Software Engineer

Computers & Technology

Speaker 1  0:02 

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

Speaker 2  0:08 

I’m a senior software engineer at a small software company in downtown DC. What was the last one?

Speaker 1  0:17 

How long has it been since you graduated college?

Speaker 2  0:20 

I guess it’s 12 years now.

Speaker 1  0:23 

Okay. And how long have you worked in the current field?

Speaker 2  0:26 

11 and a half years?

Speaker 1  0:29 

Can you provide a very brief description of what your primary job functionsare?

Speaker 2  0:33 

Mostly designing and building web applications. So everything from databases to API’s writing a lot of code. I also have a lot of interaction with clients, I’m often going out and talking to clients providing consulting services, chatting to them getting a good idea of what they need, what they want to build. And then I get to go off, plan it all out and then get to build it. It’s fun.

Speaker 1  1:10 

And you can include coding and all of the stuff that you do that way in this next question, can you estimate in an average week, what percentage of your job requires writing? Zero to 25%, 25 to 50; 50to 75, or 75 to 100?

Speaker 2  1:26 

Um, I would probably say, either 50 to 75, or 75 to 100. It’s hard to say, I’m definitely writing a lot of the time. Because yes, I’m programming. So most of that is right now words and you no syntax. As I say, I do a lot of requirements gathering. So in that situation, I’m talking to people, I also do a lot of talking to workmates planning things out. And the more I’m saying that I’m talking myself into 50, to 75%, but I do always try to document things I, I write summary emails for maintenance that I do, and I, I create my own tasks before I work on anything as well. So there is quite a bit right.

Speaker 1  2:17 

And when you say requirements gathering, is that simply getting needs out of from your clients? Yep.

Speaker 2  2:24 

Yep, mostly sitting down with clients getting an idea of what it is exactly they’re looking for a lot of the times, they’re not totally sure. So you really have to kind of know what questions to ask pull that information out of them. The most fun part of my job is like when I ask someone a question, and they’re just astounded that they’ve never been asked that question before, but they’re like, Oh, of course, I didn’t even think of that. And then when you have conversations with that, obviously, I have to go away and write all that down. So that anyway, it’s a contract between me and the client that this is what we decided they need.

Speaker 1  3:01 

So this speaks a little bit to that. What forms are types of writing? Or what kinds of documents do you most often complete for your job?

Speaker  3:09 

I would say definitely requirements, documentation is a big part of it. Meeting summaries, as well, creating tasks that people are going to work on whether that’s myself or I do a lot of the back end work. So we also have guys who are doing the mobile apps and the web apps. And I try to go out of my way to really write down exactly what they’re going to be doing so that when they come to build a thing, it’s all clear for them. And it’s it’s easier for them to work on. Apart from that emails back and forth from clients questions that have or questions that I have, again, mostly requirements based or given updates on the stuff I’m working on.

Speaker 1  3:54 

Okay. So would you say that in your primary audiences tend to be clients and colleagues? Or do you have any other additional audiences you write to?

Speaker  4:01 

I guess that’s it. I know, other people in my work tend to… they have been creating blog articles recently, but but I haven’t done any of that myself just yet.

Speaker  4:12 

And so you’ve talked a little bit about the requirements gathering purposes, but a primary purposes for other types of communications, maybe particularly like the emails you’re sending?

Speaker 2  4:20 

Yeah, I would say, addressing client concerns, given status updates on the things that I’m working on. Definitely questions that I have regarding stuff that I’m working on, or stuff that I intend to work on soon. The other emails, yeah, now that’s pretty much it.

Speaker  4:42 

Could you walk us through the process of maybe one specific recent project or type of project that you’ve had, specifically addressing how you get a writing assignment or task given to you what your preparation is, and then then the steps you take from the time it’s assigned to towards completion?

Speaker  4:58 

As an example client that we’re currently working with and using him here in DC, they have an old legacy system that has been kind of holding them back for a long time. And I’ve been doing a lot of work for them over the past three years, getting some of that data out of their old Oracle database and putting it up to the cloud. Most recently, they’ve been asking me to come back and and and finish that up, we did the the main bulk of it from stuff that someone else had already got rid of. So recently, because I haven’t been working on it in a while, it’s a case of me needing to refresh everyone’s memories, what it is exactly that we’re going to be doing. And the steps that I intend to take when I come to the office, what I need from them, you know, the access to the network, credentials for the systems that I’m going to be using, and then basically the steps that I intend to take when I’m actually doing the work for them.

Speaker  6:03 

So during the process in any of the writing that you’re doing, how to you or your colleague/ clients, whatever it is, you’re writing to, or with, make the writing go more smoothly improve the writing kind of stuff?

Speaker  6:15 

And for me, it’s always a case of targeting the right into your audience, knowing the limitations of you know, people’s knowledge that particularly technically, lots of people don’t understand the software side of things. So always try to keep it as simple as possible. I love bullet points, every email in my field should have bullet points, there is no need for power house. So do try and keep things clear and concise, avoid technical terms, and I would never use abbreviations. Definitely try to use words that people are actually going to understand.

Speaker 1  6:58 

how did you know how to do these kinds of writing?

Speaker  7:02 

It’s really funny, I was speaking about this, just at the weekend, a friend, a friend’s friend, who’s a professor as well. And she was talking about the importance of communications, she worked in medicine, and she was a professor of medicine, and trying to impart on the kids that she’s tutoring, like how important written communication is. And as I say, I always go back to the fact that when I was 11, just getting into high school, this was in Ireland, that I found it so funny that we had English literature and English comprehension is two different classes. And I remember we were doing English comprehension, practice, or whatever. And it was reading a newspaper article. And then there was a list of questions. And it was like, you know, how did someone feel about this? And how do you know that? And I was like, it says, it says right there, and I started writing the answer, and I’m like, this gotta be wrong. It can’t be the actual answer. And I guess in in that way, it’s always been a natural thing for me that that I read information, and then I write it down for myself or for whoever I think I need to pass it on to. And that side of the comprehension and rewriting in your own words has always been natural to me in some way. But definitely, it helped that I went to a good high school where this was a specific class.

Speaker  8:40 

And as far as the the coding program and stuff goes, did you have formal education that?

Speaker  8:44 

I had done one programming class in my first year in college, which I always explained to people was on a Friday afternoon. And so it was not in attendance most of the time. But I basically learned how to program on the job. I was recruited by my brother, who, you know, has also put me that he thought I would be good at this. And I’m glad I came across the Atlantic to learn it with them. Yeah, I basically learned it all on the job.

Speaker 1  9:18 

Can you describe a time in your career that you felt unprepared as a writer at work? For instance, is there a writing task or a skill that your current job asks of you? That you’d not be asked to do before?

Speaker  9:28 

Um, I would say, possibly, the first time I assisted with a, an RFP, like creating a proposal for an RFP, think RFP is is a request for proposal from I think it was National Jewish Health in Colorado, and having never done one before, and my colleagues who had certainly put together sales proposals before but but wouldn’t have been familiar with the technical side of things, that was definitely a bit of a challenge. But then I tried to approach it with the same skills and the same way of going about it that I write things anyway. And you know that that worked out for the best.

Speaker  10:16 

So in overcoming those kind of challenges, can you think of specific steps that you took perhaps looking at previous documents by other writers in your workplace? Asking questions, more senior writers, collaboration, professional training, anything like that?

Speaker 2  10:30 

Yeah, absolutely.Asking questions of the people who had created proposals before. Say, yeah, doing a bit of research, googling how to how to structure proposal and what companies are expecting. Similarly, I guess another example, would be writing a cover letter recently. And you know, I’d never written a cover letter before last week. And so I was mostly doing online research of, of how to structure it and some ideas of what to include what not to include how to phrase things, and so on.

Speaker 1  11:09 

Does anyone oversee your writing?

Speaker  11:12 

Actually, yeah, it’s funny. So the company that I work for, as I say, I’m directly in contact with a few companies, afew nonprofits, and although I do communicate directly with them, I do often run things past my boss, just in case have them, take a little look at it, make sure everything’s okay. And it usually is, but it never hurts to have another set of eyes that look for sure.

Speaker  11:42 

And the title/role of your boss that would oversee your writing?

Speaker 2  11:47 

Is the president and founder of the company.

Speaker  11:51 

How would you say that they judge the quality or success of your work?

Speaker 2  11:55 

I would say one of the things I’m always complimented on most in my work, is my written written communication. Definitely the it’s, it’s highly regarded, I’m glad to say.

Speaker 1  12:10 

how long typically do you have to complete a writing project?

Speaker  12:13 

Um, I would definitely hope the absolute maximum of two hours for any document that I would be putting together, whether that is like detail heavy requirements, stuff, or just like, obviously, shorter emails should take 10 or 15 minutes. Yeah, I can’t think of anything that I’ve worked on recently that has taken more than a couple of hours absolute maximum.

Speaker 1  12:40 

What kind of writing Do you remember being asked to write as a student? In what ways do you think your college writing experience did or did not prepare you to do the kind of writing you’re doing now?

Speaker 2  12:53 

I guess, because I did electronics and electrical engineering, I didn’t really have to do that many writing assignments. Most things were, you know, mathematics based, or maybe formula based. I do remember in first year, having a couple of having a couple of essay, assignments and Innovation in Engineering, I think class was called. And it was really a bit of a mix of everything. You were able to throw in references to anything if you felt like they were relevant. I remember having a few jokes thrown in.

Speaker 1  13:35 

Can you think of any specific kinds of assignments in class?

Speaker  13:40 

Um, there was a title of one that was a <…> for years. And now of course, I can’t think of it. What was it? Oh, no, it’s escaped me.

Speaker  13:55 

What do you think would have been useful for you to learn as a student that would prepare you for the kind of workplace writing you do?

Speaker  14:01 

Um, that is a good question. As for me that the thing that’s always missing, throughout, like my applications for college, and then college time, and then since college has been a lack of career guidance, how to put together resumes and cover letters that I would say that would have been very useful. And certainly coming out of college, especially I ended up falling into a position in Edinburgh where I was living at the time that really didn’t suit me at all. And if I received a little bit of career advice, maybe might have done a little better, but then of course, maybe I wouldn’t have ended up in the US. So yeah.

Speaker  14:50 

What would you say is at stake in your writing projects, for example, what positive outcomes look like versus negative outcomes for unsuccessful writing?

Speaker  14:59 

I’d say the big ones are client relations, client relationships. And I’d say, efficiency of our internal team as well. I think how well I can write things, how well I can communicate things, definitely has a bearing on how smoothly things run in terms of the stuff that we’re building and making sure there’s not bugs arising because something wasn’t properly properly explained, you know, and that I would be doing through writing.

Speaker  15:34 

So coding is a very specific kind of writing skill. What do you think are important skills in being successful in coding versus the other kinds of writing you do, maybe the more, you know, email kind of stuff?

Speaker 2  15:47 

I would the most obvious one is attention to detail. Also, being concise, you know, you can always write 10 lines of code to do something that you could potentially do in three lines. And in that way, as well, learning haven’t been motivated by doing things more efficient than next time than you did them and this time out. And that’s definitely something that I always try to take into my my newer projects, I will remember that I did something a nice way in a past project, and I’ll go find it out, I’ll go take it from there, as opposed to just writing it freehand. Because I know that’s going to be more efficient.

Speaker  16:29 

And interesting, to follow up on the sort of efficiency in in your code and writing, what’s at stake there?

Speaker 2  16:36 

How how well something runs whether you run into transaction failures, whether bugs arise. Yeah, all of that definitely does does come into it, depending on how you write things.

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

Speaker  16:56 

Well, the most difficult thing about writing code is having to know what you’re writing, it’s having to know, languages having to know frameworks happen to know the the tool sets that are available in the frameworks that you’ve chosen, having to learn different third party tools. And it’s usually a lack of knowledge of how a thing works. But But luckily, in my field, there are endless amounts of resources to find those answers. If I just go looking for an answer, I’m always going to find it.

Speaker 2  17:37 

Has anyone helped you with your writing formally, or informally since college?

Speaker  17:54 

Not really, I remember, perhaps, the year out of college while I was in Edinburgh, I was doing an office job in a major financial services company, basically, running a report on the hour and then emailing clients. And I think at one point, maybe I had started an email, hey, as opposed to hi, or whatever. And that’s the only time I can remember anyone pointing out that you need to be a bit more professional.

Speaker  18:29 

How do you think that you’ve evolved or improved as a writer, if you have over your career so far?

Speaker  18:34 

Um, I would definitely say, I’d become more professional. I feel like I have the confidence to know where the balance falls between being familiar and professional with clients. Also, I, I hope that I’ve become a bit more concise and clear with things that I write. And I think that’s something that you just get with practice. It’s something that because of the amount of times I’ve had to do it, I’m a little better at it now.

Speaker  19:06 

And that sort of learning curve for being professional and that kind of how did you how’d you figure that out?

Speaker 2  19:13 

I would say, it was mostly left to myself in fairness, I’ve always worked for small companies. While I’d been in the US, I’ve worked for a couple of startups. I’ve worked for larger company, but of which I was part of a very small team, the software team was just starting. So I have mostly been left to my own advice devices. But then I’ve always just had a manager who I’ve been communicating with directly who, if ever, they thought I phrased something badly, they would, you know, pick me up on it and, you know, give me some advice on it.

Speaker  19:52 

To what extent do you think writing is valued in your organization and in your field as a whole?

Speaker  19:59 

As I say, I would say that it’s, it’s very much valued in my current company right now. They’re really trying to build the blog to, you know, put out articles, it’s good for, you know, a company recognition, it’s, it’s good for showing off the talent that you have there. And basically, that your developers know what that are a range of fields, you know, even some of them, they might not be working on day to day, but they’re in the know, you know, they’re keeping, they’re hooked into technology and the news things. And so certainly when the writing about those things that’s valued, and as well, for me personally, the stuff that I do, as I say, hadn’t been, I’ve been complimented, I’d been, you know, given credit for it. So it’s definitely something that people that people care about,

Speaker 1  20:54 

And you think that’s, that’s true across the the field as well,

Speaker  20:57 

I would say so. But it’s also something that’s not expected. And not often. It’s, it’s something that yeah, a lot of people who work in the kind of field that I do are programmers first, and you know, communicators second. So, I would say it’s definitely something that’s valued. And it’s something that when, you know, when people see that on a on a resume, when they see that you’re capable of doing that, or even if you’re emailing back and forth with a potential hire, if they’re good communicators, it’s something that you can tell, potentially, they could be good communicators verbally as well. And both of those things could go a long way to helping them in any job.

