PBW: An Instructional Design Story

by Jody Bruner

Wavelength is the result of merging two communication skills training companies, IWCC and BrunerBiz. In 2017, we blended our two flagship business writing courses (IWCC’s High Impact Business Writing and Bruner’s Effective Business Writing) to deliver a course that combines the best of each: Professional Business Writing. Creating this new workshop was a great learning experience, and everyone—our team and clients who have piloted the course—is happy with the results.  

This is an instructional design story, in which we share how this redesign revealed what each workshop assumed about the learner, and about reconciling two different approaches to writing.  

Different assumptions about our learners 

IWCC’s High Impact Business Writing (HIB) has its roots in Don Ricks’ original writing workshop (1969), which was designed for oil field workers in Alberta. His learners had little patience for or interest in writing. Today’s HIB has changed a lot from the original 1969 course, but it still assumes a reluctant learner, avoids technical writing terms and theory, and emphasizes shortcuts, tools and strategies that help writers through the tough parts of writing and stay relentlessly focused on the reader. The results are transformative. 

BrunerBiz’s Effective Business Writing (EBW) has its roots in academia, where Jody Bruner, now president of Wavelength, learned how to teach writing in the early 1990s. In her training as a writing instructor at York University, she was exposed to cognitive psychology, which studies how we read, write, and learn; and how to apply these theories to writing. EBW teaches business writers strategies for thinking more clearly using the writing process, and expressing messages simply and persuasively. The results are also transformative.  

PBW accommodates a spectrum of writers, from reluctant to confident. Reluctant writers will find helpful templates, planners and tools. More confident writers are encouraged to rely on the writing process and the principle of bottom lining to help them write documents that satisfy the needs of the readers. 

Writing as a product; writing as a process 

Ricks designed his workshop in the 1960s, when writing instruction favored a product approach, in which writers learn to mimic a model. Everything shifted in the 70s, when cognitive research shone a light on how we read, write and remember. This transformed writing instruction, which shifted to a process approach. EBW, written in 1996, favors the process approach. 

We’re using product and process approaches in our new course—plenty of tools, templates and planners; as well as strategies for using the writing process and bottom lining to clarify thinking. 

Here’s a simple summary of some of the differences between these two approaches: 

Product approach

  • Start with the structure, or template, and fill it in with ideas. Generally, ideas comply with structure.
  • Text (template) is there to be imitated.
  • One draft is desired.
  • Great for business writing when the message is routine.

Process approach

  • Start with ideas. Structure will most likely comply with the template, but ideas come first and dictate the final structure.
  • Text (template) is a resource.
  • More than one draft is required.
  • Great for reports and more complex writing tasks.

Our new course brings together the best of both approaches, and it turns out we’re not the only ones who realize this is an excellent idea. While doing a quick online survey, I see current practice blends them together in the process-product approach, here in writing teacher training, here in EFL training,  and in other areas as well. Intuitively, by blending the things that really work from HIB and EBW, we find ourselves on the cutting edge!  

 

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