English 100 Essay #5 Tipsheet

Literacy in the Workplace

First, some background:

A while back, I needed some minor surgery, and as the nurse was taking my history, she asked what I do for a living. I told her, and I commented that I often have nursing students who say that they will never need to know how to write anything once they are actually working. The woman laughed out loud. It was the most foolish thing she had heard all day.

I have also heard that claim from engineering students, accounting students, and general business students. After teaching many semesters of business writing—and hearing the complaints of employers who are frustrated at the terrible writing skills of the people they work with—I know how silly it is to think that you will not need to know how to write when you get a job.

As far back as 1966, employers were complaining that their people cannot write. I have an article from the Bureau of Land Management, which includes this comment:

One chemical company executive put it this way: "If our antifreeze had the same quality as our writing, we'd rust out half the radiators in the country in 6 months."*

This is why I want you to consider the place of literacy in your professional life—even if you are not going into something obviously literate (English teacher, poet, or novelist).

Your writing task:

For this essay, you have two choices, which are quite similar:

  1. Consider what you will be doing with your education after you graduate, then answer this question: "What is the place of literacy (both reading and writing) in my chosen profession?"
    NOTE: If your aim is something that's basically a literary profession (sports writer, advertising, poet, novelist, etc.) please move on to choice B. (This is because the "place of literacy" in a writer's life just too easy and obvious as a paper.)
  2. If you are undecided about your major or if you are already aiming in a heavily literate direction, please choose one of the fields below and answer the same question: "What is the place of literacy (both reading and writing) in the work of a person in this field?"
    • Accounting
    • Applied Exercise Science
    • Athletic Training
    • Business
    • Computer Art and Graphics Programming
    • Computer Science
    • Criminal Justice
    • Early Childhood Education
    • Entrepreneurship
    • Exercise Science
    • Finance
    • Graphic Design
    • Intervention Specialist
    • Middle Grades Education
    • Nursing


The point of this paper is to help you to leave behind some misconceptions ("Workers in my field never read or write anything"), so you will need more fact-finding than your own gut reactions. This is one paper where "I think that" and "I feel that" and "to me this means" will do you no good. Instead, try some Internet searches; talk with people who actually do the work; ask your faculty members.

That list of non-literary professions was pulled directly from the Ashland University website's list of majors. There are certainly other "non-literary" fields of study—engineering, for example. My father, an electronics engineer, once commented to me that the further he went in his profession, the less real engineering he did. In his day, figuring out things such as voltage drop in a power transmission line was delegated to the young recent graduates; now we have computer programs for that sort of "grunt work." But Dad said that the further he went in his profession, the more writing and teaching he did (and the less engineering). I have an article of his from the Fall 1983 issue of Rural Telecommunications, discussing the point that even simple telephone companies out in the boondocks need to modernize with fiber optics and electronic switching.

Hints for success:

  1. Specific, concrete examples will help a lot. I remember one video in which a diesel truck mechanic (who looked and dressed exactly as you would imagine) discussed the need to document exactly what he did to each truck. The camera focused on his slightly greasy hand pushing a Bic pen across a yellow legal pad as he explained that if he had worked on the truck's brakes and the truck was involved in a wreck, his notes might become evidence in a court case. Even if there was no wreck, someone who was working on the truck later would certainly need to know what had been done to those brakes when the truck returned for further repair.
  2. As always, this essay will need a decent introduction, thesis, structure, and conclusion.

Peer Editing

We will not be meeting as a class after Thanksgiving, so the peer editing will be done online. The instructions are in the folder for Week 14, and the editing must be finished by the end of Friday, December 4, 2020. Yes, this does count for a grade.

*O'Hayre, John. "A First Look at Gobbledygook." 1966. 80 Readings, edited by David Munger, HarperCollins, 1992, pp. 43-48.

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The contents of this page have not been reviewed or approved by Ashland University.
Revised 7/20/20 • Page author: Curtis Allen • e-mail: callen@ashland.edu.