Please access the article, “Teaching Grammar and Editing in Public Administration: Lessons Learned from Early Offerings of an Undergraduate Administrative Writing Course,” by Claire Connolly Knox. The article was published in 2013.
1. List the article in APA format, as the video describes.
2. Write a 100-to-150-word summary/critique of the article in which you not only summarize the article but also note any strengths or weaknesses you find in it. In addition, mention whether it will be a possible article for an essay on the topic of teaching grammar in writing courses.
You will want to follow the strategies provided in the sample annotation “CSI at University,” as you write this practice annotation.
However, this exercise is designed to help you become familiar with listing a source in APA format and with writing a critical annotation for it.
Journal of Public Affairs Education 515
Teaching Grammar and Editing
Administration: Lessons Learned from
Early Offerings of an Undergraduate
Administrative Writing Course
Claire Connolly Knox
University of Central Florida School of Public Administration
College graduates need to possess strong writing skills before entering the work-
force. Although many public administration undergraduate programs primarily
focus on policy, finance, and management, we fall short of a larger goal if students
cannot communicate results to a variety of audiences. This article discusses the
results of a national survey, which concludes that few undergraduate public affairs
programs require an administrative/technical writing course. Based on pedagogical
theories, this article describes the design of a newly implemented, undergraduate,
administrative writing course. The article concludes with lessons learned, provides
recommendations for programs considering requiring an administrative writing
course, and discusses future research.
Keywords: administrative writing, Plain Language Movement, discourse community,
undergraduate course design
“Administrators not only need to know about communications, they need to
be able to communicate” (Denhardt, 2001, p. 529). Public administration under-
graduate students learn the importance of communication within organizations
in leadership, human resources, or organizational management courses; however,
practical instruction in communication skills, such as effective, audience-centered
writing, are lacking. Scholars (e.g., Cleary, 1990, 1997; Lee, 2000; Raphael &
Nesbary, 2005; Waugh & Manns, 1991) have noted this lack of required commun-
ication and writing courses in public administration curriculum. The majority of
administrative writing literature is from the late 1980s and early 1990s when
universities began implementing Writing Across the Curriculum programs (i.e.,
JPAE 19 (3), 515–536
516 Journal of Public Affairs Education
Londow, 1993; Stanford, 1992). The limited discussions and conclusions coincide
with private and public sector trends—newly hired students’ writing skills are
lacking (Hines & Basso, 2008; National Commission, 2005).
A survey by the National Commission on Writing for America’s Families,
Schools, and Colleges (2005) reported that approximately 80% of public sector
human resource directors seriously considered writing skills when hiring professional
employees and assumed new employees obtained these skills in college. Increasingly,
public managers require employees to attend writing and communication trainings,
which cost governments approximately $221 million annually (National Commis-
sion, 2005). In fact, the public sector (66%) is more likely to send professional/
salaried employees for writing training than the private sector (40%; National
Commission, 2005). Public, private, and nonprofit sector organizations certainly
should continue providing education in writing, and scholars (e.g., Coplin, 2003;
Hines & Basso, 2008; Quible & Griffin, 2007) agree that newly graduated students
should enter the workforce with a solid writing foundation.
For the past 30 years, statistics, policy, finance, and management remained the
primary focus in many public administration undergraduate programs (Dougherty,
2011). Yet, we fall short of a larger goal if students cannot communicate program
evaluation and policy analysis results to a variety of audiences. Researchers (i.e.,
Pincus, 1997; Raphael & Nesbary, 2005) have studied the lack of communication
courses in Master of Public Administration (MPA) and Master of Business Admini-
stration programs, but undergraduate public administration program design and
content has received less attention (Dougherty, 2011). This article adds to the liter-
ature in two ways: by continuing the limited discussion of writing/communication
skill development among public administration students at the undergraduate
level and by offering an administrative writing course design that mixes peda-
Specifically, this article proposes that passage of the Plain Writing Act of 2010
and high costs for writing skills training for new employees support the need for
these undergraduate programs to add a technical/administrative writing course in
the curricula. The recommendation aligns with the National Association of Schools
of Public Affairs and Administration’s (NASPAA) core competency accreditation
requirement: “Development of communication abilities and skills—written, oral,
and electronic” (1997, p. 6). This article briefly reviews the Plain Language Move-
ment history and passage of the Plain Writing Act of 2010. The subsequent sections
discuss survey results about writing requirements from NASPAA-accredited U.S.
undergraduate public affairs programs, and grammar and writing pedagogical
theories and best practices that informed and grounded the development of a
newly designed administrative writing course. The conclusion provides pedagog-
ically based recommendations for future changes to the writing course, and
outlines future research.
C. Connolly Knox
Journal of Public Affairs Education 517
Teaching Grammar and Editing
BRIEF HISTORY OF PLAIN LANGUAGE MOVEMENT
In the early 1950s, the U. S. federal government slowly integrated the Plain
Language Movement with the goal of well-written, concise, and audience-centered
documents. Advocates for this new movement became more vocal after World
War II and stressed that overly technical writing was an impediment to a citizen’s
understanding and participation in government goods and services (Law: Waging,
1978). Yet, it was not until after 1970 that the Plain Language Movement received
federal and state government support through executive orders, memorandums,
and legislation (Table 1). Two main reasons for this support are (a) the expanding
size of the federal government, which consequently increased paperwork, and
(b) an increasing national focus on consumer activism (Redish, 1985).
