icon: manual typewriter keyboard Eng526:



Advanced Professional Writing
Department:        Course:                     Credit:               
Course Access: 
Arts and Letters 
English 526: Advanced Professional Writing
3 hrs.
John Rothfork
BAA 324 -- Babbitt Academic Annex (next to the English bldg.) No in-person office hours because of Covid-19.

Graduate status

icon of a bookTexts: The books for this class are not textbooks that offer new information for you to memorize in anticipation of taking an exam on the material. They aren't manuals that exactly describe how to perform a process. They might be thought of as offering coaching or suggestions for "best practices." In my mind, they should be used in conjunction with The Chicago Manual of Style & in association with "guidelines for submissions" or "advice for authors" pages at journal websites (for example).

craft of research
Zinnser, writing to learn
guide to report writing
  1. Required
    Booth, Wayne C., Colomb, Gregory G., and Williams, Joseph M.  
    The Craft of Research, 3rd ed.  There is a 4th edition (2016), which is also acceptable.  University of Chicago Press.  isbn 0226065669 .  Amazon

  2. Required
    Zinsser, William.  On Writing Well.  HarperCollins.  isbn 9780060891541. 

  3. Recommended
    Netzley, Michael and Snow, Craig.  
    Guide to Report Writing. Pearson.  isbn 0130417718.  
Course Description: 

This course has two goals: to help you improve your writing for a scholarly audience (both academic & research) & to help you develop a project that will serve as the capstone project, if you are in the M.A. program.  To be clear, you no longer have to do an ENG685 capstone project for the M.A. program of study.  Completing this course will meet meet that requirement in the M.A. program.

Professional Writing: Graduate level professional writing classes expect that students can write grammatically correct English or what linguists call "standard written English" and what some writing teachers call "following the conventions" of written English in regard to spelling, grammar, usage, and punctuation.  Style manuals (such as the Chicago Manual of Style) can help us know the rules for writing conventions in general and in writing for specific fields (for example, the Microsoft Manual of Style, 4th ed.).

The conventions of written English & document design vary from field to field. This is not a personal choice. As aspiring professionals in the university, we learn to use APA or MLA conventions. These are conventions expected by academic readers. The Chicago Manual is used by publishers. Some corporations and institutions have their own style manuals; for example, U.S. Government Printing Office Style Manual or the AP Stylebook.

In the area of research publication for science, engineering, & technology, nearly every journal offers “guidelines for submissions” or “advice for authors” that often meticulously define style choices (e.g., no first person pronouns, limited passive voice) & document design requirements (e.g., an informative abstract less than 4% of the word count for the document, organization by decimal outline).  Here is Elsevier’s Guide for Authors webpage for the publication process used by the many journals Elsevier publishes.

In addition to Googling professional & research journals to find their manuscript submission requirements, you might also look at Zotero that NAU’s Cline Library recommends.  This program will generate references in a the format specified by a select style guide (MLA, APA, Chicago).

NAU’s Cline Library holds a subscription to the Chicago Manual that you can access for free.  Our course web links includes a link to the Online Writing Laboratory at Purdue University (OWL), where you can look up and learn about writing conventions, such as how to use commas, count noun errors, or errors with “myself.” One part of this course is our work on improving our awareness of the standards of written English expected in writing for an academic, research, & professional audience. The problem with not recognizing slips like count noun errors is that errors in usage erode authority. We fear that readers begin to think, "if the author makes mistakes in usage, can I trust her to be highly skilled & error free in regard to professional methods?"

This means we shouldn’t hesitate to do editing work for each other by pointing out usage errors, such as using “impact” for “affect” or count noun errors, as in, “I had a huge amount of emails.” I will mention that I edited an academic journal (New Mexico Humanities Review) for 15 years. It should be obvious that when editors indicate stumbling blocks in what they are reading, this is professional advice to a writer & has nothing to do with emotions or personal judgments. If we really don’t want advice about our writing, I guess we don’t offer our writing as a class post or submission, or by making a submission to a conference or journal. Twitter seems to be another matter.

Objectives: In this course, you will enhance your

Components of published research reports

At higher levels in both the academic and business worlds, an important form of writing is the published, peer-reviewed research study. Members of the science community sometimes tell each other, “it isn’t science until it is published in a peer-reviewed journal.” This is a gargantuan cultural dedication involving a vast professional literature & trillions of dollars.  Many, if not most, scientists, engineers, technologists, business people, & professionals in areas like police work or healthcare enter their professions without recognizing how crucially important writing skills are for career advancement. Unless we have been involved in the culture, we may think, for example, that a consulting geologist is paid a fee for making a simple judgment: “drill here; don’t drill there”; or a physician offers what seems to be a quick diagnosis to recommend medication or a course of treatment. These are the proverbial “tip of the iceberg.” The geologist will have spent days doing research & hours, if not days, reporting data findings & explaining how the data led him/her to make the recommendation that typically appears first in a report but must be supported by professional evidence & an explanation of professional methods.

Research studies take many different forms, depending on the technique or methods of various professions & disciplines. Obviously, the geologist relies on very difference techniques than the physician. All these studies, however, have the following elements in common:

1.  They focus on solving a specific & explicitly identified problem. This means the writer’s first task is to explicitly identify the problem & explain its context or why it matters or why it is important to members of the profession. The kiss of death to a report or submission comes when a reader asks, at the end of the introduction, “so what?” Or, worse yet, “I don’t get it? What is the problem?”

