Management Analyst

Government & Military

ManagementAnalyst1_September2018 – 9_9_18, 10.37 AM.mp3

Q:                           Would you please state your job title and where you currently work.

A:                            Sure, so my title officially is Management Analyst One. But that’s just kind of like a generic title that I had to have. But what I really do is a project manager and technical writer and engagement leader for several projects And I worked for Land Development Services with Fairfax County government.

Q:                           And how long has it been since she graduated from college, from undergrad?

A:                            It has been 10 years.

Q:                           How long have you worked in your field?

A:                            Well I guess just one year really. A little over one year.

Q:                           Could you provide any brief description of your primary job functions.

A:                            Sure. I help review written documents. I help brainstorm and create documents as well. I help coordinate project… different people who are working together… project management. I help with product management so there’s a whole bunch different subject matter experts basically throughout Land Development Services and I’m like the non-technical person who helps all these technical people get connected and communicate and show up to meetings.

Q:                           Could you estimate in an average week what percentage of your job requires writing.

A:                            Yeah like 90 percent probably.

Q:                           What forms or types of writing or what kinds of documents do you most often complete?

A:                            Sure. Well so I usually am not the sole person writing the documents because it’s usually technical experts writing them and t hen I work alongside to help make the language better, clearer, etc. I edit afterwards but usually, technical bulletins and standard operating procedures, guidelines, manuals. I work on site code research and development. The specific division I’m working in. So we work on a lot of like code and policy language to make sure that you know it’s… we work with like the county attorney’s office to make sure that our language, when we update ordinances is legally sound language. Like ” shall” has been interpreted differently 10 different times over the past 10 years and so as that changes we have to adjust our mandatory language so “shall” becomes “must”.

Q:                           Who are the typical primary audiences and what are the typical primary purposes of those documents?

A:                            Absolutely so they all have different audiences but a lot of us a lot of the documents we’re working on are intended for the public and they’re available online to the public so we also have to make sure they’re accessible, which is another you know that’s like the final step before it published gets. But most of the people who actually use these documents though are developers or you know like architects and different land development firms. Primarily industry people and then also the people who work here use it to help determine whether a site plan is correct and whether or not it needs to be changed.

Q:                           So one of the purposes is to serve as a guide to the developer or to the folks reviewing? Are there other… what are the purposes for instance if it’s the public viewing these documents?

A:                            Sure. So we actually had a public forum recently at the Providence district center where a number of concerned citizens came out because w e were… one of my main projects and that w e were working on has this public facilities manual it’s a 700 page manual that is being completely you know… not completely revised but changed in a lot of ways. And they’re concerned that certain technical changes might impact for example the definition of a flood plain could could impact whether or not somebody gets flood insurance or not. You know, what kind of coverage they’re allowed to have. If something changes with the tree preservation ordinance of the tree chapter and it could determine whether or not they’re allowed to remove the tree from a certain part of their property. So those things can directly affect the public. But I mean only the public who are directly involved in like fixing up their land and coming in and working on stuff with the county would be necessarily be directly affected by that because a lot of county citizens have no idea that this even happens. I didn’t know before I started. So it’s really you know a lot of citizens who are deeply involved in the community.

Q:                           Okay perfect. Yeah. Could you walk me through the process for a specific project or even just the general type of project and including everything from sort of how that lands on your desk, what steps you take until it’s published or finished.

A:                            Sure. So I guess get to start with the public facilities manual, and what would be called the PFM. So the easier way saying over and over again… about a month into working here my boss Jan asked if I could just start doing some research for this project to find out what other public facilities manuals a t other jurisdictions look like you know and see if they have you know forwards and introduction and they how format their documents and if they have a list of definitions they have an index you know stuff like that. So I started doing research and then once that research was all put together she n noticed that I was kind of really into this project and so she asked me to start also coordinating with all of the project leads and trying to get all t heir input together. So we had these committees called technical. advisory committees They all did the direct edits initially to each of the different chapters, there’s 13 chapters. So that’s kind of the next step is we went to all these teams of subject matter experts doing the direct editing of the chapters that already existed. And then once they were done with that, myself and a couple other people who are leads on the project, sat down with each individual chapter’s subject matter experts and we went through each and every single it and decide whether or not it should stay or go or if it’s something we need to work on in the future. Whether we can do it now or if it has to be done or if it shouldn’t be done at all. So that took several months. And then after that, once we got those edits done we had to go to them and to get the edits that we had agreed to to get those vetted by both industry members so that we’re involving them, the public we went to them and we have shared those edits. We had a steering committee which was internal county staff who had kind of like a third set of eyes doing a quality check and what we had done…

Q:                           Who weren’t subject matter experts?

A:                            Exactly. So we had several different committees that looked at everything after the subject matter experts and u s had already agreed on edits and would suggest more edits would say no we can’t do that you know. So several different layers of vetting which led up to most recently we created a board package, which is all of these chapters coming towards the end of the project here getting ready to present to the Board of Supervisors, which is basically the last stop before the product is complete.

Q:                           Got it.

A:                            So it’s you know a year and a half to a year long process of making sure everything has been seen by the public and vetted by subject matter experts and vetted by the industry.

Q:                           That’s super complicated. That’s really interesting. This is a broad question: how did you know how to perform these types of tasks in this kind of writing?

A:                            That is a very good question. So I think a lot of it honestly came from being in the [Masters of Fine Arts program] and doing the fellowship part of it where I was you know helping in the Writing Center and helping when I was a teacher, you know that one-on-one experience of helping other people with their writing made it easier for me to sit down and figure out how we can help the subject matter experts with their writing. You know there were some technical subjects that I had no clue what they were talking about. So obviously for those, other folks were that to help direct that.

Q:                           Can you describe a time in your career that you felt unprepared as a writer at work?

A:                            Sure. When I first started working here I had never heard of a technical bulletin and I’d never heard of a standard operating procedure, I’ve never heard of… you know I ‘d never done any code writing or policy writing I thought “oh that’s only stuff that lawyers do. ” So that was a steep learning curve. For the first month I definitely didn’t know that I’d be able to make it, especially because on top of learning all these new types of writing I was also being thrown into the world of land development services that I didn’t even know existed.

Q:                           So what did you do to get up to speed w ere that there certain strategies you utilized to try and get your bearings?

A:                            I just read a lot. I read a lot of the standard operating procedures. I read a lot of the technical bulletins. I’ve studied how these documents have been made in the past and you know tried to find a consistent way for how they are written so that I could try to model that

Q:                           Who oversees your writing? Obviously there’s a lot of reviewers for certain projects. Is there someone who directly oversees the work that you do or does it depend on the project

A:                            I would say probably my immediate boss ends up being the final person to look at any documents that I do, but then there’s basically three people above me who usually end up being the final people to sign off. But I’d say my immediate boss is the one who definitely reads through everything, again whereas the other two whether they have the time, may or may not.

Q:                           Your immediate boss do you know her title?

A:                            I think she i s just the chief of the branch, which is site code research and development.

Q:                           And how do you think that she judges the success or quality of your work?

A:                            I mean I know for the most part she trusts that I know how to how to write well and you know I make sure that I provide really strong feedback, and if I don’t understand something I’m clear about that. So I think that adds to why she believes that what I say is correct

Q:                           So should I take from that that she also she doesn’t know the content, she’s not the subject matter expert in every area of course right?

A:                            Actually pretty she knows most of it.

Q:                           OK. But when you say “she trusts me, ” does that mean that if there’s some question about whether or not you put the research in or something like that, she would just sign off on it because she knows that you have?

A:                            Right and if she questions something like “Oh you made this change. Were you the one that directly thought this change  should happen or was the subject matter expert who actually. you were wrong? ” t hen she’ll be like let’s talk about this. We need to change that. So she will definitely question something if she knows that it’s not technically correct

Q:                           OK. I think that’s interesting. And this also of course will vary from project to project. How long do you typically have to complete a writing project? This revised at PFM you said was like up to a year and a half, but I’m sure there’s a lot of variation in that.

A:                            Yeah. So it really depends on what the item is. When I was when I first started here I was just a technical writer and it was a part time position. And then I would often get board packages that other people had drafted and those usually need a turn around of like you needed to be done yesterday.

Q:                           OK.

A:                            So those close were very quick to turn around, but things like standard operating procedures where you know they’ve been doing it for years and years and years and they just now want to record it so that they can pass down that information in the future. Those don’t really have a timeline.

Q:                           OK.

A:                            So it really depends on what the document is.

Q:                           OK. And to clarify the standard operating procedures are for what procedures?

A:                            Sure. So those are internal procedures. You know like how to “how to write a standard operating procedure” is actually one of our standard operating procedures. It’s like an internal guideline.

Q:                           Gotcha. OK. OK. What kinds of writing you do remember being asked to create as an undergraduate student?

A:                            As an undergraduate student, I primarily remember being asked to write research essays.

Q:                           What did you? study

A:                            I studied English with an anthropology/sociology minor. So definitely not anything that I do now. The research part though is helpful, having learned those critical analysis and research skills for those essays is a applicable.

Q:                           Yeah, how do you see those skills translating the way you learned to do that for a literary essay or some other kind english essay into the kind of research you do know?

A:                            Well honestly even just figuring out how to enter and search terms correctly and how to judge sources correctly — those s kills I think directly apply to what I do now. I think it would apply across the board no matter what job you’re getting even if you’re not getting a writing job specifically. I think knowing how to figure out i f a sources is real or not. And you know how to search for those sources. Those are really important skills.

Q:                           Great. So you said the research element is one of the college writing experiences sort of prepared to w rite in the workplace. What other things, thinking back, would have been useful to set you up more easily for success in the workplace

A:                            Yeah I would say an internship like having that even be a mandatory requirement of a program, I think really would have helped me. When I was an undergrad, it was just kind of a word that was tossed around it wasn’t really anything that people thought you seriously had to do and since I didn’t have any money really, I couldn’t just say “Oh yeah I’m going to take my summer to go work for free somewhere when I could be making money. ” So that wasn’t even an option, but I ended up doing an internship when I was in grad school. My last semester because a lower smaller workload. And I think that honestly really was influential in learning more about how writing is done in the workplace.

Q:                           That’s interesting. W hat was the internship if you don’t mind me asking?

A:                            I worked with Split This Rock which is a nonprofit in D.C. for writing and social justice, and I helped them do a lot of different organizational stuff for their annual literary festival, or semi annual. So I think that really helped me kind of figure out how to do more formal writing. I had to communicate to a lot of different organizations to try to plan the festival.

Q:                           What is at stake in your writing here

A:                            What is at stake. Well if for example the code writing, if something ends up being written incorrectly and going all the way through the board, it could be a legal matter that we could be sued over. So it’s pretty, can be pretty serious.

Q:                           Yeah absolutely. I mean is there anything else at stake when you think about the writing that you do here?

A:                            Not too much else. Yeah I think that’s the main thing.

Q:                           What would you say is the most difficult thing about writing either in this field or in your specific position?

A:                            Sure. The most difficult thing. I would say the most difficult thing is listening, closely listening because I’m not a technical expert at all in this field. These are all engineers that I’m working with who have years and years of experience. And when they talk about things they are using jargon, using acronyms that I for the most part have no idea what they are. And if you don’t understand something you do I have to stop sometimes and say “What is that? What are you talking about? ” because if I’m going to write about it, I really need to know what you’re talking about. So that I’d say is the most difficult thing, is really just kind of trying to figure out what I’m writing.

Q:                           How did you learn… like that’s a really specific skill to be able to take technical expertise from someone else, not even from yourself and to translate it into some other form. How did you develop that skill??

A:                            ? Well? so my undergrad I went to as a small liberal arts private school heavily focused on building critical analysis skills. I think that definitely is why I’m able to take these ideas that I learned nothing about previously and can kind of break it down into layman’s terms to understand what is being communicated.

Q:                           OK. Has anyone here in your current position helped you with your writing formally or informally?

A:                            Yes so actually the county attorney who we’ve been working on with this project held a course for code writing. That was very helpful and insightful to kind of see how you can turn 347 word sentence, which is out there, and you know try and break it up at least until a sentence with subsections, use formatting maybe to try to make it more legible or even cut back some of those words because they’re just extraneous and make it something more concise. So he was very helpful in that aspect because you know legal writing can be just like staring at a brick and there’s writing on the brick but you really can’t see it because there’s just so much going on.

Q:                           How do you believe evolved or improved as a writer over your career?

A:                            Well I think I’ve improved significantly actually just in the past year. I had never really used writing guides before. I mean other than you know the MLA guide to make sure my references are correct or something. I never really use any reference guides actively before and now I have the AP Stylebook and I got the Gregg Reference manual is the one that the county requires.

Q:                           Is it mostly for like government employee type writers or not necessarily?

A:                            Not necessarily. I don’t know who chose that one, but that’s the one we use. So definitely using those has been insightful and my grammar has always been ok but it’s never been 100 percent. But what this job has taught me to do is like if I don’t know whether something’s correct and it sounds wrong, I take the time to like look it up and make sure what I’m doing is correct. And as a result I’ve learned a lot more about how to write well.

Q:                           Did you have experience editing before this position?

A:                            I mean I was the poetry editor [a literary. journal] But poetry doesn’t really use the same sort of.

Q:                           To what extent do you think writing is valued in your organization and or in local government as a whole?

A:                            Well so part of the reason why there is no technical writer position that I could be titled as, is because there are no technical writers in the government really. They had to create these positions and title it something else because there was no position for that, which I found interesting because I think you probably need that. So but this was created just a few years ago. It’s still kind of developing. But our group we work in, there is another technical writer, who filled my position when I got full time, so the two of us work now in this branch we’re very supported. We basically, there’s 300 or so engineers in this department and all of them are able to send us anything at any time. So we’re definitely utilized and appreciated because there are only like 3 humanities majors in the entire department. So yeah I didn’t know that it would be like as supportive as it is but it’s an incredibly supportive. Like [supervisor] brags to people that she has writers in her branch.

Q:                           Our last set of questions: How did you define successful training as a student versus successful writing here, and would you say that you are a successful workplace writer?

A:                            Well I guess I always thought that I was a strong writer. But I suppose I never knew exactly how those skills were going to translate into real life. And my writing just for myself in the academic world, it kind of felt that way, whereas here I know that I’m writing for something much larger that actually impacts people’s lives.

Q:                           And so how did you define successful writing as an undergraduate student versus how do you define writing here?

A:                            I mean there were just two completely different kinds of writing between undergrad and what I’m doing now. It’s kind of hard to compare the two. I guess the successful writing that I do here, I have direct approval from somebody. I mean I guess I got that too in undergrad when I got my grades. But I mean it really is mostly I’m the one who holds myself accountable more than other folks because you know [ supervisor] like I said, trusts that I’m getting the actual like editorial part correct. If it’s a technical thing she’ll correct me, but for the most part you know I have to hold myself accountable for making sure I take the time and read the manual if I don’t think something is right you know. So I guess that might be my answer, I think.

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Physician Assistant, Neurosurgery

Sciences

P

SPEAKER: Would you please state your job title and the type of organization where you currently work?

SPEAKER: My job title as a physician assistant in neurosurgery and I work in a hospital.

SPEAKER: And how long has it been since you graduated from undergrad?

SPEAKER: I graduated from undergrad in 2008, so ten years, wow.

SPEAKER: Okay. And how long has it been that you’ve been working in your current field?

SPEAKER: I’ve been working in my current field since 2014, so about four four years now.

SPEAKER: Okay. And could you provide just sort of a brief description of your primary job functions?

SPEAKER: Yeah. Some of my primary job functions are to see patients when they first come into a hospital as a consult or directly. They are trauma patients so patients that have had head injuries, spine injuries, or spinal cord compression. I also take care of patients in the ICU, either before or after surgery, or to manage them medically, and also function in the operating room as a first assist to surgeons, and I help in discharging patients if they have had a complete hospital course.

SPEAKER: Okay, excellent. Could you estimate in an average week what percentage of your job requires writing of any kind?

SPEAKER: I would say that writing takes I’m going to say maybe 30 to 40 percent of my job. Documentation is pretty important in medicine.

SPEAKER: Oh great. What forms are types of writing does the documentation usually take?

SPEAKER: They are electronic, typed consultation notes or history and physicals. Also daily progress notes, so documenting events that have happened for the patient, anything pertinent, and physical exams. And for OR procedures, brief summary of the procedure itself.

SPEAKER: Okay. And who are the primary audiences for those?

SPEAKER: Primary audiences would be medical billing and coding specialists, hospital administration, other services – so for example, a medicine service – if we are seeing one of their patients, or other services and specialties, so other doctors, residents, PAs and nurse practitioners,

SPEAKER: I see. And the purposes it sounds like could range from anything from billing to just sort of like, what would other purposes be?

SPEAKER: The biggest thing is probably going to be documentation and billing for the hospital, and just as what is legally required in healthcare. But other purposes would be for helping the patient or their families themselves, so things like filling out sick leave or FMLA paperwork, disability paperwork. And then the other biggest is for social workers who are able to read our notes, so that can help them in giving patients support for services outside of the hospital for things like rehab or counseling.

SPEAKER: Okay I see. And could you just tell me a little bit about like the form that that documentation takes? How long are they typically, what are they typically include? How do you sort of approach writing them?

SPEAKER: Yeah. Most of our writing is actually in template form. So it doesn’t really take too much time, and most documentation will include a summary of the patient themselves and their background, specifically their past medical history and things that are pertinent to their hospital stay – a hospital course meaning day-to-day, if the patient has had multiple procedures or surgeries or events like low blood pressure. My writing is kind of like a concise but flow of a course of a hospital stay. They will also include a physical exam, so my exam of the patient and a plan. So plans for all of the diagnoses that the patient has, and documentation that my attendings and surgeons have agreed to plans that I’m making.

SPEAKER: I see. That’s very helpful. When it comes to writing those, is there– you know, we tend to think about writing often as having a process in terms of planning, writing, and then getting feedback or revising, but I would imagine this is sort of a one and done writing situation? You sit down to write it, you write it, and then it’s completed. Is that a fair assessment?

SPEAKER: Yeah just because we are required to document everything that we do and see. But at the same time every day we’re doing and seeing so much, so the writing for me is something that I do as quickly as I can. So it usually takes on a pretty specific flow. I always have it in my mind that I’m going to say like, for example, you know, “Patient is a such and such year old male or female, with this past medical history, who is coming to the hospital for, ” and then I’ll get into my story of the patient’s course.

SPEAKER: Gotcha,. okay So is it fair to say that you’re creating sort of – you’re writing the story, you used that actual word – even though is that a technical word, is that just a word that you use?

SPEAKER: It’s just a word I use. But what we actually call it is HPI – a history and present physical of the patient.

SPEAKER: Gotcha, okay. And how did you know how to perform these types of writing?

SPEAKER: It came when I was in grad school. So when I was training to be a physician assistant, we started to learn how to write these things, and then this is also something that if you were to read out loud, is also the way that we would talk to colleagues in presenting the patient.

SPEAKER: Oh interesting. So it really does translate exactly how you would say you would write it.

SPEAKER: Yes exactly.

SPEAKER: Gotcha, okay. Has there ever been a time in your career that you felt unprepared as a writer?

SPEAKER: Probably in the very beginning, like when I was a student and doing my rotations, and also in the first month or two of my first job. Only because, you know, it was new, and it is a pretty specific style of writing and you’re using so much medical terminology And so sometimes it’s actually a little difficult, if I was to go and talk to a patient’s family I would have to think about that note and translate that into everyday terms. But this writing, I think when you’re first learning in the medical field, you’re having to use such specific language. So that’s probably the time that it was most challenging.

SPEAKER: That’s interesting, yeah. Was there anything that you did to specifically overcome those challenges, actual strategies or steps that you took to improve?

SPEAKER: Yeah I did that when I was a student where I would practice what I was going to say to whoever was training me. And again that would translate from my notes. So I would take that time to write down what I wanted to say aloud in presenting my patient and then I would turn around and be able to write that down as my note. So practicing really helped in that.

SPEAKER: Gotcha. That makes a lot of sense. Does anybody oversee your writing?

SPEAKER: At this point no, no one oversees my writing but my surgeons do co-sign my note but they also, if they feel they need to, they will write something else in the note but never a change to what I’ve written. They would write something at the end for example to say you know, “I’ve seen and examined this patient and agree with the physician assistant’s. assessment Additionally patients said, ‘X Y and Z’ to me personally and for that reason I would also do this as a plan. ” But I think my writing was more so overseen when I was in grad school where we would have to write out example HPI and notes on patients and it would be graded.

SPEAKER: I okay se, e, okay. And was the feedback that you were getting in any way about writing style, or was it more about the content that was in there?

SPEAKER: It was I think both. It would be about content and style. So having something very long- winded is not very accepted in medicine just because again, everybody’s you know trying to also see their patients face to face, or do procedures, or be in the operating room. So sometimes it’s actually a little frustrating to have the requirement to write everything down a certain way, so I think pairing things down is the biggest thing that’s emphasized of how do you make this as brief as possible but still having as much information as possible.

SPEAKER: Got it. How do you do that? That seems extremely challenging with such technical writing.