Brief History of the Plain Language Movement from Nixon to Obama Administrations
Nixon 1972 Formal request to use layperson’s language in the Federal Register
with sentences written clearly and in the active voice.
Carter 1978 Executive Orders 12044 and 12174 stated government regulations
should be written clearly and without jargon.
Reagan 1981 Rescinded the executive orders in Section 10 of Executive
Clinton 1998 Presidential Memorandum for federal government documents to
be written in layperson’s terms.
Obama 2010 Plain Writing Act of 2010 created formal legislation requiring
federal agencies to use an audience-centered approach and produce
reader-friendly documents for the public.
The Plain Writing Act of 2010 transitioned the Plain Language Movement
from a voluntary to mandatory action. The act’s purpose is to “improve the
effectiveness and accountability of Federal agencies to the public by promoting
clear Government communication that the public can understand and use”
(Plain Writing Act, 2010, ¶ 4). Section 3.3 of the act defines plain writing as
“writing that is clear, concise, well-organized, and follows other best practices
appropriate to the subject or field and intended audience” (Plain Writing Act,
2010, ¶ 7). Although this legislation provides no enforcement mechanism,
agencies must designate a senior official as the Plain Writing liaison, explain new
requirements to staff members and train them to comply with the new regulation,
and design agency-specific implementation procedures and a plain language
webpage whose web link is available on the homepage (Hasselkus, 2010).
518 Journal of Public Affairs Education
Overall, passage and implementation of this legislation stresses the increasing
need to educate future public administrators to write more concisely while remain-
ing focused on the document’s audience(s). The combination of public policy
and workforce demands support the recommendation to require administrative
or technical writing courses in undergraduate public administration curriculum.
The challenge of improving undergraduate student writing skills is not unique
to the public administration discipline; undergraduate programs across the United
States struggle to incorporate writing assignments in their courses (Glenn, 2011).
Some public administration, public affairs, and public policy programs have
institutionalized solutions. The following section discusses results from a survey
completed by NASPAA-accredited U.S. undergraduate public affairs program
directors and coordinators.
Undergraduate Program Survey
A five-question e-mail survey was sent to academic coordinators in 72 under-
graduate programs associated with member schools listed on NASPAA’s website
(National Association, n.d.; see Appendix A of this article). The survey asked the
undergraduate program coordinators to provide information about any admini-
strative or technical writing course offered within or outside their department.
Following Dillman’s (2007) approach, non-responsive programs received a reminder
e-mail 1 week later and a phone call 3 weeks after the initial e-mail. Of the 72
programs, 53 responded, for a response rate of 74%.
Twelve undergraduate programs are no longer active, are suspended, or are
listed incorrectly on the NASPAA website. Of the remaining 41 programs, 32%
(13 out of 41) required an administrative and/or technical writing course in the
program; two programs have a designated writing course in the department, while
11 programs recommend technical writing courses in the English, Communications,
or Business departments (Table 2). Ten programs (24%) have modified existing core
courses as writing-intensive courses (Table 3). Eighteen programs (44%) did not
require an administrative and/or technical writing course. These results alignwith
Raphael and Nesbary’s (2005) study of communication courses in MPA programs.
Should a public administration program offer an administrative writing course, or
should the program refer students to technical writing courses in a Business,
English, or Communications department? Concerns include evaluating the level
of technical writing skills of public administration faculty and their ability to teach
a writing course, as well as adopting a newly required writing course in an estab-
lished program curriculum. Although 85% of responding programs require technical
writing courses outside the program (primarily in the English department), there
are benefits to creating a discipline-specific administrative writing course and
potentially hiring an adjunct instructor with a technical writing background.
Grammar is constructed; it depends on the discourse community that you belong
C. Connolly Knox
Journal of Public Affairs Education 519
Teaching Grammar and Editing
to and what the community considers acceptable usage (Northedge, 2003).
Each discipline and field has its own discourse community (i.e., engineering,
law, journalism, medicine, government, etc.).
Although this type of course reviews different genres of professional writing
(e.g., memos, reports, executive summaries, website evaluation), it also focuses
on genres (e.g., grant proposals, press releases, federal rule evaluation) and
characteristics unique to the public and nonprofit sector discourse community.
