Course Description

English 420 teaches students the rhetorical principles and writing practices necessary for producing effective business letters, memos, reports, and collaborative projects in professional contexts. The curriculum is informed by current research in rhetoric and professional writing and is guided by the needs and practices of business, industry, and society at large, as well as by the expectations of Purdue students and programs. All sections of English 420 are offered in networked computer classrooms or exclusively online to ensure that students taking the course are prepared for the writing environment of the 21st-century workplace. The course teaches the rhetorical principles that help students shape their business writing ethically, for multiple audiences, in a variety of professional situations.

Required Texts

There is only one required text for this course:

Professional Writing Online, Third Edition

It's an e-text; you’ll buy the “password” as your text.  Once you've got your password, you can log in at the above link (or the link on the menu bar) to access your textbook.

It's available at Follett’s or University Bookstore.

Course Goals

Writing in Context
Analyze professional cultures, social contexts, and audiences to determine how they shape the various purposes and forms of workplace writing, such as persuasion, organizational communication, and public discourse, with an emphasis on

  • writing for a range of defined audiences and stakeholders
  • negotiating the ethical dimensions of workplace communication

Project Management

  • Understand, develop and deploy various strategies for planning, researching, drafting, revising, and editing documents both individually and collaboratively.
  • Select and use appropriate technologies that effectively and ethically address professional situations and audiences.
  • Build professional ethos through documentation and accountability.

Document Design
Make rhetorical design decisions about workplace documents, including

  • understanding and adapting to genre conventions and audience expectations
  • understanding and implementing design principles of format and layout
  • interpreting and arguing with design
  • drafting, researching, testing, and revising visual designs and information architecture

Learn and apply strategies for successful teamwork and collaboration, such as

  • working online with colleagues
  • determining roles and responsibilities
  • managing team conflicts constructively
  • responding constructively to peers' work
  • soliciting and using peer feedback effectively
  • achieving team goals

Understand and use various research methods to produce professional documents, including

  • analyzing professional contexts
  • locating, evaluating, and using print and online information selectively for particular audiences and purposes
  • triangulating sources of evidence
  • selecting appropriate primary research methods, such as interviews, observations, focus groups, and surveys to collect data
  • working ethically with research participants

Use and evaluate the writing technologies frequently used in the workplace, such as emailing, instant messaging, image editing, video editing, presentation design and delivery, HTML editing, Web browsing, content management, and desktop publishing technologies.

Course Projects

The student must particpate in all three projects in order to be eligible to pass the course.

1. Employment Project 

You will be asked to locate a job for which you are qualified and apply for it. Step 1 of the project asks you to learn about and use various web-based resources for job seekers and ultimately to select one job or internship to pursue. Steps 2 and 3 ask you to prepare the all-important "Job Application Letter" and a resume specifically designed for the job or internship you've selected in Step 1. In Step 4, you will assess your experience in a "Project Assessment Document." In the process of completing each step, you will work closely with your peers and with me to shape your writing so that it represents you and your experience fully and effectively, given the rhetorical circumstances. You will also study and respond to examples from the textbook. (Individual; 15% of course grade.) 


2. White Paper Project

The focus of Project 2 is the white paper, a common report genre in the professional world. White papers are used in business, industrial, and governmental contexts to sum up the gist of what’s known about a subject and, often, to market a product. During this project you will learn about

  • the white paper genre through collaborative creation of a white paper.
  • new writing and communication technologies that support business writing in college and the workplace, with attention to open source and other freely available software or writing spaces (online networks, blogging, etc.)
  • collaboration, project management, and strategies for writing and revising.
  • producing a text for the web in HTML that integrates visual content, such as screenshots, tables, and flowcharts

All group members will keep a project log and submit Collaborative Project Evaluation forms. (Collaborative: 25% of course grade.)


3. Recommendation Report Project

For Project 3, you will work collaboratively in project teams on a client-based service-learning project that teaches you to manage complex writing challenges in real contexts that matter. You will learn principles of project management, collaboration, document cycling, oral presentation, and client-based research. Because you will work with real clients--either in the community or online, you will also learn important principles of professional and ethical communication. (Collaborative; 40% of course grade.)

In-Class Work, Homework, and Participation

In-Class Work and Homework

This portion of your grade will be based on

  • How well you follow the guidelines and meet the requirements of the smaller assignments you receive in class
  • The degree to which your peer reviews and responses offer insightful feedback and suggestions on your classmates' drafts.
  • The degree to which your reading responses and comment posts demonstrate learning of the course content.
  • The level of understanding you demonstrate regarding the required readings.

Class Participation

This portions of your grade will be based on

  • How attentive and responsive you are to the lectures
  • How engaged you are in the activities
  • How much you contribute through your discussion


The grading percentages are as follows:



Employment Project


White Paper Project (collaborative)


Report Project (collaborative)


In-class work/homework




The three major projects in the course will be comprised of several components, each of which will be worth a percentage of your final grade. For the two collaborative projects, students will complete the required Collaborative Evaluation Form.

All major assignments will be graded on the standard plus-minus letter-grade scale: A=100-94, A-=93-90, B+==89-87, B=86-84, B-=83-80, C+=79-77, C=76-74, C-=73-70, D+=69-67, D=66-64, D-=63-60, F=59 or below.

