COBA seeks write stuff

Business schools around the nation are learning that bad writing equals bad business. So it’s no wonder that universities nationwide have begun to establish writing centers for their business students.

USF is no different.

Under the direction of Patricia Nickinson, the recently opened College of Business Administration’s (COBA) Business Communications Center aims to fix bad writing and help business students determine the requirements of assignments; organize information; express their ideas clearly, logically and concisely; and fine-tune their grammar and punctuation, according to Nickinson.

COBA’s writing center is modeled after a similar business-oriented writing center at the University of Iowa.

Although there is already a writing center on campus, Nickinson believes there should be a separate center for business students. This center would be more familiar with business assignments and business documents that would be used in the real world, she said.

Some business concentrations require public speaking and professional writing classes, but these classes often cover only the basics and cannot give each student the direct feedback that the tutors at the Business Communication Center would be able to give, Nickinson said.

College of Business Dean Robert Forsythe said that the official name of the Business Communications Center signifies its purpose of offering aid for other aspects of business courses­ – for example, by helping with presentations.

The Center doesn’t want to simply edit assignments for business students. Although the task of working through each assignment by asking each writer what could be done better can be tedious and laborious, the students will learn how to evaluate their own work through this process, taking these skills through the class, graduation, and into their career.

“It’s got to be the writer making choices,” Nickinson said.

Tutors can train students with that power of choice to strengthen their own papers, she said.

Most business students, Nickinson observes, tend to write with a lot of what she described as “generalities and vagueness,” which prohibits them from conveying the clearest possible message with the least amount of words. The main differences between academic and business writing are the audience and the purpose. Professors, who compose academic writing’s typical audience, can expect to be familiar with the information coming in a report, while the recipients of a memo in the business world are often receiving entirely new information.

Nickinson hopes that the Center will become a place to which business students will be comfortable bringing work at any stage of writing.

“Poor writing reflects negatively on the writer, the company who hired the employee and the alma mater who gave them a diploma,” she said.

Drema Howard, director of USF’s Career Center, gave a commonplace example of bad writing skills interfering with career advancement or, in this particular case, employee selection. A student submitted a resume to a company, and the company replied with an e-mail. The student wrote back, but in a completely informal – and inappropriate – manner. The employer did not hire the student.

Employers expect graduating students to be competent critical thinkers and writers. The Center would help to produce such graduates.

A perpetual observation from the business community is that it can teach any student the business but not the writing skills. With that in mind, Nickinson aims to convince every business student that writing well will be crucial to his or her career.