SPEAKER: Yeah the way that we do it in medicine is for example, if you have a patient that’s there and they’re seen for a gunshot wound to the head, you would write out their past medical history so for example to say you know, “Patient is such and such year old female with a past medical history of hyperthyroidism, six weeks pregnant, diabetes, hypertension. ” And then you would get into your specific story, so how the patient was injured, how they appeared when they came in, what their blood pressure was, and then get right into a plan. But then if you were to see that patient, you know, five days later, you’d have a little bit of leeway and you can just touch very, very briefly on what brought the patient in. So at that time you wouldn’t say “Patient came in at such and such time, ” in this note you would say, “It’s been hospital day five since this happened and here’s what’s happened since. “

SPEAKER: I see, I see, okay. That’s really interesting. And I’m just thinking about like, if you’re writing these notes as someone is in there with a gunshot wound that puts a certain added pressure I would imagine!

SPEAKER: Yeah. So that goes back to, you know, we do have to see patients, you know, face to face and you’re spending time with them, sometimes every hour, to make sure that they’re doing the same things that they were doing an hour ago. Like for example, this patient was talking an hour ago and now they’re not. So what’s changed? What do I have to do? Is something happening in the brain? And then of course you do have to remember to go back and write that down, so that the hospital knows, that other people that may get involved in in the care know that these were the events that happened.

SPEAKER: I see. I see. And how long do you typically take to write up one of these notes?

SPEAKER: When I first started, that would take much longer so I would say, I would think about this for you know 15 minutes, 20 minutes, take maybe five or so to write it down. Now it sounds a little surprising, but you know you might just kind of write down little blurbs on a piece of paper for when you get to a computer. So sometimes it doesn’t take as much thought just because it’s become muscle memory and it would take maybe two minutes to write the actual note.

SPEAKER: Gotcha. Okay, okay. When you think back – this asks you to sort of look way back to undergrad – when you think back to the kinds of writing you were asked to do, what kind of writing were you asked to create as a student? And do you think that those college writing experiences prepared you at all to do the kind of work that you do now?

SPEAKER: Yeah. In college, you know, there was different kinds of notes based on what subject matter. So one of the things for me since I was a biology major was doing lab reports, and in those, the writing, you know, you have to have your grammar correct spelling etcetera, which I think is kind of lost now in medicine I think that if you see somebody misspelling something you just think, “Oh this was probably, they were just very busy had to get to another patient. ” And in the other sense, you know, you really are focusing on the grammar and you know, how your sentence flow is going more in college. And I think it was kind of taught to me after is, “No. Do the opposite. ” You know, get it as clipped and as fast as you can. So that is probably a challenge now, and I think to have been better prepared, maybe to have an assignment where you are having to be as concise as you can be with still providing as much information as possible, would have probably been helpful in undergrad.

SPEAKER: That’s really interesting. Going back to this, you mentioned – it’s super interesting to me – this idea that in a medical note now in documentation, if there’s a misspelled word or some sort of grammar issue it’s really unimportant because it’s assumed that it’s because of a time constraint. Could you talk to just a little bit more about that?

SPEAKER: Yeah I think, well not just that, but in medicine I think, you know, you’re seeing doctors or physician assistants etcetera writing notes, and I think that, at least for me, the assumption is that this person is definitely worthy of their credentials, so if they misspell something it’s not as detrimental as say, something misspelled on a resume, where, you know, you’re actually still trying to prove yourself and compete for a job or a position. And in medicine, we are all already established and we’re already doing our job, and to be honest sometimes medical terminology can, you know, the spelling and the words can be a little complicated. So I think we all give each other a little bit of leeway when it comes to spelling and grammar in those senses. I personally like to have my notes and everything spelled correctly, but I do see it in other people, and I also think it comes with just the diversity in medicine. There’s a lot of providers that have trained outside of the United States and come here to do their residencies or trainings, and then eventually establish themselves to work. So English is not always the first language for everyone in medicine. So I think that plays a little bit into it, and I think that most of us that are in the hospital setting, we know that and it’s just something that we see.

SPEAKER: That is fascinating. Yeah that’s great. Thank you for that explanation. Yeah. Could you talk a little bit about what’s at stake in your writing?

SPEAKER: Yeah. So all of us in medicine think, “Okay can our note stand up in court? ” Because if you don’t write it down, you can’t say that it happened. And you know, if you do write something down you cannot erase it, if that makes sense. So medical legal is a big thing especially in the area that I practice in this city, it’s very litigious is what, you know, kind of the common knowledge is. So again, like if you have a patient that had some kind of an event it involved an ICU and nursing there, and something that is missed, things like that, you always have to document and chronicle what happened the way that you saw it so that it’s almost as if to say, “this is my side of the story, ” for something like being in court. So that’s something that’s always kind of looming as well.

SPEAKER: Yeah, absolutely. This is my own ignorance, I should know this b ut – let’s say there is some issue and there’s a lawsuit. Do you get sued or does the hospital get sued?

SPEAKER: It depends. I think most commonly it’s the hospital or the organization that you’re with. But there are times where it would be a specific doctor that is named. Usually I have not seen anywhere where a specific nurse or a specific physician assistant etcetera is being sued, but there are times where they are named as a witness or a defendant or something.

SPEAKER: Gotcha. Okay. What would you say is the most difficult thing about writing in your specific position?

SPEAKER: That’s a good question. I think the most difficult is also the most fun part at least for me, is just being able to shape and write that story of why your patient is here or why you were called to see the patient in a concise and informative way.

SPEAKER: Yeah, how do you do that? I mean because it’s one of those things – I was really interested earlier to hear you use the word story because of course I think of medical writing as so incredibly technical – but of course after hearing you describe it, you’re telling the narrative of what happened So are there certain strategies or sort of ways of thinking that you approach writing that, and why do you think it’s fun for you?

SPEAKER: Yeah I think the way that I approach it is, how do I shape his story into something that’s going to catch someone’s attention? So most of us in medicine, like if I get a call of a consult to say, “Hey this patient has some kind of an issue and it looks like they have a fracture in a bone near the ear, ” I’m immediately checked out thinking, “Why are you calling a neurosurgeon for this? We don’t take care of this. I’m not interested. ” So same thing if I’m trying to talk to a medicine doctor. I’m trying to frame my note that would be appealing to them to say, “Hey this is exactly why we need you, and this is why we hope that you’re going to accept our patient, ” because there is still, you know, some procedure in the hospital involves once a surgical problem is managed and taken care of, you want to transfer your patient to a doctor that can better take care of their medical needs, things that I don’t really manage myself. So you want to try to kind of frame the patient of, “Oh this is a really interesting medical patient now that we’re done with the surgical part of things. ” So having to write something in a way that’s going to make it relevant to other people and catch their attention is a big challenge in writing and I think it’s a challenge that’s kind of fun to try to do.

SPEAKER: That’s fascinating. Yeah I never thought about it like that. So you’re sort of trying tell the story persuasively on behalf of your patients so that they get the best care.

SPEAKER: Yeah exactly.

SPEAKER: But you’re also sort of trying to appeal to these doctors because of course I guess what you’re saying is everybody gets bored, just like any other job at some point. Like Y you want something interesting.

SPEAKER: Like Y you want something interesting. eah I think bored too, but also protective of their workload because, you know, I’m maybe seeing 30 patients on my service and then I’m saying, “Oh my god, ” I’m having five other people try to give me other patients so I’m thinking, “Okay, do I really want this patient that’s not at all really relevant to me? Or do I want the ones that are specifically neurosurgery? Yes I can do something to help you, ” that kind of thing.

SPEAKER: That’s great. That’s really fascinating. Has anyone helped you formally or informally with your actual writing since you’ve been there?

SPEAKER: Yeah I want to say that, you know, just starting a new job at a new specialty in the beginning while I was training, I would write my notes and then of course ask people, “Hey does this look okay? ” And they would tell me things more informally of “Oh, you always want to mention this in a physical exam because in neurosurgery, this is what’s important and here’s why.

SPEAKER: Yeah that’s great. How do you believe you’ve evolved or improved as a writer if at all over the course of your career?

SPEAKER: I definitely think there has been improvement, especially from, you know, training to now, because not only can I write what I need to and have it be relevant and appropriate, but I can also then take what I’ve written and say it out loud to somebody to like collaborate and treat a patient. And I think that’s definitely improved since I started.

SPEAKER: Okay. And just a couple more questions – to what extent do you think writing is valued in this organization specifically, or in your field sort of as a whole?

SPEAKER: I think writing is valued in the sense that, you know, of course all hospitals or clinics etcetera you need to document things. But I think writing is valued in the sense that every medical provider is you know, going around seeing different patients. So when you have a note that is concise, well written, it flows properly, and it really is relevant to the patient and their illness, that’s pretty impressive in our fiel. So if I read a note that’s very relevant and you know, gives me all the information that I need, I tend to say, “Oh this is like a great note, ” versus, “Oh I’ve read this note but things don’t add up. Let me go dig through the patient’s files and charts and their note from two years ago that has something relevant in that note but wasn’t included in today’s note, ” that I think is what’s emphasized a lot in our field.

SPEAKER: Okay that makes a lot of sense. Yeah. And the last little set of questions – so first, how would you define successful writing where you are now as opposed to when you were a student?

SPEAKER: Yeah I think successful writing, it just goes back to being able to write exactly the way that you would speak it and vice versa. And I think in other fields I do acknowledge that it takes so much more thought. But in medicine a lot of it is muscle memory and flow and template, and you write things the exact same way, it just differs from patient to patient.

SPEAKER: Yeah right. And it seems like – I’m just sort of thinking out loud but – I think in a lot of different fields writing from a template, we start to think that oh the writing feels stale or it’s uninventive but here it’s like it’s necessary that you follow the same format, right?

SPEAKER: Exactly. Yeah it does really matter to have things in the same format because it’s, you know, probably at a level above my head. It’s been talked about and formulated and then dispersed out to “Hey use these kinds of templates, it gives us what we need. “

SPEAKER: Right, right. And then the last question – would you say you are a successful writer at work?

SPEAKER: Yeah I would say I’m a successful writer at work. I do think it could still get better obviously, as I become a better provider and have that experience. But I do think that I’m successful in my writing.

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Software Developer

Computers & Technology, uncategorized

1:06

Q: Would you please state your job title, where you currently work, and how long it’s been since you graduated from college?

A: Wow. Um, so I am a senior principal engineer and senior director of visualization solutions at Intel corporation. Oh, and it’s been–

Q: Ballpark’s fine.

A: Thirty five years.


Q: Okay, and of that time, how long have you been in your current field?

A: Um, interesting how you would say that. Probably– depends on what you mean by current field, but in software development and whatever, whole time.

Q: Whole time? Great, thank you. Can you provide a brief description of what your primary job functions are?

A: So I manage a team of engineers, software developers, who develop graphics rendering and visualization software used mainly for two purposes: one is to make animated movies and special visual effects using a technique called ray tracing, which is algorithmically something, a compute task that models the physics of light, so you can get photorealistic things out of it, and secondly, scientific visualization used on high-performance computing supercomputers across the world for visualizing and seeing 3D models of processes and effects and cosmology and the weather and all that stuff. So the two things are kind of related, in particular in that in the last three/four years the ray tracing side of things, the need to actually see these processes more like a human sees photographs ever has actually come about, and it gives more insight into the data, like fibers attaching to a molecule, or things like that. So while it probably makes sense in the movies, because you’re trying to match, it actually makes a ton of sense in scientific vis–

Q: So this has applications in all kinds of different disciplines then?


A: It actually does. Gaming companies use our software, Dreamworks, Pixar, Illumination use it for making their movies, but I also work with Stephen Hawking’s team to watch black holes collide – things you can’t physically see but know physically are happening in the universe.

Q: Wow that’s incredible. Could you estimate, basically in an average week, what percentage of your job requires you to write? So zero to 25 percent, 25 to 50, 50 to 75, or 75 to 100?

A: I’m probably not going to use the right one; it’s right around 50 percent. Actually, most of the time I spend writing. So, it’s 50 to 75 I would say.

Q: Okay, great, excellent. What forms or types of writing are you most often asked to complete? Any particular modes or audiences, for example memos, emails, reports, proposals, those kinds of things?

A: Right. Yeah, audiences are varied, from communicating more deeply what I just told you, so lots of Powerpoint but with writing and visuals. And the audience can be technical sales people at Intel, it can be NASA Goddard, who I just visited [chuckle], so it can be NASA large supercomputing centers, or these same companies I talked about, Dreamworks, things like that. Internally also, I have a foot in the technology and the business end of what we do, so senior management’s VPs at Intel, present to them at well.

Q: Sure. So when you’re talking say, specifically or writing to sales folks at Intel, are you basically trying to express to them how they can market this technology, or what’s–?

A: Yes, that, and also, there’s one piece of thing about the technology that we do that is non-intuitive, which is, we do all our great visualization and everything on the processor, not a graphics processing unit or a GPU. So everybody thinks GPUs are by far the best thing for visual processing, but for the type of processing we do, they are not, the Intel CPU is. So we help enable Intel products that are– now Intel has GPUs, but they’re normally not very powerful or not in very powerful processors, from my perspective – I’m not saying Intel processors aren’t powerful – I’m in the data center group, so where your computer there might have two or four cores, sometimes if your boss will upgrade you, you might get six cores, I work with computers with 56 cores, and the technology that we use does require that hard performance to get that quality and the visual effect because as I said, we are essentially doing physics processing, and then turning it into a visual as well.

Q: And so then, and again, you don’t have to go into any details with your meeting with NASA, but when you are meeting with an organization like that, is that similarly sort of sales focused, in the sense that you’re trying to get them to use or participate in a certain process, or is it more informational in that they’re after you to help explain processes?

A: It’s always a little of both. I think again, with my technology, because of that non-intuitiveness– so I will tell you a little bit about my NASA visit.

Q: Sure, whatever you’re comfortable with.

A: There’s multiple NASA major sites, this one’s here in the Washington area, NASA Goddard it’s called. There’s also one called NASA Ames, right out in San Francisco area. NASA Ames completely uses our technology up and down. I was showing the NASA Goddard people what the NASA Ames was doing with our technology. The NASA Goddard people hadn’t heard of our technology, I was introducing it to them for the first time, while NASA Ames had used it for four years, five years, six years, something like that, heavily. So I was educating that their own organization used it, but in a sense selling as well, to say like, “Hey, you know, maybe you guys could benefit like the other guys do.” There’s all these benefits to it. And as a more engineering-focused person, I’m not going to sell them a bill of goods or anything, I’m just going to tell them, “This is how it works, this is why I think it’s good, these are the pieces of how you could use your system with this.” So it’s education with a sales twist I guess. You’re trying to get somebody to understand that you’ve maybe got the greatest thing since sliced bread, but maybe they need to see the sliced bread, you know, maybe they’re used to the other. So it’s a little bit of both whenever I’m talking to anyone.

Q: Sure. Great, that’s really helpful. So, we’ve maybe covered a little bit of this but, and maybe you can use the same example if you’d like, but could you walk us through the process of maybe one specific recent project that you’ve had, kind of going from the time that either assignments are given to you, or the assignment is sort of formulated, what kind of preparation you do, what kind of steps you take in your writing to see the project through to completion?

A: Okay. Well there’s– one of the reasons, so I, I mean whether this is recorded or not is fine, do you want to talk about the books I’ve written, or do you want to focus on what I do day to– you know, are you going to jump to the books, or do you want me to introduce those to you?

Q: Sure, if you’d like to, yeah.

A: Okay. So because the process of the books that I’ve been involved in writing, to me was really interesting, and also very, very detailed. While the content was detailed, the actual process of making sure that that book came out was– one, I have a writing partner, James Rinders, who we hope joins you, and James had written books before, so that was very helpful to me. And then once I understood his background and his perspective, that’s basically a huge learning process, but we mapped out everything. We would sit down, write a bunch of stuff down, you know, white boards, all that kind of stuff. But then we would turn it into an Excel spreadsheet, that– the process of writing a book, for me, after years and years of I think pretty successful software development in a variety of fields, was the most detailed – not the writing part – the saying, “this has to be done by here,” because we’re talking 20-25 chapters, 600-800 page book, deeply technical, but the writing part was close to the easiest. I mean, you would get writers block and all that stuff, but at other times you would just flow and be able to do it. And that was also challenging and enlightening, you wrote and rewrote and rewrote, and then we would share it back and forth. But to me, the thing was the de– was so interesting and unexpected, was the level of detail that we had to go through. Like, if you’re not done on this day, and we were aligning, most of our books were aligned to the release of an Intel product. So we were pre-writing it, and getting the product– so we were writing stuff about pre-launch products– if you don’t know how people build processors and everything, there’s a thing called a stepping, and almost always there’s at least two steps, if not three or four. And by stepping, we mean like, we build one, or we build 100, put them in computers, and try to make them work. And then you find out if there’s a problem, if there’s a performance problem, for high-performance computing, performance is everything, right? So anyway, we were in this process of dealing with the fact that we had a pre-production product that we were trying to write the production manual for. Not really manual, but the production, sort of a technical English version of how to use this thing, and then were learning how to use it as we did it. But the, as I said, so this was all aligned with, “well, product will launch here, we need the book to launch here,” and the detail behind that was really something. We met every week, we met for an hour, hour and a half, just going over the spreadsheet, not writing.

Q: Sounds like a ton of project management.

A: Exactly. Project management up the you know what. We used Excel, I mean Excel was perfect for what we wanted to do. But we would end up sheet after sheet, and we’re here, and then a couple of times, we had other collaborators, we were more editors. So we did two books that were a collective, and managing all those people, one book we had 60 some odd contributors, like multiple per chapter, because of their different expertise, and getting everything from, “well we want to put all your pictures in the thing,” we had to actually program manage getting a headshot for everybody. So it’s very rewarding, but if you’re going to approach doing a book, any kind of book, but in the case of a technical book where you would think, “Well, this person’s a guru, they’re just going to write it, and maybe they need an editor to help them write it,”– interestingly, we both were pretty good at English, I had a Catholic upbringing, all that stuff. So we did have editors who helped us, but they were more asking us questions like, “Should you say it this way or that way?” But anyway, all those books were a project similar in that vein. So I found that really personally interesting when I engaged in the writing. Now in the daily writing of like emails or preparing Powerpoint slides or whatever, the key thing is to think about the message that you’re trying to send. And I don’t always do this, I’m not perfect at it. Often in this hustle-bustle engineering world, you’re trying to get stuff out the door and meet customer demands and all this kind of stuff, sometimes you forget that, and it’s not that you get in trouble, it’s that you end up in a thread back and forth, like, “Oh do you mean this or do you mean that? Do you mean this, do you mean that?” So but for peers, executives, and again, like NASA or whatever, you really have to think about, “What do I want the result to be?” and then work from there. Often you just say, “Oh I know everything about this,” and you just start writing, you think about the education part, but really in the end, if you walk out the door, are they going to forget everything? Usually it’s the classic, leave them with one, two, or three call-to-actions, or just, “I hope you got this.” So that’s one, this is not me, but a manager that I had who’s actually a good friend as well says, “Tell ‘em what you’re going to tell ‘em, tell ‘em, tell ‘em what you told ‘em,” [laughter].

Q: That’s perfect [laughter]. That’s perfect.

A: And that’s a good way, you know, it’s not always every time the right way, but think if that is what you need to do, yeah.

Q: So it sounds like you have a lot of diverse writing experiences. So in the book writing world, when you’re doing this heavy collaboration and project management, and then in your sort of managerial role, when you’re kind of maybe giving directives or sort of setting the agenda, do you find that you prefer collaborative writing versus like, when you get to be the point person? Or do you see similarities or stark differences between when you’re in that sort of collaborative author mode, versus when you’re kind of in control of–

A: Yeah, I think there’s actually differences, yeah, I think, yeah, your role of the moment, right? Sometimes, you know, as a manager or technical leader or whatever, you do need the combination of listening to all the inputs but making a decision. Or you’ve already heard all the inputs and something new comes in and you know what to do. And you’re always balancing a sense of urgency with a sense of correctness. If you can get them both, sense of urgency and correct, usually you should go for it, right? Or at least move the ball forward, if it were, and you know, beg forgiveness later. Sometimes you have to do that. Other times it’s the worst thing to do. You have to listen and collaborate. On any kind of book paper – the other thing that my team does is academic papers, even though we’re a corporation, we do the equivalent of academic papers, we submit them to conferences, all that kind of stuff – and those are always, I haven’t seen one paper from my group that didn’t have at least two people, they’re almost never individual, and they like it that way. With a book, I think I possibly could write one myself now, but I still, just, I happened to get a collaborator who we really, we both thought alike, but we thought differently enough that we could you know, finish each other’s sentences, which sometimes you have to do in a book. And if it’s technical/engineering oriented, you basically always need someone to check your work. You know, always, if you want to be credible, it has o look credible, and you can just [speaker makes sound effect 17:06] fly it out there. So it really depends on the circumstances, I would say lean toward collaboration more. When I work with my team and everything, I don’t consider myself a dictator, I get all the input and everything. Now I sometimes drive them to do stuff, but it’s based on what they’ve done already, so usually they agree with me when I like pick a particular project or whatever. So for instance, the annual supercomputing conference is coming up in Dallas in November, and since we’re so visual, our software and everything, it’s great for demos, it’s great for in the booth, and you can show real live stuff. I tend to listen– most cases we try to get external partners, like the Texas Advanced Computing Center, which an NSF supercomputer, Argonne National Laboratory is going to partner with us, and we use their data and stuff. But one thing is, it’s one, hard to actually get agreement, to use that data, scientific data sometimes is held close, and then it’s brought out to the public, so we’re kind of in there. I often suggest, like we’re going to do one of these, you know, the structure of the demo, how the booth’s going to look I often do myself, but then, and say like, “Hey, you know, we’re going to do this,” but then I spread it among the team members to shepherd it to the end, so.