Required Writing Courses in Undergraduate Public Administration, Public Affairs,
or Public Policy Programs
University Writing Course in Public
Writing Course in
Arizona State University ENG 216: Persuasive Writing
on Public Issues
ENG 3050: Advanced Exposi-
California State University,
COMM 304: Technical and
California State University,
MGMT 306: Expository Writing
ENG-W 231: Professional Writ-
ing Skills; BUS-X 204: Business
University, Ft. Wayne
ENG W232: Introduction to
Business Writing; ENG W233:
Intermediate Expository Writing
ENG-W 231: Professional
Writing Skills; BUS-X 204:
University of Central
PAD 3733: Administrative Writing
in the Public Sector
University of Maine PAA 390: Technical Writing and
Communication for Public Service
University of Maine
ENG 317w: Advanced
University of North Dakota ENG 125: Technical and
University of North Texas TECM 2700: Technical Writing
University of San Francisco INTD 307: Experience and
Critical Writing; INTD 308:
Advanced Expository Writing
520 Journal of Public Affairs Education
Writing Intensive Courses in Undergraduate Public Administration, Public Affairs,
or Public Policy Programs
University Writing Intensive Course
in Public Administration
Writing Intensive Course
in Other Department
College of William and Mary Major Writing Requirement in
an Economics course
Duke University PUBPOL 114: Political Analysis
for Public Policy Making
Florida Atlantic University PAD 4935: Senior Seminar
(writing intensive); PAD 4933:
Capstone Seminar in Public
Georgia State University PMAP 3311: Critical Policy
Issues; PMAP 4051: Evaluating
James Madison University PPA 420: Public Management
Michigan State University Tier II Writing Course
Pennsylvania State University
PUBPL 304W: Public Policy
Rutgers University–Newark PAD 302: Global Urban Experi-
Stephen F. Austin State
PBA 305: American Public
Policy; PBA 405: Policy Analysis
University of Albany, SUNY RPUB 499: Senior Seminar
Additionally, the course reinforces grammar, editing, and APA style rules and
techniques, all of which aligns with best practices from the communications liter-
ature (e.g., Hines & Basso, 2008). The next section provides an overview of
pedagogical theories that informed and grounded the development of the admin-
istrative writing course.
DESIGNING THE ADMINISTRATIVE WRITING COURSE
The School of Public Administration at a large university located in a south-
eastern, metropolitan city created a mandatory, undergraduate administrative writing
course within the program curriculum. Faculty members, advisory board members,
and local public sector leaders and employers identified writing deficiencies among
current and former students: grammar (specifically incomplete sentences, run-on
sentences, incorrect use of punctuation), wordiness, formatting and structure,
plagiarism and improper use of APA style, and passive voice. To address many of
C. Connolly Knox
Journal of Public Affairs Education 521
Teaching Grammar and Editing
these writing deficiencies, the course design used a blended pedagogy with multiple
grading mechanisms (i.e., exams, online modules, peer editing, group work, and
individual writing assignments). The course also incorporated professional technical
writers as guest speakers (e.g., the county’s communication director, the city’s public
information officer, a local government website designer, and a federal grant writer/
reviewer) who provided students with writing examples from their organizations.
Stanford (1992) provides some best writing practices for MPA programs:
incorporating many short writing assignments instead of one lengthy research
paper; writing for multiple audiences; setting clear writing goals and competencies
for students in the course; evaluating students’ writing and providing feedback;
and handling students’ writing workload, which can overwhelm writing instructors.
The next sections discuss these best practices, as well as some pedagogical theories
for grammar and writing, in more detail as they relate to the undergraduate admin-
istrative writing course design.
Although not discussed by Stanford (1992), the course began with a brief
grammar review. Hines and Basso’s case study stresses the need for grammar review
in communication/writing courses: “At the heart of all written communication
remains the proper use of the rules of English Grammar. … Incoherent sentences
and ambiguous thoughts doom writing to fail at its most fundamental and im-
portant level, communicating ideas” (2008, pp. 294, 297). The grammar review
incorporated a mix of the rules-based and content-based approaches. The rules-
based approach to teaching grammar (also known as deductive approach and
traditional school grammar approach) is a teacher-centered approach focusing on
grammar definitions and rules, and then requiring students to apply those rules
to specific isolated exercises (Weaver, 1996). Examples of this approach include
diagramming sentences and memorizing definitions (e.g., predicates, fragments,
The content-based, or inductive, approach gained popularity in the 1960s
and applies grammar definitions and rules to students’ writing (Quible & Griffin,
2007). Through this student-centered approach, students discover grammar rules,
concepts, and exceptions while writing or editing their assignments. Weaver (1996)
advocated for the content-based approach for teaching grammar and citied many
studies (i.e., Calkins, 1980; DiStefano & Killion, 1984; Harris & Rowan, 1989;
Noguchi, 1991) conducted on elementary through college-aged students. Specifically
applicable to the design of the administrative writing course is Harris and Rowan’s
(1989) study of undergraduate students’ understanding of grammar concepts.
The authors concluded that students needed the application of grammar concepts
in their writing, in addition to knowing grammar rules and definitions. Specifically,
students in the study could define a sentence, but failed to differentiate between
a fragment or run-on sentence and a grammatically correct sentence (Weaver, 1996).
522 Journal of Public Affairs Education
Scholars (i.e., Hartwell, 1985; Kolln & Gray, 2009) note that teaching grammar
out of context largely has no impact on improving students’ writing.
Although the debate between rules-based and content-based approaches to
teaching grammar continues (Quible & Griffin, 2007), this article recommends
a combination of the two approaches, especially when there is a mix of students
from different generations and with varied learning styles. The course design in-
cluded the combined approaches because feedback on student deficiencies from
faculty indicated the need for a grammar rules review before applying the rules
to writing. For the first 2 weeks of the course, I created grammar and editing
assignments based on the rules-based approach (e.g., separate grammar exercise
worksheets on specific rules), which provided the needed foundation for future
writing assignments. Students requesting additional instruction in grammar rules
received sources for self-study.1
After the grammar review, the class reviews the American Psychological
Association’s (APA) writing and formatting style. This style is required in every
public administration core course in our school, yet few students had received
formal training. The students were mostly familiar with the Modern Language
Association writing style, which the Liberal Arts commonly use in English courses.
