I realized after writing this post that there is an extremely long list of solutions to pseudotransactionality. The issue raised in pedagogy and continued in the everyday workplace is one that plagues writing. So this post is just an intro to solutions. Instructors know, or should know, that their students write to the instructor and not to the “real” audience. Managers should know the same, but still, I hope that these ideas help someone. When a manager/supervisor asks an employee to write an email, a report, a presentation outline, a (fill in the blank), they need to be aware of exactly what they are asking. Are you asking your employee to write for an audience, maybe made up of customers, or for you?
Petraglia offers several solutions for the composition classroom: Collaboration, Reading to Write, and Writing across the Curriculum. In this post, I will examine these solutions in a professional setting and provide a few ideas of my own.
This one is pretty simple. If employees are only hearing one voice of criticism, add more voices. As Petraglia states, “the best audience was those teachers or peers who could reflect back to the writer what he or she had written, as the student’s judgment of how well he or she had achieved his or her purpose was the most legitimate” (p. 26). This comes out in two ways. Either the primary writer asks for critique or the employees work in groups.
There’s an issue with the approach. Coworkers would need to develop the ability to have a repertoire. Nothing worse in a classroom then when peers fail to give criticism. Sometimes it’s because they don’t want to offend or, plainly, don’t know how to give criticism. Even Petraglia states, “many of us who have relied upon collaborative techniques in the classroom are familiar with the after-class dawdler who intimates that his or her collaborator is an unworthy partner” (p.26). It transcends into the workplace. I have asked for opinions form coworkers who failed to give good criticism because they didn’t want offend me or thought I was the “expert” resulting in avoidance. In the case of one previous job, everyone gave advice in the form of questions. This was to claim innocence if blame was ever to be established. This I’m going to call “blame shifting” and is just terrible.
Having your coworkers write in a group setting has its own issues as well. Sharing responsibility often means sharing the rewards/blame, outcome based neutrality. However, with the prevalence of group thought. If the group focuses on the expectations, rather than the outcomes, you haven’t avoided the issues of pseudotransactionality, you’ve swerved into it.
You could train your employees to group write before starting a collaboration assuming you are into employee development. A relatively cheap and great book can be found: HERE. If anything, it should boost a bit of productivity, but it most likely will not solve the issue.
Reading to Write
In an academic sense, this means that students are given selected readings to base their writing assignment and told they will be graded on their comprehension not their writing. (Though we all know it’s now both). This is extremely common in the workplace in more than one way. One previous employer told everyone that they would be given a “knowledge test” and based on the results would create “trainings to cover consistent gaps in knowledge”. The following week three people were let go. We all knew what the test was for and so do your employees. This only creates distrust and stressed out employees. Even as a manager, my superiors wanted me to conduct “routine tasks meant for the purposes of evaluation”.
As for more authentic audience driven approaches to writing, asking your employees to look at previous successful projects to base their work would be a better idea. This might be allowing time for research or documentation as opposed to diving in headlong into a task without any forethought.
Writing across the curriculum
This a movement in contemporary English courses that emphasizes writing outside of English classroom. If you were ever bored out of your mind in an English class, there should be a part of you that screams “finally”. However, that’s not always the case. In terms of pseudotransactionality, this may mean asking your employees to weigh in on topics they are not familiar. I ask others all the time, “how does this email sound?”. I know I can write better than most, but it doesn’t mean I can’t get better. It could also mean giving critical feedback. Recently, the company I work for has started to write process documents i.e. “how-to guides”. Not only is the technical writer inside me excited, but I’m interested to see what others create.
My two cents
Placing the kudos- Defining the determinants of success is not enough. An email campaign can still have a reasonable success rate of return, but it might not be the email. The success could be the result of many factors across multiple documents and mediums. Krug’s “Don’t make me Think” is perfect for this point. It’s not just about Usability, but successful management techniques. Here’s the amazon page: Not Thinking
I suggest reading Friedman’s “Trying Hard is not Good Enough” to get a sense of goals and expectations. Nonprofits use the book all the time for grant writing/reporting. Here is the Amazon page: Trying Hard
There’s a ton of options. I’ve only briefly touched on a few of them in this post. If you glean anything from this post, it should be recognizing a problem before it even begins. Before you tell an employee or student to do anything, know what your asking. Think about what you are telling them. Even ask them, “who is your audience?”. It’s a simple question that can save you time and money.