The CIW (Communication in the Workplace) research project was established in 1996. By harnessing the power of student researchers, the English Department at NC State university collects data about changing practices and problems in the workplace.
Students enrolled in Professional Writing courses are asked to interview someone who has a job they would like to have in five years about the writing and speaking tasks associated with that job. Students (1) survey these interviewees, collecting information about distinct categories and adding to our data pool and then (2) interview these interviewees, asking five open-ended questions about communication in the workplace.
- What types of documents do you write? Please use the names you usually call them and describe their contents, length, format, how often you produce them, for whom, and their importance.
- Why do people read what you write? What decisions or actions does your writing affect?
- How did you learn to do the writing you have to do in your work—on the job, workplace training, college course, etc.? Of these, what were the most useful aspects of the training you have received in writing?
- In what ways has technology changed the way you communicate at work, especially over the past five years?
- Please describe any examples of the consequences of effective or ineffective writing within your organization.
Students write up the results of their survey and interview, including quotations from the professionals about their on-the-job communication practices. Often, students are surprised to discover how much time technical and business professionals spend writing each week. Most of what students discover in these interviews confirms national survey results from the past 30 years, and from our own survey results over the past 17 years. However, the impact of first-hand information from a role model is far greater than that from a teacher or published text.
Faculty in the English Department harness the power of large numbers by coordinating their assignments so that the results of many interviews can be compiled and compared. The results are shared in the CIW Reports, which are available publicly.
This assignment is not only a successful teaching strategy; it can also be a valuable source of information for instructors and curriculum planners as they try to keep up with the changing practices and problems of the workplace. We have found that when many students gather the same kind of information at the same time, we acquire information that has statistical power as well as anecdotal richness.