Speaker 1  21:46 

Do you think that’s something that like you could get away with, maybe in a larger company, but not so much in a smaller company, if you’re sort of programmer first and not having those sort of maybe client facing skills,

Speaker 2  21:56 

I certainly do think that and as I say, I’ve never worked in a larger company myself. And one of the reasons that it doesn’t appeal to me so much is that I don’t want to just be a worker bee who’s just writing code all day, and doesn’t get to interact with people doesn’t get to suggest ideas or doesn’t get to talk to clients and, and get the information out of them and then get to offer them newer solutions and different things. Because, you know, you’re just one of thousands.

Speaker  22:27 

And final question. How would you define successful writing now, versus how you maybe define successful writing as a student? And would you say that you’re a successful workplace writer now?

Speaker 2  22:40 

I would say, I would say, I’m a successful workplace writer. Now, definitely, I’m happy with emails and requirements, documents and client communication that I put together. How to say it has changed, or how would it?

Speaker 1  23:00 

How would you define your concept of successful writing as a student versus maybe how you look at it now?

Speaker  23:05 

Um, I wonder whether I was ever one of those people who thought that flowery writing was necessarily a good thing. Or, or maybe I realized that, that you know, before that, but that’s not necessarily what people are looking at looking for. As I said, I feel like most of what I learned about writing I learned in high school, so maybe just knowing that you scored higher on the test when you actually answered exactly what they were asking, taught me something about just putting in the information that you need and like cutting back on the nonsense.

Speaker 1  23:41 

Great. All right. Thank you very much. Appreciate it. Thanks.

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University Academic Advisor

Education, uncategorized

Speaker 00:02     Would you please state your job title where you currently work and how long it’s been since you graduated college.

Speaker 00:08     I work at a university near Washington D.C. I’ve worked there for two years. My title is Associate Director and Transfer Coordinator. I graduated with my undergraduate degree in December 2004 and my graduate degree in May 2010.

Speaker 00:28     And how long have you worked in your current field?

Speaker 00:32     I’ve worked in my current field since January 2006. And with a three year pause during graduate school.

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

Speaker: So, I work in admissions which means that I review applications and I counsel and advise prospective students through the application process; If they want to come to the university, I communicate with them about our requirements, about the status of their application and then I am involved in developing our recruitment materials and working on recruitment initiatives and participating in events on campus.

Speaker 01:13    Can you please give an estimate in an average week what percentage of your job requires writing from 0 to 25 percent 25 to 50 percent 50 to 75 or 75 to 100 percent?

Speaker 01:28    I think it varies by season because like for right now I’m out of the office a lot I have to go do recruitment travels at other universities, have to go to college fairs and or just literally go and sit at the table at a community college and hope students approach me with questions about the university or applying or the admissions process or whatever. So if it’s if that’s going on that’s a lot of my job. But if I’m in the office 50 to 75 percent of my time is spent writing and that is mainly the emails that I send to colleagues or prospective students. And also sometimes working on the written content for publications or website.

Speaker 02:14    So you mentioned a few of these but what forms or types of writing or kinds of documents do most often complete your job?

Speaker 02:22    The document I complete most often is e-mails. That is how students we can spend hours and we have spent hours revising the content on our Web site. Revising our publications hiring people to help with those things and ultimately it has very little impact as far as no matter how finding will you make the information. Students will always contact you and say I mean I’ve had students who contacted me to say what is your website address. Well I don’t know how they found my contact information if they didn’t find the web site but they really like to just have you reiterate that the email becomes almost a text message because they’re saying when is your application deadline.

Speaker 03:04    You give them that piece of information and they write back and say Can I have the link to the application. Then they want to know the mailing address to and it becomes more like a text conversation and a lot of ways. But anyway that’s the primary method of communication with these students. And that’s my day is taken up by communicating in correspondence with these students through that through that way. But I would say the other large portion of the writing duties that I have to do with anything or publications on our Web site or print publications on our Web site.

Speaker 03:39    So you’d say them that your primary audiences typically are students and then students absolutely.

Speaker 03:45     And mainly prospective students because once they’re admitted to the university, immediately upon admission as transfer students, they are connected with the faculty adviser and they are basically handed off to the faculty adviser to the orientation office. We, our communication with them is actually very minimal. So, the large population of students that I’m working with are students who are increased or their applicants or they’re admitted and in some cases, they are denied, but not many.

Speaker 04:17    So you’ve talked already about the sort of factfinding email responses. Are there other primary purposes for these kinds of communications maybe particularly non e-mail the publications and things.

Speaker 04:29    Yes certainly. I think to guide it sometimes … sometimes with the fact finding yes a student is emailing me ask one specific question and what I have learned is that the best way to respond to with an answer to one question is to provide an answer to the 10 you know were coming. So what I’m sending out I’m responding to their fact finding and then developing templates to use when corresponding with students based on the questions that I know that they’re going to come up with apps when I see that first fact finding I know what else is coming so I’m writing them a larger e-mail with the questions that I can anticipate about what questions about they have about our programs, about the financial aid process, about that sort of thing. But I would say that in the job that I have now and in the position that I had previously the more challenging writing tasks have to do with communicating with student by email when I’m telling them difficult news that primarily has to do with students who have not applied but don’t meet the admission requirement at that time. And they oftentimes will argue with me and I have to explain why we’re standing by our requirement. And then in both my current position and my previous position I dealt with a lot with nursing students who have no idea how competitive nursing is to get into, because that’s much more rigorous than getting into just the general University. So, I’m writing e-mails explaining why these… I’m speaking in general terms about our policies. But what I’m actually doing is this general information sharing about the policy, is actually something that pertains to their personal qualifications because they don’t meet the requirement, but instead of making them feel bad and saying this is your GPA or these are the classes these are the grades you’ve gotten your science classes, I’m speaking to them generally about our requirements and why nursing back members look for strong grades in science classes. So again, beyond just factfinding it’s sharing a wealth of information with them based on their interest or coaching them through certain situations if I have to share bad news.

Speaker 06:42    Could you walk us through the process for one particular research project or type of assignment that you’ve had moving from the way that these reading tests are given to you in the kind of preparation you do to write it and then the steps you take until the process is completed.

Speaker 06:59    Well for me so recently I worked with one of my colleagues to redevelop the transfer web pages on our Web site. And people who work with me understand that I was an English major or that I went to graduate school for writing. So, they’re like oh you’re a writer. We’re really excited to work with you on this project. However, my experience working on these websites or  the decisions I make about how to work on the website and what I think needs to be on the website is not informed by … is not necessarily I don’t look at it as OK I’m choosing what should I put on that page because I’m a good writer and here’s the well written things that I would like to develop five paragraphs about this. ,but this piece of information I’d like to share. My decision about content is going up there is based on the questions for us that I’m getting from students and the way that they are processing the information that or the confusion that they seem to come up against a lot when they are looking at content on our Web site, and actually too much content confuses them way too much and they lose it. So I basically sat down with the person or the transfer pages who said oh you’re a great writer so we’re going to write things so I said No I think we’re basically need to remove everything and just have bullet points and we need to put information in the simplest way. And I said I do not care what you put on them or what they say. I just want it to say you don’t need to have your associates to transfer, here are a minimum GPA requirements to 2.0 and you don’t need to pass specific classes ; and if you have anything else other than that I am happy to work with you on developing that content. But rather than thinking about you know how can we make a page about the GPA requirement, I just want to make information accessible and clear to students so as to get it going against some of my you know writerly inclinations too because I would love to write pages and pages of information and show off my writing skills, but instead I’m like nope just put this thing that’s barely a sentence to indicate information. So in that situation it really truly became a project that started as let’s write all this lengthy content and me actually sitting down and saying I have bullet point information that I want to put on these pages. Here’s some bullet points for a student who is in the process of applying. Here’s a bullet point for students who are admitted. Here’s bullet points for students who have questions about the financial aid process and basically just making that information easy and accessible rather than loading down the pages with text.

Speaker 09:43     And maybe to go back to a little bit some of the skills you talked about and respond to e-mails and sort of considering the audience and their feelings and things like that. How did you kind of know how to navigate these issues and how do these kinds of writing do?

Speaker 10:02     Well that’s a hard question because I so often do think even as someone who has studied writing and taught writing, I have these absolutely fundamental beliefs in me that part of it does come… it just it’s like a talent that you have. It’s when it comes to putting difficult information into [something] easily digestible, and I would even say kind, form because I watch my co-workers struggle to do the same things through e-mail to share difficult information with students via e-mail. You don’t meet the admission requirements, or we didn’t get the document in time to complete your application; You’re not going to get in. Here’s some bad information and it was some unfortunate information about your financial aid. I see co-workers struggle to do that. Do I think that these are co-workers who failed English composition? No. Do I think that I know how to do it because I have a graduate degree in creative writing? No, I really struggle because I  so I have this belief that it’s just I don’t know. This happens to be the skill that I have people will give me e-mails are sending messages and I’ll say absolutely you cannot say that, here is the way that you need to say that. And maybe that’s downplaying or taking my education for granted and thinking like “no I didn’t really think that that”, it cant have anything to do with the fact that I can write these e-mails I’m not thinking critically enough about it.

But it’s interesting to me to watch very well-educated people struggle to share information in a concise way, particularly when it comes to e-mails that we send to students. So, I mean I really don’t know how I do it or even I can’t even pinpoint in my education what it is that taught me to do to do that. But I do believe I do it well because I know from the responses, I get from students, it doesn’t create contentious situations when I’m sharing unfortunate information.

Speaker 12:24     Can you describe a time in your career what you felt unprepared as a writer at work?

Speaker 12:33     Yes, I was asked to create in my previous position, an email to transfer students who had been admitted to the university but had not paid their deposit. So in both of my roles in the job I used to have on the job that I have now I work has a lot of admitted students.

But the moment that a student pays her deposit and confirms their enrollment, as I mentioned before, they are no longer with our office. We’ve done our work. They’ve committed to coming to the university so. So that’s again like I said before I don’t really work at the deposited population very much. My previous job I was asked to come up with an email to be sent from the specific college I worked at within the university that was to be sent to students who were going to be who had not paid their deposit yet to join our college, which was a college of Health and Human Services.

And so my director the Associate Dean said you need to come up with this e-mail that’s going to be sent to convince them why they need to come here. So I wrote in an email highlighted, kind of going back to what I was talking about before about just book points highlight here’s five reasons you should come here, and the dean the assistant dean came back to me and said, “This is not what we want. Transfer students don’t want to know about this. They want to know about faculty research.” So, I want you to go and you interview all of the department chairs find out about the research within their department and then develop an e-mail based on that.

She says what she was tasking me to do is to take a paragraph long e-mail, which is too long in general for how students read e-mails these days, five bullet points long, that might even be too long and that’s how she wanted me to take it and kind of transform it into a page and a half letter with just content about research. I’ve worked to transfer students and never once been asked about research. I’ve been asked by a transfer student “What is a GPA?” I’ve never been asked what is the research that your faculty does.

And in that particular situation I felt unprepared because I didn’t know… it almost felt like someone had it like I’d been given a prompt for an essay and then I felt I was responding exactly the right way and someone was saying no the way that you’re responding to this is completely incorrect. You have to write this entirely different essay; even though I know that my response to the prompt was correct. And because I felt that what she was asking me to do was so not in response to the task we’ve been given. I really really really struggled to do what she wanted me to do and to come up with something… I don’t know how to pitch research to transfer students because I don’t believe it’s something they’re interested in. So, I felt just very unprepared to know how to do that and ultimately very unhappy with what we came up with.

Speaker 15:43     So what would you do in those situations where you feel the difficulty in reconciling like maybe your expectations  and those of someone else?

Speaker 15:51     I think that that ultimately it feels like to me what I come up with is is like catalogue copy that would be in a university catalog. It’s like a course description. No, I don’t think people would say that a candidate that catalogue a course description of your composition course is marketing copy. Like sure someone could read it and maybe want to go take that course, but it’s not marketing and so what it felt to me was this that we were coming up with… I just went in a mode of, because I didn’t feel like we were responding to the prompt quote unquote that we’ve been given, I then had to think about what does this person who has been asking, who is at the end of the day going to sign off on this, what does she want? So OK. What I think that she wants is very dry catalog copy so how can I go against my instincts to come up with something that is selling a program and instead provide catalog copy?

Speaker 16:53     So who officially is anyone overseas you’re writing?

Speaker 16:59     It used to be…Well the only e-mails I write we have absolutely no oversight. And I think honestly in an office like mine that is a problem because I’ve seen e-mails that my colleagues write, and it is unbelievable.

And I love my colleagues. I think my colleagues are wonderful at working with prospective students. The e-mails that they sent, I absolutely cannot believe whether it’s they’re sharing difficult information or the e-mail just the tone of the e-mail looks like again like a text message or maybe there’s no salutation it. And again, a lot of my co-workers are young so they are a lot of the time if an 18 year old is writing an e-mail, there are 22 year olds responding to that e-mail and so some I think just some etiquette stuff is lost. And I think that because there’s no oversight on the e-mails you can basically do whatever you want and no one is telling them this is not appropriate, what you’re doing. So, sometimes I would say we previously …we no longer we no longer have a director in my office. That person was terminated, and the position is open. So, before she left though sometimes if an applicant called with a question there would be questions about what has been the communication with this applicant beforehand and you would have to provide, “here is a document of what this applicant was told” which happened a lot. Thank goodness. Any time I’m communicating with the student I put things… even if I’m on the phone delivering information to them or giving a significant update… I say I’m going to follow up by an e-mail because I know my boss may company some time and say “what is that what was this applicant told?” And so that is really, that the person overseeing my writing would be my director when someone’s in that role. But it does not happen on a regular basis. And then I’m in the role of overseeing other people’s writings and I will edit a lot of the publications that are developed by our marketing agencies that we work with or someone will come up with a mass e-mail that we’re going to send to transfer students I’ll edit that.

Speaker 19:16     So maybe even in the room with the publications of the university, does anybody double check that before goes live?

Speaker 19:27     So how it really works is someone else is creating that copy and then I’m double checking it before it goes live. That’s really what ends up happening. And that’s actually as far as who’s responsible for why in terms of our publications, that’s also a huge problem that my office is trying to address because we’re working with two marketing firms— people in our office who are responsible for different things and it’s very confusing who is responsible for what in terms of a lot of our publications and that’s creating some problems.

