For and Against Practice: Approaches to Teaching Professional Writing (NeMLA 2020)

deadline for submissions: 
September 30, 2019
full name / name of organization: 
Callie Ingram & Jiwon Ohm / Northeast Modern Language Association
contact email: 

This roundtable will provide a forum for participants to discuss and analyze their experiences and offer suggestions for teaching the multi-major professional writing course, more commonly referred to as simply “business writing” or “professional writing.” We especially welcome presentations that speak to and offer strategies targeting one of our three major concerns with the course: its decontextualized state, its reliance on non-neutral codes of professionalism, and the lack of pedagogical support often given to its instructors.


The multi-major professional writing course, commonly titled Business Writing or Professional Writing, is often advertised to undergraduate students as an introduction to the major genres of professional communication. However, according to writing pedagogy scholarship, this course should be understood “in terms of the literacy practices of professionals-who-write in any of the diverse professional contexts of business, industry, government, and the nonprofit sector” (Read and Michaud 430). In other words, it occupies a strange site of discipline-lessness, purporting to teach a circumscribed set of genres and behaviors but decontextualized from any specific professional field of practice.

At the same time, professional writing courses often uphold a concern with professionalism that bleeds into the teaching of writing and communication behaviors. This sense of professionalism, tied to etiquette and appropriateness, may be deployed as a universal good in the classroom but carries ingrained social and cultural norms that operate in discriminatory ways.

Importantly, this course is usually organized and staffed through English departments and writing programs, and depends crucially on adjunct and graduate student instructors who may not have any pedagogical training or expertise in business writing. This labor issue further compounds and complicates the content issues of decontextualization and professionalism described above.

In this roundtable, we will provide a forum for participants to discuss and analyze their experiences and offer suggestions for teaching the multi-major professional writing course. We especially welcome presentations that speak to and offer strategies targeting one of our three major concerns with the course: its decontextualized state, its reliance on non-neutral codes of professionalism, and the lack of pedagogical support often given to its instructors.

*Read, Sarah, and Michael Michaud. “Writing about Writing and the Multi-Major Professional Writing Course.” College Composition and Communication, vol. 66, no. 3, 2015, pp. 427-57.


If interested, submit an abstract by Sep 30, 2019: https://www.cfplist.com/nemla/Home/S/18277

Information about the NeMLA 2020 conference: http://www.buffalo.edu/nemla/convention.html