Q: Interesting. So, this kind of brings us luckily to our next question. You talked about how early on, you know, if you think of like, you know,  tapping a guru to write a technical book, you think it might kind of be easy because they have obviously the knowledge base and the technical skill, but you’ve also detailed like how there’s so much more that goes into actually writing than just having the knowledge base, so how did you know how to do the kinds of writing that you’re doing? It’s obvious that you have obviously the technical skill and experience, but how did you know how to then be able write about that stuff in a way that’s effective for your audience and with your collaborators?

A: Well, I mean, I reach back a little to my, you know, education kind of forced, at least the Catholic schools are known for that. I don’t want to necessarily say that public schools aren’t or whatever, but that focus in the end was the right thing, you know, for me. You really end up kind of communicating in various ways, a lot through writing. And having that confidence in writing I actually think is extremely important to get up in front of an audience and speak, which I now do fairly regularly, which I was horrible at at first. Even you know, but, kind of recognizing the key things in the writing, you know, the plot, whatever the, I guess the messaging is the plot, you know, that kind of thing. So you still kind of, you know, if you engage in that educational form, you have a start, but I do think you have to branch out from just– you’re forced these days to branch out into like I said, like a technical paper, you know, as you get in master’s or whatever you’re now writing. You know, whether you’re a biology PhD like my son is – he’s a writer/editor, he does all this similar stuff – because if you can’t communicate your knowledge, you’re basically going to be locked in– it’s fine if you’re a super mathematician– I remember one time I was with a different company – I won’t say any specifics, – but we were going to hire a math guru, and we talked to him and we just said, “If we hire him we’re going to just shove him in a room, and give him formulas,” and you know, write down what he wanted to do. But he was not going to communicate anything, we would have had to communicate for him. So there are people who are very, very good, very [inaudible 21:22] but in the end, you’re going to have to tell somebody what you did in order to get a raise [chuckle] even, or to keep your job. But from that standpoint, you know, there’s just a lot of experience. Some of it’s trial and error, some of it’s like, “Oh, you’re a new manager,” whatever, I’ve been doing it for a while, but when you first go into management, you actually don’t realize how much writing you’re going to have to do, and communicating you’re going to have to do. You kind of say like, “Okay, hopefully it’s not the Peter principle, right?” But you need to think about that, you know, what’s the message? Who am I communicating to? Who’s the audience? All that stuff is extremely important and extremely easy to forget.

Q: Excellent. Again, brings us to our next point. Can you think of a time, maybe early in your career, where you felt unprepared as a writer at work? Is there a kind of task or skill that you do in your current job that maybe you hadn’t been asked to do before, or you didn’t feel confident in?

A: Oh, I think I would say, again I think a lot of people don’t realize this as writing, but translating words– I’m kind of verbal, and I’m somewhat verbal in my writing, I’m not as terse as I should be, it’s one of the little management criticisms I get. Which meant, taking your knowledge and putting it tersely on a Powerpoint slide was, so when I– this is only the last ten years, I joined Intel ten years ago. And I was mostly used to face-to-face conversational stuff, the occasional – I don’t know if you call it memo – you know, emails, basically emailed memos, basically where you know, “We’re going to do this, we’re going to do that, here’s the status.” You know, status reports, stuff like that, where the detail is needed, you know, you could go a little crazy, the occasional trip report, that kind of thing. But when I had to, I was like, “I can’t do it.” I took this job, it was meant to be sort of a communication-oriented job, and the one thing in the whole interview process and everything they failed to mention was, all our writing, all our communication, almost everything is with Microsoft Powerpoint. Everything has to be boiled down into again, same manager, “Give me three bullet points with no more than, five words is better, eight words max, boom boom boom. And that better be your whole message,” and everything else like that. I was like lost. I was just like, “I’m uncomfortable with this.” I was extremely uncomfortable because I like to get the whole truth out, you know, and nothing but the truth, but to do that in five words? You know, how do you do that? And I still struggle a little bit with it today, but I’m much better now, I’m now comfortable. For instance, I gave a Powerpoint presentation to NASA; of course the good news is is over the ten years I’ve got a whole boatload now of presentations in different forms and stuff, so you do kind of want to get that collective thing, but occasionally I have to start from scratch and do something and it’s challenging. But for the NASA thing, for instance, I prepared for an hour on Saturday to go in front of one of the top customers, you know, or partners/customers in the world, rocket scientists literally, and I just did it in an hour, and you know, comfortable enough with what I’ve done. Other times you can take weeks to craft that thing and hone it, and I start doing silly little things like, “Is there a way to remove a word from this?” you know? And you’re there, can you make it either more powerful or communicate it with more white space? It turns out that people hate, when they see a Powerpoint, to see all words on it. At the same time, I do lots of imagery on mine, but that can be overdone too. You know, you have a pyramid that does this that and the other thing, and you think that just gives the message, and people go, “Huh?” So some of the best ones I’ve seen have been these, the only faintest imagery. I’m all about imagery, so I use a lot, but yeah, like the, “line one, concentrate on this,” you know, the build down there. Other things– people tend to hate builds, but if you use them right– you know what I mean by a build, right? Where you really could do it all in one slide, but the slide builds up over time.

Q: Sure.

A: The best builds actually are the ones that have little very little fanciness to them, and just put another bullet point, another bullet point. And again, there’s two sides of that coin, because as I’ve said before, “tell ‘em what you’re going to tell ‘em, tell ‘em whatever.” Often it’s good in certain cases it’s good for them to be reading this live while you talk, other times they might read bottom up [chuckle], where your message is down here, they’re reading bottom up, and you’re talking about this. So sometimes if you want to lead them somewhere, it’s better, if you’re going to do almost an educational, if it’s more educational you’re going to lead somebody somewhere, then builds are typically good. If you’re reinforcing a core message that they either know or they want to be refined, then sometimes it’s better have everything up there.

Q: Great, thank you. So you’ve talked a little bit about what you’ve already done to overcome those issues, but one thing that struck me when you were talking about sort of your initial discomfort in boiling down something to five or eight words – did you find that your discomfort came from like, your fear of losing, because you’re taking a really complex idea and putting it in so few words, that you were going to misinform somehow? Or was it more kind of in the communication side that you felt like you weren’t able to express yourself or your ideas or your mission as efficiently in those few words?

A: Yeah, I think there’s two things that I’m still, I won’t say struggling, but I still am conscious of it. The other thing with this kind of bullet point communication, if you want to call it that, is the, you’ll often hear somebody, particularly a senior manager or somebody like that, say, “Give me very little, just give me the three words, and just, let’s just talk to it.” I actually found that very difficult. I am very much reading the words on the slide, and then, you know, embellishing. Where sometimes it was, you know, like “What? Question mark,” and then you just, and you know, that’s not going to get you anywhere [chuckle], that you can’t leave it behind and any of that, and you just have a conversation. Again, it’s all about the context, it’s all about where you are. But I still struggle with that. What I find I don’t do too much is actually memorize the slides. The other thing I don’t do, which apparently is really really bad – I almost never rehearse, ever. I just wing it when I go. And that works two ways. One, the rehearsal would make me more nervous that I’m trying to fit within a certain thing, but for me, people say that I’m more real and more enthusiastic when I haven’t done a rehearsal, you know what I mean? So anyway, this is me. I know tons of people including senior managers and stuff, all the time– I actually was good friends with Intel’s number one senior executive, you know, helped them present. He was a good friend of mine, I had him come into my staff and everything, he was there like, “Oh no no, you rehearse four times the amount of time than it takes for you to do, you know, if you have an hour presentation, you rehearse a minimum of four hours,” literally in front of mirrors and all the kind of stuff. And I just can’t do it, my head can’t do it. But so, anybody who reads this, you still might want to rehearse [chuckle] but for me, I found it makes me, people’s feedback normally is is like, “Wow, you were into it!” or “You’re passionate about what you do,” or whatever, “It felt real,” so for me, that’s what we’re–

Q: I find that, for myself too, when I teach, you know, just have just a basic outline of a lecture, rather than have the whole thing in my head, because you’re– if it’s all in your mind already how you’re going to say it, what you’re going to say, you kind of get tripped up in the rehearsal, and you’re not thinking about the things you’re saying. It becomes rote, and you’re not engaged, so you can’t be flexible, you can’t change course, but you also can’t really show a lot of passion about the thing, because you’re not discovering the thoughts as they’re coming–

A: Right, you’re just worried about it, “Did I say everything I was supposed to say?” even though it’s your talk, right?

Q: Exactly, exactly.

A: So, yeah. So that’s one thing I do. But the other thing is is, I do need those clues, I mean, one of the worst things that can happen to me still today is that I physically can’t see the slide, like it’s behind me. I’ve seen people do that, you know, the Bill Gates of the world go in there, you know, and sometimes you have the thing in front of you or whatever, but I really need to see that slide to keep me on track, but then I’ll talk to it. So, anyway.

Q: Great, thanks. So you’ve hit on this already with your book writing and the collaboration, but for Intel, right now, does anyone specifically oversee your writing, or are you kind of– ?

A: Well, at Intel, this will be interesting for you, the people who oversee my writing the most are Intel Legal.

Q: Okay, interesting.

A: Because Intel’s a large corporation, has been involved in, you know, lawsuits because of, whether it’s impressions or whatever, of monopoly, that kind of thing, we actually have to be very careful about utilizing– there’s a couple things we have to be careful about. Not losing or genericizing our trademarks, you know, things like that, so, there’s various trademarks– Intel itself is trademarked, and utilizing that properly within the scope of legal trademarks is usually reviewed. So mostly it’s that. The content itself is not reviewed, you know, they might come back and say, “Boy that was dumbest sentence I ever had.” But they rarely will do that. They’ll just say, “You used Intel wrong here, you used trademark xyz wrong.” We have tons of trademarks, you know, Xeon processors, you always have to use– there’s all these rules. Like you have to say “Intel Xeon processors”, you can’t say Intel Xeon, you can’t just say Xeon, you can’t, you know, all this stuff. And so we have to keep track of that. I’ve learned a lot about that, so mine are normally there. And as far as a monitored no, it’s my job to get– so a review is expected, but it’s my job to either have a peer or somebody on my team work together with me. So I normally don’t do all my own stuff and then go. Someone reviews it somewhere, not because they’re overseeing me, because that is one somewhat standard, and two, the sort of collaborative practice. So I would always have one of my team members, and vice versa. I normally review my team members’ stuff, particularly when they’re going to present like a paper or stuff like that. Actually, I’m required to review their papers, but only for technical like, they accidentally spilled by some IP, some trademark, not trademark but a trade secret, or something not yet patented that we want to do. I normally do it for that. I actually let them collaborate themselves and get the English right and everything, I just sort of– one, I don’t have all that time to do that in what else I do, but for the most part, yeah, Marketing will review when it’s like a conference or anything like that, so it’s, again, depends on the circumstances. For instance, the stuff I did today for NASA, nobody reviewed it, but I used slides that had been reviewed, just the stream and everything I did. So in that weird way, if it’s been legally reviewed, I can use any slide I want in any order I want. It’s not the order with which it is, it’s, “is this legally correct?” And then I can usually do that comfortably. I occasionally go, “Don’t write this one,” [chuckle] no, I try to avoid that, but sometimes you’re asked to do something a day in advance. You know, “Go talk to GM,” or something. And you just go like [speaker makes sound effect 35:05], “this is what you’re going to get.”

Q: So it seems like Legal is mostly judging success of your writing in terms of, does it follow the sort of established protocols for trademarks and legality, all that kind of stuff?

A: Yes, yeah, occasionally, and then if it’s a sort of a Intel-sponsored public event – again we’re actually about to sponsor, you know, be in a separate hotel from the conference and do an Intel thingy – something like that will be reviewed inside out. But mostly they call it legal review. But the person who manages legal review is usually a marketing or communications specialist, like a PR person. They will actually review it for, “Is this just messed up?” So they normally will then come back and comment.

Q: So they’re maybe focused a little more on the persuasiveness of the writing– ?

A: The message. So they’ll come back and say, “This would be better,” particularly if the, there’s usually like a marketing or a sales owner for any of these conferences or one or more, and they typically get some of that stuff. The other thing we write a lot, just so you know, with a technical product, that most people don’t see, even most people at Intel don’t see it, but the people in the know do, are what’s called Q and A’s. So when we’re going to announce a product, or we’re going to have a bunch of demos or whatever, there’s this 40-page thing that says, “If somebody asks this, what’s the answer? If somebody asks this, what’s the answer?” all that stuff. And technically all the people who go the show and represent Intel enough will have read that. But normally they just, and then we document all that. So I might have ten things that I have to provide answers for for the Q and A. Ninety-seven percent of the time if they hear a question in that realm, they go, “Go over, talk to Jim,” [laughter] so they normally won’t answer it even though they’re supposed to. But anyway, that’s actually an important – at least a corporation like Intel – an important aspect of the marketing, sales, and technology. Writing all that down in 100 percent, you know, whole truth fashion, while still having to consider the audience, is a bunch of sales and marketing people, I guess many of them are engineers themselves, who only have a certain amount of time to do things. So again, you have to balance it. But it’s a different style of writing, you know, think what somebody might ask. Often you have the same question, but written in different ways. And sometimes you even give a different answer even if it’s the same question, or sometimes you say, “the answer’s above there,” because you realize, you know, so, it’s pretty interesting. The Q and A’s typically have the same context or same question, but in a different manner, you know, words moved around in how you can question, and you do your best to put two or three of those down for not every question, but a question that could be asked in a funny way.

Q: Sure, yeah, that’s really interesting. How long – and this may vary because you’ve talked about a lot of different kinds of diverse writing projects that you do – how long typically do you have to complete a writing project? Deadlines you typically work in?

A: Yeah, I would say, we are, for one of these conferences or something like that, it can be, probably the shortest is two to four weeks. And often it’s 16 weeks, even if it’s a Powerpoint presentation or whatever. Again, because of one, if every presentation has to be read by an Intel lawyer, believe it or not there aren’t that many Intel lawyers [chuckle]. There’s a lot of them, but there’s not enough to do it, so they have to get them in advance. We also have this notion that I don’t think is a problem revealing of, 50 percent, 75 percent, 90 percent, and then 100 percent done. So 50 percent is normally the outline/abstract and a flow of slides with maybe the titles on them, and then 75 percent in to 90 percent is pretty close, that’s usually what’s legally reviewed, then it comes back and then it’s, you know, made that way. That’s not for everything, but that’s for one of these Intel public things. And my favorite one which is, there was one Intel event that they held yearly, they don’t hold it anymore, where they had actually the legally qualified, they weren’t lawyers, but legally qualified to review stuff. So I often I had presentations that were 102 percent [laughter] because I would go, “Well, I put this in two weeks ago, and you know, the world changed or something, and I want to add this,” and they actually knew that that would happen, that was fun. So occasionally I get 101 percent or something like that.

Q: That’s excellent. So you mentioned your experience as a student in Catholic school, and it being writing-intensive. Can you think of the kinds of writing that you were asked to create when you were a student, whether high school, college, or whatever, and in what ways do you think your college writing experience, or even if you want to go earlier than that, prepared or did not prepare you for the kind of stuff you do in the workplace now in terms of writing?

A: Umm, yeah I mean obviously grade school through high school, the book report was one of the driving things. When we went towards mid high school is when they would give you more of a research paper type thing, you know, “This is what you’re going to encounter in college.” Or like a creative writing thing or something like that. And then into college, you ended up having that. I remember when I was in high school, and I went to a public high school actually – so I went to grade school Catholic and then public high school – umm, I did feel, obviously it wasn’t hugely prepared, but at least I had seen one or two of these things where you have to do an outline, and structure with the outline, you know, begin filling it in, conclusion, and the whole kit and kaboodle. And in the end, even in bachelor’s degree, I had a seminar course that I needed to pass in order to get out, it was a business management seminar course, and I had to do a whole study on actually a technology company, and I would say– so part of that course was surveying a variety large businesses, it was so that you could do some kind of market analysis when you got out. So the teacher kind of helped with that, but mostly they counted on you having the structure and everything, and I got an A. And it was one of those classic all-nighters, you know, three days before I’m supposed to put on a cap and gown [laughter], you know, typing it up, you know, writing, and then typing, and you know, because I am old enough that it was a typewriter that I was working with, right before computers became super useful in that respect, word processors. And yeah, I felt that that education got me to that point. What I would say though, I ended up mostly going into software development and everything else like that, and for mainly I wrote code for a while, and would have to do a little bit of design, a little bit of writing. Actually now I’m going to reverse myself. There was one big project I did where I wrote a 40-page design document which kind of was like writing the book, but I actually didn’t draw on that until you just reminded me, but I remember this design, “This is who this thing works, and this is how it’s going to work,” and defining the programming interface and all that kind of stuff. So you, yeah, actually and it’s a very similar structure. So I would say there’s some measure of preparedness that I had probably I would say, particularly for a technical person, I’m actually guessing, I would guess and I didn’t have this, is something like a creative writing course actually would be good because of the whole thing about the messaging and everything that I was saying – I think I learned that more on the job and more in response to not doing it well. But if someone is more looking for a technical job I would not eschew things like creative writing. I don’t think you have to take seven years of it or whatever, but definitely take a creative writing course and force yourself– and if you’re going to be technical at all with a research bent, then you’re going to have to write papers. And so I think gaining any of that experience, you know, get over that fear. I would say for me, I kind of eschewed that. I was, every course technical, every, you know, whatever, catching up although again, I had these course where you’re required to do it, which was great. But I think the flip is creative writing. I think that that may actually make some sense in the technical engineering world, just that structure that you have to do to– because I know it’s really hard, actually. I know to be creative you actually, you have to pound your head against the wall. So anyway.

Q: That’s good, that’s something I try to convince my students of. And maybe they’ll believe it coming out of your mouth [laughter]. So you’ve hit on this a little bit, what’s at stake in the writing that you do? I know you talked about like bumping into legal and marketing and stuff like that, but what would you say are the stakes for the kind of writing that you’re doing for your job?

A: Yeah, there’s two or three that I’m thinking of. So one is simply getting it right – effective communication. Clear, as concise as possible, do what I say not what I do, and you know, making sure that you understand the point you’re getting across. Think about that in advance, and you will forget it multiple times, but go back to that. Another thing I would say also in the business setting and the higher up you get, it’s often a good idea to wait ten minutes, particularly if you’re responding to something and you feel anxious about it, either negative, like you’re about to type something negative or whatever. Think about it, and I’ve screwed that up too, it usually doesn’t work out too bad, but it can. Frankly these days you really have to be careful with any discriminatory language at all, not because you should use it, but you just have to make sure that you don’t accidentally use it. Particularly if you are not discriminatory at all, just be careful, you know, with making sure you consider the population that may do it. The other thing, that this is highly related, is, don’t necessarily think that only the four people that you sent your email to will actually see it. Not because the corporate gods are looking at everything, because they may forward it, okay? So, you’re often writing an email as a message to somebody else who’s not on the line, that you expect them to forward it to. They’re not required to, but that happens. So just, anyway, that sort of goes back to the, you’re writing to four people who you think are colleagues, but personal friends, you have to be careful. And then, for Intel, like I said the legal thing is a big deal. If you are going to write something disparaging about a competitor or something, again, that sort of goes back to discriminatory, but in the context of Intel, we’ve been put in front of you know, judges, for being anticompetitive, or whatever the right thing is. So you know, those are the stumbling blocks. But usually in the end, it’s about truly effective communication. The other things are just, you either learn or you, you know, they’re more I guess somewhat mechanical in a way, just make sure you keep your head on straight. But yeah, I mean, I think the other thing for young people is to realize that corporations, even big corporations like Intel, are surprisingly flat. So you might have just joined, you got out of college, bachelor’s, master’s, whatever, you join some company, some VP who’s two steps away from the CEO, even if you’re in 100,000 person company like me, there’s a good chance they’re going to hear about your stuff, okay? For good for bad.

Q: Wow. Right. So that adds stakes to everything you’re doing.

A: Yeah, so your personal career stakes typically, you know, you’re not obviously not completely on the line, you know, if you’re a little huffy with your manager or something like that, or we often talk about bringing out the elephants in the room, if there’s something that needs to be said but you’re afraid management will take it the wrong way or whatever, sometimes you do need to say it. But you know, again, make sure that you’re confident that you’ve done the do diligence. That probably for a young person, it’ll be, “Oh of course this is wrong, or right,” or whatever, just take a moment, think about, “Are there other ways that this could be read? And did I do all the do diligence behind what I’m about to say?” You know, like, “Hey we should go into the gaming market!” or whatever, when the company doesn’t do that, or whatever. Now that may be the greatest thing, you actually might be right, that might be the elephant in the room. Just make sure when the exec says, “Yeah, but what about” and they’re completely right, and you’re [speaker makes sound effect 51:24] like that. So just, again, that’s not afraid to do that, because that’s actually how you move forward in your career, just one more, you know, extra thought, “Could there be a different way this is presented?”

Q: Sure, great. That’s fantastic. What would you say the most difficult thing about writing in your field or your particular position right now would be?