Speaker 20:02     So some of the e-mails have a pretty quick turnaround time for other writing projects. Typically, how long would you have to complete the project?

Speaker 20:10     Well sometimes if we have like a brochure or something then the office working on the brochure or one of the marketing agencies will send it to us and want a turnaround time of two weeks or something. But again, that’s not if they’re sending me a PDAF of the documents so it’s a completed document and I’m just copy editing it. So I’m not responsible for coming up with pages and pages of new content, I’m just editing their content. I’m trying to think right now if I again, if I’m doing content for our Web site maybe the turnaround time is a week or something. But I have never had a project in this specific job that I work in I’ve never had a writing project that I’ve worked on over the course of many months.

Speaker 21:09     What kind of writing do you remember being asked to create as a student particularly undergrad and in what ways do you think your college writing experience has prepared or did not prepare you for the kind of stuff you do?

Speaker 21:22     Well maybe this gets back to why I don’t think of my education as contributing to my writing skills I have at work, because the writing that I was doing as an undergraduate was… you know my co-workers were saying oh you were an English major, and I’m like well I was a creative writing major. So, what was I writing? A Will and Grace spec script. And then non-fiction article about adult fans of Harry Potter and a short story about god knows what. So so I can’t… That’s what a lot of people when they say you were an English major and you’re a writer, they don’t really understand that I wasn’t a marketing major I wasn’t doing…. But I do believe that my genuine my interest in writing of course has to do with the skills I have now. But it’s funny because I did not take any classes that had to do with marketing copying anything like that and those were all offered at my college and I was like No I’m going to do Intro to Comedy 1 and then Intro to Comedy 2 and then Magazine Writing 1 2 and 3 and then Fiction Writing Intro and then Advanced. That’s what my schedule looked like. So I think that, you know, when I look back on the research papers that I wrote, those are certainly helped me to prepare for times in my job when I had to do projects that involved talking to a faculty member and coming up with a publication about their program.

Sure but in some ways I wish I had taken more classes that had to do with marketing and things like that because I wish that I had a portfolio of my work because nobody at my current job is asking to see my Will and Grace spec script although it was so good! And so and even with my graduate degree I … It’s very difficult for me to think of here is a thing that I learned or an assignment I was given in graduate school and that has made it so that I feel I can excel in this this realm of writing it in my current job.

And that’s why it goes back to what I was saying before, which is so… which is again not very maybe intelligent thing to say or very interesting thing to say but, just the idea of like yes it’s something some people inherently know how to do. I can’t add two and two was really never really good at that. But I can write in e-mail and share some information and have it be, you know pretty effective, so I don’t know.

I really I honestly I know that my education helps me and I struggle to identify exact examples of what I did that helped me.

Speaker Do you think at all that your sort of extensive experience in like writing workshops may have helped you with the kinds of softening language that you use as such?  

Speaker 25:01    That’s I guess what I’m talking about. Like I don’t know. I would feel that I brought that to the workshop that I already knew how to do that. I don’t think the workshop gave me that. I think that you know … and I’m just giving an honest answer to the question. Absolutely. Do I think that an end to be teaching writing to students learning how to help them think through something has that made me better able to think through things? Absolutely.

But I just have difficulty thinking that, feeling like to be very very honest, that the skill level that I have brought to email writing is in me.

This is so ridiculous to say, but the skill level that I brought to writing an email as a freshman in college pretty similar probably to the skill level I would bring now, just because again when I talk about like what I feel to be inherent skills that people have; that’s just the way that I think because that’s always been something that’s easy for me that I’ve always gotten good feedback on like “Oh you’re really good at writing.” And again not good at math; You can’t add two and two. So, I just I don’t know if that’s again a simplistic way to look at it? Absolutely. At some level my abilities as a writer or the way that I perform work have to be informed by the education that I have. It’s just not always clear to me because when I think about my education, I’m thinking about the Will and Grace spec script rather than the actual useful assignments I was doing.

Speaker 26:54     Can you talk a little bit about and you’ve already talked about you know the feelings of your prospective students and also a little bit like the sort of tone of the university at large, that you present in these e-mails…What do you feel like most at stake in your writing/what will be positive or negative outcomes?

Speaker 27:16     What’s always at stake is that every single student that I have…What’s at stake is a loss of the student’s interest in the university because I need to keep them in engaged and interested so that they will come to the university at which I work and pay the tuition. It’s a tuition driven university, and they can continued to grow as a university. So, every interaction is maintaining that connection with them even if you’re sharing difficult information,  I have to be able to share that difficult information and  say “You do not meet the requirements now but we would love to have you next semester.” So, that’s always what’s at stake. Their interest in engagement, because we struggle to find students. We are not like the large university in the area that gets the majority of transfer students where if you go to community college you ask them where they’re going to transfer, they say that local state university. That’s what all of them are going that’s what they tell the counselors. That’s what they tell each other. So, trying to get another university, a small tiny private university, on their radar is very difficult. So if a student emailed me and says “I’m interested; Tell me more.” Literally I just received an email  and the subject line was “Admission requirements” and the body the email said “admission requirements.” That’s all that the email said. That’s an engaged student right there that’s a student who might …. So I have to say “Thank you so much for your e-mail. I appreciate your interest in the university. Could you tell me are you interested in undergraduate or graduate studies at the university?”

Even though I don’t represent graduate students but a lot of times students will just contact the first person they see. So that, whereas I think maybe in some businesses you could delete that email because it doesn’t even read as a real email, that’s an engaged student and I have to follow up on that. So, it’s always what’s at stake? They’re interest in the university and on their interest now in their potential interest in the future.

Speaker” What do you think is the most difficult thing about writing your field or your particular position would be?

Speaker     Sharing difficult information and a lot of times you are dealing with students who are very sensitive. You’re dealing with students… I deal with a lot of students who are not academically successful but do not want to have a conversation in which they actually address that. I’ve had multiple students tell me “ I know I’m really I’m doing well this semester; you know I’ve done really well I’ve gotten a 2.3.” That in my experience would not be a great GPA but they…to get a 2.3, you obviously have to have some grades that aren’t that great and they don’t. They’re very sensitive. Because I also know that many of these students, they are working full time and they’re also going to school. That is a great GPA, with all that they’re balancing. So, I think that the hardest thing in the writing is to is to not offend them or belittle them or you know… because you already feel like you are…You don’t want to come at it from… We do not have the luxury as a university of being like a high tier university, who is turning away students at the door all the time. We don’t have the luxury of turning away anyone. So even, so when I’m dealing with a student who I have to kind of talk to about … you know example: student maybe has a 2.3 GPA and has emailed me to find out why that doesn’t qualify for them for an academic scholarship. How do I keep them interested, let them know they haven’t met the terms for a merit ship based on their GPA and not have tone of the e-mail to be, Your GPA is actually unsatisfactory?

You want to make feel like “I know you’ve done work. You’ve worked so hard and we would be happy to consider you for financial aid if you submit the FAFSA you can’t win this scholarship though.” So, I think that’s what’s really difficult is to walk that line and make the student feel seen and appreciated, while also not wanting to mislead them and say I’ll look into it and see if you can get that three point that academic scholarship when they’re not going to get it.

Speaker 31:34     Sounds like a kind of a difficult balance to strike. How do you navigate that? You know get that information across and maintain that tone like this and interest?

Speaker 31:50     I would say that you do it by… I once remember someone telling me who worked with elementary schools school students you have to sandwich things, you just start with the compliment and you give the criticism and then you get that compliment and that sort of applies in this case like, “Thank you so much for e-mail it’s so wonderful to hear from you again. Insert difficult information here, again.

It was wonderful to hear from you and I really enjoyed corresponding with you! I’m so enjoying working to you.” It becomes… that’s kind of what I was talking before about seeing some of the e-mails that my colleagues have sent where they share difficult information. You realize that is a skill that people some people have no idea how to share difficult information and you can see… because we recently adopted a system where our basically Prospect Management system, we can go and e-mail applicants through the system; so I can go look in and see if another counselor has emailed you through that system I can see what they wrote, so I can see the e-mails that my colleagues are sending to students and they’re not being successful and balancing that act of being open and considerate and also sharing the difficult information. So, I often think “how can I teach them how to do this?” And I don’t know … Right now it’s at the point where I literally have to sit next to them and say “Here is something that you could say.”

So I think that’s a question for myself that I’m still wondering about how do I… I know that I can walk the line. Well how do I do it or how can I teach another person to do it? I don’t know. Because what is also translated [into] for me has been, especially my last job, learning to also do that in person because in my last position I dealt with students all of the time, sharing extremely difficult information as their adviser and they were crying all the time and it was always a challenge for me. How can I make this student feel seen and heard while also sharing difficult information?

Speaker 34:07     So after school, has anyone helped you with your writing in a formal or informal way?

Speaker 34:24     I would say no. I mean sure maybe getting another set of eyes on things. Yes, but I’ve never felt like I’ve gone to someone and said I’m really struggling to come up with how to do this specific task.

Speaker 34:40     How would you say that you’ve evolved or improved as a writer, if at all, over the span of your career?

Speaker 34:48     I think that the biggest thing that I’ve… because what I think the biggest thing that I’ve gotten better at is that notion about sharing difficult information.

I think that from the time that I started my job it was something that I could do but I was always when I hit send on the email a little bit uncomfortable because I thought oh no. Now I stand very strong in e-mails I sends students when I’m sending difficult information or something and I think they might disagree with and I think that that’s also made it so that I’ve improved as far as sharing criticism or difficult information with my colleagues, that has gotten easier to do.

And I would say that because I’ve worked on more publications, my skills that copy editing have gotten better because like I was saying, I do think I had to write that something that I naturally know how to do. But there weren’t a lot of opportunities in school to do that. So now I get more opportunities and can further refine those skills.

Speaker 35:59     To what extent do you think writing is valued in your particular organization or in your field?

Speaker 36:06     I do not think in my office that writing is valued enough. And I feel that was what I overheard someone in my office recently… I was walking by someone’s office and I heard them say to someone else about someone else in the office, “Oh that person is someone who has such a good writer” and I remember thinking “No that person is not a good writer at all.” But the fact that that person was saying that that really to me shows where people’s expectation as far as writing skills in our office they heard they saw that person and they’re like that person is so good at writing even though I think the writing was ineffective had so many problems associated with it. But that’s just not how people see it in my office.

I think …if a piece of writing communicates the message in a minimally effective way then it’s effective. I don’t think we’re always very good at saying how can we do this even better. I think that we don’t do a good job about thinking of our audience. When I was saying before about just putting bullet points on the web site rather than full paragraphs of content, because our audience is a bunch of 18 and 20 year olds, I just don’t think we always do that. And when I think about the fact that we are supposed to bring in new students and yet going back to your earlier question, there’s about oversight , no one oversees our e-mails or trains us. That is crazy to me, because our primary connection with students is through e-mail. That’s how we’re getting the students interest that’s how we’re maintaining it, based on the e-mail they may get. That may keep them interested to come to campus for a visit or decide they don’t like us at all. So, where’s the oversight on that? Who’s training the people in my office? Who… this is their very first job; who’s training them how to write an email to a student after they come to campus and come for a visit?

What should we say the student who just came …what is the template? how do we keep them engaged? So, therefore I feel like there’s not enough writing… there is not enough value at all placed on writing in my office because the thought is: we’re not receiving complaints about the e-mails from the staff so therefore it must be working. But when I think about the impact that those e-mails actually are having on student interest, I cannot believe more value isn’t placed.

Speaker 39:03     Do you think or do you feel that at all that affects your writing or performance or the way you conceptualize your job to not have that environment be more sort of proactive in improving writing?

Speaker 39:16     Well it’s made me think lately about the fact that I don’t do a good job of saying to people here’s something I think I’m good at how can I help you? Because if someone shares an office with me then they are always turning to me and saying “how can I do this?” And sometimes people come to me with things. But I think that it’s I think that it is… in terms of the way that I think about the environment, it’s me it’s kind of made me a defeatist about my skills and abilities to be like “well I can send out this email and it  can be effective and maybe I’ll come across somebody else’s e-mails some day and be unhappy with it but oh well” you know there’s not a high priority placed. And I think it also makes me have a defeatist attitude about the whole enterprise of writing in general in the office because no one’s held accountable for what they’re writing. So, so I wonder about how you change that culture if you’re not the leader of the office. How is it that these e-mails to our students we’re not trained on at all about how to communicate with them … but that also lets you know that the thing I was sharing before about walking by someone’s office and hearing them say oh so-and-so is a great writer. Also, I work in an office where what people’s definition of a great writer is, is or what it means to be a good writer is just universes away from what my idea of good writing is. So, I that’s something I struggle with. They are hiring right now, at the university, a writer, I think to assist with the president to  help with some other things and I am going to be so curious to see what they come up with.

Speaker 41:20     How did you define what successful writing was when you were a student versus how do you define being a successful writer now?

Speaker 41:31     Well so if I… so when you’re thinking about being like an undergraduate successful writing, I was writing fiction so I honestly… like I think a lot about, here’s something happened to me an undergraduate workshop that I think about a lot and how absolutely ridiculous this was. This person who was teaching my advanced fiction writing seminar, I think it was their first time teaching ever, but she was a published novelist, she published a book and you could tell that she was generally unimpressed with most of the writing that we came into that room with; and I went and I was at an art university so theoretically like these are supposed to be the students who really can bring a lot to the table as far as their interest and their abilities or whatever. And this creative writing thing, it’s not… they’re not taking creative readings and elective, this is what they’re studying and so she would have us come into the room. We wouldn’t read people’s stories beforehand. They had to read them out loud to people and then we would discuss them or whatever. When I think about that and the way that she ended the workshop that semester she was like “we need to vote on who had the best story.”

And when I think about writing as an undergraduate I think about that. Because that that’s the headspace that I was in. Of like not what am my learning? How were we workshopping?

Which is which is then of course we’re more of the probably graduate… the graduate school thing but I’m actually taking that back because there was that same environment in grad school of just not this thing that we’re all taking discussing but this this like this idea of “who is the best.”