Students must participate in all of the three major projects and complete a majority of the required in-class work in order to pass this class. Students with questions about final grades should review university policies regarding grade appeals, which are outlined by the Dean of Students here:

Technology Requirements

In order to participate fully in the course, you should already be able to use the technology platform and applications listed below.

  • Mac OS X or Windows XP or Vista
  • Microsoft Office for the PC or Mac (Word, PowerPoint, Excel) or Apple counterparts (Pages, Keynote, Numbers)
  • Web Browser (e.g., Firefox, Safari, or Internet Explorer)
  • Email Program (e.g., Purdue Webmail, Outlook, Thunderbird, Gmail, etc.)
  • Adobe Acrobat and Reader (for PDF documents, collaborative review)

Technology Responsibilities

Familiarity with certain technologies is crucial for participation and success in the course. If you need any assistance now or at any point during the semester, please do not hesitate to ask.

During the semester, you'll need regular access to the Internet and email. Because the course home page is the main locus of the class community, you are responsible for reading and keeping current with all content posted there, including what has been submitted by both the instructor and your fellow students. You'll be responsible for configuring your system to access course materials, to read course email and participate in online discussions, and to submit your work. Very early in the semester, you will be asked to demonstrate that you can meet these responsibilities:

  • Register for the course website and complete your profile information.
  • Post a message about yourself and your interests
  • Read the course description and calendar, then ask questions when you are uncertain about requirements or activities.
  • Set up your email or an alternative that you can access regularly and reliably
  • Become proficient sending and receiving email attachments, resolving file compatibility issues, and following email decorum.
  • Check the course calendar before each class meeting.
  • Become proficient participating in the class Drupal space.
  • Become more proficient with unfamiliar computer technologies and applications, including Web editing software, document cycling systems, desktop publishing applications, and graphics programs.
  • Maintain back-up copies of all assignments via your home directory, disks, USB drives, or CDs.


If at any time you have problems accessing the Internet from home, you'll need to find a public lab or connection point. Problems with computers will not be an excuse for falling behind or failing to complete required assignments. If your Internet service goes down, find another connection point. If your computer breaks, use another one. In other words, find a way to complete the assignments on time. Because computer problems are a fact of life, always work to complete your assignments early and make frequent backups.

Collaborative Work

Teamwork is a required component of the course. You and your project team members are responsible for updating one another and me about assignment development and progress. In addition, you also are responsible for negotiating together all aspects of your work, including planning, drafting, revising, file managing, and scheduling of assignments. When a collaborative project is assigned, you will receive explicit guidelines for successful collaboration. Individual group members will complete Collaborative Evaluation Forms. For more information about good principles of collaboration, see the brochure, Group Work and Collaborative Writing 

Attendance Policy

Attendance is required at all scheduled electronic and face-to-face (F2F) meetings. Since you will be working in project teams much of the semester, you also will be required to attend any scheduled out-of-class meetings with your team to complete course assignments. Four unexcused absences will result in your final grade being lowered by a letter grade. More than five unexcused absences will result in a failing grade for the course. Excused absences may be granted for religious holidays or university-sponsored events, provided you make a written request to me no less than two weeks in advance and that you complete any required work before the due date. Being excessively or regularly late for class or team meetings, both electronic and F2F, can also be counted as an absence.  Using Instant Messenger such as AIM during class can also be counted as an absence.

Late Work Policy

The majority of missed class assignments cannot be made up. If a serious and unavoidable problem arises, however, you should contact me in writing prior to the deadline to determine whether or not an extension for the work will or will not be granted. I will accept late work at my discretion. The common penalty for late work is 5 points per day (not per class day, per day). Since you can e-mail assignments at any time, getting them to me should not be a problem.

Academic Integrity

Purdue students and their instructors are expected to adhere to guidelines set forth by the Dean of Students in "Academic Integrity: A Guide for Students," which students are encouraged to read here:

The preamble of this guide states the following: "Purdue University values intellectual integrity and the highest standards of academic conduct. To be prepared to meet societal needs as leaders and role models, students must be educated in an ethical learning environment that promotes a high standard of honor in scholastic work. Academic dishonesty undermines institutional integrity and threatens the academic fabric of Purdue University. Dishonesty is not an acceptable avenue to success. It diminishes the quality of a Purdue education, which is valued because of Purdue's high academic standards."

Academic dishonesty is defined as follows: "Purdue prohibits "dishonesty in connection with any University activity. Cheating, plagiarism, or knowingly furnishing false information to the University are examples of dishonesty." [University Regulations, Part V, Section III, B, 2, a] Furthermore, the University Senate has stipulated that "the commitment of acts of cheating, lying, and deceit in any of their diverse forms (such as the use of substitutes for taking examinations, the use of illegal cribs, plagiarism, and copying during examinations) is dishonest and must not be tolerated. Moreover, knowingly to aid and abet, directly or indirectly, other parties in committing dishonest acts is in itself dishonest." [University Senate Document 72-18, December 15, 1972]"

If you have any questions about this policy, please ask.

In Case of a Campus Emergency

In the event of a major campus emergency, course requirements, deadlines and grading percentages are subject to changes that may be necessitated by a revised semester calendar or other circumstances. You can acquire updated information from the course website, by emailing me, or by calling me.

In Case of Teacher Seizure

In the unlikely event that I have an epileptic seizure while teaching, don’t panic. It’s not a big deal. I’ll fall to the floor and convulse for a few seconds. Just move me away from anything sharp and then leave me be until it’s over. Class will be over for that day!