A: Um, one, it is most difficult? It’s not really difficult, the legal thing is more of a hassle, I think. Really it boils down to the sense of urgency, or the, basically, you were asking me how often, you know, what kind of time I do. Sometimes, you know, that’s a real mix bag for conscientious writing your presentations or whatever, technically you’re supposed to be told in advance, like, “In three weeks you’re going to go to meeting X and do Y,” right? That’s like 90 percent of the time, 85 to 90. Ten to 15 percent of the time, it’s you know, “We know you’re the expert in this area,” or, “We know you know about this,” or, “You complained about something, we want to hear it,” and it’s the next day. And so it’s more the, all those considerations I just said here, is when they get squashed, where you’re not comfortable anymore, that you have done your do diligence and everything because of it. Now typically, in the right circumstances, you can, not fluff it off, but you can just say like, “Consider that I’ve only had a day to,” you can say that, okay? But sometimes you can’t. Sometimes you’ve been invited to a key customer technical meeting, where you’re the expert ,and you’re supposed to come in as if you thought of everything for the last seven years, and you’re just telling them that. Where actually you only had, the person said the night before, “Oh crap, this person should be there.” So that’s a difficult circumstance that you sometimes have to go through, and it works about 75 percent of the time, and 25 percent [chuckle] you get whacked. Just be aware of that, and again, have good relationships with your peers and your management who know that you are technically skilled and everything, and you just got kind of thrown under the bus.

Q: Right, yeah. Great, that brings us to the next um, has anyone helped you with your writing, either formally or informally, since you left school?

A: Oh yeah. I mean, well I would say again, James was very, very useful. I do think I had the basics, and I think maybe even he might say that I helped him. He helped me more, by the way. But yeah, the partners, collaborators, managers. A good manager will help you with this context, you know, this move for conciseness, powerful concepts, you know, I’ve definitely had managers, friendly peers, all that stuff. I think something I did learn after I left is this notion of collaboration, actually asking for help. Often you think you’ve been directed, particularly when you’re younger, your manager says, “Go such and so and do a trip report. Go out, meet a few customers, come back, give me a trip report, tell me what you found.” And you actually go do that and never had anybody read what you wrote or whatever, and you handed it to your manager. Other thing you can do is, typically when a manager wants that, he wants to forward it somewhere, just like I just said. So what you actually can do is, write up the outline, write a few key points, and hand it to the person who asked for it, and say, “I’m not done yet, but this is the direction I’m taking, is it okay?” So you feel like you’ve been dictated to or whatever, often the right approach back is just to say, “Can you just look at this, make sure I’m on the right path?” Actually it feels like that’s hard to do, or you don’t think of that, but that collaborative nature to– and then they’ll give you guidance, they actually feel good, they feel like a mentor as opposed to like a manager or whatever, and people like that. Now some people will be jerks, but that’s a very tiny percentage. So I would say, you know, even if you did everything I said here, creative courses, everything, “I’m good to go!” the review and the breadth of reviewers is actually something that’s, and again I forget it sometimes with timing or whatever, but it’s way better to pass it by either a friendly reviewer or the person who wants to see the end result. Because typically, particularly in the business world, they want to see the end result because it’s going to help them communicate, they don’t have all the time in the world. They’re giving you an opportunity, you know, and if they’re giving you that opportunity, and you have a good enough relationship, you can always just show it at 50 percent.

Q: Sure. That’s great, that’s fantastic to hear. Just a few more. How do you feel that you’ve most evolved or improved as a writer over the span of your career?

A: Oh I think that yeah, probably the biggest thing is, and again, I think this is where the creative writing is attempting to reduce the verboseness, which tends to turn something more powerful. The problem is, of course, if you overdo it, then it tends to be confusing, right? And then you might have a lot of big words in there and it doesn’t mean anything. But yeah, the notion of thinking about the message – really important. And then delivering that message in the fewest amount of words. And that’s not always the right thing to do, you know, you’ve got technical papers and things like that, where you literally have to prove that you know everything, you’re basically writing a proof, that’s a lot different than writing, not an opinion, but a fact-based communication. So I think the biggest thing that I look at when I write is trying to be more concise, and I’m still working on it, and I will be until my grave.

Q: Yeah, I think it’s always an ongoing process, but that’s fantastic. To what extent do you think writing is valued in your particular organization and then in your field as a whole?

A: That’s a great question. I think it is. I’ll give you one anecdote. You know, I think it is, but I also think it’s, in a way it’s expected, right? So there’s an expectation that everybody can do it, and at the same time, I think that everybody are very nervous about doing it, right? So there’s an expectation that you’re going to do it right. But for me, the biggest thing that shocks me is that, this is mostly for the books, when you have done a book like that– so after I did the first book, I didn’t realize that something was going to happen. So the book was Intel-oriented, it was sort of around an Intel technology, but it was a technical book. Intel wanted me to sign books [laughter]. They wanted to give away books, they would buy the books, we would go to these conferences, and then like I’m this weird kind of 15 minutes of fame celebrity? But what shocked me was the number of people who would line up and thank you, and shake your hand, and be thrilled, from all over the world. So for me, I just thought, well I mean, I’m happy I did the book, I think it does what it’s supposed to do, it educates, it talks about our thing or whatever, but actually the value to the community outside Intel was very high. So James and I would often – he was a pro at it because he had done it before – but again, when it first happened it was new to me. And I’ve done a total of four books at this point, and each one just shocked me. I went and did a talk in Seoul, South Korea, shortly after I did one of the books, I was talking in my technology area, but then they had arranged the book thing, and everyone in the conference, I mean it was a volunteer thing, but everyone in the conference lined up like out the door, and they’re like, I literally go like, “Are you sure that these people care that much about this?” [laughter]. So what I say is, is it is valued, it’s certainly valued, if you do it right, then it’s valued outside. It’s a very tiny, you know, I forget, I think I’ve sold maybe 10,000 books total, something like that? But when those people, and they were getting it for free, but they also could have walked away with the getting it free. But they were like, “Thank you,” and then they would say like, “Can I have one for my buddy?” That was always funny, like, “Uh, I know I only get one book, but Joe Blow had to be at something else or couldn’t come with me,” and sign it. So you would do that, it’s you know, both a nice gesture and kind of nice, but then throughout that conference, they’d like wave the book at you, and “Hi,” and you know it was, and anyway the bottom line is, is that’s my anecdote, not really about me, but about other people, of valuing somebody who took that time to do that.

Q: Exactly. You don’t always, and not in every field where you get that kind of like instant feedback.

A: Yeah, exactly, exactly.

Q: You know, if you spent your life writing scholarly stuff you’d [crosstalk]–

A: And we would, yeah, and we had like a website, you know, and occasionally we would get a question, but often we would get like, “Wow, I read chapter blah-blah-blah, and now I know more, and just wanted to let you know.” And so that was always fun.

Q: That’s great. Yeah, even just to have that quantifiable appreciation is [crosstalk]–

A: Yeah it’s really nice and I actually didn’t expect it. I actually thought it was, you know, at a way good for me, but also, mainly good for Intel in a way, I wrote it. I knew that it would be something I wanted to achieve, you know, a bucket list kind of thing, and yeah, when you asked that question, you know, that’s what I think of, of the response on the outside. And the same thing with, I know with the papers and stuff that my team– I’ve actually been co-author only on paper and my team has done otherwise, they’re really deeply technical, but those folks are, you know, sort of considered rock stars out in the world when they go and they do a presentation, and then people gather around you, and it’s– so even when you write something, if you write an important paper, seminal might be a strong word, but if you write an important paper that people get out of it, then they have very high praise for that. And the only reason they have high praise is because the paper communicated to them, it was written well. If it wasn’t written well, I won’t necessarily if they don’t have high praise if you’re a technology guru or whatever, but if it’s written well, then they respect you more.

Q: And it’s going to hit a lot more people too.

A: Exactly.

Q: Excellent. So very last question – how did you define successful writing when you were a student, versus how you maybe define successful writing now? And would you say that you consider yourself a successful workplace writer?

A: Okay. I think the student one’s easy and rote [laughter]. If I got a C minus, or a D plus, A, whatever, if that, and you know, I do think when the professor says something like “well written” or “liked it”, just that other little extra. You know, the A or B or whatever’s good, but if they say like, you know, circle something, “I really liked this part, you really got it.” So that was, I think that extra note maybe back, or even sometimes, you know, God forbid you had to read it in class, or you had to share it as a team member and a team member would say that, that’s good, because I don’t think people do have to do that. And now I think, yeah, the satisfaction’s a little less overt other than the one I just talked about it, you know, people wanting you to sign a book or something. But it, right or wrong, you left a meeting and they said, “Thanks, we really got it.” Or, for instance, my NASA meeting today is, is, “We’re going to download your software and start using it.” That’s, you know, that’s pretty good feedback. So, I think the answer is, is pretty successful, always working on it, stumble across those non-thinking mistakes a lot, not always, but you know, it is one of these things where I’ll have to go back and remember to do what I said to do. But I think yeah, I think it’s– sometimes all it takes is, you can tell when, there’s almost always a “thank you”, but when it’s a sincere thank you, when you really feel that, that’s when you get it, you did a presentation, you did a talk, you wrote something, or somebody goes like, “Wow that’s good, I really get it,” okay? And you don’t always get that, and very often you get this, “Ah, okay, thanks for presenting,” you know, “Checkmark done, Jim presented this week.” That’s sometimes what happens in the workplace. Other times when they think they’re going to give a checkmark, and they go like, “Wow, you enlightened me,” or whatever, or, “Wow, really thank you. We didn’t get it.” Hopefully you get that 30 percent of the time [chuckle]. I think if you do get it 30 percent of the time then you’re winning, yeah.

Q: Alright, thank you.

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Level: Can be customized for writers at all levels and disciplines. 

Context: This assignment focuses on recognizing the shift in rhetorical strategies when writing within different media and writing spaces, particularly within academic, professional, and online modes.

Assignment:

It’s natural for us to change how we speak to different audiences within different contexts – the diction and tone of how we’d talk to a good friend is different from how we’d address an employer, a professor, a grandparent, etc. However, when we are asked to make the same shifts in our writing voices, many of us struggle to adapt to varying audiences. In the AWWE interview with a Content Manager and Contributing Editor for a lifestyle blog, we hear about how many of us learn to write a specific kind of “college” academic writing in school, but sometimes struggle to write engagingly and authentically in less formal spaces:

I’ve done so much academic writing my entire education and most of my career , it’s really hard for me to be conversational in writing and […] lot of the comments that I get in terms of edits [are to] actually make this less stuffy? How can we make it less academic sounding, how can we make it sound less boring ? You know how can we make it seem like you’re talking to your friend? And I really struggle with that. […] But it’s a totally different kind of writing than I’m used to. So you know I have trouble grasping that part of it. Like, you know it’s it’s very informal writing, I should say . It’s conversational, you know, there’s –you know, abbreviations and, and […] little phrases that people, the kids, nowadays  use. But then, it’s like, you know, for me it’s like well can I take it as seriously as I take say the [New York] Times of The Atlantic or something like that? Like what –you know, what’s real and what’s better? And there is no better really. It’s more in terms of you know are you able to write for your audience?

For this assignment, you will select three writing sources related to your discipline. One will be a scholarly journal article, one will be a trade magazine or professional blog article, and the third will be a top post on a subreddit related to your field. For example, in Psychology, you might select the scholarly journal Developmental Psychology; for your trade magazine article source, you may visit Psychology Today Magazine, and for a subreddit source, you may visit a top post on r/psychology.  If you are interested in a field like Finance, you might instead opt for visiting The Journal of Corporate FinanceForbes Magazine, and r/personalfinance, respectively. Note: for the reddit post, you should choose a top rated post (sort by Top) in the sub’s history and also read some of the most upvoted comments. This is one metric we can use to determine “effectiveness” or success of writing in that mode.

Next, for each of these three sources, you will be asked to analyze the tone and style of writing that is generally accepted within each of these writing spaces.

Consider:

Scholarly Journal

  1. How would you describe the typical structure of an article/post here?
  2. How would you describe the overall tone of the writing? Is it formal? Informal? 
  3. Do you notice any kind of specialized terms or jargon being used? If so, what are those terms?
  4. Do you find this easy or enjoyable to read? Why or why not?
  5. Who do you think the audience for this piece is? How can you tell? Are there any words/ideas expressed here that you don’t understand?
  6. What do you think about the author (who they are, their interests and qualifications) based on the way that they’ve written this piece?

Trade Journal

  1. How would you describe the typical structure of an article/post here?
  2. How would you describe the overall tone of the writing? Is it formal? Informal? 
  3. Do you notice any kind of specialized terms or jargon being used? If so, what are those terms?
  4. Do you find this easy or enjoyable to read? Why or why not?
  5. Who do you think the audience for this piece is? How can you tell? Are there any words/ideas expressed here that you don’t understand?
  6. What do you think about the author (who they are, their interests and qualifications) based on the way that they’ve written this piece?

Subreddit

  1. How would you describe the typical structure of an article/post here?
  2. How would you describe the overall tone of the writing? Is it formal? Informal? 
  3. Do you notice any kind of specialized terms or jargon being used? If so, what are those terms?
  4. Do you find this easy or enjoyable to read? Why or why not?
  5. Who do you think the audience for this piece is? How can you tell? Are there any words/ideas expressed here that you don’t understand?
  6. What do you think about the author (who they are, their interests and qualifications) based on the way that they’ve written this piece?

Overall

  1. What are the biggest differences you notice between this source and the other sources?
  2. What are the biggest similarities (if any) that you notice?
  3. What do you think is most important to consider when writing in formal contexts?
  4. What do you think is most important to consider when writing in informal online contexts?
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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Contextualizing Figures and Visual Data

uncategorized

Level: Can be customized for writers at all levels.

Context: This assignment focuses on visualized and graphical information and on asking students to consider how their audience (and that audience’s knowledge base and identity) shapes the way in which information is presented, explained, and contextualized. This could be done as an in-class assignment, alone or in groups, or as a homework assignment.

Assignment:

Often we see information or data presented to us in a visual form—tables, figures, charts, graphs, etc. It is vital that data be communicated clearly in order for that information to be both understood and taken seriously. In the AWWE interview with a Lab Manager at the National Institute of Health, we hear about the importance of clarity and consideration of audience when writing successful captions and other text about graphical data:

If your figures don’t reinforce what the writing says and if the writing doesn’t match up with the figures, then you’re never going to get it published. […] So actually what becomes the most important writing is actually the captions for the pictures. The thing that actually describes what you’re looking at – that needs to be letter perfect. […] A successful caption makes the figure seem as not busy as possible. The worst thing you want is a lot of pictures and a very little bit of explanation, so it just looks like a busy figure. ‘Cause the risk you run with science is people just tune out. If there’s a bunch of figures with a bunch of subfigures and the caption doesn’t thoroughly explain them, or explain them in a way that’s intuitive, then they’ll just gloss over it, and then you’ve lost most of your impact. […] I’ve learned a lot about writing captions in this job, because we do have these beautiful pictures, and that’s kind of the bait. It gets people to look at the paper. And so you’ll have a beautiful picture of a neuron– our neuron is actually beautiful, it has this sinusoidal curve, like an s, so it’s very easy to find when you’re looking at a bunch of neurons in a brain, so that’s useful, but also it just makes for some great pictures. So you have that, beautiful green or red or green/red/yellow neuron against a black background – gorgeous – and then next to that, you’ll have a plot, or you’ll have some numbers. So you’ve got the bait, […], and it’s all about constructing that so that the reader enjoys it and doesn’t get bogged down by too much information.

In this interview, we see several important elements to consider when writing about graphical data:

  1. Is my caption/writing accurately expressing the information/data shown on the chart/graph/table?
  2. Do I have too many figures/subfigures without enough proper explanation and contextualization of the data? Is it clear what this all means?
  3. Have I considered my audience (what they know, how they are likely to see/understand the graphics presented, their level of interest, etc) in how I’ve written about this data?

The interviewee is writing captions and text about visual data in scholarly articles written to other scientists, or experts in that field. Their knowledge of that particular audience and genre drives a lot of the decisions made in their writing. To get a sense of how different audiences can shape and direct our own writing choices in this mode, please follow the instructions below:

  1. Choose a graphical data source: a chart, graph, infographic, table, etc from a reputable research institution. For example, you might visit the graphics page of the Bureau of Labor Statistics or something similar.
  2. Read the data source closely and make sure you have a firm understanding of what the source is expressing.
  3. For each of the three different audiences respond to the following questions:

Writing for Experts in the Field:

  • Compose an appropriate one to two sentence caption that accurately expresses the figure itself and the data/information included in the chosen graphic.
  • Compose some accompanying text (about 40-50 words) that highlights any important relationships, data points, or features of the graphic.
  • Describe how the audience (Experts) influenced the information you chose to include. How did knowing the audience affect your word choice and your tone?
  • Based on this audience, what do you think a caption and the accompanying text you composed were meant to achieve (purpose)? How did you go about achieving that purpose?

Someone in your Peer Group:

  • Compose an appropriate one to two sentence caption that accurately expresses the figure itself and the data/information included in the chosen graphic.
  • Compose some accompanying text (about 40-50 words) which highlights any important relationships, data points, or features of the graphic.
  • Describe how the audience (Peers) influenced the information you chose to include. How did knowing the audience affect your word choice and your tone?
  • Based on this audience, what do you think a caption and the accompanying text you composed were meant to achieve (purpose)? How did you go about achieving that purpose?

Someone Who May be Skeptical of the Data:

  • Compose an appropriate one to two sentence caption that accurately expresses the figure itself and the data/information included in the chosen graphic.
  • Compose some accompanying text (about 40-50 words) which highlights any important relationships, data points, or features of the graphic.
  • Describe how the audience (Skeptics) influenced the information you chose to include. How did knowing the audience affect your word choice and your tone?
  • Based on this audience, what do you think a caption and the accompanying text you composed were meant to achieve (purpose)? How did you go about achieving that purpose?
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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Technical Delivery Manager

Sciences

SPEAKER:             Could you please state your job title and where you currently work?

SPEAKER:             My job title is a technical delivery manager and I work for Microsoft.

SPEAKER:             And how long have you worked in your current field?

SPEAKER:             My current field? Six and a half years.

SPEAKER:             Okay. How long has it been since you graduated from college?

SPEAKER:             It has been, oh geez, 2008, so I guess– –from

SPEAKER:             –from undergrad.

SPEAKER:             Oh from undergrad?

SPEAKER:             Yeah.

SPEAKER:             Um 2003, so it’s been [laughter] I can’t do math–

SPEAKER:             Fifteen years [laughter].

SPEAKER:             Fifteen years, yeah, okay. 

SPEAKER:             Could you provide a brief description of your primary job functions?

SPEAKER:             Sure. So as a technical delivery manager, I have direct oversight for 30 individuals that are a blend of either a consultant or what we call a PFE. A consultant is someone that goes in to a customer, does architecture, implements new design, new software for that company. A PFE is a premier field engineer and they are someone that goes in to really do fixes, workshops, those types of things.

SPEAKER:             Does PFE stand for something?

SPEAKER:             Premier field engineer.

SPEAKER:             Oh I’m sorry. Okay, yeah, thanks, okay. Can you please estimate, in an average week, what percentage of your job requires writing?

SPEAKER:             So the unique part about this job is that I am directly managing these individuals but it is all remote. So the majority of my communications with them is through writing, either through email, or through text messaging, through Skype. We do have at least monthly phone calls, and then in the unique situation where we’re able to actually meet face to face, but we’re all located in different parts of the country so that doesn’t happen very often. So I would probably say at least 90 percent of my communication with them is through writing.

SPEAKER:             Wow, okay. That’s interesting you mentioned text messaging – so is that typical of this sort of relationship because you have to have such close contact with them and sort of rapidly, I guess?

SPEAKER:             Yeah. So we all have each other’s phone number because, like if I’m in a meeting and they know that I don’t have my computer with me, and they need an immediate answer, then they’ll have to text message me. So I’m constantly monitoring my phone when I’m in meetings too.

SPEAKER:             Interesting. Okay. You talked about how you communicate with them over email, over text, those types of modes but, are there other forms of writing or types of documents that you complete in writing?

SPEAKER:             There are. So part of my monthly one-on-one with them, we actually use OneNote, and in that OneNote it’s kind of a shared working document that we have with them. And in that OneNote, the first section is an agenda that I want to make sure that we hit on every month, because I’m not there working with them every day. Part of my job is to be able to communicate to my manager all of the amazing things that my people are doing so that I can give them the highest rewards when it comes to reward time. So part of the things that I touch on are, you know, what is the new work sold that you’re working on at your customer? So how are you increasing the revenue? How are you increasing the Cloud consumption with your customer? So if the customer is not on the Cloud yet, or how can we get them more licenses on the Cloud to get more Cloud consumption?

SPEAKER:             Can you just talk about the time, explain what that means in a little bit more detail?

