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Programs and Services

Communication Skills for Academics (15.289)

Course Description and Objectives

Your success as an academic will depend heavily on your ability to communicate--to fellow researchers in your discipline, to colleagues in your department and university, to undergraduate and graduate students, and perhaps even to the public at large. Communicating well in an academic setting depends not only on following the basic rules that govern all good communication (for example, tailoring the message to meet the needs of a specific audience), but also on adhering to the particular norms of academic genres.

The purpose of this course, then, is twofold. First, it is to acquaint you with guidelines that will help you create well-crafted academic communication. Second, it is to give you the opportunity to practice your communication skills and to receive extensive feedback from both the instructor and your colleagues.


There are four requirements in this course, weighted as follows:

Written Assignment 30% (e.g., journal article, grant proposal)
Oral Presentation 30% (e.g., conference presentation, job talk)
Classroom Teaching 25%
Class Participation 15%

Written and Oral Assignment: You are encouraged to use your own research as the basis for the first two assignments. In fact, if you are currently preparing a journal article, grant proposal, conference paper and/or job talk, you may use that work to fulfill assignments in this class.

Teaching: In consultation with members of the faculty, arrangements will be made for you to teach one class at Sloan. (Again, this class should be in your area of interest.) The class will be videorecorded, and I will review the recording with you.

Class Participation: Class attendance and participation are extremely important because you will be giving each other feedback on your work. (See "Practicing Skills . . ." below.) In addition, there will be short exercises to do during some classes. Please make every effort to attend class each week.

Practicing Skills, Receiving Feedback

As you will see from the attached class outline, we will discuss five types of academic communication during the semester: journal articles, grant proposals, interviews, conference papers and job talks.

But much of the class will be devoted to giving you an opportunity to practice those genres and getting feedback on your work: that is, you will submit a journal article or research grant, and present a conference paper or job talk (or portion thereof, depending on time restraints) for review. Each member of the class is expected to provide critical feedback on the work submitted by his/her classmates.

The remaining class sessions will be concerned with issues relating to teaching.


The text for this course is The Compleat Academic, edited by Mark P. Zanna and John M. Darley (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1987). It is available at the COOP. Although we will only be reading selected portions of this text, I strongly recommend the entire book for an excellent description of how to manage a career in academia.

Two other books that you might want to have in your library are:

Style: Toward Clarity and Grace by Joseph M. Williams. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1990)

Teaching Tips: A Guidebook for the Beginning College Teacher by Wilbert J. McKeachie (Lexington, MA: D. C. Heath and Company, 1994)

Both are available at the COOP.

From: Communication Skills for Academics Course

Course Outline (example; dates may vary)

Jan. 28 Course Overview; Basic Communication Skills
(Determining a Strategy, Listening, Giving Feedback)

Feb. 4 Oral Presentations: The Job Talk
Read: Zanna and Darley, pp. 8-11, 16-17

Feb. 11 Oral Presentations: The Conference Paper; Answering Questions

Feb. 18 Writing: Getting Published; Structure (Macro Level)
Read: Zanna and Darley, chapter 8 (you might also want to take a look at chapter 5)

Feb. 25 Writing: Structure (Micro Level); Tone
Read: Zanna and Darley, chapter 1

March 4 Writing Workshop

March 11 Teaching: "The Classroom as Microcosm of the World"

March 18 NO CLASS


April 1 Teaching: Managing Discussions, Using Cases
Read: Zanna and Darley, pp. 97-112

April 8 Teaching: Tips on Preparing Syllabi, Lecturing, Creating Assignments and Exams, Grading
Read: Zanna and Darley, pp. 87-96

April 15 The Job Search: Writing Resumes and Cover Letters; Interviewing
Read: Zanna and Darley, chapter 1

April 22 Researching and Writing Grant Proposals
Read: Zanna and Darley, chapter 7

April 29 Writing Workshop

May 6 Course Wrap-Up

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