I reviewed common differences between the two styles and taught APA style in
more detail, and then required students to complete an interactive APA online
module offered through the university’s library Obojobo system.2 The module is
easily incorporated into any course with the website link provided in the syllabus,
and the system grades the concluding quiz. As discussed later in this article,
including a university’s library or writing center online grammar, writing, or
editing module helps overcome the large amount of time required to evaluate
students’ writing and use of grammar. Then the course focus shifted for the
remainder of the semester to a content-based approach where students apply
grammar rules and concepts in their writing assignments.
Multiple Short Writing Assignments
In most public administration courses, writing assignments consist of long
research papers. Although this skill is useful to develop if a student is interested
in attending graduate school, it is not as useful in the practitioner world (Stanford,
1992). Professional writing consists of brief writing, such as memos, letters, reports,
executive summaries, and press releases. When students are being introduced to a
new discourse community, Northedge (2003) recommends small, frequent writing
assignments that allow students to “position themselves within the discourse”
(p. 178). Zeiser (1999) recommends modifying current course writing assignments
from research papers to shorter writing assignments, thus allowing students to
receive more feedback from the instructor on their writing and formatting.3
Another option is to add small writing elements to a research paper, such as an
executive summary, press/news release, twitter feeds, or business letter. These
C. Connolly Knox
Journal of Public Affairs Education 523
Teaching Grammar and Editing
smaller assignments can be completed before writing the research paper and
provide students additional opportunities for grammar, formatting, editing, and
All assignments in the administrative writing course are examples of writing
genres realistic to the public and nonprofit sector. I designed individual and
group assignments to mimic the work environment I experienced as a technical
writer for 11 years in the federal and local government and the private and
nonprofit sectors. Students were encouraged to use a variety of media to
complete and submit their assignments, including hard copy and electronic
collaborative learning tools (i.e., Google Docs, discussion threads). The eight
genres of government and nonprofit writing covered include Rules, Regulations,
and Administrative Procedures; Executive Summaries and Abstracts; Policy
Handbooks and Guides; Memorandums; Press Releases; Professional Report
Writing; Grant Proposal Writing; and Government/ Nonprofit Websites.
Most of the assignments were modified from the course textbook, Writing for
the Government (Allison & Williams, 2008), and students could customize the
topic of the assignment (e.g., the final assignment could evaluate a nonprofit
organization website). (See Appendix B). As discussed further in the conclusion,
future modifications to assignments should include more peer editing and
require students to provide recommendations when reviewing government
documents and websites.
Writing for Multiple Audiences
Audience-centered writing is a common pedagogy in technical writing courses
and an important one to incorporate in an administrative writing course. Public
administrators frequently write for multiple audiences, including internal (i.e.,
employees, volunteers, supervisor/managers, board members) and external
stakeholders (i.e., public, interest groups, community partners, elected officials)
in various programs (Lee, 2000; Raphael & Nesbary, 2005). These audiences
have different needs and levels of understanding. For the writing assignments,
I require students to consider and include the intended audience at the top of the
document. For about half of the assignments, I give the document back to the
student without reviewing it and ask them to rewrite the document for a different
audience. Then students submit both documents—same topic but different
audiences—for grading. For example, a memo about a potential public health
threat for children will contain varying levels of detailed information when written
for parents versus principals of local schools.
Writing Goals and Competencies
As with any course, clear learning objectives should be included in the syllabus
and reviewed with students at the beginning of the semester. Some learning goals
for the administrative writing course have been discussed (i.e., analyze writing
samples for grammar and formatting using editing notations; apply the principles
524 Journal of Public Affairs Education
of understanding an audience and modify the document to better fit the in-
As potential managers, students need to learn editing techniques in addition
to having a good grammar foundation. Therefore, training students to become
better editors is a goal of this course and ties into the recognized deficiencies. Students
spend time learning to reduce redundancy, wordiness, and use of clichés and slang.
Nearly every writing assignment incorporates editing techniques requiring the
student to submit more than one copy of the assignment. I created an APA style
editing checklist for the course, which is posted on the school’s website for all
public administration students to access (see Appendix C). Instructors could require
students to use this checklist, or something similar, when completing writing
assignments to encourage incorporating the editing and polishing stage of the
Evaluating Student Writing
A common complaint about incorporating additional writing assignments
is the amount of time it takes for instructors to provide individual feedback.
Although a writing course requires more time commitment for the instructor,
the literature recommends a number of options to decrease the time commitment
(e.g., peer editing, freewriting, online modules, short assignments, group work;
Stanford, 1992). As discussed previously in this article, the administrative writing
course incorporated some of these options throughout the semester.
Studies of student peer-editing and peer-reviewing exercises have concluded
with increased results in student writing and editing skills (Cho & Cho, 2011;
Diab, 2010). I incorporated peer editing not only to reinforce editing, grammar,
and APA formatting skills but also to reduce the amount of my editing time.
Students distributed copies of their writing assignment to two classmates and
used the APA-specific editing checklist I created as a guide in the peer-editing
process. I recommend students peer edit at least two other papers and include
the edited drafts with the final paper. Additionally, students worked in groups on
some assignments (i.e., basic grammar, memo, and report assignments); this
activity not only lightened my grading load but also mimicked a real-world task.