Now I happened to win back then, so I was very pleased! But then and then actually when I went to grad school the same thing happened, which was in my first workshop, the professor said we’re all going to write the first page of a story and then we’re going to choose one of these first pages to be the story that we continue on with throughout the whole semester. I won that contest as well. However, in both situations, what does that get you to do to be in an environment of like we’re going to choose a winner? That is just so I don’t know how… that’s not helpful.

But that when I think about the environment than I was and as far as like as a student or as a writer, I sort of think back on that on experiences like that as in terms of like, how people were competing rather than what we were learning I guess.

So that’s what I meant I think about my undergraduate writing or writing in college and thinking about like that’s what comes to mind. Like that’s a weird contest that we had with the stories that I was writing; but if you’re asking about research essays that I wrote in college, I think that the fundamental the fundamental thing that I learned that stays with me now that does help to inform my writing is when I was given an assignment in college, I knew that the way to excel was to be genuinely interested in the topic. And so when I do get involved with projects at work, I try to come at it from an angle of what is what about this generally interests me.

Speaker 45:29     And so how do you judge your success now, particularly like in the sort of person to person responses?

Speaker  How do I judge my success? By the relationship that I ended up developing with a student, by you know,  here’s the here’s a student that I’ve been communicating with by writing and when I see them in person is that relationship there today? Do they say thank you so much have you heard from me a lot? I know I’ve not bothered you a million times. That makes me feel like OK that if I’m supposed to maintain their interest OK I’ve done this. But I would say the other way we measure my success is if I’m developing content for the website or coming up with text for a mass e-mail,  are we getting phone calls about it? And it’s hard to judge your success because students call them out or what you send. So I guess I also judged my success by the level of confusion that I see in students.

Speaker                 Do you consider yourself been successful as a workplace writer.

Speaker 46:35                    I do. I do because I because… I know that being able in the realm of admissions or academic advising, it is so much about sharing difficult information and when I say difficult information I do not mean that just the fact that you’re denied.  In my previous position that’s a lot of what it was you’re denied, you’re not getting iN whatever. In this position the difficult information can be the price of the of the university, the tuition.

So I consider myself successful because I know that I still maintain relationships with students and don’t lose them. Typically, after sharing that difficult information and that they constantly, I see my success and that they come back to me with their questions. They will at my previous office students were always coming to us and saying I heard from so-and-so I had a difficult conversation, got a mean email, did this. I don’t feel I’ve received too many complaints from students so based on the feedback that I’m getting, I feel like I am successful and also if success is judged by… if difficult situations are created at work and I need to have a document that I can share with people to say “oh we’re wondering what this dude was told,” I never hesitate to share with my supervisor, “Here’s what I told them and I know that I did it in an effective way.” That’s never. Some people get really nervous that they have to share something they wrote with somebody, but  I stand strong in knowing this is what I told them. Here you go.   

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Social Worker

Non-profit

Speaker 1  0:01 

Would you please state your job title and where you currently work?

Speaker 2  0:06 

Sure. I work at Neuro Community care in Wake Forest, North Carolina. My job title, I have two, is the Case Manager and Training Coordinator.

Speaker 1  0:17 

Okay. And how long has it been since you graduated from college?

Speaker 2  0:21 

From undergrad? I graduated 2001. And I got my masters in 2009.

Okay. And how long have you worked in your current field?

Um related to my field, since I graduated college. All my jobs have been social service related, if not exactly, Social Work.

Speaker 1  0:50  

Okay, perfect. And could you provide just sort of a brief description of your primary job functions? Oh, no, I’ve lost you, Jenny.

Speaker 2  1:02 

I sorry, my phone muted.

That’s totally fine. Um, did I miss any of your last answer? Are we? I’m not sure. Actually.

I don’t know. I think it was. I said I 16 years.

Speaker 1  1:15 

16 years. That’s perfect. Okay. So yeah, could you give me sort of a brief description of your current primary job functions?

Speaker 2  1:23 

Sure. Um, so again, I do, I have a couple roles in my job. But my role as case manager is to provide case management services to adults with traumatic brain injuries, and PTSD, primarily then working with veterans and their families who live across the country and have sustained a TBI or acquired brain injury. So that would be like, stroke or MS or something else that’s neurological. And by providing case management, I connect with them on the phone. Usually, we provide most of our services using telehealth model. So over the phone or email, after doing an in-person assessment; so really, we provide a lot of resources and referrals, we connect them to local resources; I help coordinate, what we call a community support specialist in their environment, so in their local community to work one on one with them for life skills, training, and just kind of finding, having more community integration with that one on one support. So it’s a lot of coordinating, and helping them find the resources and then being in touch with the warrior, we call them our most of our clients are warriors. And connecting them and their families to those resources, and then helping just overall, their overall needs that are not being met by other resources. So they usually have their medical care and things through the VA or through other facilities. We’re kind of supplemental to help with more quality of life and community integration. And then I do a lot of training through my job. So I train our new staff who are becoming case managers. And then I work with a lot of our external providers. So we contract with agencies in wherever our clients are across the country, to work with them, they provide that one on one support, and they might meet with the client, like five or 10 hours a week. And then so I do a lot of training with those agencies that we contract with.

Speaker 1  3:41 

I see and how many clients do you work with at a given time?

Speaker 2  3:45 

So my caseload is small because I have a couple different jobs. So I have 13 that are on my caseload. Most of my colleagues have about 30 Oh, wow. Okay. Okay. 13 seemed like a lot.

Speaker 1  3:56 

So that’s, that’s useful. Yeah. Um, could you estimate in the average week, what percentage of your job requires writing?

Speaker 2  4:06 

Oh, my gosh, we write… so we document every single thing we do, including every conversation we have every resource we provide, we have a you know, we have a system that we use for tracking our case notes. So Gosh, I I probably write, I don’t know. At least 75%.

Speaker 1  4:34 

Wow. Okay. And you mentioned a couple of them, but yeah, could you tell me a little bit more about the the forms or the types of documents that you write? Oh, Jenny, I think I lost you again.

Speaker 2  4:50 

Sorry, my phone is old and on its way out.

Speaker 1  4:54 

No problem at all.[crosstalk]

Speaker 2  4:58 

Um, yes, so we like I said, we document every, everything related to the client: every single interaction I have, whether it is if I write an email to my client to, let’s say, give them a resource for like, oh, I found this, there’s a adaptive bike riding program in Atlanta, I thought you might be interested. So I’d send them an email with that information. And then I have to go in our database to like, write that I write a case note to say, “sent the client resources list, what it is”  to track that. So that’s a big part of it. But same with conversations, if I talk to a client for, you know, 45 minutes on the phone, or we do team calls every few months with every client, which is kind of a bigger meeting, a team meeting, I’ll talk with them on the phone for however long, we’ll take maybe 30 minutes to an hour. And then I go and document, everything we talked about. And that goes with I mean, yesterday, I text with a lot of my clients, I text a few who are in North Carolina to say like, how are you? How are you doing with the hurricane crabs, you need any resources. And then a lot of them really much prefer texting than email, so I’ll we’ll have a text exchange. And then again, I’ll go document it, even if it was really brief to say, like, “checked in with client clients doing okay, provided him a resource to for the local, you know, evacuation website in case he needs it.” So I would include that. So really, I mean, everything we all the information we share, we do goal writing SMART goals is a big part of our work, is we set goals with the clients and their families. So then, and during those team calls, I’ll go and track where they’re at with their goals. And kind of update those SMART goals. So that’s a that’s a lot of it. Because I do a lot of training, I also do a lot of documents that are in relation to like the training procedure and policies and procedures for to train new staff as well as references of like, how things are done. So I work on that piece as well.

Speaker 1  7:23 

Gotcha. And thinking back to the sort of documentation of all these different communications that you have with the client. Could you talk a little bit about about the audience and purpose of those of that documentation?

Speaker 2  7:37 

Yeah, that’s a good question. Um, a lot. There’s a couple different purposes. So one is the way that we’re set up. We are our funder is Wounded Warrior Project. So they, they have contracted with us to provide these services. So part of it is we have to bill for our time, and we have to account for all of that time. So if I have an hour phone call, I’m going to write a note to represent that. And however long all of that takes is the time that we’re billing for. Some of it is to like to have our, we have to have documentation to back up our what we’re billing for. But also from a social. So that’s, that’s definitely part of it to show to our funder, how we’re using our time. And they may, you know, as our funder, and as kind of our we’re implementing the program, but there are, they’re kind of on the development side, I would say, they have access to our case. And our monthly, we used to do monthly summaries, now we’re going to try annual summaries, so they have access to all of that so they can get up to date with what’s going on with the client. So if for some reason, one of our clients were to reach out to Wounded Warrior Project, which is which is okay, they have you know, they’re involved. WWP is involved on many levels, with services, so they may reach out for various reasons, they can then go check and just be like, get the up to date, the latest news with that warrior, which would be documented in the case notes; so that if they need a quickie review of like, where they’re at, where do they live? what services do they have? you know, who’s working with them? They can go into our database, we all share it, too to to look at those notes. But also from a social services standpoint, like an accreditation standpoint, we’re accredited by CARF, which is like the Commission of Accredited Rehab Facilities, even even though we’re not an inpatient facility, we have that accreditation and they are big on you know, tracking and documenting to show our work. You know, they always say you in social work, I don’t know if I say this everywhere else. Like, if it’s not written down, it didn’t happen, right? I can say like, you know, “well I told them that they should go to, you know, call the utility company to get that, try to get that bill paid and, or, again, try to get assistance, but they didn’t do it”, you know, but if it’s not written down somewhere, then I see, then it doesn’t count. And then, you know, even from a more, you know, our clients are really… many of them have a lot of high needs. And there can be situations I had, like a client I was talking to, a week or two a couple weeks ago, and just in the conversation, she shared some suicidal ideation, just saying, like, “it’s just so hard, I wish I wish I were dead” type thing. So that kind of like, opens up a whole whole series of documents. Yeah, in terms of like, you know, obviously, so I not only on the call would respond to her ideation, and she didn’t, you know, I would ask if she had a plan, or, you know, if she’s, how actively she’s thinking about suicide, and, and what, you know, what support she has in place? Has she reached out to her therapist? Has she called the Veterans Crisis Line? which she had, and, you know, we kind of I went through my response, and then that’s a big one that I would want to have document. Because it was kind of a crisis, documented what she said, as well as what I responded with, I also called my supervisor, and then documented, I talked to my supervisor on this time. So that, you know, it’s all there. And just to kind of cover our bases, if something I don’t know, even if if something did happen, or if there was question down the road of how we dealt with that situation appropriately. You know, we would want to be able to access that document.

Speaker  11:52 

That makes a lot of sense. Yeah. And for, I mean, for that kind of documentation, or really, for any documentation of these types of communications is there any sort of specific writing process that you follow? I imagine, it’s relatively straightforward, because you do them so constantly?

Speaker 2  12:13 

Mm hmm. It is, and I would say, try to be like as objective as possible. And there are a couple things that we like train our staff to do;  you know, we were not providing treatment. So we do not diagnose. So I would not say like, “during the call, she exhibited…” I wouldn’t. My background, my background is like clinical social work, and therapy. But in this role, I would not try to diagnose or try to write down like, a you know… because that would just not be appropriate. So it’s really basic. It’s really like, you know, “phone call to warrior to check in on status of disaster preparation, warrior stated he was fine, and has enough water and food, we’ll reach out if there’s any issues.”  Okay. They’re very basic. I don’t know, that was too much to give you the example. But  it’s very basic, as far as like our case, notes. There are circumstances that are more, you know, formal, that’ll do a more formal write up. But for that, it’s really just kind of tracking to make sure that the information is there. We do follow SMART goals format, and have a very specific format that all of us use when developing goals, and writing updates and things like that.

Speaker  13:45 

Is that SMART goals format? Is that something from outside the organization? Or is it something your organization developed for you?

Speaker 2  13:51 

No, it’s definitely from outside have seen it used in lots of service or even medical. It’s like have you know what that acronym acronym is? Now the SMART, it’s like, instead of you I should know this by heart because we talk about it all the time at my job, but it’s Specific, Measurable. Attainable of Time. The last one is like time oriented. I forgot what the R is but, I can definitely share that with you. But it’s really you know, in developing goals, it doesn’t want to be like warrior will go to the gym to work on, you know, weightlifting, it’s very specific, basically, how often the warrior will go to the gym with what kind of support do they need? And what’s the percentage that we expect them tO  what are we aiming for percentage wise and then like the duration, how long are we gonna have this goal? So we all are trained in that and kind of use that; it’s it’s definitely not rocket science, but it we do you follow a certain system just so, you know, we’re all standardized.

Speaker  15:05 

Gotcha, that that’s really interesting. Yeah. Um, so both the documentation and the sort of written goal setting. And actually, the training materials, too, this is sort of a broad question, but how did you know how to do this kind of writing?

Speaker 2  15:22 

Hmm. That is a good question. Um, I mean, I went to a liberal arts college, I feel like I was very focused on all of my classes were very focused on just kind of general, like we used general writing skills. And for all of, in all of my classes, even if it’s not specific to well I didn’t have any classes that were specific to social work, so it’s just kind of a general, like, worked on our skills to express what we needed. So I feel like I had a pretty solid base in undergrad. And then a lot of it has just been over the years with this working with different populations, especially I’ve worked with brain injury for a long time. So I kind of know the language of brain injury, I know the like, you know, there are certain themes that come up a lot. So there’s a lot of you know, a lot of our goals, maybe around certain challenges that come with brain injury, like a lot of folks have different challenges, like with executive functioning tasks, or like organizing, or they have a tough time taking initiative. So I kind of am aware, because I’ve been in the brain injury world for a while, of what, how to focus some of those goals, or what areas maybe, you know, folks want to work on, obviously, we do that it’s very client driven, but I can kind of take their, what they’re saying and help formulate the goals just based on my experience in the field. And then I think like training materials, and things have just come over the years of job experience of, you know, working in social services, where we want to have things really clear cut; I’ve worked on a lot of places that had that same accreditation, that CARF which is not the same as like, there’s a different one for hospitals, accreditation, folks that come out and look at all your binders and look at everything. But with the CARF, I know that they’re expecting, you know, certain policies just to be really straightforward. Like, I think that’s what, you know, there’s, they’re not…they’re pretty concrete, you know, our training information. We work with, our staff have a variety of backgrounds, so some people are social workers, but there’s also people who worked as like speech therapists or worked as occupational therapists or speech OT/REC therapists. Rec Therapist is somebody who actually you can get a degree and get a certification in somebody who focuses on like, adaptive recreation, adaptive sports, for people with disabilities.  So some people are coming from that angle. They’re all related to kind of our disability population, but, you know, speech therapists rights very different than I was trained as a like, social worker. So I think because we’re coming from different places, people have their own style, but we’ve been able to, like, at least provide the basics of you need to cover this information, everybody will have a different style in their case notes, but, you know, follow these basic basic standards, which is kind of what I was describing with, like, keep it objective, keep it, you know, keep it factual. And you can report on what the warrior, the client stated, but we’re not gonna we’re not going to analyze that. We’re just going to report on what we’ve heard. So we do share that kind of standard language, even though people are coming from different backgrounds.

