I wanted to write my first real post about one of my favorite concepts: pseudotransactional writing. Originally introduced to the concept from Spinuzzi’s 2009 article Pseudotransactionality, Activity Theory, and Professional Writing Instruction, I attempted to find an open source copy, but had to rely on my copy for inspiration. You can go Here to purchase a copy.

Looking through Spinuzzi’s Works Cited page for more info, I found a pdf copy of a very interesting read, Petraglia’s 1995 journal article Spinning Like a Kite: A Closer Look at the Pseudotransactional Function of Writing. The pdf can be found Here. Typically, pieces like this might be too old or outdated for an academic journal, but considering the amount of writers I deal with on a daily basis, I thought it would be great idea to explore Petragalia’s seminal discussion in regards to the current praxis of writing assignments.

In order to glean the most from the topic, I want to provide some definitions. Here you go:

Transactional Writing: Organized task, such as a presentation or report, where the purpose is both authentic to audience and author.

Pseudotransactional Writing: Organized task, “intended to meet [authoritative] expectations rather than engage in a transference of information for the purposes of informing the uninformed or
demonstrating mastery over content”. (p. 21 Petraglia)

Priori assumption: A reasoned accepted truth based on experience

Authenticity: undisputed significance or purpose

Rhetorical Context: “the circumstances surrounding any writing situation and includes purpose, audience, and focus” ¹

I make the distinction of “organized tasked” and the assumed “unorganized” to denote the acknowledgment of a genre form. It is the difference between being asked to write a haiku (organized) versus being asked to write “something creative” (unorganized). I also change the Petraglia’s definition from “teacher expectations” to “authoritative” to incorporate the many roles that can take this place. In the workforce we do not refer to our supervisors as “teachers”, but may still receive working assignments similar to those we learned in the classroom. Really, when we talk about these terms listed above, the hope is to identify the parts of very specific situation in which a writer is working to meet the expectations of the authoritative figure as opposed to a given outcome.

Example: Here is the rhetorical context. Working at a non-profit, I was tasked with creating a form that program staff could fill out periodically with information used for the grant tracking. Foundations give money to nonprofits as grants and usually require metrics from the nonprofit. Those metrics serve to show how the funding improved the program and peoples lives (this is perfect example of transactional writing). I was given all the previous year’s grants (number of kids present, ethnicity, age, and so forth) and with the priori assumption that the form would be an easier approach to collecting data. Really, there was a ton of perceived authenticity on everyone’s part. My supervisor and I had multiple meetings about this project, but the information was scarce. I went through every grant on file and pulled every question I could find. I synthesized the documents down and found only 5 questions to ask program staff and then wrote the form for the information only pertinent to program staff. There was the issue. When I submitted the form to the head director and he didn’t approve (thinking it should look more impressive), my immediate supervisor was livid.

As Petraglia discussed, the typical issues surrounding pseudotransactional writing include denial from the authoritative figure. Unlike Petraglia’s centralized discussion of a classroom, the workplace holds it’s own set of unique challenges to these writing tasks, but denial transverses both realms. The denial issue in the classroom is that teacher’s fail to assign writing tasks that are, “not naturally given opportunities to pursue [the writer’s] own aims” (p.25 Petraglia). While the workplace can give an iota of freedom, but cannot match the amount of freedom given in a classroom. The aims of the company are not always the aims of the employee, the supervisors, or even the company supporters/stakeholders. Unfortunately, the example shows in many ways the various intersections that expectations hold within the workplace.

In this post, I wanted to present the concept of pseudotransactionality to unfamiliar readers. As well, I present terms that will be used in Part 2, where I discuss the various solutions that companies, supervisors, and employees can take to improve their communication. If you are interested in reading more about pseudotransactionality, visit the Resources Page for more info or feel free to contact me.


¹ https://writing.colostate.edu/guides/teaching/fys/rhetcontext.cfm