Posted Oct. 6, 2021
Not all writing skills’ development is equal. We’ve written before about differences between kinds of writing programs, and one key differentiator comes up repeatedly: whether the training program includes writing samples from the business team members being taught.
In other words, when a company brings in a training or skills development vendor to bolster its staff’s writing skills, will they be working with generic training materials, or will they practice with their own actual writing – reports, memos, presentations, proposals, anything they’ve produced themselves – through the lessons?
At Hurley Write, we’re strong believers in encouraging our students to use their own writing samples. But why? What difference does it make? It’s worth understanding the value here if you’re trying to choose among training vendors or options.
1: We use the samples to customize lessons.
To start, we analyze writing samples that our clients send us to customize lessons. For example, we can adapt our lessons to include specific strategies appropriate to the kind of material being produced or the underlying communication problems we spot. When working with engineers at one consultancy group, we analyzed work samples they provided and created a custom webinar with six modules geared toward their needs. Incorporating our clients’ own writing results in higher quality and more impactful courses.
2: We use the samples to measure improvement.
Working with generic writing tasks can feel unnatural and awkward for students, which can sometimes make gauging improvement difficult. If the writing task is an uncomfortable fit given the kind of writing they normally produce, is it so shocking if it reads as stilted and unimpressive? It also makes it harder to compare before-and-after writing tasks when the writing practice is dissimilar. By contrast, using their own writing samples provides an easy way to compare participants’ writing both before and after the workshop to verify their skills’ improvement.
3: We use the samples to increase relevance and engagement.
One of our participants said it best: “[Pam Hurley] engaged the audience by using direct examples from our work.” We’ve found that our course participants respond best when they relate directly to the material being used in the course. It makes the coursework more directly relevant to their needs and interests, and they can see for themselves how better writing improves the finished product. Another course participant noted, “The individuals who took time to submit samples received the most benefit from the course.”
4: We can minimize the gap between what they learn in class and applying those lessons in their work.
This is a big one. When working with generic writing samples, our students must figure out for themselves how to apply their newfound skills in their work. But when we work directly with their own writing, no figuring out is required, as the discovery and skills improvement happens right there in class. For example, one of our clients practiced their new concepts and skills by revising early drafts of internal reports they had submitted to us. In turn, that enabled them to apply the skills they were learning directly to their own work projects. Ultimately, that means better retention and lasting gains in their writing projects.