Decoding Racist Language in Technical Writing

Yesterday’s Marketplace broadcast included a story that demonstrates the power of racist coding in less than 2.5 minutes. “Can changing home appraisal language help close the wealth gap?” examines how the word choice in home appraisals, which are essentially technical descriptions, communicates who lives in a neighborhood and impacts the value assigned to homes.

After listening to this story, technical writing students can look for similar coded language in other documents:

  • How are workplace locations described in job ads?
  • How are possible building sites described in proposals?
  • What descriptive words and phrases are used in incident reports?

These conversations can move beyond the language used to describe places to many other kinds of technical writing as well:

  • What coded language do you find in job ads? How is the kind of person wanted for the position described?
  • How are potential contractors described in RFPs and applicant analysis?
  • Is coded language used in dress codes or social media guidelines?
  • Does coded language appear in employee evaluation documents?
  • How are the words professional and professionalism used to communication information about race?

Listen to the story below or on the Marketplace website:

Weekly Work Logs

Background and Goals

To support the anti-racist assessment system in my course, I am using Weekly Work Logs, where students track the work that they have done. The idea for these logs as they are used in anti-racist assessment comes from Asao Inoue’s explanations of contract grading and anti-racist assessment. Inoue (2014) calls these logs labor journals, describing them as

weekly journals that document time spent on activities, and the level of intensity of that work. Each journal entry may: (1)document how much time was spent on an assignment; (2) describe the intensity of the work; or (3) reflect upon the writing produced by that session’s time and intensity, connecting the labor to the expectations identified on the writer’s rubric. (p. 81)

My logs work similarly, asking students to track the time, intensity, and kind of work. They also include a description and reflection for each task they complete.

I have used various digital tools for these logs include spreadsheets that track the entire term and word processor documents that students create for each week of the term. This summer in my Technical Writing course, I am trying the Class Notebook feature in OneNote.

The student notebooks in OneNote’s Class Notebook appear to provide the benefits of both word processor documents and spreadsheets. Each week students complete a separate page in their student notebooks, similar to a separate word processor document. Because these pages are all collected in a single notebook, they function like a spreadsheet by allowing me to look back to previous entries to see how their work strategies are evolving in the course.

General How-To

The general instructions that I gave students ask them to go to the notebook in OneNote and then record the work that they have done for the week:

  • Track and reflect on the work you have done for the week.
    • Add specific details for all the work you have done this week. 
    • Add summary comments and reflections once the week is over and all your work is recorded.

Elsewhere in the course documents, I explain the ways that students will use the logs in the course. Specifically, students will use their entries to complete weekly self-assessments where they claim the points that they have earned for the week. At the end of the term, students will use the Weekly Work Log entries to write an overall performance review that summarizes and reflects on the work that they have done throughout the term.

Student Instructions for Log Entries

These are the instructions that I have included in OneNote for students:

Instructions, Start Here

This information explains how to fill out your log entries each week. You will log your work, noting what you do, how long you work, and how hard you worked.

Submitting your weekly labor log does two things:

  • It allows you to keep track of your progress in the class, making sure you are up-to-date on your work.
  • It allows me to learn what is working well for you and where you may need more support.

At the end of the term, you can use your logs to write a performance review (your final exam) that explains what you have accomplished overall and provides a self-evaluation of your work in the course.

Log of Your Weekly Work

You are graded on the work you do, so this log is critical to doing well because it tells me what work you do each week. I look for strong details and reflections on the various tasks you complete each week. 

For all the work that you complete, add a line to your log with specific information about the work that you did. The log pages for each week include the headings shown below:


Time Spent


Kind of Work (Reading, Writing, Feedback, Tracking, Other)

Description & Reflection






Under each of these headings, I expect to find the following information:

  • Date:  Just the numbers will work (e.g., 07/08)
  • Time Spent: Estimate the number of minutes or hours. Don’t stress about precision. A range will work here (e.g., 5–10 mins.)
  • Intensity: Use a word or two to explain how hard you worked. You can plan the words you will use so you can be consistent.
  • Kind of Work: Indicate the category that your work falls under, using the descriptions in the “Kinds of Work in the Course” section below.
  • Description & Reflection: Explain exactly what you did and why you did it. Use clear and specific details that show me the work that you put in. Here’s an example:
    • DON’T: Wrote my self-introduction.
      That is probably accurate, but it doesn’t show the work that went into what you did.
    • DO: Jotted out the details I wanted to cover. Rearranged the details into an informal outline. Wrote a rough draft in Piazza. Reread the draft, and added a few details. Double-checked spelling and grammar, and then posted my work.

Note that you can also break those tasks out info separate lines in your log. In other words, “Jotted out the details I wanted to cover. Rearranged the details into an informal outline.” could be one entry in the log, and you might add a reflection comment on why you adopted this strategy

Summary Comments & Reflections on the Week

At the end of the week, review all of the entries that you have recorded, and write a summary that synthesizes the work you have done during the week. Once you have your summary written, reflect on what you have accomplished. You can consider questions like these to get started:

  • What went well this week and why?
  • Conversely, what challenges did you encounter and why? How did you overcome them?
  • What can you apply from this week in the future?
  • What will you try differently next week and why?
  • What questions do you have about your work this week?

You don’t need to answer every question in your reflection. Just put in your best effort and answer the questions that make sense for this week.

Kinds of Work in the Course

Use these details on the different kinds of work in the class to categorize the work you do under the “Kind of Work” column in your log.


The reading work in this course is much like that in any other course you take. Examples of the things you will read in this course include the following: 

  • Information in this Course Manual
  • Chapters and specific sections in the course textbook
  • Announcements and pages in the Canvas site for our course
  • Drafts of your projects
  • Feedback Discussions posts in Piazza


The writing work in this course relates to both the projects and class activities that you work on and to the class communication and general class discussions. Examples of the writing you will do in the projects for this course include the following:

  • Gathering ideas on a possible topic by freewriting, brainstorming, or listing
  • Taking research notes
  • Completing audience analysis
  • Outlining a project
  • Drafting your ideas
  • Revising your project
  • Editing and proofreading your project

Giving, Discussing, and Responding to Feedback

The feedback work in this course consists of the feedback that you receive and the feedback that you give to others. Examples of feedback activities include the following:

  • Posting questions about a passage from your draft
  • Asking questions about a passage from someone else’s draft
  • Discussing feedback you receive by replying with questions or ideas
  • Responding to feedback you receive by rethinking a section of your draft

Tracking & Reflecting

The tracking and reflecting work in this course focuses on the process of recording the various kinds of work that you do in your Weekly Work Log and your Weekly Self-Assessments.  Examples of the tracking and reflecting you will do include the following:

  • Logging the different kinds of work that you do in the course
  • Summarizing your accomplishments for the week
  • Reflecting on which tasks went well and which were more challenging
  • Forecasting the tasks you will work on in the future and how you will do them

Read More

If you are interested in learning more about anti-racist assessment and how this kind of weekly log works, check out Asao Inoue’s Labor-Based Grading Contracts: Building Equity And Inclusion In The Compassionate Writing Classroom (2019), which you can download for free from the WAC Clearinghouse.


Inoue, Asao B. (2014). A Grade-Less Writing Course That Focuses on Labor and Assessing. In D. Coxwell-Teague & R. F. Lunsford (Eds.), First-Year Composition: From Theory to Practice (pp. 71–110). Parlor Press.