Sample Professional Writing Course Assignments


From ENG 517 -Professional Editing [Handout]
Northern Arizona University/Course Catalogue Description: Theory and practice of editing business and professional documents in several media: print, electronic, and internet documents.

 Scenario A:

An 8th grade History teacher, Ms. O’Connor, at Lincoln Middle School has always taught the Gettysburg address during the middle of November. As one of the most famous, and most important speeches in the history of the United States, she never worried how much of it her students understood. Simply introducing it as an important speech, by an important president was enough for her. That is until last year. After class she heard her students in the hallway talking about how “stupid” that Lincoln’s speech was, “like it makes any sense.”

At the faculty meeting, she mentioned her disappointment to the vice principle, Mr. Olson. He agreed immediately just how important it was to teach the speech every year. Ms. O’Connor, however, mentioned that she was thinking about writing an age appropriate version of the speech so, “the kids would be less intimidated by the speech, and the language of the speech.” Mr. Olson was taken aback. He thought it was improper to change such a perfect, historical oration. Ms. O’Connor assured him that she would always hand out the original manuscript, but wanted to hand out a second document with the revised writing, and age-appropriate language.

Mr. Olson, always one to respect the dedication and opinion of his teachers, relented. But, he said, “I want to send it to my cousin at Bainbridge Editing and Publishing House. If we are going to do this, we are going to do it right and offer the professionally edited, age-appropriate manuscript out as an option for all History and English teachers this year.”

You are the editor at BEPH. This task has fallen on your desk. You were just hired a few weeks ago. And this, in fact, is your first real opportunity. The task came, however, with the original Gettysburg Address, and a few procedural instructions.


I. Historical Manuscript:

President Abraham Lincoln
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
November 19, 1863

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.


II. BEPH Instructions:

1. Copy and Paste the “Gettysburg Address” (from above) into the (free, online) text analysis tool at:

2. Hit “Calculate”

3. Study the breakdown as follows, which should be:


The number of major punctuation marks, eg. [.], was 10
The number of words was 278
The number of 3+ syllable words, highlighted in blue, was 19

The Fog-Index tool suggests that “You can edit the numbers above and recalculate.” As such, if you change, for example, the number of punctuation marks, you might be able to lower the “Fog Index” calculation. Typically, shorter sentences (as one example) and therefore simpler sentences lead to a lower “Fog Index” score. This is an inexact tool, but also a helpful one. It is not always the case, for example, if you use more, or fewer words that a specific manuscript either does, or does not become easier to read. Finally, notice the multiple syllable word count (those highlighted in blue). All of these characteristics of the text can be edited as per the instructions below; however, for this assignment “You can edit the text above and recalculate.” Your goal -to get to an 8th grade reading level- is to get the “Fog Index” score to an “8”. According to common view:

Wikipedia: The Gunning fog index measures the readability of English writing. The fog index is commonly used to confirm that text can be read easily by the intended audience. The index estimates the years of formal education needed to understand the text on a first reading. A fog index of 12 requires the reading level of a U.S. high school senior (around 18 years old). Texts for a wide audience generally need a fog index less than 12. Texts requiring near-universal understanding generally need an index less than 8.

Fog Index

Reading level by grade


College graduate


College senior


College junior


College sophomore


College freshman


High school senior


High school junior


High school sophomore


High school freshman


Eighth grade


Seventh grade


Sixth grade

The 8th grade reading level will give Ms. Olson’s students a reading challenge, without necessarily frustrating, or limiting their understanding of the original text. But make sure, as best you can to:

•                retain the original tone

•                match, as closely as possible, tenor and meaning

•                feel free to shorten sentences as necessary

•                in short, stay as true to the original intent/meaning, etc. while improving overall readability and lowering the Fog Index Score

•                if you have to do background research to accomplish these goals, feel free to do so as necessary, but have this finished within the week (8 days)

•                do not worry about providing addition information, etc. for Mr. Olson, only focus on the historical manuscript itself

And finally (also important):

•                make sure both the original and revised manuscript fit on one page (and are smartly presented)

•                and, in a narrative written to me (Mr. Five-Seventeen) explain (in as much detail as necessary) why/how you decided on the word/punctuation, stylistic changes that you did

•                include in this narrative what you feel strongest about, and any aspects with which you considered alternatives (wording, etc.)

