"This report by its very length, defends itself against the risk of being read." – Winston Churchill
Writing accreditation documents is unlike other forms of writing. The author is tasked with evidencing claims and addressing strict standards while at the same time telling the story of the degree or program being accredited in an engaging and persuasive way. The language of the documents is vital to ensure that the required audience – the accrediting panel – can easily interpret the message and receive the information they need to compile their report.
Here are four tips to help the budding accreditation lead:
1. Keep the reader in mind
The documents will be read by a panel of external accreditors who will likely have in depth understanding of the standards and requirements needed for accreditation. They will be looking for evidence and gaps but won’t have a lot of time at their disposal. Avoid overwhelming the panel with too much information and verbiage.
“writing is more likely to be persuasive if it is not pompous, unnecessarily complicated, or loaded with technical jargon… If a word, idea, or sentence does not contribute directly to the point, consider eliminating it.” (Chambers, 2018)
2. Consider the evidence
Think reflectively about what the evidence means and interpret it for the panel. If the evidence doesn’t speak to the criteria being addressed in an obvious way, contextualise it for the panel. If the evidence doesn’t make sense, isn’t clear, or isn’t accurate, don’t include it. Inaccurately evidencing the criteria suggests a deviation from the Standards, and this is not something you want to do! It is important to present evidence that is relevant, valid, reliable, and representative of the underlying situation. In some instances, multiple sources or methods should be employed. Importantly, the “entire body of evidence should be mutually reinforcing” (WASC, 2015). More evidence is not necessarily better – it depends on what it is.
“A structured and well-explained presentation, anchored on a succinct body of well-documented and reflected-upon evidence, will be far more convincing than simply a “data dump.”” (WASC, 2015)
3. Answer the question
What exactly is the criterion asking? If it is asking for Terms of Reference of a Review Committee, supply the Terms of Reference. If you don’t have a Review Committee, but some other form of committee to oversee the course, explain this in the submission document and supply the Terms of Reference of that committee. If the criterion is asking you to show engagement with a group that you have not engaged with before, explain this and note that it is an area that requires improvement. Acknowledging failure to evidence criteria but willingness to improve is always better than ignoring or avoiding criteria.
4. Work as a team
Accreditation should be a team effort. It is not a task to be performed by one person in isolation. It requires input from people with different expertise, experiences and viewpoints. An important early step in the accreditation process is therefore establishing who will be working on the project. Within this, clear lines of communication need to be established together with document management protocols. It is sensible for one person to manage the master draft, distributing sections out for input from other areas as necessary, before incorporating contributions back into the master draft. In this way, an accreditation document is a “live” document, with the source held by one master. A team approach to compiling evidence and telling the “story” of the course will ultimately benefit the entire group in terms of their own understanding of the course and its broader context. It will also help to create a cohesive and collaborative environment which will be evident for any visiting accreditors.
"a successful visit with accreditation awarded will only be achieved when faculty, staff, administrators, and students work collaboratively to support and collect the evidence needed (Head & Johnson, 2011). Accreditation can be the driving force behind a push to demonstrate institutional effectiveness (Head & Johnson, 2011)." (Hail et al, 2019)
Chambers, Richard (2018). Writing an Impactful Audit Report: 6 Tips for Being More Persuasive. Internal Auditor
Hail, C., Hurst, B., Chang, C. W., & Cooper, W. (2019). Accreditation in Education: One Institution's Examination of Faculty Perceptions. Critical Questions in Education, 10(1).
WASC Senior College & University Commission (2015). Using Evidence in the WSCUC Accreditation Process Guide.