Speaker 1  19:22 

That’s really really useful. Yeah. Okay. I know that was kind of around. No, no, no, no, it was super interesting. Um, it has there ever been a time in your career where you felt unprepared as a writer?

Speaker 2  19:34 

Hmm. Um, that is a good question. Um, no, I mean, I think things that are more Um, no, I always felt I felt prepared. Some things take longer than others. You know, I think case notes stuff like that are very, those tend to be pretty easy. But if I’m getting ready for a presentation or want to, you know, have more of a, I guess, more in depth or if I’m writing an article for a newsletter or something, I would want that to come across more advanced. So that takes me a long time. I’m not like, I never feel like totally awesome. I like when I was writing papers in grad school, like I always, it just takes me a long time to really make it. I guess. It’s not so much the content, I always felt comfortable the content, but just developing like, language that flowed and felt, you know, covered my bases and felt, you know, easy to read, but awesome, mature and sophisticated. That can take me a while. So just because I don’t do it as often. But I make Brian, my husband, edit lots of things, because he’s got much more natural edits than I. He is very good at editing. I do not feel like my editing skills are nearly as sharp as they should be.

 Speaker  21:08 

Interesting. Okay. Are there other than sort of seeking out other people? Are there other strategies that you’ve used in the past when you did feel more hesitant in your writing?

Speaker 2  21:20 

Oh, yeah, I mean, I think mostly, I’m mostly using other people to kind of review and read through things to make sure I’m getting my point across. And a lot of it comes down to kind of those like, editing, or does this make sense things like that. And, you know, a lot of what we do in our work, is consulting with each other more about content or more about situations like am I covering? Did I deal with this situation correctly? And then I’m it tend, we tend to be less concerned that it’s like, written perfectly, especially when it comes to like, situations with clients, or even like teen calls. I mean, that documentation I’m not too worried about, I want to make sure that the content is correct. And that, like I said, everything that I needed to say, but the actual, like, how it’s written doesn’t tend to be as important. So if I do need some backup, it mostly is done through like, just getting somebody else to read it, and review.

Speaker 1  22:25 

Got it. Okay. And does anyone oversee your writing as a whole?

Speaker 2  22:33 

That’s a good question. Um, I mean, we have supervisors who check in again, I would say, mostly they’re looking at contents, make sure that well, and that it’s there are case notes are in there. And they may have feedback sometimes. But it’s really not as related to how something is written, it’s more in relation to, you know, whether it’s there or whether it has enough. Sometimes those things come up with like, oh, there’s not enough details here. So we need to add more about that situation. You know, and we do really, so when we go and do in person assessments, if we get a new referral, we do a pretty late link the in person assessment. I mean, we visit them for a couple days, so we alone. Yeah, so we’re getting a lot of information, we got a lot of forms during those during that time. And then we turn that into a written assessment, which could be anywhere from like, five to eight pages, or it’s different categories of physical, physical status, cognitive status, psycho social status, like caregiver wellness, like we have different we, and that’s a template that our staff follow, okay, um, for each client. And that, you know, tends to take a little bit of time just to, you know, you could get gather so much information, we’re taking notes so often during that day or two, that we’re with them. turning that into an actual report that is, people can read is, is really, you know, is is time consuming. And we do want that to be well written and to express all the information that we gained. And kind of another piece about that when you were asking, like, what’s the purpose of that another, our supervisors would read it, or funders may read it, or at least want access to read it in case there’s any questions. We also send that to the individuals and providers who are working directly with the client. So the we call what we call the Community Support Specialist, which might be somebody in their community, who’s kind of bringing them out into the into town or getting them more involved. We send that assessment to them, so they have the background information. So it is important that it covers the bases. And some of those people who are providing those one on one services, they may, they come from a lot of backgrounds, it may be like a college student picking up some hours to help out in the community, or, I mean, they’re paid positions, but it may be, sometimes we use home health agencies. And we train them to work specifically in this role. So they’re not providing nursing, but we train them to work as, again, what we call the CSS, and some of them, they’re their education level, or just their background is not the same as ours. So we want to make it, we do not want it to be super, like advanced or medically focused, we want to keep it more basic about what their functioning status is, so that everybody can kind of understand. And we send other documents to them to like one called a safety and wellness plan, which is really basic, it just has, you know, some details about the warrior, whether you know, whether their own guardian, who their caregiver is, as well as any triggers and in the community that we want them to be aware of –so like physical or mental health wise, if we know that they are triggered by fireworks and large crowds, then we would write that in as straightforward as I stated, like, the trigger is fireworks, or loud noises, and how we want them to respond. And like, you know, the client responds by when they do when they are in a large crowd, they get really anxious, they start sweating a lot, they ask to be removed from the situation and kind of what we want that action to take. And that is literally like words, and just sentence fragments to explain as straightforward as possible that how we would want them to respond. If there was like a, you know, a situation that came up.

Speaker  27:01 

That makes sense, that makes perfect sense. That’s really, really interesting. Yeah, so you’re in the same document after that assessment, you’re writing to like, very high level people at the funding agency, as well as the people sort of on the ground working with the clients and basic level. Okay, that’s interesting.

Speaker 2  27:18 

Exactly. And that’s a good way, what you just described is probably why we keep it pretty mid range.

Speaker 1  27:23 

Gotcha. Interesting. And, and for that assessment, that sort of post visit assessment, how long do you typically take to write something like that?

Speaker 2  27:33 

So it varies. But you know, by case manager, depending on how, how fast people can do, but from I mean, myself personally, or it can take a good like, probably a total of like, six to eight hours over. Maybe not that much, maybe five or six hours over, you know, whether I do it in one sitting or over a few days just to combine, there’s just a lot of paperwork. So some of it is like going through all that to do the actual writing assessment. And then it’s getting all our documents like in…

Speaker  28:10 

that makes sense. And then for in terms of the documentation, like say you send a text, I’m assuming the documentation for that is very, very brief. You just jump on the computer, type it in and you’re done.

Speaker 2  28:26 

Gosh, sorry. There you are. Yeah. So text message. Documentation is super short. I same with like, sometimes I’ll call and leave a voicemail, but we still want that document, documented somewhere to say, look, I’m doing my job. Because those things actually do come up. Because sometimes we’ll get like a client or caregiver who like calls and complains, like nobody’s called me for the last like, four months, and we’ve got no services. And then we can be like, Oh, let me look, I called you on June 7, left a voicemail at 12:50. Then I called you on June 30. You know, like, I mean, I’ve definitely used that, in responding to people. So even if it’s like leaving a voicemail or a text message we are writing a quick statement with and it’s all like time-stamped.

Speaker 1  29:14 

Gotcha. Gotcha. And now the next couple questions sort of look backwards at your college writing as an undergrad, what kinds of writing: Do you remember being asked to do and do you think that it prepared you to write in the workplace?

Speaker 2  29:30 

Yeah, good question as an undergrad, um, I do. I do. I I like I said, so I I feel like none of my classes It was very liberal arts focus. So what they it wasn’t as concrete as my jobs have turned out to be. Um, but, um, I you know, just the amount of writing we did over the years of just, I mean, just lots of, you know, just a lot of papers is kind of what I remember. Um, and it’s just the critical thinking skills that get turned into papers, I feel like I i that did really prepare me for for being in the workplace and, and being able to, like, appropriately state write and keep up with what I need to in fact, I mean, I felt like I’m not, I do not write on the level that I wrote it in college. At this point, it’s just a different angle. So I guess that’s good, because I was prepared for kind of more intense writing, and mine now tends to be I mean, it’s all the time, but it’s, it’s pretty standard and basic.

Speaker  30:46 

That makes sense. Okay, yeah. Is there anything you wish you had learned or done in college? That would be helpful for your writing now.

Speaker 2  30:59 

Um, you know, I don’t think there’s any discussions of the, of even the idea of different types of writing. per job, like what you guys are studying, I don’t think there was much talk of that of like, what the expectations would be in different careers. Which, again, I feel like there was like, a general preparation for just the workforce, but it wasn’t. It wasn’t specific to certain types of careers. And again, that may have been because we didn’t even have classes that were, you know, I didn’t take any classes that were nursing or, you know, specific to social work or anything like that. It was more general, like, you know, art since 1960 or whatever. Um, so in that sense, that was just one thing. I don’t know if it was lacking, but it just, it just wasn’t part of part of the the curriculum usually. Um, and I mean, otherwise, I still, I don’t know, if it’s just me, because, but I still in high school or college, I do not feel like my grammar skills have not caught up somehow along the way, I really do. Get Brian to edit very basic things for me that I’ve somehow missed along the way.

Speaker  32:29 

You’re not alone in that. No, I, I teach these workshops out in organizations in the community. And I mean, very, very, very high level people like you all over who still say like, I just don’t know where to put the comma. And you know, yeah, like that, it’s really is definitely not you. Yeah…

Speaker 2  32:48 

Okay, that makes me feel better. Because I, that is an area that I do not excel in. And it doesn’t matter that much for what I’m doing. But it would be helpful if I could like edit my own things, rather than having to send my newsletter to Brian.

Speaker 1  33:06  

This next question is sort of– you’ve touched on this to some extent, but I’m wondering if you could articulate what is at stake in the writing that you do?

Speaker 2  33:16 

Yeah, that’s a good question. Um, I mean, I just want it I think, we want to provide a really good picture,  a really good, honest depiction of somebody’s current functioning level at the time we’re writing the case notes or the assessment. So, you know, I think what’s at stake is like just having it be as, as honest a depiction and as kind of, of the moment so that it can help the individuals who we’re working with, especially when we’re sending information to those folks who are, who are on the ground, who are working one on one to give them as much of an idea about what the issues are, through the assessment, the written assessment. You know, we talk to them a lot, we do a lot of phone calls and team calls and things like that, but I think to have it documented, is really important. So that there is some kind of reference point about the clients functioning level and their needs and any gaps in services, like all of that is documented, as well as if there is a crisis. I think that is, you know, that is really important to have that have the documentation there. So that it’s, it’s clear what the intervention was. And again, it can be kind of a reference point. Sometimes I’ll go if I’m doing like a follow up with or if I get a transfer case, so I didn’t know I didn’t work with the warrior to begin with I will go back and read the assessment that was done maybe five years ago. And it’s really important that that gives me an idea about where they were then. And then when I go to work with them, it gives me a good history of, you know, where they were starting at, when we were providing services and where they’re at now. So, you know, it’s not like, super high stakes, but it is important for the depiction of that of that warrior’s situation and really, to be respectful of their I mean, like I said, most everyone around working with our veterans and you know, to make sure that their their story and their truth is depicted in, even in these kind of case management ways.

Speaker  35:45 

That’s really, really interesting. Yeah. When you when you think about their story being represented, well, what else? In what ways is that? I would imagine that’s very complicated, right? Like, my next question is about what is the most difficult thing about writing in your field, and everything you said, up until now has been like, well, it’s relatively straightforward. It’s important to be, you know, clear, and, and perfect. But, but that seems like a whole other element to sort of this idea of sort of respecting their history and getting that down. Could you talk a little bit more about that?

Speaker 2  36:20 

Yeah, and, and, you know, are these written assessments don’t go, they don’t usually go anywhere that, you know, into, like a news story or a, a, you know, something that’s like, really is there to tell their story, but I do think it’s still part of their bigger picture. And I think, especially with the, these diagnoses that we’re dealing with, that is the complicated part. So like a brain, traumatic brain injury is very complex, in itself, just because of it can affect individuals, so completely different. And so you may get one story from the client, who may have no awareness of their injury, or very full awareness of their injury, but can’t express it, because they have aphasia, and their language is really is was affected. So it’s just, and then they may have a very different perspective than their caregiver, who, oftentimes, you know, whether it’s a spouse or a parent, knew this individual prior to their injury, and then post injury are dealing with somebody who’s maybe even personality wise is a very, very different. So they may have a very different perspective, they’re involved in our assessment, so we try to include their information that they share, you know, without making a judgment call on like, who’s correct, you know, one is… whose story we want to tell, but just to kind of get a broader, like, this is where they’re at. Right? And, and it’s just a lot of complexities with that. I mean, again, with the diagnosis with there. And then if how the injury came, I mean, whether or not, you know, we have definitely have some who were injured in Iraq or Afghanistan, who have just really complex.

Speaker 1  38:24 

Oh, you cut out Jenny.

Speaker 2  38:27 

They have complicated family situations, even like prior to being deployed to Afghanistan, maybe their duration was very complicated to begin with their family life, and then they get back with an injury. And it’s like that much more complicated. And then they have kids, and then they have, you know, PTSD, and they’re, you know, five kids and it’s, it’s just, there’s so many layers. That that can be challenging, I think, to like, hit all the layers, like I was just doing an assessment with somebody else, I was actually training them but I was involved with the assessment there to kind of help observe the new staff do their assessment, and it was such a layered case. Like he had a severe like, spinal cord damage from an helicopter injury while in on like, all these just all over the all over the world. And then on top of that, like his challenges in getting the right care, took years and years for him to get treatment that was appropriate. And he really felt like abandoned by his, by the military and by his team. Once he was injured, he felt like he was kind of like thrown away. And then on top of that, he had severe pain, chronic pain, like 10 out of 10. That gives him like hallucinations because of the pain. He has like PTSD from the pain. And this, what we call, and what’s getting a little more kind of discussion these days is this “moral injury,” which is feeling kind of haunted by things that maybe the veteran the warrior has done, or how they were treated or things they’ve seen. It was just layer upon layer upon layer of this situation, and expressing that in a, you know, appropriate way without being dramatic without being, you know, getting into the weeds of things we don’t know about even you know, we’re not going to talk in too much detail. And we’re not going to diagnose we’re not a therapist, but representing all of that I think can be complex.