SPEAKER:             Yeah, so because I work primarily with the government sector, a lot of our government customers are still on premise, meaning that they don’t host anything that’s not in the physical location at their company. But what they’re trying to move to is more Cloud based. So as you can imagine, there would be security concerns. So we have to make sure that, you know, we’re doing things in a way that has been approved by the government. And every agency is different. So it can actually take years for us to be able to write a security document that they agree to before we can even start talking about moving to the Cloud. So the first documentation that we do is the one-on-one agenda, and they’re talking about intellectual property that they’re developing. We talk about communities that they belong to, and how they’re contributing to those communities, and those are technical communities where, you know, you’re helping your fellow Microsoft employees around the world with other technical problems that they’re running into. So you’re, you know, utilizing the resources within Microsoft. The way that we judge our consultants and PFEs is we have three impact circles that we want to make sure that they’re all hitting on. And so we talk about that in the one-on-one and the three impact circles are: how are you contributing to the success of the business? How are you building off the work of others? And how are you contributing to the success of others? And so when I’m talking through these one-on-ones with my consultants and PFEs, it’s eye opening to them, too, if they don’t have anything to tell me under each of those bullets, and then they realize, “Oh those are some of the things that I can be working on, ” and I help them find ways to have more impact in those areas. And then the other thing that we talk about during those one-on-ones is their career development plan. So what’s their short term, long term, you know, do they need mentors, do they need training, things like that to help them get to the next stage in their career. So I provide them with the resources to do that, and then the other part of that is, if we are working on promoting them during the next promotion cycle, we’re working on you know, shaping that story so that when it comes time for the promotion it’s a much easier process than trying to scramble and find all the information that we’ll need to get them.

SPEAKER:             Interesting. Can we talk about that a little bit?

SPEAKER:             Yeah.

SPEAKER:             If you’re putting one of the people who work for you up for promotion, that phrase sort of “shaping a story” is really interesting. So I assume that those promotional materials happen in writing?

SPEAKER:             They do., yeah

SPEAKER:             And so can you talk a little bit about like what you mean by shaping that story, in terms of promotion materials?

SPEAKER:             Yeah, so what I want to do is if I’m promoting someone to the next level, I want to make sure that they’ll be a success in that role. So I want to make sure that they are already demonstrating some of those qualities that we would expect in that next level. And so if I’m not seeing that they’re doing these things, then I’ll give them some ideas on, you know, based on what they’re interested in. You know, “Here are some ways that you can explore your interests at Microsoft while having those impacts to be able to say that you’re ready for that next level.

SPEAKER:             Got it. Oh that’s really interesting, yeah.

SPEAKER:             And so the one-on-ones are one form of writing that we do. And then the other piece that we do in writing that’s more formal are our Connects, which are really reviews that we do twice a year, and that’s to make sure that the first Connect of the year is to make sure that they’re clear on what all of their core priorities are, and that I can make sure that they have a good plan to achieve what they need to achieve that year. And then if they don’t, then that’s, you know, a further conversation that we have so that I can help them shape that plan. And then the Connect at the end of the year is really, you know, “This is how you did   throughout the year, you know, here’s what you could have done better or here’s what you excelled at. ” [Crosstralk] a conversation.

SPEAKER:             Okay, gotcha okay. And are there other types of documents that you write frequently? Or that pretty much covers it?

SPEAKER:             That covers the documents. And then there’s the email communication that tends to happen on a daily basis.

SPEAKER:             Perfect. That makes sense. Could you walk me through the process for maybe a recent specific writing project, maybe one of the more complex writing projects that you do, sort of from start to finish, like what that process looks like for you as you’re actually preparing to draft, drafting, revising–?

SPEAKER:             Yeah so probably the most complicated writing project that I have to do is the Connects, because I have 30 individuals that I need to write all of these write ups on. Part of that also is– or a part of it that I like to get is, what we call at Microsoft, perspectives -that’s where you request feedback from people that you’ve worked with throughout the year. And that’s really helpful for me as a manager that’s not working directly with you you know, because if you have a project manager that’s there on site at the customer with you every day, it’s great to get their perspective, and understand, “Here’s what you did well, here’s what you should keep doing, here’s what you might want to rethink. ” And then it’s really interesting because, you know, every individual can see what people are writing about them, but we’ve kind of shaped the culture where we accept that none of us are perfect, and we all have things that we can work on, and so it’s really kind of interesting to read those and just how people can just take them and realize, “Oh you’re right, I can be a little bit better at that. ” Yeah. And so that’s part of the write up is getting all the perspectives from everybody that they’ve worked with. And what I have found–

SPEAKER:             Sorry to clarify, those perspectives might be coming from a Microsoft employee but maybe not? Would they ever come from a client?

SPEAKER:             They are always within Microsoft. On a rare occasion I’ll get an email from a customer to tell me about how someone is doing, but the perspective’s tool itself where we gather feedback is just Microsoft. Yeah. And then what I find helpful in the Connects, because I have so many to write, is I create a template based on what I know that I want to say to everybody, and then as I write each individual’s, I’ll customize it based on what they’ve actually accomplished, and what they actually need to work on, or what their actual next career steps are.

SPEAKER:             Okay awesome. And then as you’re actually drafting, you’re looking at the perspectives, you’re looking at other documents, sort of being retrospective about their work for the year, and then does anyone, when you’re done with it, is it final or is there someone who reviews it?

SPEAKER:             When I’m done with it is final, but it is a really good item to have, or artifact to have, if that person ends up changing managers, because then, once that person changes managers, then that manager can then go in and see all of the historical information for that individual to kind of see, you know, how are they performing before, were there any things that they needed to work on, or are there things they excelled at.

SPEAKER:             Gotcha. Oh that’s. interesting, okay This is a broad question, but how did you know how to perform these types of writing?

SPEAKER:             That’s a good question. I talked to a lot of people that had been in my particular role for longer than me to understand how they did it, and what I found really helpful was to make sure that I didn’t just talk to one person. I talked to several different people, and then what I kind of did was took everything that they all said, and the pieces that I liked and that worked for me, and then put it together into a way that worked with my style. And then that way I felt like I wasn’t missing anything. And it was really interesting how everyone really did have their own style. And so I feel like, you know, sometimes it’s better to, you know, get all of those different styles, understand what framework you have to follow, but then do what works for you, because I feel like you always have to be true to yourself and your own style, or else it really s tarts to show within your work.

SPEAKER:             Yeah, that’s really interesting. Can you describe a time in your career that you felt unprepared as a writer at work?

SPEAKER:             Yeah. So I was asked to do a presentation during an off-site without an notification at all, and it was on a topic that I wasn’t that clear on. And s o what I decided to do was to turn it into a working session, because I decided that if I wasn’t quite clear on the subject, then probably most of my peers in the room weren’t clear on it either, and so it would be a good opportunity, since it’s really rare for all of us to be in the same room together, to talk through it and, you know, kind of have it be more of a working brainstorming session than me actually presenting to them on a topic that I wasn’t quite sure of. So it ended up working out, and it and it led to an additional project that I worked on, it was helping to shape subcontractors working with our contracts. And so yeah.

SPEAKER:             Yeah that’s interesting. o in terms of like strategies to get yourself up to speed, you talked about talking to other people, asking them about their process and their style, and you talked about this presentation and sort of rethinking like, “Okay what does my audience really need? What can I offer? ” and thinking of things that way – are there other strategies or techniques that you’ve put into place about your writing to adjust or improve? Are there other things that you’ve done to improve or grow as a writer?

SPEAKER:             Yeah I think it’s really important to have other people read your work, because I think sometimes you can know a subject so well, and you think that you’re being clear because you understand that subject, but in reality, the person that could be reading it might not have that level of understanding that you do. And so I have found that when other people read my work and they ask questions, it’s really enlightening to me to realize, “Oh I think I need to take a step back sometimes and do a little bit more explaining of what the actual subject is and any definitions. ” One of my biggest pet peeves is when people use acronyms right off the bat, and you know, I think we’ve all run into cases where there can be the same acronym for multiple things. And so it can be totally misinterpreted. And so I think it’s really important to have people review your work, and also do a good job explaining in the beginning.

SPEAKER:             That’s really interesting, yeah. Is there someone, like sort of in the built in structure of your team or your hierarchy, that is sort of a natural fit for asking to look at your work, or do you have to sort of seek out those people that you would feel comfortable getting feedback from?

SPEAKER:             Yeah I have to seek out the people. So I kind of tend to know, you know, who would actually take the time to read what I’m going to send them, and then also someone that I’ve seen a good work product from. So, you know, that tends to be who I go to, but I have to seek them out.

SPEAKER:             Okay, okay. Does anyone oversee your writing?

SPEAKER:             Nobody oversees my writing.

SPEAKER:             How long, and I’m sure this varies project to project, but how long do you typically have to complete a formal writing project?

SPEAKER:             Typically the turnaround tends to be very quick at Microsoft. We usually have a very small window of time. So I would say that, like our busy times really tend to be cyclical based on, you know, what is coming up, but it’s always a quick turnaround time. So it’s always, you know, “This is our busy time all hands on deck, ” and then a kind of quiet down for a couple of months.

SPEAKER:             Okay. When you say quick are we talking like a month, weeks, days?

SPEAKER:             Probably like a week, a week turnaround time. Like the Connects I was talking about it’s usually, you know, if I know I’m going to be having those Connects with those five people, then I’ll be working on writing those the week before. But just with everything else going on during the day, it’s impossible to get them all done earlier than that.

SPEAKER:             Of course,. Right yeah. And you’re working on multiple versions at once for different people–

SPEAKER:             Yeah, exactly, yeah.

SPEAKER:             Right, okay. Sort of now looking back, what kinds of writing do you remember being asked to do as an undergraduate student?

SPEAKER:             Oh wow, that was a long time ago. As an undergraduate student, I feel like I did most of my writing, most of my actual writing in my world civ class. Yeah that seemed to be the most intense writing. And so that was, you know, reading all about, you know, different events and and really giving my opinion and take on why things happened certain ways. I did a creative writing class and that one didn’t feel as intense, I don’t think, because it felt more like open and free to write what I wanted to write. But the world civ one was very, it entailed a lot of research and a lot of reading about topics that I probably would have never read about if I hadn’t been in that class.

SPEAKER:             Yeah. Can you see any tie – let’s take that world civ class specifically – to the skills or the writing strategies that you use there, do they have any applicability to what you’re doing now?

SPEAKER:             Yeah I think that, well, I mean, not directly. The, you know, doing research and then having to write about it – that piece definitely. I mean the subject obviously doesn’t tie together, but having to do the research, and then writing, definitely does tie together. The other thing too, as being a people manager, I also find that I’m reading a lot of like leadership books and manager books and things like that, just to make sure that I’m staying in that right mindset of, you know, remembering, you know, that I’m there to really help facilitate these people to succeed. So doing a lot of that I think has been helpful to, because I think that it makes you more empathetic to the people that you’re managing. Like everyone has stuff going on in their life, they’re not just there working, they go home, they have things going on at home too, so that’s been helpful to.

SPEAKER:             That’s really interesting, yeah. W hen you think back to college and think back to the kinds of writing that you did there, are there things that would have been useful to learn or to do to have had an easier transition to writing in the workplace?

SPEAKER:             I think maybe having people that had actually been through, you know, a professional work environment would have been helpful, because I think sometimes– you can kind of tell, I think, when t he teacher is just going off of what’s in the book and they don’t have anything else to add than what is actually in the textbook, you know? ‘Cause to me I feel like I learn best when I’m hearing about people’s real life examples like, you start putting it into action versus just reading about it. So that would have been really helpful I think.

SPEAKER:             I think. What is at stake in your writing?

SPEAKER:             There’s a lot at stake in my writing. So based on what I write in someone’s Connects, in someone’s reward review at the end of the year, their whole compensation is tied to what I write. So I’m very cautious about, you know, putting anything in writing if I’m feeling emotional about what someone is doing. So I usually have to take a step back if I have someone that I’m just, you know, having a hard time with, because I know that the impacts that it could have on that person if I put that in writing. Yeah. So I like to always give people the benefit of the doubt, and I think that the majority of people have good intentions, and so I like to have those conversations with them. Instead of putting things in writing in those difficult times, I’ll usually have more conversations with that person versus writing, because I think that – I want to understand why the messages isn’t getting across.. You know, is there something else going on? Because a lot of times there it is. Like once you start digging, there’s a lot more going on beneath the surface. And then, you know, once you get that person to start opening up, then they might start trusting you a little bit more and in turn, you know, hopefully performing a little bit better So yeah, a lot can be impacted by what I put in writing. So I’m really cautious about what I put in writing, yeah.

SPEAKER:             That’s great. That makes a lot of sense. What is the most difficult thing about writing in your specific position?

SPEAKER:             The most difficult thing I would say is making sure that I am being fair, because, you know, there’s always going to be those people that, you know, you just connect with more on a personal level, even though you are their manager, that’s always going to naturally happen. So I kind of always have to take that part out of it, and really look at it from a nonbiased standpoint. Satya talks a lot about, during his company meetings, about unconscious bias. So I always try to remember that, like, why do I think this person is doing such a great job? Is it because, you know, he complements me all the time [chuckle]? Or is it because he’s really doing a great job? So I have to really take a step back sometimes and think about, you know, am I judging people on the same level? Because I think that’s really important. And also, when I took over the team from the previous manager, he had all of his perceptions of people. And so I decided I was going to just wipe all of that clean, and I was going to start from scratch. Once in a while, if I’m having like a weird moment with someone, I’ll look back at his notes and see, like, is this is just his personality or is it me? You know, and that helps, but I think just having like a clean slate sometimes and your own fresh perspective helps too.

SPEAKER:             That’s great. Has anyone helped you with your writing formally or informally?

SPEAKER:             I mean I think that probably– I can’t really think of anyone specific, but I feel like just, you know, taking feedback as I’ve gotten it throughout the years, and, you know, just being aware of that feedback. So like if sometimes things come across too harsh when I feel like I’m just trying to be direct, I’ll try to, you know, soften it a little bit. Things like that. But I can’t think of a specific person.

SPEAKER:             Okay. How would you say that you have evolved as a writer over the course of your career, or improved?

SPEAKER:             I’ve gotten a lot more confident. I think, you know, in the beginning I would reread and reread emails over and over again before hitting send and still nervous, how’s it going to be interpreted, you know? But I think also as people have gotten to know me within the company, they know who I am, so I feel a little bit more comfortable with my emails and don’t scrutinize them as much before I use them.

SPEAKER:             To what extent do you think writing is valued at Microsoft?

SPEAKER:             I think writing is– I mean we’re a worldwide company, and you’re working with people and every single time zone, and so a lot of times, you know, that might be the only way that you’ve ever communicated with someone is through writing. So I think it’s highly valued. I think what I’ve definitely learned though, is that if you have sent an email and you can already tell right away that it’s not coming across the right way, either because a person is misinterpreting what you’re saying, or because, you know, of a language barrier because they’re in a different country, and you know, English is not their first language and that’s my first language, then, you know, then I will have to find the time to do a phone call, because we think sometimes that just cuts through any of the miscommunications that are happening.

SPEAKER:             And the last set of questions – so how would you have defined successful writing as a student versus successful writing now?

SPEAKER:             Yeah, so I think that a successful writing as a student, you tend to have a lot of guidelines around formatting or writing style. You obviously have topics that you’re usually given that you have to go out there and write about, and I think now the writing is more, for me anyway, the writing is more about documenting of what has happened, what needs to happen, and then also just day-to-day communication. So it’s almost like, for me, the writing in my position has really taken the place of being face-to-face with my employees a lot.

SPEAKER:             And would you say that you’re a successful workplace writer?

SPEAKER:             I would say that I am, yeah. I very rarely have things misconstrued now. So I think I’m successful in communicating with writing.

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Marketing Manager

Business, Sciences

SPEAKER:             Could you please state your job title and the kind of organization where you work?

SPEAKER:             I am a marketing manager for a healthcare system.

SPEAKER:             Great. How long has it been since you graduated from undergrad?

SPEAKER:             Ten years.

SPEAKER:             And how long have you worked in your current field?

SPEAKER:             In my current position or in my current, just areas–

SPEAKER:             Both.

SPEAKER:             In my current position for four years, and i n healthcare marketing for eight years.

SPEAKER:             Okay, perfect, okay. Could you provide just a brief description of your primary job functions?

SPEAKER:             Sure. I manage marketing for again, a health care organization, and I manage service line marketing. So what that means is there a specific area within a healthcare organization that I’m assigned to manage all of their marketing, advertising, branding, and promotion.

SPEAKER:             Gotcha. Could you estimate, in an average week, what percentage of your job requires writing?

SPEAKER:             lot. Probably I would say maybe 60, 70 percent. A. lot. Yeah

SPEAKER:             Okay, okay. What forms or types of writing are you asked to produce?

SPEAKER:             Everything from advertising – so advertising copy – so that can be print advertising, radio, out-of-home like billboards, metro ads, things like that, to outcomes reports, which are very clinical in nature, to patient education materials, which are very black and white. So something like, “You’re coming to the hospital for X procedure. Park in this parking garage, go to this entrance, check in at this desk, bring this with you. “

SPEAKER:             Interesting. Okay.

SPEAKER:             And then e-mails of course [chuckle].

SPEAKER:             Right okay [chuckle]. Can you walk me through the process for maybe a recent project, or a type of project even, starting from sort of how that assignment or task comes to you, what do you do to prepare the writing, and any steps of like revision or editing after that?

SPEAKER:             Sure. Well every job is a little bit different. Typically what happens is my marking department typically kind of functions as kind of an in-house agency for our clients if you will. So my clients will come to me and they’ll say, “Hey we want a brochure on this new service that we’re going to launch. ” Sometimes they will have already provided that copy for me and all I do is refine it and make it a little more user friendly. Sometimes I get bullet points of what they want to highlight. Sometimes I get nothing. So it really, really just depends. A recent example we did just a quick little just trifold brochure on a new program that s launching as part of our Women’s and Children’s Services focused on breastfeeding. Didn’t have any particular copy that they wanted to cover, so I literally sat down and I Googled  facts about breastfeeding, kind of reworked those into some user friendly language, sent them off to my clients in the clinical realm, had them review, tweak as needed. Then I take their revisions back and kind of finesse them a bit for readability, and then repeat that process again  until everyone’s happy.

SPEAKER:             Gotcha. Okay. All right, that’s great. How did you know how to perform these types of writing?

SPEAKER:             I didn’t, to be quite honest with you. It was a lot of trial by fire. It was a lot of kind of learn as you go. It’s always helpful when the clients that I work with at least have some kind of idea of what they want to say, and they don’t always provide that to me in writing. Again, sometimes they will lay out all of this text for me and they want me to print that verbatim which we can’t do, or sometimes they’ll give me like three or four bullets, or sometimes they’ll just say, “I think we should talk about this. ” And whenever I get a little bit of direction that’s always more helpful, because I feel like it streamlines the process. But a lot of times I don’t, and a lot of times I’m just kind of again, I’m literally Googling medical conditions and trying to webmd my way into something that’s readable. So there was a really steep learning curve when I joined the organization of how do I write this correctly? How do I write it succinctly, and how to w rite it at a reading level that consumers who are exposed to it will understand? Because especially in healthcare it can get really, really technical and really a high level really, really fast.

SPEAKER:             Yeah, and that makes me think about this – so it seems like your audiences are pretty varied?

SPEAKER:             Absolutely.

SPEAKER:             Can you talk about maybe some different types of audiences that you’re writing to?

SPEAKER:             Sure, sure. My audiences vary from physician-facing pieces which again are very, very clinical, that have these huge like 25 cent words that I don’t know how to say or spell o r anything, all the way down to again, that straight up patient education of, “You’re going to go in for this surgery. This is where the cafeteria is located. This is the parking garage you need to park i n. This is what you need to bring with you on the day of surgery. ” So it really kind of runs the gamut and especially in an area as diverse, as this where English is not everyone’s first language, we always try as an organization to be super, super mindful to keep that reading level at a place that’s accessible for a lot of people.

SPEAKER:             That’s great. So that’s sort of a conscious, or like explicit conversation, when you’re–

SPEAKER:             Absolutely. And I talk a lot with folks in my organization, especially that are clinical, who are very, very head down into what they do and sometimes that’s a tough conversation to say, “This is all great, however we really, really need to broaden the scope because a layman isn’t going to understand these terms. “

SPEAKER:             Right.

SPEAKER:             So I always I say to them, “Dumb it down for me. Something that like a fifth grader would. understand “

SPEAKER:             Right. Gotcha. Interesting. Can you describe a time – you talked a little bit about this – but can you describe a time in your career where you felt unprepared as a writer at work?

SPEAKER:             I think it kind of goes back to that– and mine’s very specific because it’s such a specific niche, but a lot of the health care writing that we’re asked to do can get really, really technical, and I don’t have clinical background, my colleagues that I work with don’t have clinical background, we’re all  marketers. So again, it goes back to us trying to kind of decipher these huge medical terms and these huge medical words, and figuring out a) what it means, how do we make it user friendly? And that’s because I don’t think I was ever trained to do that. It was just kind of something that I had to figure out on the fly.

SPEAKER:             Okay. Were there certain strategies or things that you did to try to get up to speed in doing those?

SPEAKER:             I would typically just, I would bug people to be honest with you. I would knock on doors, I would say, “Hey I’ve got this content here, this is great. Can you explain to me what you mean by this sentence? Can you tell me this? ” And a lot of that was just I kind of absorbed it through osmosis, if you will, to kind of get up to speed really quickly on what these people were talking about. And that’s hard  because it’s really, really technical. But it was a lot of kind of in your face, “I don’t understand this. Help me understand thi s so I can write about it. “

SPEAKER:             That’s. And this is going back a few questions, but I feel like I have to ask a followup question. So let’s talk about this breastfeeding brochure.

