Dr. Quinn

a woman of words

PW&R: The Early Stages of Developing a Professional Writing & Rhetoric Program

Professional Writing and Rhetoric Program @ McKendree

Professional Writing and Rhetoric Program @ McKendree

2013 has been a busy year for me. In January, I finished my job search from Fall 2012 with phone interviews and campus visits (technically, I only visited one campus). After accepting an offer for an Assistant Professor of English from McKendree University in Illinois (just outside of St. Louis, MO), I was quickly pulled into developing a new technical writing program — this was, after all, one of the reasons I was hired.

So, I was willing and eager to begin working on program development with my future colleague, Dr. Joy Santee, less than a month after being offered the position (and before I had even begun working for the university). At the time of this blog post, the program is still under review as it marches across the campus landscape and receives approval from various divisions, colleges, and committees. And as it does so, I am taking some time to reflect on the process and our progress….

Spring 2013

While I had developed graduate level courses in Education for Colorado State University Global Campus and built curriculum for plenty of Composition 1 and 2 courses, I had never started from scratch as I was with this technical writing program at McKendree University. The project was daunting at first glance, but the work was actually less formidable than I expected. I think this is because we followed a rather systematic approach that grounded the program in its own field rather than as a service piece to other disciplines on campus.


The foundation for our technical writing program began with Dr. Santee’s research.

First, she began researching the literature on developing technical writing programs as well as programs from comparable schools in our Carnegie classification (and a few other regional and local comparison schools). This was time consuming work because she was looking at 50 different programs (Carnegie Classification Schools, Great Lakes Valley Conference Schools, Integrated Postsecondary  Education Data Schools, and Local Private Schools).

We discussed (via email) her findings and our wish lists for our ideal program, and we decided that this program couldn’t be a service to other academic programs (I know. I know. I’ve mentioned this already. And I will mention it many more times before this post is complete). All too often, writing courses are viewed as serving some function other than teaching students to write effectively and to learn to transfer those skills across multiple academic and professional landscapes.

We didn’t want our Professional Writing and Rhetoric Program to end up an academic slave to the institution.  (The name of the program is also another deliberate move – to emphasize writing in multiple contexts in the professional environment as well as the scholarly and academic work of professional rhetorics)

Below is a copy of the document she sent me to help me gain a sense of comparable programs and various approaches we might take:

View this document on Scribd

In addition to this, early on Dr. Santee (who is the ace at finding fabulous, academic e-texts) sent a link to an extremely helpful e-book I would recommend to anyone who is considering the task of developing a professional writing program:

Franke, David, Reid, Alex, and Di Renzo, Anthony (Eds.). (2010). Design Discourse: Composing and Revising Programs in Professional and Technical Writing. Perspectives on Writing. Fort Collins, Colorado: The WAC Clearinghouse and Parlor Press.

Available at http://wac.colostate.edu/books/designdiscourse/

Again, I would like to strongly encourage you to look at this book, because, as you will see from the upcoming document I created (later, below), it directly influenced how we conceptualized and framed our program.

Side Note:

We were fortunate with our early work developing this program because the university and the English Department were definitely on-board with the idea of adding a new undergraduate major and minor to its catalog. The other factor influencing the support of the program is that the English Department had just completed a Program Review earlier in the fall, and the outside review committee had strongly encouraged courses that prepare students for writing in the professions.

Program review takes anywhere from 18 months to 2 years. The English Department gathers data about class offerings, students served, faculty work and scholarship – a number of different pieces that influence teaching and learning in the discipline. The department initially wanted to create more useful classes and a presence on campus for other majors. They had reflected upon and concluded that increasing journalism classes might be appropriate. But the outside review committee concluded that creating more discipline specific technical writing classes would better serve the university and students. With this in mind, the English Department decided to create a technical writing minor, and I was hired, as I mentioned earlier, to oversee the development ( as well as teach basic writing and regular composition courses).

In the early stages of developing the minor, Dr. Santee and I mutually decided that with a minor of 18 credit hours, we could easily add a few more courses and essentially have a major. We quickly changed our plans and the minor turned into a full proposal for a new undergraduate degree.

After I researched the e-book and program comparisons Dr. Santee sent to me, I then began thinking about the main components of the program, curricular structures (with an eye toward Program Learning Outcomes), and possible courses we would teach. The English Department at McKendree already provides an English 360: Technical Writing course that most Computer Science and Communication majors are expected to complete (so we had to keep an equivalent to the course within the new program!).

The document below is the early proposal I developed, and if you read the Design Discourse book I mentioned earlier, you will see its inspiration and influence.

View this document on Scribd

You will also see that this document includes a rough cut version of the major and minor in the program. As I look at this now, I am surprised by how far this program proposal has come (because we made many changes from this document to the final proposal we shared with the College of Arts and Sciences … but I am getting ahead of myself here!).  The major and minor look markedly different now – including the number of credit hours and the types of courses students can take to complete those hours.

But, later (in upcoming posts), I will share more information on the subsequent drafts of the proposal as we developed it.

In the meantime, let me offer another bit of light reading:

Dubinsky, James, ed. (2004). Teaching Technical Communication: Critical Issues for the Classroom. Bedford/St. Martins.

Lots of useful information in this book, as well. Personally, I was (and still am) especially interested in Chapter 2: “Constructing a History of the Field,” as this is something often glossed over or omitted in technical communication courses (at least from what I have seen – I am sure there are educators out there who do include this in their curriculum).


A lot of information here, but I want to recap the main steps we took because I do believe these were instrumental in laying the groundwork for our program (effectively helped us, that is). If this program does not pass or is not ultimately approved, it won’t be because we didn’t do the initial leg work or our due diligence (we wrote a polished program proposal, as a matter of fact!).

So here is what helped us. We:

  1. Researched similar schools and discovered similar or equivalent programs to the program we wanted to develop.
  2. Researched the research – can’t say it any plainer than that!
  3. Developed the main program components, curricular structures, learning outcomes, and course listings with descriptions.
  4. Sketched out the requirements for the major and minor.

Obviously, changes will be made, but these early steps really helped to make light work of this process.

One comment on “PW&R: The Early Stages of Developing a Professional Writing & Rhetoric Program

  1. Pingback: Professional Writing & Rhetoric @ McKendree: Here to Stay! | Dr. Quinn

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This entry was posted on October 22, 2013 by in Professional Writing and Rhetoric, Program Development, Tech Writing.
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