Speaker 40:48    

That’s so complicated.  I mean is it a struggle to keep your own emotions out of it?

Speaker 2            41:00    

Yeah, I mean sometimes, I think that is a thing that comes up in the job in general–less so in just documenting it.  I mean that to me–it’s just kind of all part of it. That’s just kind of part of the work and that’s something we talk about in our job.  But the writing piece is kind of part of the job. And all of that can be a little bit hard sometimes–it’s just you know making sure that we’re staying objective but also we’re human and, you know, responding and not becoming robots and responding appropriately.

Speaker 41:34    

That’s really interesting. Yeah, that’s fascinating. I just have a few more brief questions. Has anyone helped you with your writing work formally or informally?

Speaker 2            41:47    

Nope. Again not an area that we focus on.

Speaker 41:51    

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

Speaker 2            42:04    

You know, I feel I just feel like I’m very well versed in what I’m doing now especially like I’m pretty efficient at it and I feel pretty confident in it. I actually think like social work and grad school gave us a lot. We did a lot of case studies. I feel like that was a good prep for my current case management job, even more so than some of my some of my colleagues who I love. But they were trained as like speech therapists–it’s a really different.  It’s just totally different than language. It’s very goal focused very functional writing all about, you know, very specific to speech language. Whereas I think social work in general is more broad.  So I felt prepared for writing about cases, so I think just generally I’ve become more efficient.  I know, I know the work better. I’m more prepared as a, you know, I’m more seasoned as a social worker and the case manager.  So, it just makes all the writing pieces that much more– you know easier to tip.

Speaker 43:13    

All right. OK that makes sense. You kind of answered this a couple of questions ago, but what, to what extent do you think writing is valued in the organization?

Speaker 2            43:25    

I mean it’s a huge part of what we do and sometimes it can be almost frustrating because it feels like we’re doing so much admin more than–like really the biggest value I think is–and I think most of my colleagues would say this–is our delivery of services and the work we’re actually doing with clients is the most important. However, anything we do with clients that we document. So, it’s kind of hand and it really goes hand in hand.  And so we think it is about you because we understand that like we put a big emphasis on these SMART goals and keeping up with those and using those really to track our progress or track the client’s progress.  So, in that way the goal writing and the goal progress updates are really valued because of the measurable. The other things I mean it’s measurable if I give somebody a referral to you know a writing for veterans class or like a yoga studio in their area. But it’s not as tangible as like, you know, 80 percent of our clients met their identified goal of having more–you know, gaining more social capital in their community. Like those are much more measurable. It’s better for funding it’s better for a million reasons–you know, per our funder.  So in that sense that is it is very valued.

Speaker 44:52   

That’s really interesting. Okay. And our last question how would you have defined successful writing as a student versus successful writing in your current work and would you say that you are a successful workplace writer?

Speaker 2            45:13    

Yeah, I mean, I think, I think as a student I would have thought there would have been more feedback from, you know, more pats on the back, or like concerns coming from like supervisors like constantly looking at, like, is this  written enough or did I turn this in just long enough or did this have the–include everything that it needed? Was it well written? I think more focused –and I think that would have been more focused–as a student I thought there would be more focus on like how well something was written as as a marker of success.  But given that in this field of kind of social work and case management in general, I think success is, you know, I do feel successful in my ability to kind of keep up with it because I think that’s a big piece of it because there’s so much of it just like keeping up with the steady documentation needs and requirements and in that sense I do feel like you know I’m successful and that it’s, it’s very achievable, more so than kind of this like beautifully written, you know, articles about a topic that I would have to research or something like that. This is much more concrete and much more practical for the work that I’m doing, which is a really good fit for kind of what I tend to be better at anyway.

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Graphic Designer, Unnamed Govt Agency

Government & Military

Graphic Designer – Unnamed U.S. Government Agency

00:02     Speaker: Would you please state your job title and where you currently work?

00:04     Speaker: You bet. So, I’m the graphics branch chief. I work for a government agency. And again, to be clear, I’m not representing the department that I work for any sort of capacity.

00:15     Speaker: Thank you. Could you state how long it’s been since you graduated from college?

00:19     Speaker: I graduated from college—I took a circuitous route to graduate from college, but when I graduated was 2004.

00:26     Speaker: Great. And how long have you worked in this current organization and in the field as at large?

00:34     Speaker: I’ve worked in the field for over 10 years. In fact, depending on how you define it, even before my college time I was working in the field. In my current position, I’ve been here for four and a half years.

00:47     Speaker: Great. And could you provide a very brief job description of your primary job functions?

00:52     Speaker: Sure. So, what my primary job function is—I lead a team of graphic designers and now a copyeditor, oddly enough, here at my government agency, providing support for any sort of communications needs that those folks have. This includes a lot of public facing material, a lot of internal facing, like events support—things of that nature. Really, you know, really my job is first and foremost about the care and feeding of the people who work for me. But the other sort of main responsibility is ensuring that the products that my team are putting out there are, you know, high quality, that the writing is good, that the visuals and aesthetics are in really strong shape and [inaudible].

01:37     Speaker: That’s great. And did you come to this—could you tell me about your sort of route to this position?

01:43     Speaker: So, so coming out of high school I took sort of a circuitous route to get to college. I ended up getting an associate’s degree in Digital Design from Nova, after a number of years. And this I did it simultaneously with working as an IT guy at The Washington Post, where I worked with newsroom IT. I decided that was really wasn’t for me. So I did a career change. I went to West Virginia University for graphic design, so I have a bachelor’s in fine arts—a BFA in fine art with a concentration in graphic design, which is a really long title. So yeah, and from there I got a job out of college with an education company based in Herndon working on product development. From there I moved on to NASA as a contractor where I supported their headquarters organization with the graphics and so forth where they needed it. I moved into management in that position and then here in my current agency where I’m Fed (federal employee), yeah I do what I described.

02:50     Speaker: Perfect. Okay that’s useful. Could you estimate in an average week what percentage of your job requires writing?

02:58     Speaker: It’s not 100 percent, but it feels like it’s close most weeks. For a field like visual design a lot of folks especially in college especially subsequent college think that writing is like mathematics in that is something you can kind of—kind of get away with not knowing how to do. And one of the through lines I think that will come out during this interview is that is couldn’t be farther from true—that while it is correct that mathematics are not terribly relevant, writing on the other hand is—in a lot of ways—is actually more critical than aesthetic skill, depending on the work. It’s not that—you know, that’s probably hyperbolic a little bit—but there is that idea that, and this is something that Mike Monteiro of Mule Design out in San Francisco has espoused and I’m 100% behind this idea, that I would rather have a mediocre designer who can sell the heck out of what they’re doing than have a great designer who can’t. And a key part of selling your ideas of getting your ideas out there to be adopted and so forth, like a key ability in that skill set, is the ability to write about that meaningfully. To be able to describe in writing and a lot of cases why you did what you did. You know, you know, we added this symbol to represent this element of this thing or to work, the sort of, you know, tying this connection to this other branded element that is, blah blah blah blah blah. Right? The ability to actually write, you know, ad hoc ad copy, right? We here, you know pride ourselves on being sort of full spectrum designers. And sometimes that means doing things—it’s a little—that are a little outside of what would normally be considered design work—sorry, graphic design work—but what is becoming well within scope for, you know, what is becoming increasingly the nature of design, right? That it’s not just about making visuals the little super sweet, right? It’s about making products that are really functional. And if you can’t write about those things meaningfully and if you can’t capture and write—if you can’t sort of identify like, hey, you like this copy that we got is kind a rough, right? Or this is speaking about something in a way that is not plainly written, dovetailing to the other side of the—the other piece of the puzzle here. Then you do design work no matter how pretty it is, right, no matter how handsome it is—is going to be not as good. In the federal government there is an additional layer of complexity as you would expect in that, you know, to quote Al Gore, plain writing from your government is a civil right. And there’s—there’s federal legislation and so forth. Some agencies are better than others at this. The one I work for is not the best. We’re also not the worst at following the Plain Writing Act and really trying to be very plainspoken and very approachable and also accessible in our writing. One of the—one of the things that’s sort of a through line for a lot of this sort of these sort of rules from the government is that it has some halo impact—some halo effect on other on other people in that plain writing is helpful for people who are, you know, who are sort of on, you know, different sort of cognitive spectrums. Right? You need a plain writing that—it’s something that no matter where someone’s coming from their background they should be able to pick up because that’s who we should be writing for. Right? We shouldn’t necessarily—like, where it’s appropriate, we should be writing very technical language, and believe me we do. But most of the time we should be defaulting to plain writing and that is incredibly important and it’s also an extra level of difficulty right. It’s harder to write less. I forget the name of the French philosopher but he basically wrote a 20-page letter to a friend and said, “My apologies for the length of that letter. If I had more time I would have written less.” And that is absolutely the case and writing is hard enough; plain writing is even harder. And that—but that’s the standard that we have both a legal and ethical obligation to follow.

07:16     Speaker: Great, great. That’s really interesting. Can you tell me a little bit about the forms and types of writing or the kinds of documents that you most often create, including primary audiences and purposes?

07:30     Speaker: So one of the bread and butter pieces that we do a lot of is what we write we’ve called design briefs, and we actually write them in two different phases. We write an initial design brief and we write a sort of final design brief. We follow some of the principles of what’s called human-centered design, which is this idea that rather than design rather than just kind of rolling up our sleeves and cracking our knuckles and getting it right into Adobe Creative Suite, we instead do a fair amount of research. We do a fair amount of sort of market evaluation and so forth to really make sure that we’re aiming at the right target. One of the tools to that is an initial design brief which is basically someone who has called us up and said, hey we want—we want a ham sandwich. We want whatever it is that we want, right? And we write—basically leveraging what we know about a customer already, which in a lot of cases is a fair amount—

08:29     Speaker: And to clarify, customers are always internal or no?

08:34     Speaker: Customer is—internal to the agency, but the audience may not be internal. No, that’s a great clarifying question. So, we support folks here in the building. But we do not—but we’re never going to take a request from the general public because it’s just, that’s just not—yeah. Right. So we get a request from someone here in the building saying, hey, we want to talk to someone from X group, right? We think that we need this. They don’t always say it like that. They usually say, we need this. And in some cases they’re right—in some cases they maybe need to you know—we would maybe want to encourage them to broaden or in some cases narrow the scope of their thinking. And the initial design brief and the final design brief —these are actually really useful tools in both showing our work from a design perspective. But also just really as a persuasive tool that we really do understand what the customer’s asking for but also that you know we understand what the customer is asking for, but we recommend delivering something else entirely in some cases. Where someone will come asking for something fairly small and unremarkable and we will say, hey like maybe there’s a better way to approach this, right? We’ve looked at your—not competition, right, because we’re in the federal space—but we’ve looked at what your counterparts in other agencies are doing. We’ve looked at what’s happening and the public space out in the broader world. And we said, hey, maybe there’s an opportunity to do this bigger or better, right? Or maybe the answer is you know, we had a customer who said, we really want to have this bang-zoom fireworks, super big product launch for this new tool. And then after we sort of said OK, we did a little bit more digging, we did a little more research on that and then we came back and said, hey, um, you’re asking for this crazy huge launch, but at the same time you’re saying that this isn’t a big deal you want to keep this on the down-low. Let’s re-evaluate this, right? This is a very extreme example but that that written design brief, bringing it back around, that written design brief was a key component of that persuasion. Right? So that’s one of the main piece big pieces of writing that we do. Another big piece of writing that we do is we don’t always have the opportunity unfortunately—we don’t always have the opportunity to pitch things in person. Sometimes things just don’t merit that sort of treatment. Sometimes it’s just—it’s a rush, sometimes people are teleworking or are based in completely different cities so doing it in person is not really an option. So, in a lot of cases we have few pitches in email or the like in a Word document or something like that. You know, we have to, essentially we have to bottle something up and we put the message in the bottle and we set it on the on the waves towards the senior leadership and we hope that no one takes the message out of the bottle and changes what’s written on it and puts it back in. But we kind of like we set it adrift on the waves and hope that it is passed up the chain and then we get feedback and pass backed down the chain again. And because of that sort of very, you know, hierarchical relationship, we have to not only describe what we’re trying to achieve right and how we did it and why we did it why it’s important. We also have to write it in such a way that it’s almost almost [inaudible] right? Where the folks who have a little bit more subject matter expertise, a little bit more sort of technical expertise—maybe that’s a better way to categorize that—they will see it one way. And then the farther it gets away from sort of that technical realm into the larger strategic realm there’s still a meaningful message for these folks. It’s still very plainly written right? That talks about, like, oh they, you know, they want us to feel like they want us to feel like the this office that’s needs a new logo is very, you know, stable honorable and very sober and you know not necessarily, you know, fresh and innovative. Right? They want like very—by the numbers, or vice versa. And writing that is difficult, and is suffice it to say, not something covered in design school.

12:47     Speaker: And are there specific strategies they used to try to reach both of those audiences in the same document?

12:52     Speaker: I think strategy is probably overselling it. I would say that it’s like obscenity—you know it when I see it? That you know, it’s we have a we have a feel for it but I wouldn’t say that we have any sort of—there’s no like work hard and fast rules, there’s no sort of overall like, we discussed that—we just sort of, we just kind of do it and then we kind of bounce it off each other and see how does this—does this look right to us? Does this read correctly? So, we do it in a large part by feel, not by prescription.

13:21     Speaker: And is that something you feel like and you develop a feel for over time?

13:27     Speaker: Yes, 100%. And that’s one of the big things that we really focus on during our onboarding process is that ability to write—know how to write to the audience because again not something covered in Design School, but also is more difficult here than other places of employment. The culture here at this agency is much more—requires that a lot more than other than other places I’ve worked. I’ll say that.

14:00     Speaker: Perfect. You talked a little bit about this but maybe you can be a little bit more explicit about one specific recent project or type of project. And walk us through the process of how that sort of assignment or task comes to your group all the way through it is complete and you sort of send it off.

