Samples of student work

The following examples were obtained with permission from students who took CommSkills during the 1998-99 academic year. Of course, the writing is typical of freshmen, but the second essay reveals the more complex writing style of a second-semester student.

Heather's Essay        Susan's Essay

Reflection—Communication Skills I
Dec. 1998
Student: Heather

What determines how well you do in a class? A final grade may not be a true indicator of your progress. During the semester, I have set goals, achieved goals, and reevaluated goals; these aspects are the true indicators of how well I really did.

Beginning in August, we set writing, speaking, and behavioral goals to guide us through the semester and serve as a reference point for evaluation. One of my writing goals was to take more time with my writing, which I have accomplished. I have noticed an improvement in my writing when I take the time to proof read and revise. Also, I have truly adopted the writing process. Before I would sit at the computer, write, print, and turn in an assignment. Now, I use all of the steps in the process, and my writing is advancing because of this. Since the class has had only one opportunity to give a speech, I have not yet achieved all of my goals. I know that I still need to work on pace and gestures next semester. Finally, I have seen the greatest improvement in my behavioral goals. When the semester began, I found myself making poor decisions about school vs. fun. Now I know what I have to do, and the word "procrastination" is no longer in my vocabulary.

In the future, there are still many goals I would like to work on. Writing is the most important and requires the most time. My biggest problem is grammar, but I can fix this problem by studying my mistakes in returned papers. Secondly, I want to be a competent speaker. This requires fine-tuning the little things: speaking slowly, avoiding catch phrases, and making more eye contact. All of these skills will come with practice. Finally, continuing my behavioral progress is important to me. If I continue to avoid procrastination, all of the other goals will fall into place.

My overall progress in this class has been inconsistent. The class began strong, and I thought it would be simple. The introduction memo allowed me to tell about my background and attitudes. As the semester progressed I got distracted, and my work reflected this. What caught my interest again was the Einstein's Dreams project. I could relate to the book because there are so many passages that define me and who I am. Finally, the reflection essay is a great tool for evaluation. I had the opportunity to look at what I have accomplished and see what still needs improvement. These three projects are those that kept my interest in the class.

The Communication Skills class is one that I look forward to again next semester. My attitude has completely changed since the beginning of the semester. I went to class feeling that it had no relevancy to what I needed; I thought it would be a waste of time. About half way through the semester, I began paying attention in class and taking more time with my writing. Then I realized that the content of this class is practical and necessary for survival in the business world.

Heather's Essay        Susan's Essay

Reflection– Communication Skills II
May 1999

Throughout the semester, the variety of presentations I gave and assignments I wrote spurred the development of my communication skills, providing me with a greater confidence in my abilities. My writing, speaking, and research abilities greatly improved with increased practice, effort, and knowledge gained during the course.

With each writing assignment, I learned new techniques and skills, which improved my abilities to develop my ideas thoroughly, to write clearly, and to organize my papers effectively. At the beginning of the semester, while I knew the meaning of the MAP* acronym, I mostly used it in speaking, rather than in writing. Because of this, my writing appeared less clear, less organized, and less focused on one topic, so my papers did not flow as smoothly from one paragraph to the next. Secondly, I was unfamiliar with the specific techniques used when writing a research paper. For instance, other classes did not require me to incorporate a visual into my writing or express my credibility as a writer. Assessing the quality of my writing this semester, I notice vast improvements in several of these areas. By focusing on my MAP decisions in the preliminary stages of writing, I know ahead of time my audience and my message. As a result, my papers are clear, and I remain on topic. Using transitions more effectively also helps my writing flow better. In my critical analysis essay, these transitions and improved organization made the essay easy to follow from one topic to the next. Preliminary work, such as MAP decisions and prewriting, also enabled me to express my thoughts more clearly and learn how to develop my ideas. In my papers on Einstein's Dreams, I used stories from the book and incorporated my ideas about them in a clear manner. By the end of the semester, I also learned how to incorporate research and visuals into my papers, and then how to explain their relationship to my ideas. This added support and credibility to my writing.

Just as my writing abilities improved over the semester, my speaking abilities also improved, providing me with more comfort and confidence when giving presentations. In the beginning, I had never prepared a researched presentation and knew very little about the components that would make this type of presentation successful. Therefore, I experienced some nervousness because the task was so new to me. Secondly, I knew of no existing rules for designing and using transparencies as effective visuals. Finally, my delivery strategies in the beginning lacked polish and refinement. I thought that in order to have good eye contact with the audience, I could barely use my note card; therefore, I used it very little. In order to connect with more of the audience, I tried to move around when speaking, but this movement felt unnatural and awkward. Over the semester, however, I developed more comfort in giving researched presentations and preparing transparencies, and became more adept at delivery strategies. Using the first group researched presentation as a model, I greatly improved my second researched presentation, a persuasive speech. I cited my sources throughout the speech and felt more comfortable while speaking. Additionally, with rules such as the "7 by 7 Rule,"** I learned how transparencies should look in order to convey the most effective and clear message to the audience. Despite this, I still need to work on using these transparencies correctly in my speech, ensuring that they remain in the correct order for the presentation. Finally, I increased the effectiveness of my delivery techniques after reviewing critique sheets and other feedback from the class to discover my strengths and weaknesses. In my persuasive presentation, the last speech of the semester, movement became very natural for me, rather than just an awkward attempt. I also realized that I could use my note cards and still have eye contact with the audience, an important delivery strategy in the success of researched presentations. Even after this progress, I still need to work on improving my facial expressions and continuing to smile when I speak. Although I have much room for improvement, these first few steps will guide me toward success.

Not only did my writing and speaking skills improve, but also my research techniques, which remain important for both writing and speaking. In high school, I learned the MLA formats for bibliographies and parenthetical citations, so at the beginning of the semester, I knew only this format. Secondly, I did not know about any of the resources offered by the Virginia Tech library, where to locate anything in the library, or how to use the library databases. After preparing for both the group informative presentation and my persuasive speech, I learned the correct format for the APA style for bibliographies and parenthetical citations. My role as the research director for our group presentation assisted me in mastering this style which then enabled me to cite my sources correctly in my persuasion report. In this report, I also related the parenthetical citations to the bibliography, demonstrating my credibility as the writer. Additionally, my abilities to find the research I needed progressed as I discovered many resources offered by the Virginia Tech library. I gained skills in electronic research both on my own computer and on the library computers, using their databases. While I do know more about the library than I did, I still have plenty of information left to learn. The library offers many resources which I do not know how to use and which would provide me with a better variety of sources for speeches or reports. Many times, I overuse Internet sources rather than seeking different types of research.

Throughout the semester, all of the writing, speaking, and research skills I developed strengthened my confidence in these areas and will aid me in achieving my goals for the future. My writing style and format became much more polished and organized, and I developed more effective research strategies for finding and citing sources. In addition, I progressed from an inexperienced beginning speaker to a confident speaker with the appropriate knowledge to design effective presentations. Having confidence in my abilities to use these skills to communicate effectively with others will act as a determining factor as I seek success in college and employment opportunities in the field of accounting information systems. The skills I developed in this course provide me with a quality background for communication. With more practice and assessment of my strengths and weaknesses, I can continue improving upon my abilities to become an excellent communicator in the future.

* "Preston MAP Strategy"—Use of a MAP to guide writing decisions: message, audience, purpose

** 7x7 Rule—Guideline for the design of overheads: maximum of 7 words per line or 7 lines per overhead

Introduction   |   The Final Exam    |    Sample student essays   |  An outline of the courses' syllabi  |