8 Chapter 8 (Non-academic Writing)

Beyond the Essay

While research-based academic arguments are the focal point of college composition courses, there are other forms of writing that students should be familiar with in general. One key thing that should be remembered about written communication is that it frequently has legal significance, serving as a record of the thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs of the creator at the time of its creation. What this can mean is that a well-intentioned joke or aside comment could become part of a legal record, with deep significance for a business or individual. This chapter will outline two forms of non-academic writing that require at least some degree of research, argumentation, and audience-awareness. However, many other forms of non-academic writing have the same sorts of requirements.



Although formal memos and proposals still do exist in business, emails between parties is a low-pressure, highly accessible way to communicate with others. One of the most important things to remember when composing emails is thatĀ audience is frequently not the person who receives the first message.

Emails get forwarded to other members of a business, often times to draw attention to ideas or to pass responsibility for a reply on to others. Emails get attached to replies to others, or other participants get “looped in” on conversations. The result is that sometimes a message that was intended to be between two peers ends up being seen by supervisors and subordinates, all with the original author’s name attached inside the document history.

Even someone who deletes an email from their own files does not remove it from the files of everyone else who has received it. In some cases, deleting an email actually breaks legal and company policies. Ultimately, then, an email needs to represent the originator well.

In the terms that have been used throughout this book, that frequently means that an email needs to focus on the claims, elaborations, and concessions of the argument. Background is typically shared between all parties or can be reconstructed if necessary. However, a simple comment (e.g. “we need to have the new hire in place by Thursday”) followed by an explanation of reasoning that serves as the warrant (e.g. “we are going live with a new project on Friday and we need the extra help”) and any covering or limiting comments (e.g. “unless we don’t think that’s possible”) will often suffice.

Alternately, sometimes an email chain constructs the parts of the argument collectively. One author offers a proposal, another adds a complaint or concern that leads to a limitation, and a third party provides background on why such proposals have not been followed in the past. Every step of the way, the author of each link in the chain is forming an impression in the minds of the other recipients.

When writing an email, professionals in the workplace often provide evidence in the form of attachments (e.g. “these numbers show we have a problem in shipping”), not as explicit data quoted in the body of the text itself. Additionally, many times people in a workplace will want to initiate a conversation in writing that they then conclude in person. Frequently, there will be those who are reluctant to commit ideas to writing–while at the same time there will be others who insist that everything must be written down. Balancing these forces requires that people pay careful attention to the specific demands of their different audiences.



Businesses and government agencies thrive on structure. This, inevitably, meansĀ forms. New patients need to have their medical histories taken and documented in a consistent fashion that allows all parties to find the information they need for that patient’s health in a short amount of time without errors. Insurance companies need to be able to examine which party was responsible for a car accident and to what extent the damage being repaired matches the nature of the crash as reported. Team leaders need to know which deadlines exist and what funding is available as they make requests for personnel or resources.

Ultimately, forms are typically not documents like essays. They are often presented to the user as a series of options and a small handful of written sections–and often these written sections are minimal but unavoidable. What that means is that the obligation of the person filling out the form is to provide as much information as possible with as few words as possible, and to do so without personal interpretation except where specifically asked for–a driver might have exceeded the posted speed limit (not “floored it like a maniac”) or a patient might have presented with a sore throat (not “acted like he has the flu”).

Forms seldom acknowledge personal opinion, artistic expression, or the convenience of the person completing them. Instead, they are about fulfilling a function that seems essential to someone in a position of authority. In this way, they are very similar to academic arguments. Likewise, forms do not put the person writing the form at the center of the document. Forms make the information itself a priority. This is, once again, like academic writing. However, academic writing puts a much greater priority on explaining reasoning and providing analysis, whereas many forms want simple data reporting.


Other Workplace Communication

There are always exceptions to the general guidelines included here. Presentations using slides represent a form of writing, but that skillset is specific enough to be best handled in the context of speech courses or technical writing courses. Likewise, grant proposals, findings reports, and even engineering surveys are all forms of writing that require research in their creation and that are shaped by their specific audiences that they no longer resemble college essays.

The reality is that using research to inform a decision is not even limited to writing. Buying a car, taking a job, and even picking a class can all benefit from learning more about the situation, looking at that knowledge critically, and drawing conclusions from that research.




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