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Review of  Workplace Writing


Reviewer: Pejman Habibie
Book Title: Workplace Writing
Book Author: Stephen Bremner
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Issue Number: 30.40

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Review:
SUMMARY

Drawing on Stephen Bremner’s research and teaching experience over a period of ten years, “Workplace writing: Beyond the text” presents a multifaceted picture of some of the key issues and discussions surrounding different aspects of workplace writing. The book consists of ten chapters which are thematically independent but all together weave a narrative about writing in the context of the workplace. It begins with a preface where the author elucidates the mission of the volume and highlights a number of its limitations.

In Chapter One, Bremner highlights the key differences between writing in the academy and writing in the workplace as two distinct contexts. He advocates a context-driven approach to understanding the nature of writing in workplace settings, one that goes beyond the confines of the text. The significance of discourse communities and cultural considerations, resources involved in text construction, and learning and socialization into workplace writing are also dealt with in this chapter. Finally, the author outlines the scope of the book and its structural organization and provides an overview of the key discussions of the constituent chapters.

In the next chapter, the author discusses three central notions underlying writing practice, including social constructionism, discourse community, and genre. He provides a detailed explanation of each concept. Then, drawing on studies that illustrate their interrelationships in various workplace contexts, he indicates how interconnected these concepts are. In doing so, he aims at shedding more light on the reasons why these concepts are pivotal in socializing students into the world of work as well as on the implications for classroom practice; he also addresses the question of how specific one should be in teaching the discourses of different communities.

Chapter Three is developed on the assumption that genre knowledge is pivotal in workplace writing ability. In this chapter, the author briefly considers the ways in which the scope of the study of genres has expanded. He then embarks on a discussion of various professional and socio-pragmatic factors surrounding the text that shape genre (Bhatia, 2004), dealing with key issues such as intertextuality and collaboration. Finally, he wraps up the chapter with a focus on the pedagogical implications of a thicker description (Geertz, 1983) and more complete understanding of genres, addressing the question of how the complexities of genre and genre construction processes should be dealt with in pedagogical contexts.

The concept of intertextuality is the focal point of Chapter Four. In this chapter, the author starts with the definition and categorization of intertextuality and looks at the relationships among genres for fulfilling organizational purposes. He lays out different ways in which intertextuality takes place in workplace contexts, and then surveys the recent scholarship that has used the conceptual lens of intertextuality to analyze workplace discourses. The chapter also talks about the implications of intertextuality in workplace writing for the writer and the pedagogy of writing. The concluding section of the chapter presents a recent study that brought intertextuality to the centre of student writing assignments, examining the challenges students faced and the implications for designing pedagogical tasks.

Chapter Five deals with interactions among people in the collaborative process of text production. It starts out with an array of the definitions of the concept of collaborative writing and the taxonomies developed to explain the enactment and practice of such a writing practice. Next, it surveys a number of longitudinal ethnographic studies of collaborative writing, highlighting the less structured and ordered nature of the processes involved in writing. Focusing on issues such as teachability and portability of skills, it also examines the ways in which collaborative writing has been addressed and approached in classroom contexts.

Chapter Six addresses power and politeness, and examines how the relationships between these notions plays out in language in light of the relevant theories and research in this area. It starts with a brief discussion regarding politeness and spoken discourse before switching its focus on writing. It looks at the challenges and difficulties that students and novice workplace writers encounter when framing their writing in the context of the power relationships they have with their target audience. At the end, it discusses pedagogical implications and different approaches and tasks that can support students in coping with the power and relationship management aspects of workplace writing.

Chapter Seven concerns the principles and issues pertinent to the use of both technology-supported and more traditional communication channels in workplace writing. Acknowledging the influence of organization on writing practice, it brings to the fore the individual writer within the organization. Taking a brief look at issues regarding multimodality, the managing of corporate image through social media platforms, and the handling of collaborative writing in virtual space, the chapter underlines the tension between the affordances of a number of technologies such as promotional emails, instant messaging, and web-chat and certain expectations and challenges that they pose to the individual writer.

Chapter Eight deals with factors that form and project culture and organization. It highlights the significance of understanding the organizational culture for successfully socializing and assimilating into the organization and writing within it. It explains the distinctions between the notions of organizational culture and discourse community. It looks at different definitions and perspectives on organizational culture in the context of workplace, and examines both prescriptive and descriptive approaches and their implications. Finally, adopting a pedagogical perspective, it talks about an assignment developed to raise students’ awareness of organizational culture and its implications.

In Chapter Nine, the author revisits some of the discussions of the previous chapters including the differences between academia and the workplace. He focuses on the pedagogical aspect of workplace writing, highlighting the key questions of how and where the knowledge of the written discourses of workplace contexts must be acquired and developed. He explains the nature of language socialization and then draws on two studies to highlight academy and workplace as two contexts for learning to write. He underlines the role of context and the issues of aim and audience in the formation of written product.

In Chapter Ten, the author presents his concluding thoughts on workplace writing. First, he provides a summary of a wide range of factors that influence the processes of text construction in workplace contexts and the resulting texts. Then, he discusses the ways in which workplace writing is approached and dealt with in textbooks.

EVALUATION

Stephen Bremner’s book provides a multi-dimensional view of workplace writing highlighting rhetorical, contextual, and socio-political aspects of writing practice. The book is an interesting and colorful tapestry of hot topics in the area of workplace writing including: discourse communities and organizational cultures, genre, intertextuality, collaboration, power, politeness, enculturation, multimodality, and pedagogy. It weaves together theoretical discussions with current research in this domain, draws on the author’s personal history and experience, and puts forward significant pedagogical implications for the interested audience. The simple and eloquent language of the book and its reasonable size make it a fast and interesting read. Although the book reads like a review of the literature for professional scholars in this domain at times, it promises to be an interesting resource for those who intend to familiarize themselves with workplace writing and gain insight into its current discourses and discussions.

Given the extensive focus of academics and researchers on scholarly writing, this volume is an outstanding contribution in that it examines issues related to writing in mostly organizational contexts. However, most of the concepts and discussions presented in the book, such as genre, discourse community, and power, are similarly of interest to scholars who investigate writing in academic contexts. Considering that the pedagogy of workplace writing is one of the under-represented areas in this domain, the book presents a theoretically-informed orientation to educational aspects of workplace writing, and highlights that different pedagogical approaches need to step beyond technical and discursive issues and address socio-contextual dimensions of writing practice as well.

“Workplace writing: Beyond the text” is an interesting and insightful resource for those involved in the research and pedagogy of writing in work settings, especially novice researchers. The book has successfully contributed to the knowledge base on this domain, and presented a state of the art survey of the relevant literature and research.

REFERENCES

Bhatia, V. (2004). World of written discourse: A genre-based view. London: Continuum.

Geertz, C. (1983). Local Knowledge: Further essays in interpretive anthropology. New York: Basic Books.
 
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Pejman Habibie is an Assistant Professor of Applied Linguistics at the Faculty of Education, The University of Western Ontario, Canada. His research areas and interests include English for professional academic purposes, writing for scholarly publication, and academic discourse.

Versions:
Format: Paperback
ISBN-13: 9781138193840
Pages: 176
Prices: U.K. £ 29.99