Typically, we begin in the middle to think about solving the problem or about the data we need to better understand the problem & how it might be solved. This is pre-writing or first draft work. In some stage or draft, you must think about the audience to help them clearly understand the problem & why it is important.

2.  Early on, the writer must develop authority to convince the reader that she is qualified to find relevant data and to analyze it to offer a solution to the research problem.  That is, the writer must establish a convincing ethos. This includes editing to avoid grammar & usage errors that erode authority. An editor or a supervisor begins to wonder, “if he doesn’t recognize count noun errors or agreement errors, I wonder how competent he is in collecting data or in the use of analytic methods?”  For proposals (or job interviews), the next question of reviewers is likely to be, “do we really want to give the money to someone this careless or unprofessional?”

The writer establishes ethos or authority by first writing standard English that complies with the guidelines offered by the journal, profession, or business (for example, The New York Times Manual of Style & Usage). The next rung in the ladder of creating authority comes in demonstrating broad knowledge & specific insight into the problem. Before gaining practice in professional methods, we seek to become a member of a professional community by reading what others in the community have written (professional journals). To gain authority, the writer must show that she knows what is currently going on in the profession that impinges on the identified problem.

This step is usually accomplished in the review of the literature section of research reports. The “literature” comprises relevant books and articles written about your subject or that affect your subject.  The rhetorical strategy in this section (to gain impressive authority) is to create an argument that alludes to earlier & current work to support your implicit claim that your report offers the next logical & important step in the profession's progress regarding some specific area.  The review of the literature section is not a glorified book report. If it is, you lose in regard to gaining authority that will impress readers. The review of the literature section offers your professional judgment on relevant previous & current research publication.

The review section also explains why the problem is significant to the audience & profession. This usually involves explaining the context in which the problem occurs to an audience broader than that in later sections of the report. The literature section offers an analysis of past research and an argument for why the proposed or reported research is trenchant or important. We want to assess works in a review of the literature section, not simply create a bibliography. A published research report is context-specific, not free floating information lacking a specific context. The review of the literature section should offer an argument (through the works it analyzes) to imply that progress in the discipline converges exactly on the research project you propose or report.

Reports have multiple audiences. The lawyers read for their legal interests. HR (human resources) or IRB (institutional review board) read for their procedural interests. Grants & Contacts or financial readers focus on their interests. Your technical peers focus on professional methods & implications of your report for their research interests & the significance to the profession. But your peers are not your sole readers. I have served on many grants & hiring committees composed of professionals from several areas. When we have reviewed proposals or applications, the first concern we discuss is “what’s this document about?” This is a form of asking, “what is the problem here?” We are all impressed when a writer explains the context & significance of the problem. The view from within the lab or highly competitive technical community may be that this dumbs down the document. This is not true. Technical documents are logically & explicitly organized, often by a decimal outline. If readers know the material, they move on to select a different part of the document. If they look for a part that is missing, they are likely to give up & read no further. The rule for writes is “put it all in & let the editorial process cut what isn’t needed.”

3.  The writer must illustrate a convincing and professional knowledge of the data required to develop a solution to the problem. She must offer a professional, sensible, and feasible plan to gather new data relying on professional methods so that the audience believes these are valid, reliable, and relevant. In some areas (chemistry, healthcare), there is great interest in being able to replicate the experiment, which requires meticulous description of methods, often including identifying batch numbers of chemicals or brand name material used in the experiment.  Inadequate data (too little or too peripheral or general) will doom the chances for a research report to be published. This includes rhetorically obvious argument to select data to support a biased (political) or nonprofessional judgment. This includes the review of the literature section, which must be careful to cite professional & not political or biased websites or publications.

4.  Having good data is not enough. Just as the review of the literature section is not a collection of book reports, neither is a report a collection of raw data. The raw data is collected by using a professional method or technique, but it is then analyzed to produce technical or professional findings, which lead to recommendations. The facts never speak for themselves. Facts are not self-evident, even to a peer audience of research professionals. The writer’s task is to explain what the facts imply or mean in an effort to solve the problem. This process (from problem to method to data to analysis) will ultimately produce recommendations.

5.  Published research offers an argument addressed to a peer or professional audience. It is not self-expressive or narrative writing that asks an audience to accept my opinion or my view as one among many with everyone’s opinion being as good as anyone else’s. The implicit technical argument is driven by citations to experts and by relevant new data to support a recommendation. Often this relies more on a series of graphic findings (inferred from the raw data) characterized by smooth transitions from logical point-to-point development, & by incisive authorial explanation. The argument (recommendation) flows from this exposition that relies on the findings from collected data and on citations to related work to explain how to solve the original problem defined at the outset of the report.

6.  The writer follows the conventions of usage, documentation, & document design (organization) specified by the occasion or by the discipline in which he or she is writing. This is typically made fully explicit in meticulous “guidelines for submissions” or “advice to authors” offered by professional journals as well as in style guides, such as the Chicago Manual of Style.

You will master these skills to demonstrate your competence by completing unit exercises, but mainly by a cumulative effort throughout the course to create a capstone project.


        90%: A
        80%: B
        65%: C

Submission Deadlines: Use the Calendar tool in BBLearn to find dates for the submission of material. I will not accept material from lessons two units prior to the one we are studying. If the calendar says we are working on unit 5, I will accept late work from units 4, but not earlier. The grade for work submitted a week late is reduced by 10%. Work submitted more than two weeks late is not accepted. Please follow the calendar. Discussion are only meaningful when we are involved in the activity being discussed.

*  *  *