Pre- and Post-Test Results
Results from pre- and post-tests over the first four semesters of the course show
an increase of between 14 and 22.6 percentage points in students’ application of
grammatical and formatting rules (Table 1). The pre- and post-tests measured
students’ learning with the rules-based approach and included nine grammar
questions and 11 APA formatting questions. Grammar questions focused on
fragments, comma splices, fused sentences, subject-verb agreement, and pronoun
agreement. The APA style and formatting included test questions on quotations
and quotation marks, in-text citations, capitalization, and punctuation.
C. Connolly Knox
Journal of Public Affairs Education 525
Teaching Grammar and Editing
Spring 2011 Summer 2011 Fall 2011 Spring 2012
Pre- and Post-Test Percentage Increase Results
Although the students’ post-test scores show a measurable increase, there is
room for improvement (Figure 1). One way to increase students’ grammar and
formatting knowledge is modifying the course design. I taught the rules-based
grammar approach during the first 2 weeks of the course; the remaining weeks
implemented the content-based approach. Students complete the post-test during
the final exam review in the second-to-last week of the semester. A lesson learned
is not separating the two approaches, but integrating them throughout the entire
semester. A potential solution is to add mini lessons once a week to review commonly
missed grammar and formatting rules in that week’s assignment (Weaver, 1996).
The first 10 to 15 minutes of class could be set aside for this task and include
questions from students. The following section includes additional recommend-
ations based on pedagogical literature and future research.
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Public administration graduates need to possess well-written, concise, and
audience-centered writing skills as well as understand government and the non-
profit sector’s discourse community. Implementation of the Plain Writing Act of
2010 and the increasing costs of writing training for new employees provide an
opportunity to reevaluate the writing and communication skills of public admin-
istration students as well as the writing requirements for these undergraduate
programs. This article recommends that undergraduate public administration
programs require a technical/administrative writing course in the core curriculum,
whether taught in-house or in another department. This article also discusses the
design of a discipline-specific administrative writing course and related pedagogical
theories. The course design included two approaches to teaching grammar and
writing; however, other approaches are available, including sentence-combining
526 Journal of Public Affairs Education
approach and process approach. Improving the course design and assignments
could increase students’ knowledge and application of grammar, formatting, and
The literature discusses other types of writing exercises (i.e., freewriting,
zero draft, journals) that an administrative writing course could incorporate.
Freewriting can be a non-graded writing assignment allowing students the
opportunity to overcome writer’s block or practice a new grammatical concept,
such as using semicolons to combine short, related sentences. Freewriting
exercises are less stressful, can last 10 to 15 minutes, and are for the student
Although the administrative writing course did not incorporate a writing
portfolio until the second year, students should create a portfolio and self-
reflect on how their writing style and ability change over the semester. As Paulson,
Paulson, and Meyer (1991) explain, portfolios allow students to take ownership
of their learning experience. Writing assignments and feedback from peers and the
instructor are included in the final portfolio. Based on this material, students
reflect and self-assess their progress, specifically their growth as a writer. This
includes listing writing strengths and weaknesses for them to continue working
on after the course ends. Completing a writing portfolio with self-reflection at
the end of the semester allows the instruction and assessment to blend (Paulson
et al., 1991).
Limitations and Future Research
This article had some limitations; namely, the pre- and post-test results
reported on the students’ knowledge of grammar and formatting rules (rules-
based approach) and not on the increase in general writing skills (content-based
approach). Although the course implemented both pedagogical approaches,
future research should measure the effectiveness of students’ use of peer editing
and portfolio techniques on their writing skills. This article focused on the
creation and initial implementation of an undergraduate public administration
writing course, but future research should include intermediate and long-term
outcome measures to test changes in students’ writing skills under the rules-
based and content-based approaches.
Another limitation was that the brief survey to the program directors did
not allow them to elaborate on the learning objectives in the administrative or
technical writing course. Future research could study the commonalities and
differences in learning objectives and class structure of administrative writing
courses implemented in public administration programs. On a related note,
a broader research question based on the survey results in this article should
delve into the effects of an administrative writing course taught within a
public administration program versus in a Business, English, or Communica-
C. Connolly Knox
Journal of Public Affairs Education 527
Teaching Grammar and Editing
1 Grammar and writing resources include Barzun’s Simple & Direct: A Rhetoric for Writers (2001),
Bernstein’s Watch Your Language (1976), William and Colomb’s Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace
(2010), Sabin’s The Gregg Reference Manual: A Manual of Style, Grammar, Usage, and Formatting
(2005), Strunk’s Elements of Style (2012), and Simmons’ Grammar Bytes website: http://www.
2 Obojobo is an interactive online learning system created by the University of Central Florida.
For additional information about this system, see https://obojobo.ucf.edu/
3 For additional information on short assignments and providing student feedback, see Bean (2011).
Thanks to the public administration, public affairs, and public policy program
coordinators and directors who completed the survey. Additionally, I would like to
thank Vanessa Lopez-Littleton, David Dadurka, the anonymous JPAE reviewers,
and the editor for their valuable feedback.
Allison, L., & Williams, M. F. (2008). Writing for the government. New York, NY: Pearson Education.
Barzun, J. (2001). Simple & direct: A rhetoric for writers (4th ed.). New York, NY: HarperCollins.
Bean, J. (2011). Engaging ideas: The professor’s guide to integrating writing, critical thinking, and active
learning in the classroom (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Bernstein, T. M. (1976). Watch your language. New York, NY: Macmillan.
