Business and Technical Writing

Description

This exam includes three steps.

  • In Step 1, you’ll list multiple methods for gathering information about the problem and explain what kind of information you hope to gather from each.
  • Step 2 contains two parts.
    • In Part A, you’ll create two lists of potential survey questions, one for employees and one for clients.
    • In Part B, you’ll draft a letter to the branch manager ahead of your visit.
  • Lastly, in Step 3, you’ll describe your findings using four headings:
    • Problems
    • Facts and Causes
    • Impacts and Effects
    • Solutions

You should submit all three steps in one Microsoft Word document.

Background

Phoenix Advertising, with its main headquarters in Charlotte, North Carolina, serves clients that include banks, insurance companies and local businesses such as restaurants and shops. You’re the vice president of human resources management at Phoenix, and you report directly to Gregory S. Forest, the president of the company.

Mr. Forest advises you that in the last month, four clients have complained about the advertising work produced by the Roanoke, Virginia branch of the agency. He reminds you that the Roanoke branch and its clients are vital to the overall success of the company.

Mr. Forest explains what he has learned about the situation at the Roanoke branch over the last three months. Three graphic designers and four copywriters have threatened to quit because their creative contributions on projects are being rejected or revised without their input. They want to be part of a collaborative team, not to simply produce work that the art directors and account executives can alter arbitrarily. These changes to projects have also caused tension between the creative teams and account managers, causing an art director and an account manager to leave the agency.

In addition to the four clients who complained, others have not renewed their contracts with Roanoke. Several have posted poor reviews of the Roanoke branch on social media sites, leading to a drop in profits.

In an attempt to increase revenues, the branch is accepting new clients without evaluating the effects of the new accounts on the current project workload. As a result, without notice or compensation for the additional hours, all salaried employees are required to work long hours several days each week. Employee morale and productivity are declining day by day.

Mr. Forest directs you to conduct a field investigation at the branch itself to explore the nature of the problems that have arisen there. Your investigative goals are to

  • Identify and describe specifically the causes (root issues) underlying each problem
  • Show the impact of each problem on the business and on employee morale
  • Provide specific recommendations for resolving the problems in order to restore the Roanoke branch to full productivity

Process

Step 1: Prewriting

Prepare yourself for your visit by creating personnel information for the employees at the Roanoke branch. Brainstorm and freewrite about the number of people working in each department and the names and experience of each key executive (including the two who left). Also review the information provided by the staff person and the executive team members regarding agency and branch policies. Use the following questions to jumpstart your prewriting, but expand on them with your own questions and ideas.

  • Why wouldn’t employees be paid or compensated for extensive overtime? Is the branch following employee contractual agreements and agency/branch policies? Is the Roanoke branch operating under different salary scales/schedules than others Phoenix offices?
  • Is the business experiencing financial problems?
  • Who at Roanoke oversees the account review process? What are the procedures for accepting a new client account and for closing completed accounts? Are these procedures being followed?
  • Why are some, but not all, of the graphic designers and writers complaining? Are their complaints legitimate? Have they always complained or is this a recent development? If recent, what has changed to cause the complaints? What have the art directors already tried to do to handle their concerns? How does their negative attitude affect productivity?
  • Why did one of the top executives leave recently? In what ways has the absence affected the branch productivity and employees?
  • Has the loss of some management people caused the regular procedure of collaborative review to be overlooked or are the complainers not doing their jobs appropriately?
  • What’s the nature of the complaints filed by the four clients with Mr. Forest? What does each request to resolve the situation?
  • Does the Roanoke branch have a staff person dedicated to social media outreach?

Once you’ve created answers to these and other questions you’ve asked yourself, determine how you’ll approach the investigation to accomplish your goals and find the facts underlying each situation. These methods might include one-to-one interviews with employees, observation of the work environment, surveys of the clients, and a review of various business reports, policies, and procedures. Use a variety of methods—don’t rely on only one, such as employee interviews, because what people feel or say may not represent the reality of the situation. Create further details as necessary to craft a clear picture of

  • The branch, the employees, and the clients (both satisfied and dissatisfied)
  • Particular cause or source of each problem (usually more than one cause)
  • The impact of each cause on business and morale

Assignment: Methods

In a Word document, type the heading “Step 1: Methods.” Below it type a list of your methods and summarize what you want to accomplish with each. For example, if your method is to interview each department as a group, what kind of information related to the problems should you be able to uncover through that method?