14:19     Speaker: Sure. So let me give you a good example of something that we just wrapped up. So the organization that I work for actually, we just were in the process of re-orging, in the process of redoing the branding for this organization. So, the way that this came in was from the deputy secretary that I work for and basically said, hey, like we’ve got the new office. Let’s review the branding. I don’t like the old logo. Let’s redo those. And that was essentially the entirety of the request, which…yeah. So, in his defense, he knew exactly what he wanted. Right. Go make it happen. So we took that sort of initial request and we wrote that initial design brief that I mentioned earlier and basically said, Okay this is where we think that we have, this is what we think we need to do. And then we went out and we looked at some comparable agencies. We looked at some of our counterparts across the federal government and then we looked at all— sort of tried to define all the different ways it’s all these sorts of problems. We then sort of narrowed those ideas down a little bit and focused on the final design brief, which was a three page document which basically said look who is the who is the audience who is the customer. Right? Which is not always the same thing. You know, what sorts of goals are we looking for? What constraints do we need to worry about? What’s the timeline? What are the deliverables? And really just that you know, who, what, when, where, why, you know? We got signed off an approval on that from the from my boss’s boss. And yet so we then let the design team loose on it. And during that process we showed—we had a couple sort of iterative reviews where each time there were there was descriptive language on the slide essentially, saying like hey this is what this is, gesturing [inaudible] There was a PowerPoint deck that had no logo and there are little text blocks with little leaner lines sort of pointing to different pieces of it saying this is why we did this. This is what this represents. This is why we use this colorway. This is why we use these fonts. This is what the symbol indicates. And then yes, so a couple rounds of that—we ended up just now getting approval on the direction.  And the next and final step is essentially to take that approved design, flush it out into a variety of different products. But most saliently also create a brand guide which is another written piece which is basically a I would imagine probably going about 10 pages long and it’s going to be a written document that shows, here’s the logos, here’s the colors, here’s the fonts, here’s why this matters. Here’s the mission vision values of the organization, like it’s intended to be sort of a you know something we give to new hires, as well as a sort of a crystallization in writing again by designers, which isn’t necessarily ideal, but it is what it is. A bunch of writing by designers about the organization that becomes sort of the canonical almost home plate for the organization.

17:38     Speaker: Got it. That’s really useful. How did you know how to perform the kinds of writing that you currently perform?

17:46     Speaker: Um I don’t know that I do know how. So, it’s a lot of it is just hard won experience, a lot of it is, you know, I have bruises to show for it and it’s not something that used to be—that was a focus prior to me taking the reins to run the team. And I think at that I’m 100 percent sure that it was the right direction to go. If only because of the very tangible results we’re seeing. You know it used to be that this was you know a team that did not always have the best ability to express itself in writing or you know verbally. And that sort of started to change right, or that has changed it’s continuing to change is a better way to characterize than. Previously the team, you know, who are but are very bright capable folks were really focused on what we call production design that didn’t actually require all that much like design skill, like not much aesthetic skill as much as like you know putting text on tent cards? And one of the reasons I was brought on board—one of the things they told me in the interview was that opportunity to help continue the transition of the team from that production mindset to that design mindset. And all along that journey it really became apparent that we needed to we need to be doing more writing and do better writing.

19:18     Speaker: Interesting. That’s great. Okay. Can you describe a time in your career where you felt unprepared as a writer at work?

19:28     Speaker: So, like, I’m trying to think of a time I felt prepared. [laughter] That might be easier. I mean you know joking aside, I don’t know that I have ever felt that it is a real source of strength. I don’t know that I’ve ever felt like I had the complete—you know I don’t have an abundance of formal training in that. You know, I was obviously—I have some sort of, you know, inborn ability in that area. But you know this is not something that was particularly well covered in college either at NOVA or West Virginia. It is not something that has been particularly well covered in any sort of incidental training that I received as a Fed or as a designer previous to being a Fed.  And, you know, it has felt like a muddle in a lot of cases. So, in that sense I do not feel particularly well prepared. I feel capable, but not prepared, essentially if that makes sense?

20:29     Speaker: Yes, it does, it does you. Is it fair to say that you know what you need to do to figure out each project and be successful in it even if you don’t necessarily have that going in.

20:41     Speaker: Yes. Yes.

20:44     Speaker: Are there things that you do or strategies that you utilize to overcome writing challenges? Let’s say there’s a new type of document or an audience or something like that. Are there specific things that you do to try to get yourself ready for that?

20:59     Speaker: Sure. So, the first the most intense the primary method that I use is blatant theft from the writing of other folks. You know, giving credit where it’s due obviously, right. But you know really relying on, you know, when I go out is just like, OK who has done this well. Right. We’re not calling this theft; we’re calling it benchmarking, right? Or we’re calling it, you know, something else, but, you know, let’s call a spade a spade. It’s pretty blatant in some cases. And you know like you know we had an unfortunate situation where we had a, you know, an employee had to go. And I was like, this is not going to be fun at all. So I did two fairly simple things to sort of get me prepared to write that really unpleasant email. The first was I went back and look for other situations where—

22:00     Speaker: And I’m sorry, to clarify, this is an email to HR? Or…

22:03     Speaker: This was an email to my team saying, hey, we…this employee had to go—

22:10     Speaker: I see.

22:11     Speaker: And this was you know so you know a couple previous supervisors. Right? And I still have all their e-mails, right? So I went back and saw how they distracted when they had that same sort of—when I had come up. So, again blatant theft. And I also reached out to a couple of colleagues and said, hey, like do you have any sort of examples of how the heck you wrote this? And part of that feedback was, you know, call a meeting, discuss it, then send the email. And that was really valuable feedback. Because it wasn’t just about how to write it. It was what is the best way to transmit this writing. So between the blatant theft and asking some colleagues, you know, how they would approach it and how they would write it and the messages they would try to carry through because it was it—was a complicated situation and it wasn’t just your standard issue, “this person wasn’t doing their job; they have to go.” It was substantially more complex than that. So that really narrowed the scope of who I can reach to for assistance. It had people who kind of had kind of experienced this very government-y sort of unique situation. Sure, and I’m sure there’s privacy issues around that

23:25     Speaker: There are also privacy issues.

23:27     Speaker: Right, gotcha.

23:29     Speaker: So yeah it was a it was a pretty narrow needle that we had to thread they eye of. But between you know using the language other people had used and asking other folks like how would you approach this as well as sort of my own sort of values and principles about how I want to talk about people. You know blending those three things together got me to a situation that was—I wouldn’t necessarily say I was happy to happen send, but it was, I think it was in a pretty good place.

23:59     Speaker: You think it was the best version of it— I felt like it was the best

24:01     Speaker: Yeah. Okay. All right. Does someone—is there a specific person who oversees your writing?

24:08     Speaker: Not really. In a lot of ways, like you know my supervisor actually comes to me for writing advice because she knows that because it’s also partly—that’s also something that we’re trying to one grow—you know, to give me that give you more opportunities, as well as recognizing that as you know the office we call graphics you know begins to you know hopefully transform into something called communications. That’s something that’s going to be increasingly important. As we broaden the scope and mandate of what the office (inaudible). So a lot of ways I am a supervisor of that, which is extra pressure considering again a pretty strong lack of formal training. So in addition to that in that same vein like the organizations style manual, like I wrote half of that, which is maybe not ideal. And in the process of revising—luckily in the process of revising that I had some you know really capable professionals that you know really kind of took what we had had previously and really kind of ran with it. But at the end of the day you know I kind of am the supervisor of the writing rather than having other people look at it.

25:22     Speaker: Yes, okay. This will obviously vary from project to project, but how long do you typically have to create a writing project?

25:32     Speaker: Oh I mean so the initial design brief should take a couple of hours a few hours. And that’s usually about like single page. And the final design brief —the actual writing of i probably less than a day.  And like I said, that’s about a four page document.

25:50     Speaker: And can I clarify something? That final design brief —is it a second or later draft of the initial design brief or it’s completely different?

25:57     Speaker: So the audience for the initial design brief is internal to the graphics.

26:01     Speaker: Right. Okay.

26:02     Speaker: The audience for the final design brief is the customer. So it is an iteration is a revision version but it’s usually—it’s much more fleshed out, it’s much more—like it’s much deeper and it’s written to a different audience.

26:17     Speaker: That’s great.  Okay that makes a lot of sense. What kinds of writing do remember being asked to create as a student?

26:25     Speaker: I mean I had a couple English classes.  I mean within my sort of core curriculum for being for being visual—not much. I had to write an artist’s statement my senior year, which I hated. So I did it as a Mad Lib because I’m an off person. But yeah. No there was not —I’m actually I’m genuinely struggling to think of—like, we had to do some amount of copywriting for our senior capstone projects, but even then that was not—that was a fifth of what I write in a typical week these days.

27:06     Speaker: Wow, interesting. So is it fair to say you do not feel like college prepared you for writing in the workplace?

27:11     Speaker: I would say that’s absolutely true. You know, especially given—to be fair that’s also given my degree program.

27:17     Speaker: Of course.

27:18     Speaker: And you know it’s—it’s a fine art program. You don’t ask your painters do a lot of writing right? You typically also don’t your graphic designers to…

27:26     Speaker: Yes exactly. Would you and the sort of veers off, but it’s related to that—would you say that the organization you currently work for is atypical in the sense that it asks designers to do more writing than the average designer might do in a different kind of organization?

27:44     Speaker: Let me give kind of a complicated answer to that question. I do feel like this organization requires more writing than most comparable organizations. I do also feel that this is closer to what it should be. As far as a lot of organizations I think don’t do a lot of writing and it’s to their detriment. Here we do more but in part I think that’s actually a virtue and not a flaw.

28:09     Speaker: Tell me more about that.

28:11     Speaker: Sure. So going back to the previous answer we talked about design briefs, we talked about you know the ability to write meaningfully and sell your designs, the ability to do that sort of thing. And a lot of designers I don’t feel like have good skills in that department. You know and that included my team when we started doing these types of things. And I think it’s to the detriment again you’d rather have a good a good designer who can sell a bad one who can’t. And again that ability to sell and sell in writing right?  I think it is a key skill. And I think a lot of designers—private sector public sector you know whatever—don’t have an ability and I think that actually harms their career.

28:56     Speaker: I believe that. That makes a lot of sense. When you think about this this writing as a virtue in this specific work, especially the designers who work under you, is it just that they’re better at selling externally and justifying—that might not be the right word but—

29:11     Speaker: Close enough —externally to clients to customers.

Speaker: Or do you think that there’s some inherent shift in thinking when they’re writing about the design they’re doing. Am I might be reaching here.

29:21     Speaker: Yeah I don’t know. I think that for me I have the blessing/curse of generally writing how I speak. I don’t know whether that’s true for everyone. I think for some folks who have sort of different learning models they may get more out of it in doing it—writing it out. And I have people who actually prefer to write rather than speak. I need them to be good at both, or at least passable in both and hopefully, you know, really good at one if they’re only passable in the other. But you know I think it’s entirely possible that that’s the case.

29:54     Speaker: OK. What would it have been useful for you to learn or do as a student to be better prepared to—sort of jump right in and excel in the kind of writing that you actually do now?

30:08     Speaker: Persuasive writing would be huge—copywriting like writing, like at least a passable ability to write ad copy and to write headlines and like make a person—persuade not just coworkers but also your audience because in the design school there is this presumption that that this is actually just Mad Men and we’ve got people whose job is doing visuals and we’ve got people whose job it is write headlines. Increasingly that is not the case. And you know here I’ve got people in various and sundry different technical fields who you know how to do technical writing in that area. They don’t have a first idea how to sell their ideas other people how to write persuasive how to write for persuasively or even write meaningfully in a lot of cases about what it is they’re up to. In a way that is plainly written and meaningful. So, I think the ability to write persuasive writing about your own work, ad copy as sort of an ad hoc sort of situation—you wouldn’t necessarily need to go super deep on that, but like you’re not going to have a marketing office, a lot of the time, right? My past three jobs—yeah, none of them have had marketing offices that were like meaningful resources for the ability to actually get to [inaudible]. So that just may be the way my career journey has taken me. But you know they—actually also my internship. None of them had a meaningful marketing or advertising sort of presence. So in a lot of cases it was about the designer and the subject matter expert sitting down and going, Okay, well, let’s, you know, crack our knuckles and then kind of roll up our sleeves and had we had more of that as sort of a more formal education experience and trying those skills out and so forth rather than just “make it look cool”—and make it meaningful too, sure, but make it look cool. I think that would have that would have set me and my cohort up for success.

32:13     Speaker: That’s useful.  Okay great. What is at stake in your writing?

32:20     Speaker: Well, I mean in the most extreme interpretation, right, if we suddenly lost all ability to do you know any sort of like you know competent writing, we would probably exist for about another year or so and then it would cease to exist because no one would want to work with us. You know the less hyperbolic end of the spectrum, you know it would be kind of a slow grind kind, of slow a slow death—would be that idea that like you know we can only pitch in person, right? We can’t, you know, send an email saying, Hey this is how we want to do this. Right? We were also in a lot of cases have a much worse outcomes for a lot of sort of like—a lot of decisions that sort of feed into larger decisions. We have a situation where someone wanted—someone was being really picky about a particular vocabulary word—it was rake versus roue, if you were curious. And basically saying, we don’t want to say rake, we want to say roue and here’s why. And I’m like OK, so it’s all about us. So, you know I’m something of a librophile, right? Yay, words. Words are great. So, thank you for sharing. But it was basically along the lines of like, this person has a complicated legacy. And while this person, you know, we don’t necessarily want to be pejorative in our descriptions. We also have like eight business hours to get this up on the walls. So it is, you know, if you want to talk about delaying this and notifying the head of the agency that we are delaying this—if that’s on the table then we can discuss, but if we can’t and I suspect it isn’t, then we really just kind of these need to proceed right. And kind of giving the Reader’s Digest version of that email, but that was a challenging e-mail to write.

34:17     Speaker: Yeah.

34:18     Speaker: And, yeah, that’s the sort of thing that that you know had I not been able to write that e-mail right and get that point driven home and do so in a way that was not just persuasive but also successful in persuading them, then we’d be in a situation where we be reprinting stuff all weekend and we would have a much worse outcome, especially from a production standpoint—that also obviously opens opportunities for risk as well. Right. You’re changing something at the 11th hour. All it takes is one hiccup up and all of a sudden you know you blow the schedule and then you have to be the one telling the head of the department, we had to delay the schedule because we couldn’t figure out how to get it up on the walls.

34:56     Speaker: Right. Right, right. Okay.

34:58     Speaker: So, the stakes are high a lot of the time yeah.

35:03     Speaker: Yeah, okay. What’s the most difficult thing about writing in your field or in your specific position?

