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Avoiding the Black Hole of Grade Appeals


Students rush to exit the room except for one, who approaches the lectern gripping a paper, eyes bulging.


Professor, why is this a B+ instead of an A-?


Drops head in despair. A tear trickles down his face.


All kidding aside, most of us could happily live the rest of our lives without ever hearing a student question a grade again. Grade appeals can lead to a host of negative outcomes, not the least of which is the threat to non-tenured faculty of being asked to not return the next semester. Contested grades can also be a black hole for instructors’ time. However, several strategies can help minimize student confusion about or complaints over grades.

oct_shutterstock_391193044Use rubrics. Many grade appeals occur because students consider grading written work subjective. One way to avoid this particular complaint is to use rubrics. Much literature has made a case for using rubrics. (See last month’s post on grading strategies.) Because rubrics provide specific criteria by which student work is considered, they can make grading quicker and more transparent for instructors. When instructors clarify expectations, students understand where they fall short or succeed on a given assignment.

Make participation expectations clear. Do you mark students down for non-attendance or tardiness, reduce grades for late work, or assess participation? If you include these aspects as part of students’ final grades, assign a clear percentage to the criteria and display the policy prominently on your syllabus.

Begin each day with a quick quiz. Perhaps you do not want to measure attendance or tardiness but still want to encourage regular participation. Consider beginning each class session with a quick quiz instead. This way, performance on the quizzes offers concrete indications of student performance and participation.

Discuss the repercussions of plagiarism. Part of any course involving writing must contain a definitive policy addressing plagiarism. In both your syllabus and in class, discuss academic dishonesty and its ramifications. Better yet, provide a hands-on, in-class refresher, re-acquainting students with the mechanics of proper citation. If you suspect a student has either wittingly or unconsciously committed plagiarism, communicate—and document—your skepticism clearly. Consider writing a no-nonsense statement such as “I am giving this paper a “0” because it contains no citations” or the like on the paper in question. Then, with the student, discuss how to remediate the lacking skills.

Respond to student requests with empathy and fairness. Who hasn’t had a student ask for an extension because of illness, a family situation, or any number of legitimate (or not so legitimate) situations? Decide ahead of time how generous you want to be. Many instructors find that if they respond to such student requests with empathy but also reiterate their policies, they avoid contentious exchanges.

Be consistent with grading policy. Once you have made your grading criteria clear, stick to them. This is the best way to avoid grade appeals, especially those in which students point to another student’s grade. It is also the fairest and most equitable way to treat all your students.

How do you deal with grading complaints? Start a conversation!


Curing Two Comma Conundrums

[Instructors: Downloadable Word documents of this exercise appear at the end of this post.]

Two of the most common student punctuation faults involve overuse or misuse of commas.

Comma Fault 1: Comma Splice With however:

Faulty:          Mike got an interview, however, he didn’t get the job.

Correct:       Mike got an interview; however, he didn’t get the job.

Rationale:    When used as a conjunctive adverb, however requires a semicolon, not a comma.

Comma Fault 2: Unnecessary Comma With Coordinating Conjunction

Faulty:           Mike prepared for the interview, and thought he had done well.

Correct:        Mike prepared for the interview and thought he had done well.

Rationale:     Although commas are used when coordinating conjunctions (such as and, but, or) join two independent clauses, they are NOT appropriate unless the conjunctions actually join two clauses. If the second part of a sentence following and, but, or could not function as a separate sentence, no comma should precede the conjunction.

 In the following sentences, add appropriate commas or semicolons and remove inappropriate commas. Mark “C” if the sentence is correct. Be prepared to justify your choices.

  1. Frito-Lay wants to sell healthier foods, and intends to use no artificial ingredients in its 60 snack varieties.
  1. The switchover to natural ingredients coincides with a push by PepsiCo into healthier products, and a move away from unhealthy ingredients in its biggest sellers such as soda and potato chips.
  1. Products with bold flavors are harder to retool, and are marketed to teens, and other consumers who might be turned off if told that the chips were all natural.
  1. Many customers say they want to lose weight and eat better however it’s not clear that healthy snacks sell as well as junk food.
  1. All-natural products represent only about a fifth of the $15 billion U.S. savory snack market but such sales grew an average of 14 percent over the past two years.
  1. The company said that natural substitutes cost as much as 35 percent more than artificial flavors but declined to say whether the higher costs would affect its snack prices.
  1. One way to reduce sodium in flavored chips is to cut salt crystals differently, and keep them closer to the surface.
  1. In recent years Frito-Lay eliminated trans fats, and reduced saturated fats in most of its snack varieties.
  1. Many Americans don’t believe that potato chips are actually made from potatoes, however, potato chips have been made from potatoes for decades.
  1. The company ramped up its use of natural seasonings such as molasses, and tested the new flavors on 120 to 1,500 consumers at a time.
  1. The company ramped up its use of natural seasonings such as molasses, and it tested the new flavors on 120 to 1,500 consumers at a time.
  1. A PepsiCo executive said that he wouldn’t tell his children to eat all-natural chips for breakfast, however, he does think that it’s a sensible snack that is better than most available treats.
  1. The company’s flavor kitchen opened in 2009, and resembles a high-end residential kitchen.
  1. Critics complain that the revamped chips are still loaded with fat, or have too much salt.
  1. PepsiCo’s push to double sales of its healthier products is questioned by some insiders, and by some investors.