Calkins, L. M. (1980). When children want to punctuate: Basic skills belong in context. Language Arts,
Cho, Y. H., & Cho, K. (2011). Peer reviewers learn from giving comments. Instructional Science, 39(5),
Cleary, R. E. (1990). What do public administration masters programs look like? Do they do what is
needed? Public Administration Review, 50(6), 663–669.
———. (1997, June). From the section chair. SPAE Forum, 7, 1, 9.
Coplin, B. (2003). 10 things employers want you to learn in college: The know-how you need to succeed.
New York, NY: Ten Speed Press.
Denhardt, R. B. (2001). The big questions of public administration education. Public Administration
Review, 61(5), 526–534.
528 Journal of Public Affairs Education
Diab, N. M. (2010). Effects of peer- versus self-editing on students’ revision of language errors in
revised drafts. System, 38(1), 85–95. doi:10.1016/j.system.2009.12.2008
DiStefano, P., & Killion, J. (1984). Assessing writing skills through a process approach. English Education,
Dillman, D. A. (2007). Mail and Internet surveys: The tailored design method (2nd ed.). Hoboken, NJ:
John Wiley & Sons.
Dougherty, G. W., Jr. (2011). A place for undergraduate public administration education. Journal of
Public Affairs Education, 17(3), 325–341.
Glenn, D. (2011, January 18). Writing assignments are scarce for students in two majors at Texas
Colleges. Chronicles of Higher Education, 57(21). Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/article/
Harris, M., & Rowan, K. E. (1989). Explaining grammatical concepts. Journal of Basic Writing, 8(2),
Hasselkus, A. (2010, November 23). Law requires plain writing in federal documents. ASHA Leader,
Hartwell, P. (1985). Grammar, grammars and the teaching of grammar. College English, 47(2), 105–127.
Hines, R., & Basso, J. (2008). Do communication students have the “write stuff ”? Practitioners
evaluate writing skills of entry-level workers. Journal of Promotion Management, 14, 293–307.
Kolln, M., & Gray, L. (2009). Rhetorical grammar: Grammatical choices, rhetorical effects (6th ed.).
New York, NY: Longman.
Law: Waging war on legalese. (1978, January 16). Time. Retrieved from http://www.time.com/time/
Lee, M. (2000). Public information in government organizations: A review and curriculum outline of
external relations in public administration. Public Administration & Management: An Interactive
Journal, 5(4), 214–246.
Londow, D. Z. (1993). Writing in political science: A brief guide to resources. PS: Political Science and
Politics, 26(3), 529–533.
National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA). (1997). Guidelines for
Baccalaureate Degree Programs in Public Affairs/Public Administration. Washington, DC: Author.
———. (n.d.). Undergraduate programs. Retrieved from http://www.naspaa.org/about_naspaa/members/
National Commission on Writing for America’s Families, Schools, and Colleges. (2005). Writing: A
powerful message from state government. College Board. Retrieved from http://www.collegeboard.
Noguchi, R. R. (1991). Grammar and the teaching of writing: Limits and possibilities. Urbana, IL: NCTE.
Northedge, A. (2003). Enabling participation in academic discourse. Teaching in Higher Education,
C. Connolly Knox
Journal of Public Affairs Education 529
Teaching Grammar and Editing
Paulson, F. L., Paulson, P. R., & Meyer, C. A. (1991). What makes a portfolio a portfolio? Educational
Leadership, 48(5), 60–63.
Pincus, J. D. (1997). To get an MBA or an MA in communication? Communication World, 14(3), 31–34.
Plain Writing Act of 2010, H.R. 946, 111th Congress. (2010). Retrieved from http://frwebgate.access.
Quible, Z. K., & Griffin, F. (2007, September/October). Are writing deficiencies creating a lost generation
of business writers? Journal of Education for Business, 83(1), 32–36.
Raphael, D. M., & Nesbary, D. (2005). Getting the message across: Rationale for a strategic communi-
cations course in the public administration curriculum. Journal of Public Affairs Education, 11(2),
Redish, J. C. (1985). The plain English movement. In S. Greenbaum (Ed.), The English Language Today
(pp. 125–138). Oxford, England: Pergamon Institute of English.
Sabin, W. A. (2005). The Gregg Reference Manual: A manual of style, grammar, usage, and formatting
(11th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Simmons, R. L. (n.d.). Grammar Bytes. Retrieved from www.chompchomp.com/menu.htm
Stanford, K. A. (1992). Disarming the hunter: Improving administrative writing in the classroom. PS:
Political Science and Politics, 25(4), 696–699.
Strunk, W., Jr. (2012). Elements of style. New York, NY: Tribeca Books.
Waugh, W. L., Jr., & Manns, E. K. (1991). Communication skills and outcome assessment in public
administration education. In P. J. Bergerson (Ed.), Teaching public policy: Theory, research, and
practice (pp. 133–143). New York, NY: Greenwood.
Weaver, C. (1996). Teaching grammar in the context of writing. English Journal, 85(7), 15–24.
William, J. M., & Colomb, G. G. (2010). Style: Lessons in clarity and grace (10th ed.). New York,
Zeiser, P. A. (1999). Teaching process and product: Crafting and responding to student writing assign-
ments. PS: Political Science & Politics, 32(3), 593–595.
