Douglas M. Walls, PhD



Campus Location: CNH307C


In Western and some other cultures, we have a tendency to think about writing as an isolated activity. That is to say, one person alone with a pen, or a keyboard, composing letters in a row that represent their “thoughts,” in some capacity.

That is not how organizations use writing. Part of what makes knowing how organizations, practically the large and complicated bureaucratic and professional organizations that many of us work for, is that these organizations are remarkably good at obfuscating to themselves what counts as “good” or “effective” writing within the organization. The people working in such large organizations are too busy doing the thing they are designed to do (make insurance claims, treat patients, educate 60,000 students, etc.) to explain or understand how or why writing works.

This is a class where you will develop tools to figure out, to paraphrase the title of a book in this field, what work writing does within an organization and how does it do that.

In this course we will examine issues and read research from the intersection of several fields of study. Together, we’ll agree to call this mix “Professional Writing.” Source material may be explicitly labeled or implicitly associated with professional and technical communication, composition studies, computers and writing, human-computer interaction, computer supported cooperative work, business writing, sociology, anthropology, management, or psychology, to name a few fields. Our aim in this course will be to discover common ground and explore issues of common concern as we become familiar with the ways writing is taken up as an object of study. People who write professionally write in organizations. We will explore the connections between research projects and results, and implementations of these in industry and government. The goal of this class I not to instruct you in one Uber view of how writing is done in any field but rather to give you a series of ways of thinking about what it means to write professionally in an organization.

A big part of this course is reading but I do not have a “coverage” agenda for the course. Rather, I want you to learn where and how to read carefully enough to pursue research of your own and in your own field. The readings I have selected, then, should be seen as places to start your own inquiries rather than as a definitive list. I want you to start thinking like a professional organization about writing and all the elements that come alone with writing like memory, delivery, and authorship.

With that in mind, the class is divided into several modules. In Organizational Authorship we will look at why organizations make people write and some of the underlying technologies that have shaped why we write the way we do in organizations today. In Writing and/as Knowledge Work we’ll explore the unique roll writing plays in solving the complicated tasks that professions and organizations solve and the role that technologies play in helping us solve those tasks. In Activity, Interaction, & Mediation we’ll delve into how to discover what role writing plays within an organization.  And finally, in the Culture, Technology, and Globalization module, we’ll see the role that writing plays in negotiating professional, cultural, and organizational boundaries.

In all of the writing assignments, though, it will be helpful if you consider reading to be your main task as all of the projects are designed to help you understand what you read.


  • Banks, A. J. (2006). Race, rhetoric, and technology: Searching for higher ground. Mahwah, N.J: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  • Bazerman, C., & Russell, D. R. (Eds.). (2003). Writing selves, writing societies : research from activity perspectives. Fort Collins, CO: WAC Clearinghouse.
  • Spinuzzi, C. (2013). Topsight: A Guide to Studying, Diagnosing, and Fixing Information Flow in Organizations. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.
  • Yates, J. (1993). Control through Communication: The Rise of System in American Management. The Johns Hopkins University Press.