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Release: March 7, 2001

Students study more than grammar at Business Center

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The Business Communication Center in the Henry B. Tippie College of Business isn't just a grammar mill that fixes dangling participles. Students get a comprehensive review of business communication, ranging from writing a detailed stock analysis to drafting a simple memo.

Business students face a set of challenges very different from other student writers, according to Center Director Jessica Renaud. Instead of literary essays, business students write proposals, marketing memos, entrepreneurial business plans -- not the usual fare of rhetoric assignments. The Center helps students learn these specialized business writing skills, ranging from general advice to critiques of writing assignments.

"We address the biggest challenge to good writing -- poor thinking and organization of ideas. Then we attend to the gracefulness of the language and the competent use of mechanics," explains Renaud. "Students must get to the point quickly and reinforce their ideas with graphs and charts. They must use concise sentence structure, often with bulleted phrases, outlines, or executive summaries. Business demands its own distinctive writing form."

For example, finance students in a Securities Analysis class got advice on how to apply business writing style to a stocks analyst's report, while Introduction to Marketing students learned how to craft an effective marketing memo.

Under the direction of the Undergraduate Program Office, the Center has served more than 1,200 undergraduate students in the Tippie College since the fall 2000 semester. The Center not only gives students individual feedback on assignments but also provides classroom support for instructors as they give their writing assignments.

In addition to Renaud, the Center has nine undergraduates who are receiving training and credit for working with their peers. The peer tutors work with their fellow business students and build their writing and editing skills, as well as their leadership skills.

The Center also employs five English and education graduate students who are working toward a Master of Arts in Teaching at the UI. They not only offer students help through class presentations, but also offer one-on-one sessions in the Center.

"My graduate tutors often need 'genre immersion therapy,' " added Renaud. "They don't know the language of business, so we immerse them in the subtleties of biz-speak."

For students who use the Center, this emphasis on business writing skills pays big dividends. Sophomore Jessi Ayers of Newton, Iowa started using the Center in fall 2000 as part of her honors Introduction to Law course taught by Nancy Hauserman, associate dean of the Tippie College

Undergraduate Program and professor of management and organizations. The course is writing-intensive, requiring six papers, so all students must use the writing lab to receive feedback on the first of these papers. After that, the student can choose to continue using the Center.

Ayers found the support from the Center to be so beneficial that she continued to use it as a resource and then volunteered to become a peer tutor.

"By teaching others, I think you learn more," said Ayers. "My writing is stronger, and so are my people skills. I can see how being a better communicator makes me a better leader. It improves my ability to be tactful and to speak intelligently. As a tutor, I'm not just reading my friends' papers and helping them. I'm dealing with all types of people with different styles of communication, like what I will encounter in the work place.

"In the Intro to Law course, Professor Hauserman told us that most people do not write up to their IQ," added Ayers. "By spending the time and effort now, I hope to someday write to my highest level."

Hauserman says the writing center initiative is very unusual among business schools and has received rave reviews at a national undergraduate programs conference this spring.

"Judging by our peers' response, we are helping to break new ground in management education," said Hauserman. "We have set up a center housed in the business college that deals with the particular needs of professional business communication -- that is rare."

The Center evolved from many efforts, starting with the Tippie College providing writing consultants for MBA students. Later, Lola Lopes, former associate dean of the Undergraduate Program, and Dan Collins, head of the accounting department, developed a writing program for accounting majors. Now the Center hopes to expand and offer even more services to include training in oral communication (presentations and public speaking) and team projects.

With the Center's Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) initiative, the amount of writing is increasing across all disciplines of the Tippie College. Faculty members are integrating writing into all parts of the curriculum in five or six classes each semester, and often include Renaud and her tutors in their classrooms.

Ken Brown, associate professor in the department of management and organizations has used the Center to help students in his undergraduate organizational behavior class. Brown's students get extra credit for using the Center for feedback prior to handing in assignments. The Center staff also provides written comments on two of the four writing assignments in his class after the papers are handed in.

"Students love the one-on-one attention they get at the Center, and I appreciate the improvement in the quality of students' work" said Brown. He also suggests there are less obvious benefits of the Center.

"I am also starting to see more subtle, pedagogical benefits. Jessica and her staff generate feedback that provides an opportunity to improve the assignments and the instructional material that I provide to support those assignments. The Center helps make students better communicators and is helping me to become a better teacher at the same time."

For more information about the Center, contact Renaud at (319) 335-3459 or email