SPEAKER:             Okay.

SPEAKER:             So when you’re tasked with this, and you’re not given any of the information, what is the client hoping to achieve if it’s– because when I hear, “Oh I was tasked with creating t his like breastfeeding pamphlet for presumably new families and others, ” I think, “Oh there is some information that specific that they want these people to have. ” But it doesn’t sound like that’s the case. So what do you think the intention was from your client?

SPEAKER:             Well, you know, and that’s really on a case by case basis. So again, some of these materials can be physician-focused, for the purpose of driving referrals, saying, “Hey I have a new physician coming in offering this service, refer her new moms to me who are having trouble breastfeeding. ” And sometimes it’s, “Oh hey, your a new mom, you just had a baby, you’re leaving the hospital, here’s a pamphlet if you ever have trouble. ” The challenge there is you don’t always know what their goal is. So I always try to make it a point to say, “Hey, do you envision this being a piece focused on physicians as your audience, or patients as your audience? ” Sometimes the answer is  both, which makes it a little more tough, because you want to try to get those high level clinical things that a physician will respond to while keeping it as accessible as you can.

SPEAKER:             Gotcha. That’s really complicated.

SPEAKER:             Yeah.

SPEAKER:             Yeah, okay. Is there anyone who specifically oversees your writing?

SPEAKER:             Not anyone in particular. There is not like a dedicated editor or a dedicated copywriter that funnels all of our work. The approval process typically goes, I will draft the content, I will send it back to the clinical person, or whoever my point of contact for this particular job is, for their review. They will typically make edits depending on the person or the job that– those can be pages and pages of edits, where they basically rewrite every hing or to, “Oh hey I think we should add this line in. ” So it just, it really kind of depends on the day and what the job is. After that’s done, I mean it’s really me. I’m proofreading my own work, I’m looking at things. We work with the graphic design department who are also in-house; those folks will proof sometimes, but again that’s not their primary role, but you know they’ll catch things, you know like, “Oh hey, you know this sentence doesn’t make sense. Can you check it out again? ” But again, there’s nobody dedicated to proofing that.

SPEAKER:             Got it. I’m sure this varies project to project, but how long do you typically have to complete a writing project?

SPEAKER:             It does depend. Typically I want to say, maybe depending on the job, like a week or two?

SPEAKER:             Okay. Thinking back to college, what kinds of writing do you remember being asked to create as a student, and in what ways do you think your college writing experience has prepared or did not prepare you for this kind of work?

SPEAKER:             Very good question. I mean did a lot of– I mean always kind of the standard like, let me write a paper on this book that I read, which is fine. And then specifically in comms class it was a lot of –

SPEAKER:             Were you a communications major? 

SPEAKER:             I was. It was a communications major. Okay. It was a

SPEAKER:             Okay.

SPEAKER:             It was a lot of papers about communication styles and different – again communication styles – ways to communicate, even like I took a PR class where we drafted press releases and those formats are always so different no matter where you go, that, I mean, it was good to kind of have like a good skeleton of what one looked like. But again, every job I’ve been in, it had a different format.

SPEAKER:             Interesting. That’s fascinating to me. Sorry I’m just going to digress for a second [laughter]. I think the thing that’s so interesting is, I think we theoretically know that, and yet I think most business writing classes, or like tangentially related to business writing classes, still teach like, “This is a form, and you’ll be asked to write this form in the workplace. ” And we know t hat some of those are outdated, like the memo. Or the memo at least looks very different than you know, most people are taught. But so even in a pretty explicit PR class, the forms that you learned didn’t match up with what you found in the workplace?

SPEAKER:             N o it didn’t match up exactly. And I think that varies from organization to organization. Everybody tries to put their own mark on a standard press release, for example, just because I can speak to that better than anything else. I mean there’s standard, you know, insignia and protocol that go on those, but even that is changing. And again, it was helpful to kind of have a little bit of background on it, like I remember my first job out of college when my boss said, “Hey, draft me a press release on this. ” Like I knew basically what I was looking at, but again, it wasn’t a carbon copy of it. I could kind of fumble my way through it, but I had to really kind of get in the groove and learn specifically from organization to organization.

SPEAKER:             Perfect. Are there things that would have been useful for you to do or learn as a student that would’ve prepared you?

SPEAKER:             I think, and I don’t know if this would have been an appropriate part of my major but I think having more discussion in school about relationship building with your clients, because I feel like, you know, in any industry you have a client of some form. And I was never really taught how to manage those people and how to kind of set expectations and goals immediately with those people who I’m have working for.

SPEAKER:             Yeah, yeah. T hat’s interesting. What is at stake in your writing?

SPEAKER:             Well depending on who you ask, I mean, well and actually no, I take that back, because depending on what we’re drafting, I mean a lot I can be at stake. I mean, you know, I even get as granular as like NPO guidelines for presurgery. And what that means is like–

SPEAKER:             What’s NPO stand for?

SPEAKER:             It’s like food and water, like nothing by mouth prior to X amount of hours before your surgery. And while t hat’s supposed to be communicated to a patient through their clinical person, whether that’s a nurse, or the physician assistant or whoever, you know, oftentimes they get a booklet, and they’re like, “I’ll look at this later, ” and then it’s the night before their procedure, and they’re like, “Oh yeah, when was I supposed to stop eating or when was I supposed to stop drinking? ” So getting those really kind of clinical things right is really, really important. And in my line of work we really rely on our clinical counterparts to provide that information accurately to us. And I mean stuff has slipped before, in you know, in my experience and you know, you just correct it as quickly as you can and move on. And then I can get it very very frivolous too. I mean it can get, you know, you put an extra letter on the back of someone’s name and you know, the world has fallen apart But I mean, and that, again that goes down to proofing

SPEAKER:             Okay. What would you say is the most difficult thing about writing in your specific position?

SPEAKER:             I think the most difficult thing is – I mean, can I say two things?

SPEAKER:             Of course. I

SPEAKER:             I think the first thing is again, kind of what we talked about of not always having a dedicated direction or not even having anything to kind of jump off from, and like I’m literally staring at a blank piece of paper again Googling breastfeeding. Like I know nothing about breastfeeding, I don’t know. And I m looking at WebMD trying to figure out how I can regurgitate this in an appropriate way. I think the other challenge is – and this is an internal thing, I don’t know if this is the same way for everybody – but we often have kind of approval by committee, if you will, in a lot of writing that we do. So if you show 15 people, you know, the same piece of collateral, they’re going to make 15 different changes. And everybody’s a writer, everybody does marketing, and that can be tough, kind of trying to juggle everyone’s expectations while still making it the way that I know as a marketer it should be.

SPEAKER:             How do you manage all that feedback?

SPEAKER:             You don’t always, to be honest with you. I try to kind of pick my battles on that. But sometimes I don’t win. I’ve had many a situation where, you know, I have said to my clients who I really feel strongly about including this or not including it, and I don’t win all the time. And you just have to let it go.

SPEAKER:             Okay. Has anyone helped you at your organization with your writing, formally or informally?

SPEAKER:             No. No one has helped me [chuckle].

SPEAKER:             Okay, very strong answer there

[laughter]

. How do you believe you’ve evolved or improved as a writer over the course of your career?

SPEAKER:             I think that I’ve improved greatly since I, you know, since my first job, you know, off the boat, if you will. I think that I’ve learned to do things really quickly but without sacrificing accuracy, if that make sense. Just because, we have, you know, as everybody does, we have a million things f lying at us as a department every day, so you’ve got t o get it done, and you can’t waste you know half a day working on one project. So I’ve learned to really kind of edit myself, in the sense that I don’t want t his to be too wordy, I want this to be to the point. I don’t want to use ten words when four words will do, but I have to get right. So I’ve learned, I think editing is the biggest thing that I’ve learned.

SPEAKER:             To what extent do you think writing is valued in your organization?

SPEAKER:             lot actually, a lot. A lot of what we do is writing based, whether that’s, you know, a piece of direct mail that we send out or a newsletter that we write or again, a piece of advertising that we do, a radio script. So they put a big kind of value on that from a marketing standpoint.

SPEAKER:             Great. And the last set of questions. How would you have defined successful writing as a student versus successful writing now? And would you say that you are a successful workplace writer?

SPEAKER:             How would define successful writing as a student – I would say something that would get me a good grade, and something that I feel like I didn’t have the kind of kill myself to understand, if that made sense. Like I feel like writing assignments in college, like a lot of them would come really naturally to me, like we would get a prompt and I was like, “Oh, I know I’m going to write about. I get it. I got it. Here it is. ” And I would usually do alright. And then I would get writing prompts where I’d be like, “I don’t even know where to start on this. ” And sometimes it would go really, really bad, and other times when I felt like I kind of b s ‘d my way through it I would actually do a great job. And I think successful writing now kind of looks like, again, how can I make this as accurate and as accessible as I can while still finding that balance between what I know as a quote unquote marketing professional to be the right way to do this, versus balancing kind of the powers that be politically in my organization and what they want to see. So it’s really kind of about all making sure we, you know, play nice in the sandbox together. It’s a lot of, you know, people kind of all want their own, you know, stamp on everything and want to make sure that their specialty is mentioned, they want to make sure that their name is underlined, and that’s not always the right answer. So just kind of picking my battles there. It’s a lot of like, who has a bigger slice of birthday cake, you know what I mean?

SPEAKER:             Okay, yeah, yeah

SPEAKER:             And what was your other question, sorry?

SPEAKER:             Would you say you are a successful workplace writer?

SPEAKER:             I would like to think so. I think that f rom where I started and where I am now I’ve definitely improved. I don’t think that I’m perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but I think that – I would like to think anyway – that I’ve found that fine line of not spending a ton of time on a project if it’s not warranted, but still making sure that the content that I put out is quality.

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Director of Customer Support

Business

Director of Customer Support

32:20

 

Q: So would you please state your job title and where you currently work?

 

A: Okay. My job title is I’m director of customer service, or customer support, and the name of the company that I work for is called Global Phone or GPhone.

Q: Great, and could you tell us just a little bit about what the company does?

 

A: We provide a business phone service, as well as calling cards.

 

Q: Excellent, okay. And how long has it been since you graduated from college?

 

A: I graduated in 1975, so over 40 years.

 

Q: Okay, great. And how long have you worked in your current field?

 

A: In the current field, I’ve been in this company since 2002. Previous companies I’ve been involved probably in customer support, also in a telecom type of environment, probably since, the maybe late ‘80’s/early ‘90’s. And just to go back to one of the questions, so my undergraduate degree was 1975, but my master’s degree was late ‘80’s, or early ‘90’s, I think. See, I can’t even remember at this point, but–

 

Q: That’s okay.

 

A: It’s been that long, long ago.

 

Q: That’s useful though. Okay, okay. And could you just provide sort of a brief description of your primary job functions?

 

A: I would say that it is to manage a small team of individuals or reps who also deal with customers, usually over the phone or over an email, as well as working with coworkers in trying to support the customer.

 

Q: Excellent, and could you estimate in an average week, what percentage of your job requires writing?

 

A: It’s probably maybe 30 percent, I’m going to say that most of my work is over the phone, you know, definitely communication is a large part of the role, but with the internet and emails, I’m starting to see less people necessarily just calling us. They will often send an email and we will communicate via email.

 

Q: Interesting, okay. And in addition to email, are there other types of documents that you write?

 

A: Hmm. I want to say, you know, at one point, definitely writing let’s say teaching documents, or learning manuals for people who are new on the job, but I would say most are– it’s primarily emails. But sometimes, as I say, training tools for coworkers.

 

Q: Okay. And if we just sort of think about the emails specifically, who are the primary audiences typically?

 

A: I want to say it’s the end user, so a customer.

 

Q: Perfect, okay. And what are the primary purposes most often of those types of emails?

 

A: It’s, I want to say, to update them on any information regarding troubleshooting with problems that they’re having, whether it’s a technical problem, or if it’s let’s say more accounting or business-related type of problem, so, and as well as, “Hey, how do you use the services?” So a lot of my job, at least I try to sort of use the email as an opportunity to teach the end user how to best use our services. And so–

 

Q: Gotcha, that’s really interesting, yeah. So could you walk us through the process of maybe a recent writing task? So even just an email – sort of start to finish, if you think about like one specific correspondence recently, how you began, if there’s any preparation or steps you take prior to writing, what that writing process looks like, and if there’s any sort of revision or editing that happens?

 

A: Umm, hmm, let me think. From beginning to end, I’m just trying to think of a scenario that would best describe it. So, I don’t know if we can skip to the next question, or if you want me to think about this for a couple of minutes?

 

Q: Sure, we can absolutely skip ahead. And if something comes to you and you want to go back to it, that’s great, yeah, totally fine.

 

A: Sure, okay.

 

Q: So how did you learn how to perform these types of writing that you do in your work?

 

A: I want to say here probably repetition was a big factor. So it’s, you know, I think a lot of it too is, “Hey, I have something written up already,” and I know what I need to communicate to the end user such that, “Oh, I have it already written, let me cut and paste, and let me edit the documents or the email such that it is customer-specific, or issue-specific.” But I would say that, generally speaking, you know a lot of times, a lot of the information is in fact something I’ve used before. And I just, you know, copy and paste it.

 

Q: That makes sense, yeah. Has there ever been a time in your career where you felt unprepared as a writer?

 

A: Hmm. I’m going to say that any time that there is an issue that is, let’s say more technical in nature, I will often either get somebody else to assist me, or really sort of assign it to, “Hey, this is the best person to respond.” So we have, let’s say IT type of people here, or engineers, who are better equipped to address those questions that are more technical in nature, especially if the recipient of that email is also somebody of a technical nature. So I would say in those instances, I don’t feel equipped, where I feel challenged in answering or writing something. So I want to say anything that’s highly technical, I–

 

Q: And you said, oh sorry–

 

A: N, go ahead.

 

Q: Oh I was just going to say, so you said, either you assign it, but sometimes you get help with it. What does that look like, if you ask for assistance with something like that?

 

A: I would say a lot of times, they will sort of write something out and again, I will cut and paste, and edit. So the content of anything technical probably originated with somebody else.

 

Q: Got it, that makes sense. And are there any other strategies or things that you did maybe when you were new to the job to get acquainted with this kind of writing, and to learn how to perform it?

 

A: Well, I think a lot of it too was it, there’s, you know, in terms of dealing with a customer, there’s often almost like a formula involved, in terms of, you know there’s a greeting and a closing at least. And so it’s, you know, that was always pretty standard, and it’s still standard to this day, where, “Hey, we receive an email.” I always, you know, “Dear so-and-so, thank you for the email.” And always try to close the email in terms of, “Hey, is there anything else we could do?” You know, getting that confirmation back from them, “Hey everything is closed, everything is done.” But, you know, trying to sort of almost look at what they’re asking about, and sort of, “Hey, let’s answer those questions that you have,” as sort of the body of my response. So, I mean, there are times when I’m, you know, when I see an email from somebody and it’s let’s say in a paragraph format. A lot of times I will break it out in terms of, here’s the question, and put “Q1: Here is the question from your verbiage, and here’s my answer to you, A1. And Q2.” So it’s easier I think for them to read, easier for them to understand, because it’s not in that paragraph format. So sometimes I do that, and it’s also a way for me to make sure, “Do I understand what the customer is asking about?” So it’s a way of rephrasing what they’re saying in a simple type of question, and then trying to respond in a, “Here is your question,” even if it’s, “Hey how much does this cost? That’s your question. A: This is how much it’s going to cost you, and stuff. What are the steps? Hey, I need to make a phone call, how do I dial? How do I use your service?” And try to outline it for them, step by step. Sometimes I’ll cut, you know– a lot of our customers there’s, you know, will go into our portals and try to do things, and I try to encourage that, because it allows them not to always rely on me. And I will sort of do a lot of cut and paste, and sort of embed pictures within my response back to them, and try to put things highlighted and, you know, circle it red, so they know this is where you need to focus. And you know, thinking, “Hey, not everybody is a learner by reading, there are some people who are learners by pictures.” And it also leaves them with that document again, so they can in fact do it themselves, if that opportunity comes up again. So it’s sort of definitely looking, whether it is an email or a phone call, as an opportunity to sort of, let me learn something about the caller or the person emailing me, and what is it that I can teach them? What information can I share with them such that, they use our service, and use it more than maybe they had used it before, as well as, making sure that they’re always calling, they’re not always emailing, because I’ve provided them some degree of tools to be able to fix their problems or utilize our services better.

 

Q: That makes a lot of sense, yeah, that’s really interesting. The next question is, does anyone oversee your writing?

 

A: Not really. Generally speaking, no. So I mean, there may have been times when I’ve asked somebody else to look at something, especially if it’s you know, more of their, “Hey somebody has issued a complaint or something and I need to respond to that.” But I’m going to say, generally speaking at this point, I don’t have somebody looking at my writing, both in terms of content and style or anything like that.

 

Q: Okay. How long would you say you typically have to complete a writing project. So if a request or an inquiry comes in over email, how long do you typically have to respond?

 

A: I usually like to respond same day, if at all possible. So either same day or 24 hours. So if it’s going to take me longer, I will often let them know I may need more time. But [chuckle], generally speaking, within 24 hours. I like to have at least one touch.

 

Q: Gotcha, gotcha. So now, the next couple questions asks you to look back a little bit. So thinking back to your undergraduate days, what kind of writing do you remember being asked to create as a student?

 

A: I would say for the most part, it involved reading something and reporting on it, or having some sort of general topic and reporting on it. I’m trying to think in terms of my undergraduate, and to a lesser extent, in grad school in business, where you know, it was definitely much less writing-involved, for the most part, except in a couple of management classes. But you know, I think I tended to have a very, almost formulaic outline approach to writing, and it’s sort of, “Hey, what are my general topics?” You know, one, two, three, and four. And then looking at those topics, and sort of, having some sort of sub-information, a A and a B and a C. I used to do a lot of outlining prior to writing something, and you know, have an introductory paragraph that somehow refers to those issues that I’m going to be discussing in greater detail, and then again, it was my conclusion, reviewing what I discussed, you know, summarizing what I had said before. So I would say that I would just sort of sit down and start with an outline, and try to build that outline, and then, it’s trying to find the evidence to support the points that I wanted to make, and cite them, if need be.

 

Q: Okay. In what ways do you think your college writing experiences prepared you, or not, for the kind of writing that you do now?

 

A: Well, I definitely feel I’m prepared, I mean I don’t think that the writing that I do now is as challenging as what I did as an undergraduate or as a graduate student. I mean I think it’s overall at a lower level, for the most part. I mean it’s much more day-to-day types of conversations, rather than items that require, you know, a lot of reading and researching, in contrast to what I did in college, so.

 

Q: That makes sense, okay. This is sort of a broader question, but what would you say is at stake in your writing?

 

A: Okay, say that again? I’m not sure I understand the question.

 

Q: Sure, yeah. So the phrasing might be odd. So what is at stake in your writing? And what I mean by that is really, why does the writing you do at work matter, and what would be the consequence if you didn’t do a good job with that writing?

 

A: You know, I think what’s at stake is making sure that whether it’s the company brand or my own personal brand, you know, sort of comes through in how I communicate with people. And, “Hey, I’m in customer support, I’m in customer service.” And I definitely want to have that mindset coming across to whoever’s receiving that email that, “Hey, I’m trying to help you,” versus, “I’m just trying to get through an email,” sort of thing. So in general, I would say that to me, that’s what’s at stake, is that it reinforces whatever brand that it is that I think we should be displaying to our customers on a day to day basis. You know, they sort of go, “Hey, this person really is interested that I have good service.” And you know, in terms of consequences, you know, I would imagine [chuckle] that one is, I would say the consequence would probably be some sort of retraining, trying to emphasize that point more so than, “Hey, you’re out.” But in general, I think it’s more of, “Hey, let’s retrain on this and what it is that you need to do to be a better communicator, and a communicator of that brand.”

 

Q: Right, right. What would you say is the most challenging thing about writing in your specific position?

 

A: I think sometimes it’s, can I state the information in a simple enough manner such that it’s easily understood by the customer? I mean, I see this, I do this a lot, and it’s sort of second nature to me, but– so sometimes, some of the words have a lot of meaning to me don’t always carry that meaning towards the customer, and you know, example, “Hey, we’re going to change how we terminate the call.” And so, you know, what does that mean? And it’s a matter of, do I go into that level of detail, or do I simply say, “Hey, we’ve made some changes that we think we’ll help with the call connection, can you please try again?” So sometimes, you know, it’s things that, as I say, carry meaning for me and I understand because I’m in this world, often don’t carry the same sort of meaning to someone who is even less technical than I am. And making sure that they understand this and can learn from it as well, and you know, sort of, “Hey, let’s not get frightened by it, this is an easy thing to do, we can fix it.” So I would say that might be at times a challenge.

 

Q: That’s great, that makes a lot of sense, it sort of goes back to what you had mentioned earlier about this idea that like, in a lot of ways, you’re sort of the technical translator, to taking–

 

A: True.

 

Q: –trying to figure out how much information they need, and you know, how to parse that into terms that someone who doesn’t have all that background has.

 

A: Mhmm.

 

Q: Has anyone helped you with your writing, formally or informally?

