At the end of every semester, I am thankful to be a part of Clemson University's and the Pearce Center for Professional Communication's Client Based Program. My students submit amazing work that their clients can use (and do!), and they learn to write well.
Client-Based Writing accomplishes a few goals that would otherwise be difficult to accomplish in a traditional classroom.
1. Audience Awareness
Yes, yes. We always talk about this in any writing class, but it's essential. Whether students are building content for a client's website or trying to persuade professionals to come to campus for an event they're organizing, they learn about addressing audiences more effectively when the audience actually responds (or doesn't) to them.
I just read this article, "What do students actually learn in college?" by Amy Scott, and one of the abilities that Sarah Lawrence believes that students should graduate with is, "Ability to envisage and carry through a project independently, with appropriate guidance." My students are required to hold meetings, define class-time goals, and essentially self-manage. They get frustrated, but they learn to do it, and it's clearly something more than they would learn in a traditional classroom.
In freshman composition classes, we emphasize revision and peer editing. However, students never take it as seriously as we'd like them to. And honestly, I didn't learn to revise until graduate school. Working for a client gives students' work gravity so they actually take the time to revision and to produce precise and correct work.
I admit that the other day I wondered, "Why does everything have to be pre-professional?" Well, these projects are, especially because students can see the actual lifespan of a text. When they turn papers into a teacher, the papers are graded and their paper-lives end. This is not true of published work. The work continues to live. Also, this is a great resume builder, obviously.
5. Effective Routine Correspondence
How many terrible emails have you gotten from students? During the course of these projects, students communicate with each other and with their clients. Because they are communicating with clients, they are more likely to implement the courtesy and direct language that they were taught to use.