San José State University - Fall 2008
Professor Asha Weinstein Agrawal

URBP 213 - Communication Skills for Planners

Course overview and objectives

Do you ever find yourself asking questions such as:

URBP 213 will help you develop answers to these questions.

Excellent communication skills, both written and spoken, make planners more effective in their careers. Successful planners recognize the importance of good communications skills, and they work throughout their careers to improve their writing and speaking ability.  In this class, you will learn advanced techniques to help in the life-long process of improving your ability to communicate ideas in a lucid, persuasive manner that gets results.

The class is taught in a hands-on style, using real-world writing and speaking exercises relevant to planning professionals. The art of communicating well requires constant practice, experimentation, and feedback. Receiving feedback and revising your work are two of the best techniques for improving your writing and speaking skills, so these opportunities are built into each assignment.  For each one, you'll receive feedback from your peers and/or the instructor. The process of critiquing your peers' work will also help you improve your writing and speaking skills, since you will be able to identify what aspects of their work are more successful and which less so, and then use these observations to modify your own work.

The class has nine key learning objectives.  Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  1. Articulate the qualities that make for excellent, effective writing and public speaking in a professional U.S. planning context.

  2. Identify and prioritize aspects of their writing and public speaking skills that they want to improve over time, and plan strategies for achieving these goals.

  3. Identify and apply techniques that will help them to deliver a professional presentation with a speaking style that is easy to understand, sounds natural, and stimulates audience interest and comprehension.

  4. Create documents and presentations that communicate a clear message to readers and listeners. For example, students will be able to:

  1. Organize material logically and clearly, so that a reader or listener can easily understand the ideas presented.

  2. Use headings, internal previews, and summaries to help readers or listeners easily identify the main points.

  3. Design tables and figures that highlight the key message they are meant to convey.

  1. Create documents and presentations that are strategically designed to persuade resistant audiences.

  2. Create documents and presentations that are professional in appearance and style. For example, students will be able to:

  1. Cite sources with footnotes and bibliographies properly formatted in Turabian A style.

  2. Create PowerPoint presentations that use font sizes, colors, and images that will be easy for an audience to see and understand.

  3. Apply simple design principles to create documents that are easy for readers to understand.

  1. Properly cite all sources used, including exact language, data, and illustrations.

  2. Design strategies to elicit useful feedback from colleagues and friends on their writing and public speaking.

  3. Prepare useful, tactful feedback to help colleagues improve their writing and public speaking.

(SJSU course catalogue description for URBP 213: Advanced techniques for communicating clearly, persuasively, and professionally in a city and regional planning context. Covers writing and public speaking. Prerequisite: Instructor consent.)

Class meetings:  

Section 2: Wednesdays, 4:00 – 6:45 p.m., in Clark 316 (campus map)
Section 3: Thursdays, 4:00 - 6:45 p.m., in Clark 318

How to contact Professor Asha Weinstein Agrawal

Contact info

Office: Room 218C in Washington Square Hall (enter through room 216)
Email: asha.weinstein.agrawal(at)
Phone: (408) 924-5853
Instructor website:

Please note that it is usually faster to reach me by email than by leaving a phone message.

Office hours

I welcome students to come talk to me often during office hours, whether about a specific question or merely to chat about ideas relating to the course or other matters.

My office hours for the Fall 2008 semester are Wednesdays from 8:30 - 11:30 a.m. and Thursdays from 1:00 – 3:00 p.m.  Feel free either to drop by or call during these times.  You can also schedule an appointment in advance.

While I make every effort to attend all office hours, occasionally I might be unavailable due to illness or an emergency.  Before coming to see me, I suggest that you call or email to confirm that I will be available.

If you wish to speak to me but are unable to meet during my office hours, we can arrange an alternate time to meet in person or speak on the phone.

Course readings and materials

Required readings

1. Weekly readings

The readings will be available on-line through the SJSU library's electronic course reserves system.  If you need help accessing the electronic reserves, the process is explained at the library's "Electronic Reserves Help" page.

I may also hand out a small number of additional articles in class.  If you miss class, be sure to check with another student to get a copy of any handouts you may have missed.

2. Style book

Turabian, Kate. A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses and Dissertations, 7th ed. Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2007.

This book is available for purchase at the campus bookstore, as well as at many bookstores around the Bay Area and on-line.  Be sure to buy the correct edition.

Recommended reference books

I encourage you to consider buying the following reference books, if you don't already own them.  They are useful for anyone who does much writing and editing.

1. The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.

This writing and publishing style guide is one of the definitive sources used by publishers and professional offices around the United States. It offers detailed guidance on topics ranging from how to format a table of contents, to when one should and shouldn’t capitalize the word “president,” to the proper use of italics. (It is not a grammar book, however.) Note that the Turabian book is based upon the citation formats used in the Chicago Manual of Style.

2. A grammar book of your choice.

Other required materials

You must bring either a digital cassette (sometimes called a "DVC") or a VHS tape to class when you give presentations.  I will let you know in closer to the presentation dates which format tape to bring.

Course assignments and expectations

Your participation in the class will consist of attending all class meetings, completing readings and short homework assignments, critiquing drafts of other students' work, and preparing four graded assignments.  You should plan to spend an average of seven hours a week on the course in addition to the weekly class meetings.

I will calculate your grade for the course as follows:

Assignment % of course grade
1. Job application letter 10%
2. Presentation 1 15%
3. Presentation 2 25%
4. Persuasive report 30%
5. Class participation 20%

Class participation grade

The class participation grade is based on the quality of:

All students begin the semester with an assumed "A" for class participation, and I then deduct points for missing or low-quality work as follows:

Polices on turning in graded assignments (#1 - #4)

Policies on resubmitting assignments #1 and #3

I encourage you to consider revising and resubmitting assignments #1 and #3, both to improve your understanding of the course material and as a way to improve your course grade.

