the items is ten or greater: Last week 12 employees were promoted, 8 retired, and 3 left the company.
A day of the month that appears alone or precedes the month and is nine or less: I can meet on the eighth. Days of the month when the month precedes the day or when the date precedes both the month and year: June 12, 2014, or 12 June 2014. (NOTE: You don’t need the “th” in these cases.)

A day of the month that appears alone or precedes the month and is ten or greater: I can meet on the 12th.

Amounts of money when the unit of currency is also spelled out: I spent twenty dollars on my dinner. Amounts of money when the unity of currency is represented by a symbol: I spent $20 on my dinner. (NOTE: When the dollar amount is a round number, you don’t need the “.00” after the amount.)
Indefinite numbers and amounts: About three thousand people live in this suburb; over a million people live in the entire metropolitan area. Percentages: Sales increased 3 percent last quarter.
Units of measure: (1) My new desk is 5 feet long and 3 feet wide. (2) The package I shipped weighed 3 pounds.
Fractions that stand alone: Nearly one-half of our employees participate in the wellness program. Mixed numbers: Our new office building is 5½ miles from our old building.
Legal documents use both the numeral and the word: The contract will expire in 60 (sixty) days.
Time can be expressed in either numerals or words as follows according to the rule of nine: 2:00, 2:30, 10 p.m., 10 o’clock, two o’clock. NOT: 2:00 o’clock

Reinstating My Syllabus Quiz

Ahhh…The end (almost) of another semester…As always, teaching provides its rewards: great students, opportunities to try new and different ideas, the satisfaction of seeing the graduating seniors prepare for their first post-college jobs…the list goes on.

And yet this week has also been a week of emails beginning with some variation on “I don’t think I’m passing, and I need to graduate. Is there any way I can turn in the assignment I missed last February?” or “Sorry I wasn’t class, but I had to work on a presentation for another course. Can you tell me what I missed?” or “Could you tell me how much this assignment counts toward my final grade?”

For my part, I see these questions as an opportunity to teach students to use their resources and to approach their work more seriously and with a greater degree of maturity. I remember having some success in promoting student responsibility by using a syllabus quiz at the beginning of the semester, and I’m thinking I will bring it back next fall. Here are some of the quiz questions from the various courses I teach. If you use a syllabus quiz, please share your experience with us.

  1. You wake up ill and cannot attend class. You email me before class to tell me about your illness and bring a doctor’s note to the next class period. Which statement below reflects how the absence will be recorded?
    (a) The absence is excused (doesn’t count toward the three you are allowed) because you notified me before class and have a doctor’s note.
    (b) The absence counts toward the three you are allowed during the semester.
  2. You had an assignment due on Monday, but you were so busy studying for exams that you forgot to turn it in. Then you had a really busy week at work and some exams the following week as well. It’s now ten days past the deadline, and you remember that you still haven’t submitted the assignment. What should you do?
    (a) Turn the assignment in and take the late penalty.
    (b) Nothing—late work must be turned in within one week of the deadline.
  3. What is the grade you need in this course to meet the College of Business requirement for written communication?
    (a) A- (A minus)
    (b) B- (B minus)
    (b) C
    (d) D- (D minus)
  4. If you miss class and need to get the information we covered, what should you do?
    (a) Stop by my office for a recap of the lecture and all of the other topics we covered during class.
    (b) Get the notes from a classmate and check D2L, the course schedule, and your email for announcements and deadlines.
    (c) Stop by my office for a recap of the lecture but check D2L, the course schedule, and your email for announcements and deadlines.
  5. You’re getting ready to hand in your assignment. In glancing at your work, you notice that you have a typo (-5 according to the rubric) and that you used “as soon as possible” instead of a firm deadline in the conclusion (also -5). You also notice that the print quality isn’t great (-3). The assignment is worth 50 points. Which of the statements below represents your best option for earning the most points.
    (a) Turn the assignment in as it is so that you avoid the late penalty.
    (b) Correct the errors and turn the assignment in late, knowing you’ll have to take the late penalty.
    (c) Turn the assignment in but explain to me either in person or by email where the mistakes are and how you would correct them if you had the time.
  6. You earn a 93 percent in the course; however, you have missed class five times. What will your final course grade be?
    (a) A
    (b) A-
    (c) B+
    (d) B
    (e) C
  7. Which of the following assignments counts 30% toward your final grade?
    (a) Formal report
    (b) Web page
    (c) Employment portfolio
    (d) Mid-term and final exam
    (e) Short report to your client

Classroom Talking Point: Too Cold for Persuasion?

Take one look at a weather map and you know winter is at its harshest in much of the country. If you are like me and live in the upper Midwest, phrases such as “polar vortex” have become part of your vernacular, and you spend much of your day putting on layers of clothing in a sad, futile attempt to make the -40 temperatures seem not so bad. In the spirit of all things winter, this week’s blog offers a classroom talking point on one university’s message regarding its decision to hold classes on a day when the high temperature was 15 degrees below zero (30 to 40 below with the windchill).

The message was posted on the university’s “Announcements” blog and linked to on the university’s Facebook page. While some took the message in stride, others (judging by their comments) did not appear persuaded that keeping the school open was a good decision. The text of the message appears below.

My thought is that this message would make a great talking point for a class discussion on persuasive writing.

  • What rhetorical devices does the writer use to justify the university’s decision to hold classes?
  • Are they effective in persuading the reader that the decision was a good one?
  • What, if anything, could the writer do to improve this message?
  • Does the writer follow what we discuss in class regarding the organization of a persuasive message: gaining attention, building the case, minimizing any possible flaws in the argument, and ending with an action item?
  • Some readers appeared so angry about the decision to remain open that they may not have been able to objectively consider the writer’s reasoning. How might business writers account for readers’ emotional reactions to persuasive messages?

Enjoy!

The Message

SUBJECT: Classes to be held as scheduled Tuesday, Jan. 28

The university is open and classes will be held as scheduled on Tuesday, Jan. 28.

There have been a number of inquiries about why the university is open and holding classes as scheduled despite sub-zero temperatures.

The university rarely, if ever closes. A number of criteria are considered when deciding whether to hold classes, delay the start of classes, or cancel select classes.

Those criteria include, but are not limited to, excessive snowfall and/or drifting, icy conditions, temperature, wind chill, visibility and condition of sidewalks and roadways both on campus and in the community. The university makes the decision based on actual real-time weather conditions, not what the forecast is predicting the day before.

Naturally, one of the most important considerations is safety of students, faculty and staff. If the conditions are deemed obviously unsafe for travel to and from the university, and to and from facilities on campus, classes are canceled or delayed. This can be a subjective judgment—but it is based on the best information available at the time the decision is made.

The university recognizes that some individuals have specific medical or physical conditions that prevent them from being able to venture out into the cold, or may have a lengthy commute to campus that may not be safe to undertake because of weather conditions where they live. That is why students, faculty and staff are instructed to exercise their best judgment in deciding whether to attend classes or report for work.