  1. Delete comma preceding coordinating conjunction and. It does not join two clauses.
  2. Delete comma preceding and. It does not join two clauses.
  3. Delete both commas. They do not join two clauses.
  4. lose weight and eat better; however, it’s not clear . . . .

The conjunctive adverb however joins two clauses and requires a semicolon.

  1. Insert comma before but because it joins two independent clauses.
  2. C – No comma is necessary because but does not join two independent clauses.
  3. No comma is necessary in this simple sentence.
  4. Delete comma preceding and. It does not join two clauses.
  5. made from potatoes; however, potato chips . . . .

      The conjunctive adverb however joins two clauses and requires a semicolon.

  1. Delete the comma preceding and. It does not join two clauses.
  2. Tricky! This is the same sentence, but notice that it has a subject following and. In this case and joins two independent clauses and a comma is required.
  3. chips for breakfast; however, he does . . . .

     The conjunctive adverb however joins two clauses and requires a semicolon.

  1. Delete comma preceding and. It does not join two clauses.
  2. Delete comma preceding or. It does not join two clauses.
  3. Delete comma preceding and. It does not join two clauses

Comma Conundrum Exercise





Recruiters to Interviewees: Stop Making These Mistakes! … Effective Networking Is Career Mandatory … When Not to Use E-Mail

Recruiters to Interviewees: Stop Making These Mistakes!

shutterstock_184575224_SEPTEveryone wants to come across well in an interview, but recruiters say many interviewees make the same mistakes that raise a red flag—and kill chances of being hired. Avoid these five deal-killers when you talk about yourself during an interview.

  1. Using “we” instead of “I.” Yes, collaboration is a key skill, but too many individuals discuss their teamwork experiences by using “we” instead of “I.” Interviewers want to know how you performed, not how the team performed.
  1. Explaining the “what” without the “how.” Talking about tangible accomplishments is indeed important. However, talking about how you attained those accomplishments is just as important.
  1. Omitting questions to the interviewer. Prepare questions to ask about the organization at the end of the interview. Doing so makes you appear eager and engaged. But don’t ask about vacation time or other benefits!
  1. Faking an answer. If you don’t have an answer to a question, say so. Then bring up a similar situation that illustrates the types of skills the interviewer was alluding to in the original question.
  1. Failing to send a follow-up e-mail. If you really want to impress the interviewer, send a short and gracious thank you note.

                                                                                                                        -From Fast Company

Effective Networking Is Career Mandatory

It’s hard to overstate the importance of networking to anyone looking for a job. These tips can help young professionals master this important skill.shutterstock_173742668_SEPT

Connect, connect, connect. Former classmates, alumni from college, community and religious leaders, and of course family and friends—all are possible connections. Attend networking functions and never say “no” to a situation that may lead to meeting new contacts.

Dial up the charm. Be likeable and friendly when meeting new contacts. Make sure to ask them about themselves. Show you’re a pro by always being polite, and demonstrate your professionalism by never drinking too much at a mixer.

Follow the experts. Contact the leaders in your field and follow them on Twitter, LinkedIn, or other social media. If an expert has written a book, read it and make a comment.

                                                                                                           -From the Los Angeles Times      

When Not to Use E-Mail

Using e-mail in the workplace is fraught with many dos and don’ts. However, these situations require not using e-mail at all:

When you must deliver bad news. If you need to admit a problem, do so in person. Using e-mail to relay bad news makes it appear as if the writer is not taking responsibility for the event.

When you’re not sure how to respond. Wait until you know exactly what you want to say when replying to an e-mail. No one wants to read half-baked ideas.

If you’re agonizing over tone. If you are having trouble hitting the right note when writing, rethink sending that e-mail. Your hesitation may be a signal that the situation requires a real conversation.

If you’re writing between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. Avoid sending e-mail when you’re tired. Late-hour e-mails are more likely to be emotional rather than rational. If you must compose, save the draft and look at it in the light of day.

When you ask for a raise. Asking for a raise in an e-mail trivializes the request. Some conversations must take place in person. Besides, when negotiating a salary increase, you want to be face-to-face so you can answer questions your boss may have.

                                                                                                             -From Payscale.com