 

A: In the immediate run, maybe not, maybe sometimes, you know, I’ve written something, and I’ve had my kids, sort of, “Hey, can you review this or make it better?” But in terms of my work overall, not a lot. I do remember having you know, somebody asked me to write, I belong to an organization called the American Association of University Women. So I joined a few years ago, and we have a newsletter, and it was, “Hey, can you write something up about yourself?” So it’s like, you know it’s one of those things, you know, that’s tough for me to do, and you think, “Oh, what do I say?” So I wrote a few things that I think Colleen sort of reviewed it and sort of punched it up a little bit and go, “That works, it’s done.” It’s sort of the hardest interview question in the world is, “Tell me about yourself.” Which I’m sure we have all heard and, so it’s a similar thing, and you know again, it’s brief, it’s just a few things that you should mention that are unique about yourself, but it was sort of hard and I know I ran it by the kids and stuff, so–

 

Q: Right, no that makes sense. That’s great. How do you believe you’ve evolved or improved as a writer over the course of your career?

 

A: I’m not sure I have, to be honest. You know, in some ways I don’t think I’m as strong as a writer as I was 10, 20 years ago, to be honest, and–

 

Q: And does that go back to this idea that– sorry, go ahead, I didn’t mean to interrupt you.

 

A: No, no, not at all. I just think that the type of work that I’m doing, it’s just quicker, and yeah, I’m sorry, hold on. [Silence]. Yeah, I just think in general, I think a lot of when I maybe first started here was more involved in putting documentation together well, that’s sort of done. I, you know, haven’t done as much of that as I did before. Or there’s less reading involved, you know, intense reading, than maybe I had before. So, yeah, I’m not sure I’m as, I think I was a better writer 20 or 30 years ago, I think it was easier for me in terms of more challenging writing. But you know, on the other hand, I think I have a great understanding of who my customers are, and I think, you know, I’m relatively good at trying to explain things to them. So you know, a lot of our customer base, while they’re very, you know, very intelligent, very well-educated, you know English may not be their first language, so I want to make sure I’m understood, in a pretty general way.

 

Q: Right, right, that’s interesting, yeah. So I have just a couple more questions.

 

A: Sure.

 

Q: To what extent do you think writing is valued in your organization?

 

A: I don’t know. I think it’s valued, I’m not sure it’s, I think some of the softer– you know, “Hey, this is a pretty technical type of company,” and so I think those who have technical skills and maybe more valued than if they had great writing skills. So I don’t know, that’s at least my humble opinion. So you know, but, on the other hand, you know, I think being able to communicate’s pretty important [chuckle]. So I think it’s important, I think it is important, and I know when I first started here, before I first started here, as part of my interview process, I had to take a test. And there was one part of the test was, “Here’s a paragraph, edit the paragraph.” And we’ve moved away from that, and I think there was value in doing that. I’m not sure I thought that to be the case when I was being interviewed [chuckle], but in hindsight, I think it was probably a good way to screen candidates, because it did assess a certain writing ability. So, you know, we definitely have moved away from that, but you know, I think it’s much more of, to me, “Hey, can you write?” may be a good indicator of, “Hey, what kind of employee are you, or will be? Are you, again, reinforcing the brand that we want to have in this organization?” Can I put you on hold on the phone, hold on one, oh, nevermind, they got it, they are gone.

 

Q: Okay.

 

A: So yep, so but yes, it’s I think it’s– clearly they thought, “Hey, it is important.” And maybe we’ve moved away– to me, it’s important based  upon, “Hey what sort of employees, what kind of team do you have within the organization?” and all, so.

 

Q: Right, that makes a lot of sense.

 

A: I don’t know, I’m not sure I’m answering your question–

 

Q: No, you are!

 

A: –but I think you know, writing is valued definitely, but I think it’s value is perhaps is not as obvious as having technical skills. So and I think that’s sort of what I’m making so it’s, on the surface, I’m going to say it’s considered less valuable than being technical, but I think when you think about it, it’s I’m sure everybody would say, “Hey, it is very important.”

 

Q: Right, right. Excellent. And my last couple of questions here: first, how would you have defined successful writing as a student, versus successful writing now?

 

A: [Silence]. I think in both cases, I would say that successful writing means, “Have I effectively communicated the point that I wanted to make?” So and I think that is true, whether I was a college student, or working after 30, 40 years since graduating as an undergrad. I would say it’s different in that I definitely think I was exercised more when I was in college than I am now. So, you know, I think it took a lot more effort, the writing muscle definitely needed to be exercised a lot more. The expectations were probably higher as well, in terms of communicating my point.

 

Q: That makes a lot of sense. And would you say that you are a successful workplace writer?

 

A: I’m going to say yes, for what it is that I need to write. So if somebody said, “Hey, Aída [sp?], do some sort of ad.” Maybe a little bit more challenging, you know, versus, you know there are, “Hey, reread our website.” Which, maybe perhaps I’ve done, you know, and “Hey, I read and let’s say caught errors,” that maybe somebody else would not have caught. But in terms of creating it in the first place, that may be more difficult for me today than maybe it would have been 20, 30 years ago.

 

Q: That makes a lot of sense, yeah.

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Labor & Delivery Nurse

Sciences, uncategorized

Labor & Delivery Nurse

33:17

Q: Would you please state your job title, and where you currently work? And I know, you know, we talked just before starting to record, about how you just transitioned jobs, so if you could just give us the context for your old work versus your new work?

 

A: Okay. My old job title was as a registered nurse, I recently graduated from Frontier Nursing University with my masters in nurse midwifery. So my new job title is as a nurse midwife, but I’m going to be speaking I think to my last position as a registered nurse with Inova Alexandria Hospital on labor and delivery.

Q: Wonderful. And how long has it been since you graduated from undergrad?

 

A: I graduated from undergrad in 2014, May of 2014.

 

Q: Okay, okay. So about four years. And how long have you worked in nursing?

 

A: Eight and a half years. I had my associate’s before I had my bachelor’s.

 

Q: Great, okay, perfect. So could you provide sort of a brief description of your primary job functions as a floor nurse?

 

A: So as a staff nurse on labor and delivery specifically, my primary job would be to care for generally one to two patients in the labor, delivery, and recovery setting, which can be everything from giving emotional, physical support to the laboring woman, providing them with medications, whether it be for pain control or to augment labor, to stop labor. We also had a high-level NICU at our hospital, so I would care for high risk antepartum patients – so patients who are pregnant but not trying to deliver at the time – and generally your function there is to provide medication and monitoring to assess the wellbeing of mom and baby, and the safety of them, and hopefully to stall their labor if you could. And we also have three operating rooms, so we also cared for and circulated in c-section cases, and had a recovery unit for that.

 

Q: Wonderful, okay. Could you estimate, in an average week, what percentage of that job required writing?

 

A: How many words together counts as writing [laughter]?

 

Q: I’ll say two [laughter].

 

A: Two, okay [laughter]. Okay. How many hours in a week?

 

Q: What percentage of the week?

 

A: Umm, let’s say maybe 20 percent of my working time?

 

Q: Okay, and could you tell me a little bit about the forms or types of documents that you were writing?

 

A: So most of the writing that takes place as a staff nurse is on an electronic medical record, where we joke that it’s an elaborate billing system, because it is [chuckle], but they try to make it as easy for the billers to use as possible, and as easy for you to not get yourself in trouble as possible. So they do a lot of like, selecting options for charting, so it’s like a column where you select options, you can type in things like, you know, blood pressures, or temperatures, and then you can select options for pain levels, or assessment findings, like color of the skin, they’ll give you options like, “appropriate for ethnicity, warm, dry, clammy, red, hot, weeping”, like tons of different options. And then also an option to click and write a comment, so if you were writing something that was a like deviation from expected, you’d probably want to put a comment to explain why, or what you did about it. And there’s also notes you write that are more narrative. Generally you would write a minimum of one of those a shift, but depending on what you were doing that shift, especially if it was a more complicated patient, you could have like ten.

 

Q: I see, okay. And so, could you tell me a little bit more about what those narrative pieces sort of look like or sound like?

 

A: You have to be really careful when you write a narrative in the chart, because you definitely don’t want to double chart, because that’s a waste of your time, but also because you are trying to make sure that you’re staying consistent. And it’s really easy when you’re using click boxes to fill in your answers to, if you’re not being careful, just fill in like your normal answers, like the standards, and then if you write something different in a note, and it contradicts what you already charted, it makes it look like you’re not competent. So you’re trying to make sure that you’re being consistent with what you’re writing unless it’s actually discussing a change. And you have to be careful when you’re writing it to not, as a registered nurse, not make any medical diagnosis, and also not to like throw any other providers under the bus. So a lot of the notes were intentionally vague, in writing things like, if I was concerned about a patient, let’s say she had chest pain after delivery, and I was concerned, and I took some vital signs and everything was normal, and her bleeding was all normal, and everything was great. But I’m still going to definitely go the physician, and let the physician know, “Hey, she’s having chest pain. This is her blood pressure, this is her heart rate, this is her temp, this is what her bleeding is like.” And if they say like, “I’m not worried about it.” And then I’m like, “Well, don’t you want an EKG?” If the provider’s like, “No, I don’t.” Okay, so I don’t want to write a note that says that exactly, because it makes them look like they’re not doing their job, even if I feel that way. So I have to write, for example, that note would say, “Patient complained of chest pain.” I might like list the vital signs, “Provider notified, no new orders,” [laughter].

 

Q: Interesting. So this vagueness is to make it cover yourself while making sure you’re not throwing someone else under the bus?

 

A: Right. To say, “Look, I did my job. I followed through, but I can’t speak to whether this other person did.” And if it’s really a safety issue, I mean to be 100 percent honest, there’s obviously a chain of command you follow. So if I really didn’t agree with what that provider said, there’s another physician above that one that I can always go to. So I don’t want to like, speak to them [crosstalk 6:53] with that, but that’s like a really easy example of how and when you would write it.

 

Q: That makes perfect sense, yeah. And to be clear, you talked about this system being sort of like an elaborate billing system. Obviously the billing folks aren’t the only audience, who else would look at these notes? Both the narrative and the sort of standardized pieces?

 

A: I would say your most common audience for that would be your other nurses. It’s really common when you start a shift to kind of – you get a report, generally we would do bedside handoff, so you would discuss the patient’s care side to side, at the bedside, with the patient so they can speak up if they’re awake – but then it’s a really good idea to go through and take a look at the notes. And especially when you’re working with a patient who’s been there for a long time, it’s really easy for stuff to get missed. So going through and reading the narratives can say a lot more about what has and hasn’t happened, and what’s been tried and what hasn’t been tried, and how things are responding, than just looking at the – we call them flowsheets – like the excel spreadsheet that has values in it.

 

Q: I see, okay. That makes a lot of sense. And to clarify, those narrative pieces – it sounds like they’re relatively brief, even though they’re pretty important?

 

A: Generally. There are probably some nurses who write longer narratives, but most of what you should be writing should be like, especially nowadays, should be easily found in the flowsheet, and that’s the prefered way to document, because it’s an easy way for the system to keep track of what’s going on, and you can’t do metrics, for example, from notes. So if someone in the background from the education department is trying to track a new kind of epidural medication, for example, and I’m just writing notes about a pain level, you can’t just pull that up and track it. So I’m only writing notes about things that, or making comments about things that are maybe a deviation from normal, or it’s something that really needs to be explained.

 

Q: Got it, got it. And one more follow-up question. You said you also have to be careful not to make any sort of medical diagnosis. I didn’t realize that that was a position that a nurse is in. Can you talk a little bit more about that?

 

A: Yes [chuckle], so in nursing school, you learn a lot about nursing diagnosis, which just really a fancy way of describing symptoms. But making a medical diagnosis is practicing medicine, and that’s reserved for people who are licensed to practice medicine, so your nurse practitioners, midwives, physicians, etcetera. So if you are handling a patient who looks like they have the flu, and they clearly like, have the flu, as a nurse I can’t write a note that says, “Patient presents with the flu,” unless it’s been diagnosed by a provider. I can say, “Patient presents with fever, runny nose, body aches,” you know, malaise is a nursing diagnosis, which means not feeling well [laughter]. So I can describe it all, but I can’t say, unless it’s been diagnosed by somebody else, I can’t literally say that they have the flu.

 

Q: That’s fascinating. Okay, okay. I’m sure that makes writing especially tricky, because you’re sort of talking around this really obvious thing that you know, right?

 

A: Yes. Yeah, absolutely.

 

  1. That’s really interesting, okay. So, as you are writing these sort of typical documents – let’s talk about that narrative piece, because that seems like you have sort of the most leeway in those–

 

A: Yeah.

 

Q: –when you are writing those, is there any preparation or steps that you take prior to writing?

 

A: Yeah, and especially depending on what the note is talking about or how maybe sensitive the issue is, I am probably going to be looking through the previous notes to make sure that I’m not, again, contradicting something really obvious, unless I have to. So, a big example was for a while, we had some anesthesia staff who would use an incorrect method of measuring a patient’s temperature – not that it wasn’t like, it was a fine measurement for temperature, but our unit had made a policy against using this temporal scanner, because we didn’t find it to be as accurate – and we had some anesthesia staff who were still using it because they liked it, and it was faster, and it would give them slightly warmer values on a patient coming out of the operating room; and one your risks after having surgery is having a low body temperature. So having anesthesia write in their flowsheet that the temperature was 97.4, and I’m getting a temperature of 96, I need to make sure that I see what they charted, what time they charted it, and then I have to be careful with how I chart it, and I might want to explain like, in my note, you know, “rechecked temperature after anesthesia, value 96.0 orally,” and make a note explaining what I had to do thereafter, without having to say like, “they were wrong or used incorrectly equipment,” or something like that. So I have to like, review what they actually charted, when they charted it, and make sure that my note kinda goes along with it without, you know, saying anything negative. So it’s a lot of previous chart review.

 

Q: And when you’re trying to be really diplomatic in these notes, what are the repercussions if you were not diplomatic? If you did call someone out for something like that?

 

A: Probably most of the time nothing. The issue’s going to come if they’re– I mean, maybe the physician reads it, but a lot of the times their notes, like I don’t know that a lot of their– like, they have to go look for our notes because the way that their system loads, it’s not as obvious to them. And so they might go through and reread them, and get upset with me, which could damage the relationship, but the biggest risk is if this was audited for court, for example, so if there was a complication and the patient wanted to bring it to court, anyone who’s touched the chart, it keeps a log of everyone who’s logged in and clicked and opened that chart, and anyone who’s written in the chart is probably going to get subpoenaed, and possibly deposed for this court case. And so I have to, you know, show that I’ve done my job, but I also– many court issues end up getting– like if there was incorrect care or something, a lot of times in nursing you’re taught it gets pushed back down to nursing, even if it’s not really in your control, because you’re like the last line of defense, right? So you don’t want to say in your note, you have to prove that you didn’t willfully ignore something, that you gave good, fair care, but you don’t want to provide any ammunition for – this is sounding terrible [laughter] – you know, someone trying to prosecute you saying you didn’t do your job, or the physician didn’t do their job when you know you did. And most of the time, I mean most cases have great outcomes, most cases don’t go to court, but even when they do, most of the situations that are brought to court aren’t because of any negligence or you know, it’s like something crappy happened, that couldn’t be avoided, and it wasn’t in anyone’s control, but no one wants to feel that way, you know? And so you want to make sure that you’re writing these intentionally vague notes so that no one gets in trouble for doing something wrong when most of the time things aren’t being done wrong. Does that kind of make sense?

 

Q: Got it, yeah that makes a lot of sense. Yeah, that’s really clear actually. That makes a lot of sense. There’s so much nuance to this. So how did you know how to perform these types of writing?

 

A: That’s a good question [laughter], I need to think about that one. I guess we talked about it some in nursing school, but not a ton. A lot of it comes from working on the floor, and just having to practice when you’re kind of, maybe like one of the first times that you’re put into a touchy situation, where maybe there isn’t a right answer, or you don’t agree, but the person who’s giving you orders isn’t technically wrong or something, and you have to write a note about it, you probably are learning more from your more experienced coworkers. It’s like a skill that’s passed down, because your first intention is just to want to write this like, long narrative note that explains every detail and everything, and then you’re probably doing it with someone with you know, 10 or 20 years more experience looking over your shoulder saying, “Delete that, delete that, delete that, delete that! You already charted that,” [laughter]. So a lot of practice. I do remember starting as a nurse, working in like med/surg–

 

Q: What is med/surg?

 

A: Oh, it’s like a medical/surgical floor. So if you’re admitted to the hospital for something, it’s probably where you’re going to go, unless you need like a specialty floor. So if you’re having general surgery for like appendicitis, you’re going to med/surg. If you are– on our unit we did a lot more surgical than medical, but let’s say you have pneumonia and you’re really, really sick and have to go the hospital but you don’t need the ICU, you’re probably going to go to med/surg. So it’s like a general hospital floor. I feel like situations, I remember having to sit there and write notes with people, and you would always seek out like someone you felt comfortable with and saying, “Can you help me write this note? This difficult thing happened.” Like generally then, it had to do with pain management, and you couldn’t get anesthesia to get there on time, or something like that, right?. Patient’s in pain, you’re out of pain medicine, anesthesia isn’t coming, it took an hour, your patient hates you now, you know, something like that [laughter], and you have to careful not to write, “I called anesthesia a hundred million times and they didn’t want to come, because they didn’t like the page,” like, you can’t write that, right? So it’s like going back in time and someone you know, teaching you how to write, okay, write a note for the first time that you notified anesthesia. And then write another note that says, “notified anesthesia.” Write another note that says, “notified anesthesia, anesthesia now in rounds,” you know, and you write it that way. Like these little one line notes that say, “Hey, I did it. Hey, I did it. Hey, I did it.” And as someone showing you, instead of writing one long note, it shows this persistence, for example.

 

  1. I see, without having to say, “They didn’t show up, I had to follow up.” Yeah, got it.

 

A: Yeah. It’s obvious by, you don’t have to say it, because it’s obvious by how many times you had to follow up, for example. But that’s like a learned skill from your other nurses.

 

Q: Absolutely. That’s really, really interesting. Are there other things that you did besides seeking out more experienced nurses to learn how to perform these types of writing?

 

A: That like I, that I intentionally did?

 

Q: Yeah, yeah. Are there any other sort of strategies that you utilize to, you know, learn the nuances of this and improve?

 

A: I don’t know. I guess I can think of a few situations where, a lot of times the nursing managers or the units will have someone specific to call and check up on patients after they’re discharged home to see how they’re doing, and to get like a general idea of what we can do better and what we did really well, for example. And then they would, you know, give you follow up in staff meetings and stuff to talk about, “Well, this patient said that they asked for pain medicine a hundred times and were never given pain medicine,” but I can see from the charting where you called anesthesia, and gave them pain medicine, and reassessed their pain, for example. So you get feedback like that, where you learn you have to prove everything you’ve done.

 

Q: That’s really interesting, yeah.

 

A: And there’s a nursing addage of, “If it isn’t documented, it isn’t done.” So that gets beaten into your head as well [laughter].

 

Q: Got it, yeah, yeah. This is fascinating. Okay, so does anyone oversee your writing? You talked about other nurses reading these, and you talked about how you know, in a specific situation, a doctor might seek out your narrative, or your notes, but is there anyone who actually oversees your writing directly?

 

A: No.

 

  1. Okay, alright. And how long do you typically have to complete one of these narratives?

 

A: So your charting should be done– okay, so the goal is always real-time charting. So real-time charting should be done within two hours of whatever event. But real life, it doesn’t always work like that if you’re in a really, let’s say you’re in a patient’s room and something changes and you have to go have an emergency c-section, well that whole process can take four hours, between the emergency in the room, going for the c-section, recovering the patient, getting them upstairs, and sitting back down, where you haven’t stopped moving, right? So in that kind of case, it can take a little bit longer. I think most of the applications won’t let you chart things that are older than 24 hours, and if you’re writing them really delayed like that, you should start them with like a phrase that says, “late entry,” or something, to show that, you know, if you’re really writing a, like maybe you wake up at midnight, and you’re like, “Oh no! I didn’t write this note about this thing that happened!” So you show up the next morning and you go to their chart and you write, “late entry” for the time it actually happened. And then how much time you’re given to do it – I mean, I guess as long as it takes to write it, I don’t know.

 

Q: Okay. if you, let’s say, like if it is happening in real time with a typical patient, without any sort of crisis within that, how long do you usually spend you know writing your one narrative for that shift about that patient?

 

A: Oh, I don’t know, like some seconds [laughter].

 

Q: Okay, perfect. Some seconds, perfect, okay [laughter].

 

A: If it’s like a really simple day, I’m not doing anything above and beyond, everything should be captured in that flowsheet. So my note might be like, something about like, it might just be comments I’m making – like in the fields, you can right-click and make a comment about something – like for a slightly elevated temperature, “reassessed in their axillary,” or something like that, you know?. So it could be really, really simple, or you know, “Spouse to bedside”, I don’t know, like really simple stuff like that, if it’s a really simple day, yeah.

 

Q: Got it, okay. What kinds of writing do you remember being asked to create as a student?