•                include the re-calculated “Fog Index” score (as calculated by cutting/pasting your final revised text into the  online tool:

•                submit this (as usual) as a post to the company “Discussion Board”

•                finally, use anything from the Rude “Technical Editing” training manual that we provided on your first day of work



From ENG 517 -Professional Editing [Handout]
Northern Arizona University/Course Catalogue Description: Theory and practice of editing business and professional documents in several media: print, electronic, and internet documents.



*Note, the following situation is fictional, created specifically for this exercise.


Read the publishing scenario below in detail.

Use the “Publishing Teams” linked on the right, you will work collaboratively to write, edit, and publish this document (as a discussion board post). So three of you will work together to post one carefully written and published document.

Identify a publishing team-leader to help organize the roles (writer, editor, even content supervisor), deadlines, and the processes you will use to finish this document in a timely fashion.

In addition to writing, editing, and publishing the “Biking in Flagstaff” guide, you must publish a second document which captures the details and key highlights of the process of producing this document. What, as a team, or in writing and editing, did you find difficult, interesting, or worth documenting across this process? Give the class a chance to read through the issues of interest. Use previous readings of the Rude text to help with this. What of the Rude text is useful? Incorporate this in your process description post. (30 points)

Post (embed, or attach) both these documents in the Discussion Board Forum as usual.


October 4th, 2011


The Flagstaff police department recently hired a police chief, Lars Vandeerik, who for 20 years lived and worked in Holland. Due to the number of bicyclists in Holland, the Dutch tend to enforce bike safety and bicycle traffic laws much more rigorously than in the United States. When he took the job, Chief Vandeerik held a special training seminar for all traffic police in Flagstaff emphasizing better and more consistent enforcement of the codes and regulations of bicycle riding within the city limits.

At first, nobody noticed. But over time, it became clear to parents with students at Flagstaff High School (home of the screaming eagles), that more and more of their kids were being stopped, warned, and fined for bicycle infringements. Several parents called the police department to inquire about the trend, but other than some friendly conversations and a confirmation that bicycle safety was indeed very important, that did not lead to many explanations, nor immediate solutions.

After several meetings, a very engaged parent Sally Stamway started the “Parents for Better Biking” (PBB). Her work within PBB resulted in a parent-driven initiative to develop and post a “Safe Biking in Flagstaff” information guide to help alleviate the problem. After obtaining permission from the principal to post this guide throughout the high school, Sally and principal John Browning set to composing the informative guide. After some discussion, they realized that they needed to find and consult the official Flagstaff city codes for bicycle riding.

Read the City of Flagstaff’s Official Codes for Bicycle Traffic: [PDF Format] Code.Title09.Traffic.pdf ; [Word Doc] Code.Title09.Traffic.doc .

Knowing that most of the warnings and fines had come from Flagstaff High School students riding bikes around the busy downtown district, Sally and John set to reviewing the codes and fashioning the “Safe Biking in Flagstaff” guide for the FHS students. Their goal was to highlight key infringements from the code to prevent, or at least minimize the number of their high school students that would be stopped or fined for code-violations.

Instructions: Using any reading of Rude (Cook/Zinsser) to inform your work and the documents provided, create Director of “Parents for Better Biking” Sally Stamway and Principal of Flagstaff High School John Brownings’ “Safe Biking in Flagstaff” guide to be posted throughout the high school for the student audience.

Make sure to pull-forth aspects of the context described above, and to write to and for busy and easily-distracted students as your audience.

This “guide” should be 2 pages (how much information, and what kind of language do you want to use) and readable for students passing in hallways.

Supplemental: You might start by looking at samples of instructional brochures, or similar types of documents for organizational, content, and visual leads. Although I wouldn’t expect something as “fancy” as the following, consider, for example: Sample A