Step 2: Gathering Information

Suppose you decide to create two questionnaires, one for all the employees at Roanoke and one for all the clients Roanoke has serviced in the last 12 months. Your purpose is to determine when the problems began, how they’re defined by those involved, what caused them, and how the employees think they could be solved. Write several possible questions and jot down any facts you hope to establish with each question.

Assignment A: Employee and Client Surveys

Continue with the Word document begun for Step 1. Type the heading “Step 2A: Surveys.” Below it type “Employees” and list in correct sentence form the top three employee questions from your brainstorming. Choose words and phrases appropriate for the intended purpose and audience. Under each question, write one or two sentences describing the information you hope to establish through the use of that question.

Type “Clients” and list the top three client questions from your brainstorming. Under each one, write one or two sentences describing the information you hope to establish through the use of that question. Use language appropriate for the intended purpose and audience.

Assignment B: Letter to CEO of Roanoke Branch

Continue from Step 2A in the same Word document, but begin a new page. Write a full-block style, neutral letter to the CEO of the Roanoke branch in which you explain the reason you’re coming and the preparations he or she must complete before your visit. Use the ABC approach to developing each paragraph. Use correct sentence structure and word choice appropriate for the intended purpose and audience.

Based on your prewriting, detail what reports and client accounts you’ll review during that visit, the meetings and interviews you want to conduct, any branch policies on which you need further information, employee performance reviews, procedural manuals, and so on. Be sure to end in a positive tone showing appreciation for the CEO’s assistance. Include a representation of your signature above your typed name (such as typing it in italics or script font).

Step 3: Organizing

Now imagine that you’ve visited Roanoke, met with the people, conducted the interviews, and reviewed the surveys and other information. You’ve returned to Charlotte and are sorting the information gathered from your investigation according to the primary problem.

Review all your prewriting and freewrite on any problem not yet clearly defined in terms of causes, the impact on employee morale and/or productivity, and possible solutions.

Assignment: Problems and Illustration

Start a new page in the same Word document after the Step 2B assignment for this section. For the “Problems” portion, you may use words and phrases in bulleted or numbered form to represent your thoughts instead of complete sentences. For the “Illustrations” portion, you must use complete sentences.

Begin with the following labels for the Problems section.

Problems:

Facts and Causes:

Impact and Effects:

Solutions:

Under “Problems,” list four or five of the primary problems you discovered in your investigation. Although President Forest categorized the problems into three areas, you will have found that one or two need to be broken down further, and/or you will have discovered other problems unknown to Forest.

Choose one of the problems you listed. Under “Facts and Causes,” list those you identified—not only what people said or felt, but also the proof or facts you’ve uncovered that identify the causes and underlying issues of the problem. Remember, a major problem is the result of several factors working together.

For the chosen problem, describe under “Impact and Effects” the impact on the business and on the employees for each of the underlying issues you identified in “Facts and Causes.” In your discussion, include numbers such as percentages to show changes in productivity, employee work time, and so on. For issues involving employee morale, be sure to explain the impact on the business as well.

Finally, under “Solutions,” list ideas for each cause that will end the negative impact as well as improve the situation, making sure the solutions actually address the issue. For example, suggesting that the branch dedicates a full-time staff member to hand social media outreach would not be effective unless the quality of the work improves. If you create a solution you want to use but haven’t laid the foundation for it in the causes and impact sections, then return to those sections and create the necessary information to support your solution.

After providing the above information, type “Illustration” and below it identify a specific type of illustration (table, bar graph, pie chart, etc.) you might use to represent numbers related to causes or impacts. Then write two or three sentences explaining why your choice is the best way to convey the information to the executive team of Phoenix Advertising.

Revising

Referring to the above instructions and the evaluation criteria for the exam, revise your work carefully. For the survey questions and letter (Step 2A and B), revise for directness, emphasis, sentence variety, coherence, and appropriate word choice for the audience and purpose. Carefully edit grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Read through your work backwards, first word by word, then sentence by sentence, and then paragraph by paragraph.

Word by word. In this way you can locate spelling errors. Be alert—you may see the word here in your essay, a correctly spelled word. But also check the words on either side. Did you mean here in terms of location or did you mean the sense of hearing?

Sentence by sentence. By looking at each group of words separately from the context, you can more easily locate run-on sentences or fragments. Compare the length and structure of each sentence for variety. Also check the connections between sentences—are they coherent?

Paragraph by paragraph. Locate the controlling idea of each paragraph and compare them with your primary focus for the memo and email. Does the paragraph help to develop that focus in some specific way? Compare it with the controlling ideas of the paragraphs before and after it. Do they follow in logical order?

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