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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Engagement with text : collaborative writing in a high technology company Begoray, Deborah Leslie


Over the past decade, an interest in collaboration has been coming to the fore in composition studies. Whereas once we were primarily interested in investigating the cognitive processes of the individual, we now seek to understand more about the social dynamics of writing in groups to improve our teaching of composition in the classroom. To that end, this dissertation looks at the real world collaborative activities of business proposal writers within a high technology company. Writing in the workplace is often undertaken in groups, and my work at Cerebellum, Inc. with computer professionals (who wrote as part of their jobs) reveals complexities hitherto unsuspected in the social writing process. The importance of a detailed understanding of collaboration has been called for in the literature by, for example, Ede and Lunsford (1990). My dissertation surveys current literature in composition, including a review of investigations into collaboration during business writing as a salient behaviour of such a discourse community. In order to accomplish my research, I used a video camera to record the activities which embodied the writing process at Cerebellum Inc. I found that the use of the video camera in an ethnographic manner not only helped me to gather detailed data, both verbal and nonverbal, in the continuous and comprehensive detail so vital to communication research, but also assisted in initiating better understanding within the business community of the aims and approaches of academic research. Video technology gave me a chance to participate in as well as observe situations, and also opened the door to conversation concerning my methods and my findings with both researchers and informants. I propose a model of the varying levels of engagement undertaken by the writers of a business proposal. I then suggest the educational value of the representation with a discussion of implications for the teaching of writing in the workplace and in more traditional school settings. Detailed research into collaboration offers us a window on the social processes which constitute writing for our students now and in their futures in the workplace. Such work is vitally important to ensuring superior levels of advanced literacy which will be in continuing demand now and in the next century.

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