MCom 100w

Writing Workshop


This page details the blog posts and outside writing assignments you will complete for this class. You’ll find a list of scheduled in-class exercises at the bottom of this page. Note: All in-class writing exercises and some blog posts will be graded Credit/No Credit.

Assignments may change to accommodate student needs and instructor inspiration. Any changes will be in red. You will be notified by email and in class of any significant changes.

Blog Posts

Word of the Week (10 words, 5 points each = 50 points): Add 10 new words to your vocabulary — one per week, starting in the second week of class. For this assignment, you can use any word that’s new to you … from a book, newspaper, magazine or web site. Note: Words that refer to diseases or medical conditions are not eligible. (CLO 8 )

Please use this format:

Blog post title: Word #1, etc.
1.    Your word
2.   Provide the sentence in which you found this word and where you read it (the source).
3.    Provide the dictionary definition for this word, including the part of speech (noun, verb, etc.).
4.    Use this word in your own sentence. Your sentence should make it clear that you understand the meaning of this word and how to use it.

Blog Post #1 – All About Me (200 words, 10 points): Set up your blog, then tell me a bit about yourself: Your background, your major, your professional aspirations … your strengths and weaknesses as a writer … and maybe what you like to do in your spare time (if you have any). (CLO 11)

Blog 2 – Your Favorite Writing (200 words, 10 points): Select a short piece of writing you enjoy and admire, and explain why you like it and why you think it’s an example of good writing. It can be any kind of writing: news, fiction, non-fiction, ad copy, poetry — whatever appeals to you. Be sure to include source information (author, publication, etc.), and be sure to explain why you think this piece is well written. (CLO 6, 9)

Blog 3 – A Fly on the Wall (250 words, 10 points): Go out into the world, pick an interesting spot, observe your surroundings, and take copious notes. Think in terms of all five senses: sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. If applicable, feel free to include bits of overheard conversations. Later, review your notes and decide which details are the most “telling” – that is, which would most help a reader visualize the scene. Use those details to write your “Fly on the Wall” vignette. If you can give it the feel of a very short story, that’s even better. (CLO 8)

Blog 4 – What Makes It News? (150 words, 10 points): Pick a recent national or regional news story that you think is significant. (No celebrity news, please.) Write one paragraph summarizing your story, noting where you read/saw/heard it. Then write a second paragraph identifying the news values that make this story newsworthy. Finally, consider how you could localize this story for a Bay Area audience, and write a third paragraph suggesting how to localize this story. Please come to class prepared to share your story and your analysis of its news values. (CLO 5, 6, 7)

Blog 5 – Mystery Character (50-100 words, 10 points): Your mystery character can be any well-known entertainer, athlete or politician — someone living or dead — even fictional. The catch? You must describe your mystery character without actually saying who it is. Instead, make your description do the work by using details that will help readers recognize your character from your description alone. You may want to show how your character moves, sounds, gestures, talks, dresses — focus on the most telling details. Omit any personal or professional information that would be a “dead giveaway” for your mystery character. Remember, I’ll be looking for description, not biography. (CLO 8)

Blog 6 – NPR Radio interview analysis (350 words, 25 points): Listen to and analyze an interview on an NPR (National Public Radio) program such as Fresh Air or All Things Considered. The interview you listen to should be at least 10 minutes long, preferably 20-30 minutes. (CLO 3, 6, 7, 8, 11)

In your analysis, please consider the following:

  • What did the interviewer know about the subject before the interview?
  • Did the interviewer appear to have a strategy? What kinds of questions did the interviewer ask? How did the interviewer build up to questions?
  • Were there any inadequate or evasive answers? If so, how were they handled?
  • What was the apparent relationship between the interviewer and interviewee?
  • What did you learn about interviewing from this interview?