Claire Connolly Knox is an assistant professor and coordinator of the Emergency
Management and Homeland Security Program in the University of Central Florida’s
School of Public Administration. Her research interests include environmental
policy and management, critical theory, and environmental vulnerability and
disaster response. She has published in the Journal of Public Affairs Education,
Public Administration Review, Journal of Environmental Policy and Planning, and
Journal of Emergency Management.
530 Journal of Public Affairs Education
E-mail Survey to Public Administration, Public Affairs, and
Public Policy Programs
You are receiving this short email survey because NASPAA lists your under-
graduate public administration program on its website. I am conducting research
and writing an article about the status of writing course requirements for under-
graduate public administration programs in the U.S. Although I was able to answer
some questions using your department’s website, I would like to confirm this
information with your input. If you could answer the following five questions
at your earliest convenience, I would greatly appreciate it.
Question 1: Does your undergraduate public administration program require an
administrative and/or technical writing course that is separate from any required
lower division general English course? (If yes, please continue to question 2.
If no, please stop here and email your survey response back to me. Thank you
for your time.)
Question 2: Is this administrative and/or technical writing course listed as a
core requirement or as an elective in your program?
Question 3: Is this course taught in the Public Administration Department?
(If yes, continue to question 4; If no, continue to question 5).
Question 4: What is the name and number of the course offered in your
department? For example, PAD 3XXX—Administrative Writing
Question 5: What is the name and number of the course offered in a different
department? For example, ENG 4XXX—Technical Writing or BUS 4XXX—
Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions. If you have any
questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.
C. Connolly Knox
Journal of Public Affairs Education 531
Administrative Writing Course Assignments
Two Grammar Exercise Assignments—Students will complete grammar
worksheets based on material covered in the grammar handout individually and
in class with other students.
Editing Assignment—This individual exercise will test the student’s ability to
simplify wordy phrases and sentences.
Citing with APA and Avoiding Plagiarism Library Module—Students will
complete the library’s Citing with APA and Avoiding Plagiarism modules in the
Obojobo system and complete the assessment quiz individually. If you
completed this module for a previous class, you cannot import your grade for
Library Assignment—The librarian will distribute a worksheet that will test
your ability to search and locate books, journals, and journal articles on the
library’s online database systems.
Grant Assignment—The website link to the Corporation for National and
Community Service grant application is www.nationalservice.gov/pdf/10_0430_
ncbp_nofa_final Using the proposal guidelines, create a detailed outline to
help you write a competitive grant proposal. Complete the following tasks:
a. Search the proposal guidelines for mention of particular
sections that the proposal reviewers would expect to see.
These sections will serve as section headers in your proposal.
b. After you have identified the sections, arrange the sections in
your proposal outline in the same order that they appear in
the proposal guidelines.
c. Under each section, brainstorm or list the data or evidence
that you believe proposal reviewers will find persuasive. For
example, under the “program design” section, jot down a list
of important facts about your organization or project that
would give the proposal audience the background
information that they would need.
d. Make a list of forms or attachments that you are required to
include in the proposal.
e. If available, consult proposal writing resources listed on the
funding agency’s website for help with unfamiliar terminology
in the proposal guidelines or on forms (Allison & Williams,
2008, p. 151).
Teaching Grammar and Editing
532 Journal of Public Affairs Education
In Class: Memo Assignment—“In groups of three or four, use the Toulmin
model to write a one-to-two-page, double-spaced policy memorandum that argues
for at least one major change to your course syllabus” (Allison & Williams, 2008,
p. 105). You will submit two items: a diagrammed model of your argument and
a policy memorandum.
Rules Assignment: Part 1—“Go to www.regulations.gov and find a proposed rule
that allows you to submit a public comment to a proposed rule online [the
public comment period needs to be open through the end of the semester]. Select
a proposed rule that you have some stake in and would therefore be considered a
stakeholder” (Allison & Williams, 2008, p. 57). Print out the first page of the
proposed rule and highlight the end date of the public comment period (worth
one of the five points for this assignment). Part 2—First, in two to three sentences
explain who is the audience and potential stakeholder for the rule. Second, respond
to the proposed rule with a 150 to 200 word (maximum) public comment and
consider the following questions: “Do you agree with the rule? Is it clear? Your
comment can be complimentary or critical, but it must be professional and well
written. Your comment can also be in response to the content of the rule and/or
the way the rule is written” (Allison & Williams, 2008, p. 57). Before submitting
your assignment, we will discuss all comments in class. You are not required to
submit your comment on www.regulations.gov, but it is a great opportunity to
participate in the democratic process.
Press Release Assignment—Students will write a one-page press release for a real
or fake event or announcement. If you volunteer with an organization, this is a
great opportunity to create a press release for an upcoming event. Grading will
focus on proper press release formatting, correct use of the inverted pyramid, and
In Class: Report Writing—Experts are the intended audience for Figure 6.8
CDC Influenza Weekly Report, which includes “language and statistics that most
non-expert audiences would not understand. In a group, identify a non-expert
audience (elementary school teachers, school principles, day care workers, etc.)”
who would find the report useful (Allison & Williams, 2008, p. 128). Then, re-
write the CDC report as a one-page, single-spaced document to your identified
non-expert audience, while considering the following questions:
a. What information is important to this audience?
b. What type of evidence (statistics, stories, examples) might this
audience need to understand the report?
c. Is the tone and word choice in the original report appropriate
for the new audience?
d. What information needs to be deleted or left out of the report?
e. What information needs to be added for this audience?
f. What constraints might make rewriting this report for a new
audience difficult? (Allison & Williams, 2008, p. 128).
