It wasn’t until I sat down to think about a professional writing syllabus that genre theorists’ skepticism about teaching genre forms really hit home. The absolute heterogeneity of student goals made it impossible to imagine picking out a half dozen kinds of writing for all students to learn. Future lawyers, statisticians, brand marketers, copy writers, and kinesiologists all sat in front of me with specific needs and little or no willingness to buy the idea that they all might need to write a standard proposal genre in the near future.
Instead, I took the path of asking students to study their own future discourse communities and a couple of the genres that might appear in those fields. The emphasis was on developing the ability to read situations and to analyze pieces of writing to determine how to begin to write into a professional community. We worked on resumes and cover letters and things like that too.
The real gems were the strange genres of the professional communities that students studied though. I found myself surprisingly drawn in by the finer details in genres like the “Loan Review Memorandum” that one student learned about, or the bevy of field-specific email conventions that students identified.
As one of several possible final projects, students made a public-facing version of one of their analyses. One of my favorites is this guide to small business risk management.