Blog 7 – Drinking Coffee Elsewhere (250 words, 15 points): Read a short story from Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by Z.Z. Packer (one copy is on reserve at the MLK Library, or you can read the title story online at, then write a blog post discussing Packer’s story-telling techniques, such as her use of quotes/dialogue, anecdotes, description/scene-setting, similes and metaphors, etc. (CLO 3, 6, 8)

Blog 8 – IMHO (In My Humble Opinion) (350 words, 15 points): For this assignment, you’ll pick a current news story that really get you fired up and write a 350-word blog post. Of course, to make your opinion pieces credible, you’ll need to be organized and back up your points … not just rant. That means you’ll need to do some research and provide links to the original article and to any other sources you use. (CLO 1, 7)

Blog 9 – Fish Out of Water (350-500 words, 25 points): Attend a political, cultural, or social event focused on a racial, ethnic or social group to which you do not belong, and write a description of the event, including an analysis of the experience of being an outsider. Consult the Spartan Daily, local newspapers, bulletin boards, etc., for free events. You may attend an event with a classmate, but you should each write your own essay. Be sure to include a short summary of the event so readers can learn about the event as well as your response to it. (CLO 3, 6, 8)

Blog 10 – Japanese Internment Memorial essay (500 words, 25 points): Before our field trip to the Japanese Internment Memorial, you’ll need to do some online research and find answers to the following questions:

  • What was the Japanese Internment and why did it happen?
  • What happened locally (San Jose) during the internment? How did SJSU factor in?
  • Who is Ruth Asawa? How are her experiences reflected in the memorial?
  • Consider: Do you think something like this could happen again?

During the field trip, take notes on the vignettes at the memorial. You’ll write an essay incorporating some background information from your research and describing two or three of the vignettes you found most compelling. Draw upon your research to explain their significance.  Feel free to add your own perspective. You may want to conclude your essay by answering the last question: Do you think something like this could happen again? (CLO 3, 5, 7, 11)

Outside Writing Assignments

Copy Edit the World: (30 points) Improve your copy-editing skills by finding and correcting errors in published materials. (Submit as hard copies or post on blog; see class schedule for due dates) (CLO 8, 9)

1.   Resume & Cover Letter (40 points): Scan internship or employment listings (newspaper,,, jmc blog) for the kind of job you’d like for this summer or when you graduate. Write a cover letter (approx. 150 words) and one-page resume applying for the most interesting position. Staple a copy of the job or internship description to your letter and resume. (Submit as a hard copy; do not post on your blog) (CLO 5, 8, 9)

2.   News Story – “Apples” (200-250 words, 25 points): Write a 4-6 paragraph news story. Remember, your lead should contain most of the 5Ws and 1H and be about 25-30 words (no more than 35). All of your paragraphs should be short — just one or two sentences long. Include some quotes, if possible — make your quote a separate paragraph. (Submit this assignment as a hard copy; do not post on your blog.) (CLO 5, 8)

3.  Library Scavenger Hunt (350-400 words, 20 points). Submit as a hard copy; do not post on your blog. (CLO 7, 11)

4.   Scholarly Journal Article Summary #1 (250 words, 15 points each): Locate a scholarly journal article that is at least eight pages long. It can be on any topic that interests you (even better, find an article that is related to the topic of your final feature so you can use it for that assignment too). Be sure the article is not a review or summary, since that is what I’m asking you to do. (Submit as a hard copy; do not post on your blog.)

Read the journal article and summarize it in your own words. Your opening paragraph should identify the title of the article, the author(s), where it was published, and the topic. In subsequent paragraphs, summarize the major points of this article. Please staple a copy of your journal article’s abstract (or its first page) to your summary so I can check it out. (CLO 7, 8, 11)

5.   Query Letter (150-200 words, 25 points): Write a query or “pitch” letter to me, pitching me on your story idea for your final feature or trend story (see #10 below). Think about what kind of publication might be interested in your story idea, and write your query letter as if you were going to send it to an editor at that publication. Craft an attention-getting lead, then provide some more information on your story, your resources and your qualifications to write it. Remember to close your query letter with a “call to action.” (Submit as a hard copy; do not post on your blog.) Note: You must get my OK of your topic before you proceed with your final feature or trend story. (CLO 7, 8, 9)

6.  Classmate Profile: (350-500 words, 50 points) Interview a classmate and write a short profile of that person. During your interview, listen for interesting themes to help make your profile read like a short story, not a dry biography. Be sure to include some direct quotes (using appropriate quote format), description and telling details. Remember to observe and describe … show me your classmate, don’t just tell me about him or her. (Submit as a hard copy; do not post on your blog.) (CLO 3, 5, 6, 7, 8)

7.  Scholarly Journal Article Summary #2 (250 words, 15 points): See #5 for assignment details. (CLO 7, 8, 11)

8. Choose your assignment: (20 points) You can either a) Write a letter to the editor (post on your blog) or b) attend the Spuler Integrated Communications Summit and write a news release on the keynote presentation (blog or hard copy). Your letter to the editor should be approximately 150 words and be directed to a specific local newspaper. Your Spuler news release should be 250-350 words.