C. Connolly Knox
Journal of Public Affairs Education 533
Website Evaluation Assignment—Go online and review government or non-
profit websites. Then choose one website to evaluate for this assignment. You will
apply the principles of audience-centered writing and evaluate the cultural context,
and will complete the assignment in an essay format (third person) with the
following five sections:
what features make you think it is inviting or not?
audience (such as acronyms)? If it does, provide some examples.
(Allison & Williams, 2008, p. 198).
features, and do you think users would recognize them and be able to
use them naturally without hesitating to think about them?
for the user? (Allison & Williams, 2008, p. 198).
d. Cultural Context:
technological aspects do you believe contribute to the usefulness of the
site (or it not being useful)? For instance, is the site accessible for the
disabled? Does it have features for non-native English speakers? What
kinds of technological features does it offer? Do those help communicate
its messages or get in their way? How so?
attribute to that change?
If it is a federal government site, does the site include the various recommend
ations listed on the ICGI checklist in Figure 8.28? (Allison & Williams,
2008, p. 198).
Teaching Grammar and Editing
534 Journal of Public Affairs Education
Editing Techniques and Advice
This handout is a short checklist of common grammatical and formatting errors
made by undergraduate and graduate students. All of the page numbers reference
APA Style Guide 6th Edition. Although this handout provides APA-specific guide-
lines for editing your document, always follow any specific requirements set forth
by your professor.
A correctly formatted cover page (p. 23).
Heading and page numbers are required at the top of each page,
including the cover page.
All margins are 1 inch. Word 2007 and 2010 default to 1.25 inches.
Do not include extra spacing between paragraphs. This is another
common default in Word.
Use a font size of 12 and Times New Roman style throughout the
Avoid one-sentence paragraphs.
Avoid one-page paragraphs (each paragraph should be four to five
Include section headings to guide your reader through your document
Do not orphan headings or sentences at the bottom of a page.
Everything in the document is double spaced, including the references.
References start on a separate page and sources are listed alphabetically
Check for Plagiarism (Ch. 6)
Include in-text citations for all paraphrased material
(Table 6.1 on p. 177). For example, (Brown, 2010).
Include these sources in the reference list. All sources cited
in your document have to be in your reference list.
In-text citation with page or paragraph number, as well
as quotation marks, is required for all direct quotes.
For example, (Brown, 2010, p. 45).
If your direct quote is more than 40 words, then make it
into a block quote (p. 171).
Include this source in the reference list.
C. Connolly Knox
Journal of Public Affairs Education 535
Check for Sentence Structure
Avoid writing in the first person (e.g., I, me, us, you, we).
Write in third person.
Avoid starting a sentence with a conjunction (e.g., and, or, but),
number, acronym, or “because” in professional writing.
Avoid using contractions (e.g., can’t, don’t, won’t, shouldn’t) in
Use action verbs, check for subject-verb agreement, and use the
correct verb tense (pp. 77–79).
Avoid slang or clichés (e.g., benefit of the doubt, dime a dozen,
fell on deaf ears).
Write concisely by removing duplicating words and/or phrases
(e.g., small in size, brief in duration, a total of 152 participants)
Use concrete words instead of abstractions (i.e., an “animal” could
be a cat, dog, bear, tiger, or horse).
Clarify all pronouns by including the antecedent near the referencing
pronoun. Avoid starting a sentence with “this,” “that,” “it,” “these,”
or “those” without including the antecedent (pp. 79–80).
Use correct punctuation (Ch. 4).
Spell out an acronym the first time you use it in a document and
then place the acronym in parentheses, such as Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) (p. 107).
Fix all run-on sentences in one of these ways:
create two separate sentences,
link two independent clauses (clauses that are complete sentences)
with a semicolon,
combine independent clauses with a comma and coordinating
conjunction (e.g., and, but, or, nor, yet, so, for), or
subordinate one of the independent clauses by using a subordi-
nating conjunction (e.g., before, unless, whenever, while, whether).
Last but not least…
Read your paper backwards. This old journalism trick works well.
Many times we memorize our document by repeatedly reading it
from start to finish. By reading the last sentence, and then the
sentence before the last sentence, each sentence stands out. This
method allows you to read this document like it is the first time.
Always have someone else read over your paper. They do not need to
be a subject-matter expert, but another person can catch the missing
verb in a sentence or an unclear pronoun.
After printing the final paper, review it again. Sometimes headings
get orphaned and/or margins get reset that can affect the final format
of the document.
Teaching Grammar and Editing
536 Journal of Public Affairs Education
Website and Book References
Here are selected websites available to students learning and applying APA
citation and formatting guidelines:
APA website: http://apastyle.org/
OWL website: http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/560/01/
Additionally, here are selected references and websites to use for
Sabin, W. A. (2005). The Gregg Reference Manual: A Manual of Style,
Grammar, Usage, and Formatting (11th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.
Grammar Review Website:
C. Connolly Knox
Copyright of Journal of Public Affairs Education is the property of National Association of
Schools of Public Affairs & Administration and its content may not be copied or emailed to
multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holder’s express written permission.
However, users may print, download, or email articles for individual use.