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     English 522

     Rhetoric & Writing in  
  Professional Communities






Northern Arizona University
Arts & Letters
ENG 522: Rhetoric & Writing in Professional Communities
3 hrs.
John Rothfork
BAA 324 (Babbitt Academic Annex, next to the English bldg.); hours: M-F 9-11
Accepted in either the certificate program or the MA professional writing track

Course Description:

"Different discourse communities have different styles, & to write successfully in these discourse communities you must know what these different styles are & how to use them to your advantage." This was written by Dan Jones & appears in one of the texts we used for ENG502, Technical Writing Style (259). This recognition provides the premise & rationale for ENG522.

Writing is not simply writing. Professional writing is not self-expressive writing. It is driven by reader needs, not by an author's interests. This course will help you recognize & define contexts, audiences, & “discourse communities”; such specific communities as:

  • an independent software company, like Coffee Cup, that sells products via the Internet
  •  a research oriented university hospital
  • an office of a federal agency, like the BIA

 Even though it may not be a conscious recognition, you have in mind a context or an implied audience when you write a document. You write to your teacher or to a friend or to an unknown official at an agency & the context or situation influences your style, organization, & rhetorical strategy.

Easy writing is addressed to an audience with whom you share values, methods, & experiences. You assume such readers can "read between the lines." Providing an occasion for you to write, a discourse community becomes a kind of co-author or a familiar "room of one's own." The organization of a community in defining authority determines who speaks (or writes), when they speak, how they speak, what tone they use, how long they speak, to whom they speak, why they speak, and what they can say. Because little of this is explicitly defined, it is important to recognize & analyze discourse communities in order to write successful documents. In this course, you will:

  • read postmodern theory (mostly by Michel Foucault)
  • work through case studies on a team
  • analyze Web sites to discover how communities rhetorically define themselves in a struggle with each other for power, prestige, & audience or readers.

Informally, I might describe the concern of this class as "psyching out" readers to know what they are thinking, how they are reacting, & what they want. The better you know someone—as with members of your family—the more adept you are at doing this. Rather than developing a psychological profile of someone, this course strives to develop a sociological or rhetorical profile. Once you know what someone is thinking in a professional or workplace situation & what motivates them, the next step is to get them to do what you want or what your organization wants by grafting the two together. You do that by developing a rhetorical strategy for the documents you write.

Course Structure & Texts:

Component   Text
 Theory Foucault, Michel.  The Archeology of Knowledge. 
Pantheon: isbn 0-394-71106-8.
 Case Study Work Peterson, Gary.  Communicating in Organizations
Allyn Bacon: isbn 0-205-29589-4.
  Appplication Jones, Rodney H. & Christopher A. Hafner.  Understanding Digital Literacies.  2012
Routledge: isbn 978-0-415-67315.
Publishers Web support for the text

The Foucault book is easy to find. The case book seems to be in print (or perhaps print on demand) at Amazon. Used copies of all three are available. The links above take you to Amazon.


Each unit has several components. Here is a sample, the directions for completing unit 01:

English 522 | Unit 01

Question markWhat to do in lesson 01:

  1. Read Foucault's The Archaeology of Knowledge: pp. 21-39.
    The 2 Webpages on Foucault offer notes on The Archaeology of Knowledge. 
    You must study read the text in association with reading through the notes on the 2 Webpages.
  2. Read the Webpages for Unit 01.
  3. Contribute to the class discussion page.  Your discussion contributions are graded.  10 points available for this unit.
  4. Read how to do case studies.  This page is accessible from Study Tools.
    Do case #3 in the Peterson book, "Scribe & Send" (36-40), questions: 1 & 4 (p. 40). 
    Consider these additional questions:
    5.1  Identify & discuss Ann's management style.  Should she change?  How?
    5.2  Pursuant to #4, is it time to reorganize?  What makes you think so?  What recommendations do you (Ann) make to Juan Carolos Molinio?
    7 points each: total
    28 points.

There are 38 points available in unit 01.

This sample suggests the course workload:

Teams: "I hate teams!" Me too. I complained about the few teams I was assigned to as a student because the grade went on my transcript. Academic scholarship remains an individual competition. The reason I rely on teams in this course is that:
  • Team production is the norm in industry. Unless a writer is in a mom/pop small business where he/she is the only tech writer/editor, professional & technical writers invariably work on teams where we are constrained by the demands of an SME (subject matter expert), editors, legal affairs, usability testing, end-users, etc.
  • This process gives you a "feel" for working on corporate documents that are not exclusively under your control (single-author documents), which is also the norm in industry. In prof. writing, we don't write for individual self-expression.
  • Collaboration via the Net with people you have never physically met is also a common industry practice.
  • Learning teams are (or can be) an important pedagogical technique in online learning.

This is the course in the Certificate program that acquaints you with team methods. You should not get stuck carrying the load for your group. It is more important to learn something about how to work on a team than it is to solve the cases. No one will be responsible for more than 2 reports on behalf of their group.


Course Components
Discussion points  90
Case studies 218
Course paper & critiques of other papers 100

A: 90% of the total points
B: 80%
C: 65%


There are 10 lessons in the course. All lessons are available throughout the course. But, this is not a self-paced class, nor a tutorial. The course follows the university calendar. The calendar tool in the course specifies the schedule.

Submission Deadlines:
A day or two late is acceptable with no explanation required. Watch the calendar. I will not accept material from lessons from 2 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.  

Calendar:  Registrar

Emergency: If BBLearn is off-line for some time, you can contact me outside the course by email, phone, or in my office, if you are on-campus.

NAU Information Technology Services offers some information of BBLearn. The E-Learing Center offers more information.

You might also give a bit of thought about what you might do in the event that your computer crashes. If you don't have a backup
or access to a family or friend's computer, public libraries often offer a limited resource.

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