Monday, 20 August 2018

Applied Business Assignments vs Essays

Recently I was reading a LinkedIn post by Matthew Lynch who had written a piece about essays being very useful, and suggesting that lecturers didn't set essays for students because lecturers didn't know how to mark them (27 January 2018; 22 June 2018).

Ouch. Yes, I loathe marking essays - so never set them - but it is not because I can't mark them. It is because in general the reading of 50 C grade or B grade essays is tediously boring! Yes, there might be one or two A+ examples in there, but that in no way compensates for the drudgery of marking the remainder.

In addition, while I was working for a corporate, I was never asked to write an essay. I was asked to write proposals, reports, progress reports and make presentations. But I was never asked to write an essay. I can just imagine the look of horror if I had delivered five or ten pages of prose in answer to a business need!

Good essays take a lot of time to plan and to write. Business writing is usually delivered under time pressure, and is simply not as polished. I tend to think of this as 'permanent' and 'disposable' writing. "Quality" is "fitness for purpose" (Harvey, 2004), and organisations do not usually have the resources to allow us the time to write perfectly. Book chapters are more permanent: a progress report is definitely disposable. 

My applied approach with assessments aims to get students to practice workplace writing. My assignments tend to include: business cases; case studies; feasibility studies; research proposals; reports; progress reports; and presentations. All sensible rehearsal for what students will encounter in the workforce. If students are aiming for an academic career, or if they are a staff member, in their capstone research paper they can write a research article instead of a report.

Applied assignments - other than essays - still require students to think, to connect, to synthesise, to communicate, to create structure, to build argument, to be academically sound and to honour their sources. In this regard much of the writing skills we teach are transferable to any format. An essay - monograph - done well is a delight to read. But most of the time, expertise is not present, and the result is not delightful, useful or interesting.



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