9.  Advertising Analysis (250 words, 20 points): Find a full-page advertisement in a magazine (please attach a copy), and use the following factors to analyze it:

  • Study the magazine and the ad to determine some basic information about the intended target audience, such as age, gender, education, income level, and marital status.
  • Next, describe the advertisement’s key message(s). Is it information rich and directed at an involved audience, or does it feature more peripheral qualities, such as graphics or pictures, to attract a less-involved audience? Is there a source (celebrity or expert) in the advertisement? If so, why do you think the source might influence the target audience? (CLO 3, 5, 7, 8)

10.   Final Feature: (175 points, as noted below) This feature or trend story is your major outside writing project for this class; you must successfully complete this assignment to pass the class. (CLO 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11)

In addition to Assignment #6 – Query Letter (described above), this project has five key deliverables, as follows:

  • A brief Progress Report Memo (15 points, see my memo on writing memos for the format) on your final feature or trend story. In the opening paragraph, briefly restate your topic and approach. Then note who you’ve interviewed to date for this story (or who you plan to interview) and any outside/secondary resources (e.g., related news articles or scholarly journal articles, data sources) that you’ve found for use in this story.
  • A rough draft of your feature or trend story and sidebar for peer editing (10 points; see class schedule for due date; bring two copies to class for “peer & prof” review). 
  • Your final feature or trend story (100 points; 1,000-1,250 words = 4-5 pages, double-spaced). Your story should begin with an attention-getting lead, and be well organized, accurate, clear and an interesting read. It must be well-sourced, with quotes and information from a minimum of three primary sources (people you interviewed) and at least one secondary source (previously published information, preferably from a scholarly journal article). Your story must also include a bibliography listing your sources. Note: You must get my OK on your topic before proceeding.
  • A sidebar (25 points; 100-250 words) to accompany your feature or trend story. Options include: Related text/info that doesn’t fit into the main story (such as a bio, “fast facts,” resource info, “how to,” etc.), a graphic (illustrative chart, Google map, etc.) with caption, slideshow, or photos with captions. If you have other ideas, run them by me.
  • A 60-second broadcast script version of your feature or trend story (125 words, 25 points). For 10 points extra credit, you can record your script using Audacity, iMovie, etc., and post it on your blog (you can also upload it to YouTube or another video/audio hosting site, and put a link to it on your blog).

In-Class Exercises

(5-10 points each)

  1. Telling details exercise (CLO 6, 8)
  2. Peer editing: resumes and cover letters (CLO 8, 9)
  3. Leads exercise #1 (CLO 8)
  4. Leads exercise #2 (CLO 8)
  5. News writing exercise (CLO 8)
  6. “Finding features in the news” exercise (CLO 3, 6, 8)
  7. Query/pitch letter exercise (CLO 3, 6, 8)
  8. Draft scholarly journal article summary #1 in class (CLO 7, 8, 11)
  9. Working with quotes exercise (CLO 8, 9)
  10. Focus story structure exercise (CLO 8)
  11. Cites exercise (“Flirting Like Guppies”) – download pdf (CLO 5, 6, 7, 8)
  12. PR memo exercise – in groups (CLO 3, 5, 6, 8)
  13. Feature story analysis exercise (CLO 8)
  14. Letter to the editor (CLO 6, 7, 8) (now listed under “Outside Writing Assignements”)
  15. Various editing exercises: quotes, grammar, misused words, etc. (CLO 8, 9)
  16. Ad retargeting exercise – in groups (CLO 3, 6)
  17. Similes & metaphors exercise (CLO 8)
  18. Broadcast writing exercise (CLO 8)
  19. Peer editing: final feature/trend story (CLO 8, 9)
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