 

A: As a student, if you go all the way back to the beginning of nursing school, a lot of your writing is in the form of care plans, which is something nursing school really focuses a lot on still, and the idea is to be able to understand and write these nursing diagnoses, which you don’t ever use in real life. But like a true nursing diagnosis goes something like, let me think, like, “malaise secondary to spoiled milk ingestion following something.” It’s like this really silly string of words and modifiers [chuckle] that you just don’t use it, it doesn’t make any sense, no one’s looking for it, but it’s one of those things that the nursing profession really wanted to have included in part of the education. And then your careplan is based on those nursing diagnoses that you’ve made in writing like what the symptoms of the malaise are in that category, and then what you’re doing for it, and what the expected outcome should be following it. And I think the idea is supposed to be like, big picture thinking, you know, like not just saying, “Oh, okay, so they have a fever, let’s just do Tylenol. The end.” You know? High level thinking, like, “Okay, so they have an elevated temperature, and an elevated heart rate, and shortness of breath. And so I’m considering that they might not be perfusing their lungs as well, and so I’m going to follow up with the MD for XYZ.” So it’s to get you thinking like big picture, what are the causes and effects of different things. That was most of nursing school, was these really crazy mind maps and venn diagrams or something, and I don’t know.

 

Q: That’s really interesting.

 

A: I don’t think very well like that.

 

Q: Yeah, so it was more to get you to a certain way of thinking, rather than to you have you practice writing the kind of document you’d be writing on the job.

 

A: Right, exactly.

 

Q: Got it, interesting. And so how do you feel like that did prepare you for the actual writing you do at work?

 

A: I don’t remember it very well, so maybe not great [laughter]. I think it did do a good job of helping you get out of the habit of looking at medical diagnoses though, as a nurse, and get really good at describing what’s going on. Like describing someone who looks like they’re having a pulmonary embolism, instead of saying, “I think they might have a pulmonary embolism,” or, you know? So it does help you with that. But besides that, I don’t know, that kind of felt like busy work.

 

Q: Got it, okay. And are there things that you wish you had learned in school that would have set you up to be a more effective writer on the job?

 

A: Let me think for a second. So I did a lot of like educating new hires for example, and training them on the units I worked on for a long time. And I know some of the focus has really changed. When I was in school, there was definitely a focus on, you know, if you didn’t document it, you didn’t do it. And you had to learn how to write in like a paper chart, so you did do a couple examples of writing little notes in paper charts and reading your notes in paper charts, but now the focus seems to be a lot more on the immediacy of charting, because the electronic medical records are everywhere in this area, at the very least. And so for myself, I don’t, I guess maybe more of an emphasis or some more education on how language can be used in like court system, or chart reviews. Or when the hospital can get reviewed by the Joint Commission to makes sure that they’re following standards of care, for example, so you kind of have like a bigger understanding of why you’re charting what you’re charting when some stuff just seems so silly, because you’re just hitting these like charting requirements for the day that don’t have any meaning or impact on what you’re actually doing for the patient, but it’s some bigger company’s proof of what you’ve been doing. So I wish I had learned about what the Joint Commission was, and what they were looking for, so that way I wouldn’t feel so bitter when I was a new nurse about spending extra time filling in these [chuckle] silly paperwork. And I wish that, well the nursing schools it seems like from the nurses who I’ve been training, they really come out wanting to chart everything the moment it’s happening, which is great, but they are so busy charting that they will forget to actually care for their patient. So I find myself saying a lot, like, “the computer’s not your patient,” because that’s what their emphasis is in nursing school, it’s just so hardwired that you have to make sure everything is documented, you know, documentation has to be perfect, etcetera. Which, a lot of what you do is already in the chart, you don’t have to like constantly be in it, you need to be focusing on your patient first. So I wish that was a change too, I wish they really pushed patient first, rather than chart first.

 

Q: That’s wonderful. Yeah, that’s really fascinating. Um, this next question is sort of a big picture question, we touched on it earlier – but what is at stake in your writing?

 

A: Oh, I mean, I guess if I am in inappropriate with the kind of notes I write, or if I don’t write something that I’ve done that’s really important, that proves I was doing my job, that proves the provider was doing their job, that we were working as a team for example, and there is a negative outcome, and we all go to court, like I could lose my license [chuckle], yeah.

 

Q: Yeah, pretty big impact, okay.

 

A: I mean charting isn’t going to save, I mean I guess in theory charting could really impact someone’s care if you don’t chart that you’ve done something, I mean that becomes bigger with proving that you’ve passed your medications and stuff like that, but as far as narrative writing, it’s mostly going to be proof that I’ve followed up on things, and acknowledged things, and noticed changes.

 

Q: That makes perfect sense, yeah. And what is the most difficult or challenging thing about writing in that particular position?

 

A: A lot of times you’re doing so many things at one time, and you’re following up on like if you notice a change in someone’s status, and you’re following up on it, and your provider’s following up on it, and they’re getting specialists involved, and you know, you’re like trying to keep track of everything that’s happening, while also making sure you’re patient’s safe, you could definitely just forget to write something, you know? And that’s your proof that it was done.

 

Q: Right, okay, okay. You talked a little bit about seeking out more experienced nurses early on in your career – is there anyone else who’s helped you with your writing, formally or informally, since you’ve been on the job?

 

A: Like in my nursing writing?

 

Q: Yeah.

 

A: No, I guess not really. Because no one really follows up on it unless you’re not charting that you did something.

 

Q: Okay, okay. And how do you believe you’ve evolved or improved as a writer over the course of your career?

 

A: I’ve gotten a lot more efficient [chuckle]. I am really good at saying as little as possible to get my point across [laughter].

 

Q: And to what extent do you think that writing is valued in that position?

 

A: I would say among other nurses, you know, you definitely have opinions about how people chart, and there’s definitely lazy charters, which isn’t so much a big deal, unless they’re not really saying things like, that they’ve called case management, or whatever, and it’s making your day extra busy because you’re doing stuff they already did, so. I think it makes a big difference between the other nurses that you’re working with, to know what’s going on.

 

Q: Got it, got it. So sort of your reputation as a nurse also has to do with it?

 

A: Yeah, your like reputation as a nurse, and also the, how– how do I say it? Like how easy it is to care for the patient can be impacted by how willing someone was to sit down and type something out.

 

Q: Got it, got it. Okay. And this is my last couple of questions here. So how would you have defined successful writing when you were a student, versus how do you define successful writing in this job that you’ve recently left?

 

A: So especially working on my bachelor’s after I had my associate’s, the focus what a lot more on paper writing, and writing, I don’t know, a bunch of, I felt like the same essay again and again. So doing well on the essay, right, was really important, and what really became hard, because I was already working as a nurse, was when you had a word count that you had to hit; you’re getting really really good at mincing your words and being really succinct, and then you’re given a word count that’s longer, like hitting a word count becomes really hard [chuckle]. So the big difference is that, is in nursing you’re– wait, is that what you asked, I’m sorry?

 

Q: It is. How did you define successful writing then versus now, yeah.

 

A: Okay, yeah. So then, it was a lot more about hitting word counts, and saying you know, what they wanted to hear, and sometimes just being more verbose. And then now it has a lot more to do with how quickly and efficiently can I say the bare minimum to show that I did my job?

 

Q: That makes perfect sense. That’s so interesting. And I’m sure that’s– I don’t know how typical that path is for other nurses, but it seems especially tricky, because I guess most nursing in doing a bachelor of nursing have not worked as a nurse in the past? Is that a fair statement, or no?

 

A: At least in this area, that’s probably true. It depends on where you are in the country. Associates-prepared nurses, I mean this area still has associates programs, and throughout the program some places really rely heavily on associates prepared nurses.

 

Q: Gotcha, okay.

 

A: Yeah.

 

Q: And my final question – would you say that you are a successful workplace writer?

 

A: Yeah, I think I’m a good note writer. People come to me for help with their notes.

 

Q: Excellent.

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Human Rights & Discrimination Lawyer

Law & Law Enforcement

Human Rights and Discrimination Lawyer

21:43

 

Q: Would you please state your job title, where you currently work, and how long it’s been since you graduated college?

 

A: I’m a lawyer, I work for a government agency called the Human Rights Legal Support Center, and I graduated in 2012, so that would be six years ago.

Q: Can you provide a very brief description of your primary job functions?

 

A: Uh, it’s a mix, I mean I work on human rights files from beginning to end. So the beginning of a file is a paper application, so I might draft that, and the middle of the file is the mediation, so I would attend the mediation with the client, the end of the file is the hearing, so I would prepare submissions for that hearing, attend the hearing, do submissions both written and orally.

 

Q: Can you provide a rough estimate, in an average week, what percentage of your job requires writing? Would you say zero to 25 percent, 25 to 50 percent, 50 to 75 percent, or 75 to 100 percent?

 

A: I’d say 50 to 75.

 

Q: What forms or types of writing or kinds of documents are you most often writing for your job?

 

A: It’s probably 50 percent emails, and 50 percent written submissions on behalf of clients.

 

Q: Good. And so who would be your primary audiences for those kinds of documents?

 

A: Emails are either clients or lawyers, so other lawyers on the file, or sometimes if a party’s self represented, it’s self represented party. And then the submissions, the audience is the tribunal, so that’s a single adjudicator who’s appointed to the human rights tribunal.

 

Q: Okay. Can you talk a little bit about the primary purposes for perhaps your emails that you’d be writing?

 

A: Yeah, they really range [chuckle]. Some of them are just pure logistics, like, figuring out a phone call, or confirming a client’s instructions. I would say a lot of them are communicating advice that I gave orally or even that I didn’t give orally, I’m just doing it for the first time in writing, so that I can give the clients instructions on how to proceed.

 

Q: Okay. And then the other more formal court documents, their purposes would be?

 

A: To try to win an argument [laughter]. So, yeah, whatever that argument is.

 

Q: Could you perhaps walk us through the process of a specific recent project or type of project, specifically thinking about like how an assignment or task is given to you, what your preparation is like, the steps you take from the time it’s assigned to you through its completion?

 

A: Yep. I’ll do this submissions because I think that’s probably the best example. There– let me think about this. Sometimes there are deadlines that are imposed by the tribunal, especially if I’m responding to a submission that’s been made by the other side. So in terms of preparation, you know, I get the deadline from the tribunal, I have a certain amount of time, probably about two weeks, to prepare. Sometimes it’s our initiative, and so that’s me sort of sitting down and brainstorming on a file, and figuring out that we need to file something in writing in order to achieve a certain goal. So that’s a lot more flexible, that would be me taking the time to actually think through what I have to do on the file, and then figuring out whether I have an example of that kind of submission already sitting on my desktop. And I would do that in both cases, actually, look for a precedent first, and if I have that precedent, I use it as a rubric for especially the law, I would study the same cases and use some of the same framework. If I had to start from scratch, I would look at cases and figure out how this has gone in similar cases, and then use that background to inform what I do next. And in terms of how I would actually sit down and write it, once I felt like I had enough input to create the output, I would normally just hammer it out. Like I would sit down for an hour or two hours and maybe put headphones on, and create a draft that I would then send to the client to approve, probably go back and forth once or twice with some edits, and then PDF it and file it.

 

Q: Okay, great. So you talked just there about edits – how frequently in the process is someone reviewing this work and, if it’s an external reviewer, what are they doing to try to help make the writing or the quality of the document better?

 

A: Yeah, I would say 90 percent of the time it’s a client reviewing it, so their way of making the document better is either correcting me if I’ve gotten a fact wrong, or adding in their perspective on how they want to argue it. You know, normally I have to tell you I don’t accept them, I’m like, “Well I’m the lawyer, I know how to argue it,” so that kind of edit doesn’t make its way through. Sometimes if I’m co-counselling with a lawyer on a file, they’ll review my draft as well. Those edits I think are kind of two categories. One is just for quality, so you know, grammatical or conciseness, or making a point a bit more clearly. And then there is a lot of difference I find depending on the lawyer you’re working with in the style that they write in, so I’m not particularly formal or lengthy in the way that I write, I just state the facts and leave it. But I do work with lawyers who want a bit more formal lawyer language in their documents, and so they’ll edit to add that.

 

Q: So how did you know how to do these kinds of writing?

 

A: You take a class in law school called legal research and writing, so they fold the research in with that too. It’s one semester, it’s not that practical I’ll say. And I developed most of the skills on the job. I also did mock trials in law school, and those I found useful, because you’re asked to create draft arguments, and those are reviewed by professionals who are actually practicing, so they start to give you a sense of style. And I would say when I was articling, I got really harshly edited because you’re trying to translate– at least for me, I did academic writing in undergrad, and then you go to law school and you sort of learn what you’re doing, but then you’re out in the world and it’s a really different style of writing. It’s point first, so you don’t take your time to get to the point, you say the point up front, and then explain why your point’s right. And it’s extremely direct, like there’s no dressing on the sentences [chuckle], so you know, the students who are overthinking everything have it just torn apart by the lawyers. So that was definitely a learning experience.

 

Q: Great. And so you had said that the class wasn’t particularly practical for you. What do you think was like the biggest gap between the way the class presented the writing and then how you experienced it in the real world?

 

A: Um, I mean the principles were there in the class, like when I look back, they were trying to teach us how to do it properly, I think it was just a lack of practice. And that we were still, like law school the way I did it was still extremely academic. So you’re still reading academic language, you’re still steeped in that in terms of the rest of the curriculum. So you’re just not I don’t think getting enough exposure or practice doing it in the way that you end up having to do it later on.

 

Q: So can you describe a time in your career that you maybe felt unprepared as a writer in your job?

 

A: That’s a good question. Let me think.

 

Q: Is there a particular task or a skill that your job asked you to do that you maybe hadn’t done before?

 

A: Yeah. I think, I mean sort of I can see the way I’ve built things up. I’ll give you a couple of examples. One is, we draft applications for people who are explaining the kind of discrimination they experienced, and I know the first few times I had to do that I felt like I didn’t really understand how to do that because I didn’t know whether to put it in the first person, first of all. And I also didn’t know whether to make it just about the facts, or to bring in the law. And you know, I’ve since learned how to do that, and how to do it in a style that suits me. But that I think I just, yeah, took some stabs at it, and then eventually read other versions of it to figure out what to do. I also once had to write a factum, which is not what I currently do, but another kind of law that I practiced before, and that was overwhelming because it’s a lot more formal structurally. So you have to put things in a certain font size, create certain margins, cite things extremely precisely, and if you don’t do that, you’ll have it actually rejected when you go to file it. So I definitely felt like I didn’t know what I was doing there and had to look at other examples to figure it out.


Q: Would you say that’s your primary method of kind of overcoming these challenges, is looking at other examples? Or do you have other means of like, if you feel a challenge at work, do you have other avenues of helping you overcome those challenges?

 

A: Yeah, so looking at other examples, talking to colleagues about you know, specific questions that I might have, and then trial and error [chuckle] I’d say is the other one. You know, sometimes you try something out, and, what I do currently is flexible enough that you’re not going to fail if you do it wrong, you’re just going to learn from the experience and do it better next time.

 

Q: So, aside, you know you’ve talked about clients of course looking over your writing and also co-counsel and stuff like that, do you have anybody you consider a supervisor that oversees your writing at any point?

 

A: Not currently. I used to, but not [10:46 inaudible].

 

Q: Sure, okay. You’ve touched on this a little bit, how long typically do you have to complete a writing project from assignment to completion?

 

A: Uh, between I would say one week and a month, depending on the project.

 

Q: Okay. We’ve hit on some of this, and this can even go beyond law school, maybe even into undergraduate writing, but we’re talking about more general writing here as well – what kinds of writing do you remember being asked to do as a student, and do you think that your college writing experiences gave you kind of any preparation for the way that you write now in your workplace?

 

A: Yep. Stages of writing that I would have done to get me where I am. The first would be undergrad, and I remember that being essays or reflective pieces, and research-based, academically-based, theory-based kind of work. I don’t necessarily [laughter] think that really helped me where I am today, maybe helped me with like reading comprehension in some of the things that I do now, but I’m so far away from theory with what I do that that I don’t see how I really incorporate it now, I guess other than basic grammar and learning how to write coherently. And then in law school, I still was doing mostly academic writing, with that exception of the course and the mock trials. And that, I guess sort of started to transition me into a much more direct writing style, but I know that in the third stage, when I was articling, I still had a lot of work to do in the sense that– then I was being asked to do submissions, so I was being asked to do two things, submissions and research. And it was still probably 75 percent research, 25 percent submissions. So I got enough practice to get okay at submissions, but the– and actually the research teaches you how to write succinctly too, because then you’re writing for the audience of another lawyer, and you’re trying to condense all the research you did into something usable for them, so it has to be something they can plug into the submissions that they’re writing. So I guess that sort of transition learning, in the sense that you still had to dive into a lot of ideas, and express those ideas clearly, but not in a flowery, academic way. It had to be really direct.

 

Q: What do you think would have been most useful for you learn as a student that would’ve maybe prepared you better for the kind of writing you do now?

 

A: I think just don’t overdo it [laughter]. Stories can be– everything can be simplified. Principles can be simplified, stories can be simplified. There’s no extra added value in added words, and that that’s okay. I think I thought for a while that using the bigger word made it better writing, but I definitely learned that that wasn’t true.

 

Q: So I want to talk a little bit about what’s at stake in your writing, some of it maybe is obvious. But what are the stakes of your writing? What are consequences for really good or maybe not so good writing in your profession?

 

A: Yeah. Sometimes the stakes are pretty high. So especially those emails to clients, when I’m putting my advice in writing, I have to be really careful with making sure it’s accurate, and also making sure it’s comprehensible to the client. And so if either of those – I mean the accuracy is the key one – but if the comprehensibility is not there, I’m just making work for myself in having to then schedule a phone call and walk through the concept and not– I need to create sort of a record of what’s gone on on a file too, and that record isn’t as good if the writing isn’t clear enough for the client to understand it. And then the stakes for the, I mean the stakes for the submissions are, if it’s not convincing enough, then you don’t succeed in your argument I suppose. And I also think if it’s sloppy, that creates an impression on the adjudicator of your skill and your expertise and can influence the outcome as well. And especially if it’s confusing, I find that when I read arguments that are confusing I find them much less convincing. And so the clearer it is and the better presented it is, I think the more likely you are to succeed.

 

Q: So it’s interesting, it sounds like, you know, you’re writing in that, since it’s maybe the first impression that some of people are going to get of you as a lawyer, you know, you kind of want that presentation. Is there a certain, I don’t know, trait that you want to be present or visible in your writing for say, adjudicators or your clients or anybody reading your work?

 

A: Yeah, that’s a good question. I want them to read it and have it immediately make sense. So that, and I’ve read good writing on both sides. So sometimes I read the other side’s submissions and I’m like, “Oh shoot! That makes perfect sense to me and I’m trying to advocate against that.” So you should read it and immediately buy into what’s being said so that it’s hard to challenge that perspective, or for the other side to get under the skin of it, because it’s so obvious in the way that it’s written that it must be true or the right approach.

 

Q: What would you say the most difficult thing about writing in your field is?

 

A: Condensing large amounts of information into short, persuasive sentences.


Q: Has anyone helped you formally or informally with your writing since you’ve left school?

 

A: Yep, I mean I had the articling year when, that was a mentoring relationship. Other than that, it would just be feedback that I get from co-counsel. Generally, if they’re giving me feedback, they’re more senior, so that would be informal, but I would still try and learn and adopt from it.

 

Q: You’ve talked a little bit about that ability to kind of be succinct, so if this is redundant you can say so, but if there’s any other ways in which this question applies, feel free. So how do you think you’ve most evolved or improved as a writer so far throughout your career?


A: Yeah, it’s similar to things I’ve said before I think. Learning how to be direct and not being– learning how to simplify things instead of complicate them, I guess [chuckle], yeah.

 

Q: Okay, just a few more questions. And again, this might be obvious because we’ve talked about this a little bit already, but to what extent do you think writing is valued in your organization as well as the discipline or field of law as a whole?


A: Right. Valued, I think it’s very valuable, whether or not it’s valued by everyone [chuckle] is an interesting question. I think everyone has different approaches to how precise they feel they need to be; and I’ve definitely read submissions that are all over the place, and full of spelling errors, and not formatted properly. So I’m not sure if everyone in the profession sees that the real value in that being a vehicle to persuade people. And I know– I think I like writing, is part of the reason why I put energy into making something flow properly, and just read well. But I do know, especially the work I do, is before a really informal tribunal. So you could, to get a certain request granted, you could file three lines, or you could file three pages. And I’m in the camp of people who would file three pages, just in case, and also because why not? So I guess, I prefer email over the phone, but there are definitely people I practice with who would prefer the phone over email. So, where I might email a client to create a paper trail of what I’ve told them, I have colleagues who would call. So I definitely think it’s valuable and a really key component of practice, but there are definitely people who practice differently and, you know, still succeed, and rely on writing much less than I do.

 

Q: So, last question. How would you define successful writing as a student, versus what you consider to be successful writing now? And would you consider yourself a successful workplace writer, why or why not?

 

A: Okay. I think successful writing when I was a student I understood as being thoughtful and reflective and, to be honest, wordy. Like a lot of the academic language was something you were supposed to be using and deploying in an academic context, and about toying with ideas instead of settling on them, just sort of batting them around. In my profession now, I see, I think I’ve mentioned, I see successful writing as being succinct, and persuasive, and not necessarily simple, but able to condense big concepts into basic language. And do I consider myself successful? I think, you know, I’d like to think that I’ve come to a place where I have the tools I need to succeed when I sit down to write something. I think when I read the things other people have written in my field, I always try and learn from that, and implement their tactics to enhance mine. But it is one of the things that I really enjoy about my work, and I think that because of that, I’ve been able to succeed because I like doing it, so.

 

Q: Great, thank you so much.

 

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