If you wish to revise and resubmit the job application letter (#1), I encourage you to meet with me to discuss your work before you prepare the revised letter. In addition, here are some guidelines to keep in mind:

You also have the option to revise and re-present the second presentation (assignment #3).  If you chose to revise and re-present it, I encourage you to discuss the assignment with me before completing your revision.  Also, keep in mind the following guidelines:

SJSU policy on academic integrity

SJSU's Policy on Academic Integrity states: “Your own commitment to learning, as evidenced by your enrollment at San José State University, and the University’s Academic Integrity Policy requires you to be honest in all your academic course work. Faculty members are required to report all infractions to the Office of Judicial Affairs. The policy on academic integrity can be found at”

Citing sources and avoiding plagiarism

Plagiarism is the use of someone else’s language, images, data, or ideas without proper attribution. It is a very serious offense both in the university and in your professional work. In essence, plagiarism is both theft and lying: you have stolen someone else’s ideas, and then lied by implying that they are your own.

Plagiarism will lead to grade penalties and a record filed with the SJSU Office of Student Conduct and Ethical Development. In severe cases, students may also fail the course or even be expelled from the university.

If you are unsure what constitutes plagiarism, it is your responsibility to make sure you clarify the issues before you hand in draft or final work.

Learning when to cite a source and when not to is an art, not a science, and it is impossible to list every possible type of plagiarism. However, here are some typical examples of plagiarism that you should pay particular attention to avoid:

The University of Indiana has developed a very helpful website with concrete examples about proper paraphrasing and quotation. See in particular the following pages:

On the last page listed, you will find a quiz to test how well you understand proper paraphrasing. 

If you still have questions after reading these pages, feel free to talk to me. There is nothing wrong with asking for help, whereas even unintentional plagiarism is a serious offense.

Course citation style

When you cite another author’s work in any assignment for the course, use footnotes and a bibliography formatted following the directions in Kate Turabian’s A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, 7th ed., University of Chicago Press, 2007.

Note that Turabian’s book describes two systems for referencing materials: (1) "notes" (footnotes or endnotes), plus a corresponding bibliography, and (2) in-text parenthetical references, plus a corresponding reference list. Be sure to use the first system, with footnotes and a bibliography, for all work you turn in during the semester.

Campus policy in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act

If you need course adaptations or accommodations because of a disability, or if you need special arrangements in case the building must be evacuated, please make an appointment with me as soon possible, or see me during office hours. SJSU Presidential Directive 97-03 requires that students with disabilities requesting accommodations must register with the SJSU Disability Resource Center to establish a record of their disability.

You can find information about the services SJSU offers to accommodate disabled students at

Course schedule (subject to change with reasonable notice give in class or via email)


*          *          *          *          *

Week 1: September 27/28


No reading

► Draft #1 job application letter due by 8:00 a.m. on Tuesday, September 2

Week 2: September 3/4

Class will consist of student-instructor meetings held in Washington Square Hall 218C.  Bring a copy of your draft letter to the meeting.


Week 3: September 10/11

Draft #2 job application letter due (email a copy to Asha before class and bring 3 paper copies to class)



Week 4: September 17/18

Final job application letter due to Asha, by email, before class. Also, bring a paper copy of your memo to class.



► Draft outline for Presentation 1 due to peer feedback partners by Friday, September 19, 5:00 p.m.

Week 5: September 24/25

Peer feedback comments on draft outlines for Presentation 1 due in class (instructions)
Freewriting homework due (.htm)



Week 6: October 1/2 ( *** class will be extended 15 minutes *** )

Presentation 1 given in class (videotaped)

No reading

Week 7: October 8/9

Memo reflecting on Presentation 1 due to Asha by email before class; also, bring a paper copy to class



Week 8: October 15/16

Speaking style homework due in class (.htm)
Citation style homework due in class (.htm)



► Draft outline and PowerPoint slides of Presentation 2 due to peer feedback partners by Friday, October 17

Week 9: October 22/23

Comments on peer partners' Presentation #2 materials due in class (directions)



Week 10: October 29/30

Group A students give Presentation 2 in class (videotaped)

No reading.

Week 11: November 5/6

Group B students give Presentation 2 in class (videotaped)

No reading.

Week 12: November 12/13

Memo reflecting on Presentation 2 due by email to Asha before class; also, bring a paper copy to class
Homework on figures due



Week 13: November 19/20



*** NO CLASS November 26/27 - Thanksgiving Break ***

Week 14: December 3/4

Draft Persuasive Report due to Asha by email before class; also, bring three paper copies to class


No reading

Week 15: Optional instructor-student meetings to discuss the Persuasive Reports

Class will consist of optional-but-strongly-recommended student-instructor meetings held in Washington Square Hall 218C.  Bring a copy of your draft Persuasive Report to the meeting.

No reading.

For both sections, the Final Persuasive Report (assignment #4) is due to Asha by email on Tuesday, December 16, at midnight (NO extensions)

Exam period:

The scheduled exam periods are:
- Section 2: Thursday, December 18, 5:15 - 7:30 p.m.
- Section 3: Friday, December 12, 2:45 - 5:00 p.m.

If all students in a section agree, we will adjust the time for this last class meeting to the usual Wednesday or Thursday time (on December 17 and 18).



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Page last modified: 17 September 2008