35:13     Speaker: I mean—I don’t know. I wouldn’t say that the writing is inherently challenging. I’ll say that. You know bar awkward situations, you know, like I would say that this this writing is—not any more or less challenging except for that sort of, you know, the—we have that sort of —we have something that helps us—helps remind us of the importance of plain writing. That’s about as diplomatic as I can and in that sense it’s a little more challenging, but really it’s something everyone should be doing anyway, right? So I wouldn’t—I would say that the challenge level is appropriate. Not that it is particularly challenging—just like it is challenging but that is because good writing is challenging, and that is the way that it should be.

36:05     Speaker: Excellent point. Has anyone helped you with your writing here formally or informally?

36:11     Speaker: Sure. So, we had a detailee from one of the bureaus and she was fantastic and she’s a writer/editor with 30 years of experience give or take. And she was a fantastic resource to help sort of guide my thinking. There’s a number of things that I have really passionate opinions on and some of them are writing related. You know I’m a guy who you know thinks that we should just shut down the department before we get rid of the serial comma. But a lot of my—a lot of my sort of strong strongly held opinions are related directly to typography, which makes sense, given my background. 

Speaker: Sure.

36:50     Speaker: It’s like the serial comma. But you know she really helped guide my perspective, especially on plain writing. Like I thought that my plain writing was pretty good before.  But she—I would say helped me see some areas where—I had—there was really an opportunity to do much better. And my writing, just by virtue of just being nearby her, in a lot of cases, had improved as a result.

37:13     Speaker: Right. OK. And has there been any formal training in writing since you’ve been on the job?

37:19     Speaker: No, not for me, no. But for folks on my team, yes, absolutely. We sent a few people—in last year we sent three different people to multi-day classes at nearby training providers.

37:33     Speaker: Great, okay. Excellent. How do you believe the results are improved as a writer from the start of your career through now?

37:41     Speaker: Like I said being around really capable writers and editors and this was true in my previous gig and as well as the education the curriculum company and here as well. I’ve had the opportunity of working with—in some cases supervising—copywriters, copy editors, and they have been, you know, universally fantastic folks to work with. I’ve been very lucky. But you know being near them also helps guide my writing. You know, I recognize also that that is an experience that I have a lot of other folks don’t. So, you know, a lot of ways I try to model my own sort of advice and coaching on what and how those folks guided me and saying, hey there’s a bunch of ways we can do this let’s talk about why we’re approaching this the way that we are, right? And helping—sort of, not quite Socratic method, right? But kind of helping to sort of like frame, like why does this stuff matter? And, you know, what approach is going to be the most impactful for the audience and so forth.

38:42     Speaker: So it sounds to me like when you’re working with their team you’re not just guiding them—obviously in their design—but also in their writing, but also trying to instill the value of how it will be beneficial to them to develop as writers.

38:53     Speaker: Yes, yes that’s a great way to think about it.

38:55     Speaker: OK. All right. That’s useful.

38:56     Speaker: So it’s not just about—it’s about why you’re doing it. And it’s also about—why from sort of like a philosophical standpoint—it’s also why from a “what’s in it for me” perspective as well.

39:08     Speaker: How would you say writing is valued in the organization as a whole?

39:12     Speaker: Poorly, [if I’m] being blunt. Generally, it could be better. Again, not speaking my official capacity—

39:21     Speaker: Of course.

39:24     Speaker: To be clear. Different agencies—I would say—have different place different values on plain writing and different agencies place different values on the ability to—or, the choice maybe is a better way to think about it—how to communicate meaningfully with the public about their work. I would say that both the leading light in this space is probably NASA. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau also does a fantastic amount of work. 18F, which is part of the General Services Administration also does really good work. If I name some more people I would start narrowing down who I work for.

40:00     Speaker: [laughter] Sure.

Speaker: But, you know, all those agencies or bureaus do a ton of excellent really plainly written, really meaningful work. [inaudible] is uneven. A lot of their—they do a lot in the housing market. This is the independent bureau that Elizabeth Warren set up. And they do a lot of meaningful work in the housing space. They’re public facing documents are fantastic. Their bank-facing documents—hmmm…

40:29     Speaker: Interesting.

40:29     Speaker: Yeah. And it really, you know, they have different approaches to these audiences. They want to be, you know, friendly and cheerful and approachable and so forth. To banks they want to be very prescriptive and saying, “this is what you will do.” Right? And that comes out and how they write.

40:46     Speaker: That’s really interesting.

40:47     Speaker: It’s very obvious. Once you see documents side by side, and it even goes back to the aesthetic, which is also interesting as a designer.  The public facing documents are these very open—lots of whitespace, lots of green, now blue. And, you know, but their documents that are bank-facing are much more standard word documents, which is really interesting.

41:11     Speaker: Yeah, that is very interesting. And this is why I asked that question how do you define successful writing as a student versus successful writing now, and would you call yourself a successful workplace writer?

41:23     Speaker: So, as a student, like I said, there was not that much writing, to be honest. So, success was—I mean it’s not even that it was easier or harder—it just wasn’t the thing we were evaluated by, in a lot of cases, especially within the degree program. Like in your English classes, sure. But really it was just not a thing that was, you know, that was evaluated in a lot of ways, for grades and for graduation and so forth.  The second part of question, was?

41:55     Speaker: How would you how would you define successful writing here?

41:58     Speaker: Yes.

41:58     Speaker: And would you call yourself a successful writer?

42:01     Speaker: Sure. So successful writing here is pretty well defined. We have to with the federal government. You know people have what is what’s called—what’s called a core qualification which is basically like if you [inaudible] this, you don’t you don’t get to be a fed anymore. And, you know, at the sort of, like, you know, fully successful level, which is the lower grade, which is weird, fully successful essentially defines it as like you were able to achieve meaningful communication outcomes for sort of essentially items of sort of like mundane complexity and sensitivity, and the outstanding version, which is the highest grade, right? Essentially defines it as even with incredibly delicate subject matter and incredibly difficult you know time factors and audience difficulties and speaking to executives and so forth, right? You are able to—not just—the ability to communicate is almost assumed. It’s can you achieve the outcomes you set out to achieve? It’s not —you’re not evaluated on the quality of your writing you’re evaluated on whether you get the outcome you want, which is which is interesting. It’s an interesting approach.

43:08     Speaker: It’s a very interesting approach. And is this for—maybe both —but is this for like individual yearly evaluations or is it for moving up in the ranks as a Fed?

43:20     Speaker: The first one primarily. There’s obviously a causal relationship between doing well in your annual [inaudible] and getting promoted. But this is really for the formal performance evaluation cycle, which is yearly. But you know with my team and hopefully with other people’s teams, you know, that’s not something that you only talk about once a year. Yet we talked about it basically every week or every month at the very outside. As far as their ability to sort of again you know, “hey, like, the way this was written, like, we didn’t get what we were hoping for there. Let’s talk about what’s going on there.”

43:52     Speaker: Yeah.

43:53     Speaker: Not “you screwed this up,” but I was sort of like—you know, maybe it was information we didn’t have, maybe that was something that [inaudible] larger political situation going on—lower case “p” or upper case “P.” So, it’s not necessarily, you know, you know, as much as like—okay, what could we have done to get the outcome that we wanted. And in a lot of cases the answer is the way we wrote about it was maybe a little lacking. So, like that’s a great and it’s a critical tool to get the outcome that we want from those communications.

44:28     Speaker: That’s great. And sort of the final piece of this—would you call yourself a successful writer in this specific organization and in your specific role?

44:37     Speaker: I would say that, you know, the—looking at how my performances appraised I think objectively yes. Looking from a sort of personal feelings perspective, I think that there are all there are lots of ways I could be better. And I’m always on the lookout for those opportunities to get to have an even better hit rate.

 

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Content Manager

Business
Interview–Content Manager

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

Speaker:              I’m currently a contributing editor for a lifestyle parenting site called The Every Mom. I –how long as it been? I graduated grad school in 2008, so I’ve been there, I guess I would say , fairly in the workforce  since, then though I’ve worked prior to that as well. But since then my career line has switched.

Speaker:              Could you tell us a little bit about that switch?

Speaker:              Sure. I got my master’s in education, early childhood education and special early childhood education. And I taught  in New York City, in Philadelphia, Boston, and Miami. And then when we moved here to Chicago five years ago , I struggled finding a teaching job since my license had then expired  from New York and we had never been long–anywhere and long enough for me to actually get a teaching license in that state. So after having the babies I kind of shifted a little bit trying to figure out what I could actually do with the skills and the experience that I had. And since then it’s been a climb to try to actually figure out what I can come to and how it can be functional how we work with family life. And you know obviously make  some sort of income to actually have it all be worth it as well.

Speaker:              That’s great. That’s really useful. And so how long have you worked in your current field? I know the position is relatively new, right?

Speaker:              Yes. The position itself I just started in April. Prior to that I was a staff writer at another parenting Web site called Romper, which is under the Bustle Media Group. And that I had it for a year prior to that I was just freelancing. So it’s been a bit of a climb to be able to  actually get the staff writing job and then decide at that point–yes, a consistent writing job , but do I really feel  connected to it? You know, it’s important in the way that I want it to be important? And do I have the–my–a large part of my issue  after  motherhood is do I feel creatively challenged? And so after having that job for a year I decided that I didn’t–it, you know, it didn’t hit all of those marks. And so I started looking again and I came across this one.

Speaker:              That’s great. OK. And for this job that you’re currently in could you give me just sort of a brief description of your primary job functions?

Speaker:              I do a lot of writing. Since it’s a lifestyle Web site it’s very kind of colloquial, you know blog writing. We do research based pieces, which I am assigned to largely because of my education background and because I have the knowledge on that. So that’s actually you know helps out and it feel good that I’m good. You know throw away an entire  private education at NYU for no reason at all. And then we do a lot of I do a lot of content management. I work with other writers and people who want to contribute or submit pieces on developing their writing in order for it to be –I guess you could say read or relatable or acceptable to a larger audience. A lot of the time people who submit very personally to the point where  it’s not exactly accessible by an outside audience. So we work a lot on that.

Speaker:              That’s great. That’s really useful. Yeah.

Speaker:              Could you estimate in an average week what percentage of your job requires writing?

Speaker:              I would say probably 80 percent.

Speaker:              Okay, great.

Speaker:              And maybe even slightly more. Okay . Because, social media writing, like all that stuff. I would consider to be writing. But it’s so different and so not what my experience in writing had been prior and not what, you know, my English degree had ever taught right.

Speaker:              So you–do you manage social media for the site as well or you contribute to it?

Speaker:              I contribute a lot on Instagram captions and Instagram stories and Facebook write ups. Beyond that I don’t do much of the photo sourcing and stuff like that. But just for making sure the copy is on point.

Speaker:              Okay. Okay. And so in addition to those what other forms or types of documents do you most often create?

Speaker:              I would say the blog writing is the largest chunk of it on the actual Web site content that being–in addition to that probably e-mails, is, you know, a good amount of writing that I would not have normally considered writing.  But you know as I see it now in a–actual jobs email writing has a huge thing and not only does it take a lot of time, but it has to be very specific in the way that it’s written in order for it to be effective and for it to, you know, ease the strain of your job.

Speaker:              When you’re thinking about those e-mails that you typically write at work , who are the primary audiences and what are you usually trying to accomplish with them?

Speaker:              I would say that there’s you know a good amount of e-mails between our team but those aren’t the ones that I would really feel any sort of pressure about. The ones where I’m working with the writers is the biggest thing. I also work with a lot of PR firms that are looking to push their own experts, like doctors and psychologists and pediatricians into obstetricians and all of those you know what we’re looking for experts to weigh in on certain subjects.  But the ones with the writers this is probably where it is because I feel a sense of wanting to guide them and to, you know, to help develop their voice in the way that I never had someone do for me. But I also, you know, for the sake of efficiency you have to be quick and you know not long winded and that’s not a strong suit of mine. [laughter] So that’s that’s been something that’s been difficult for me to manage because I have that sort of perfectionist nature to my–to basically every kind of writing that I do. Sometimes you know the inbox can seem like such a weighty thing in the morning.

Speaker:              Absolutely, yeah.

Speaker:              Could you maybe think of a recent project a recent writing project that’s not formal-formal but a more formal than e-mail, and tell us a little bit about the process of writing it from beginning to end?

Speaker:              I’m working on a piece right now actually about rediscovering yourself after motherhood, and that’s been–because it’s something that is very important to me , it’s been one of the one such taking I’m looking at the open the browser window right now has 35 revisions on it  already. But the process, you know, usually I do a bit of notetaking. Sometimes certain sentences just come to me and I just jot them down quickly and then kind of of expand based on that and play around with it reorganize , make sure you read it try to cut down words because that’s always something of mine that I need to work on and then make sure that it’s successful in a way that has actionable points that are relevant to a larger audience.  I think that personal writing in that way can seem so overwhelming because you want to share your story but you also need to make it accessible for somebody else. Otherwise there’s no there’s no point in having them read it. And you know there’s not going to be, obviously, in a  workplace we rely on clicks, and we rely on traffic, and we rely on the content being interesting enough that when we promote it on social media that the audience is going to want to come to the website and actually read it. So that sort of stuff weighs on me, as well. Then for this particular one I’ve reached out to my editor a couple of times just to see, you know, where she thinks that there needs to be more explanation or a better transition. She told me that it’s perfect as it is, which only frustrated me even more.  So I reached out to the managing editor of our sister site just this morning to ask him what she thought as well. Because I’ve been convinced there has to be something wrong with it. You know I appreciate a lot of input and I appreciate the critique and criticism and all those things. I think feeling as though I’m not a writer it’s something that has stayed with me and I’m not sure why that is. And even though it’s my job now I think because it’s maybe a different sort of writing that I’m used to or that I’ve learned or it that I’ve grown up loving in terms of literature. You know it feels it always feels less than.

Speaker:              I think that’s a very familiar feeling to most people. Yeah.

Speaker:              When you think about these types of projects that you’re working on–this is sort of a broad question–but  how did you know or how did you learn how to perform them?

Speaker:              I would say a lot has to do with just doing it, and then, you know, like, I said asking for advice constantly. But I also am a serial researcher. And you know I really look into books obviously as another part of it. But I look at a lot of resources that have to do with copywriting and social media writing and, you know, captions that convert and you know what sort of format  is a good way to organize blog posts. And you know how to draw the reader and all that stuff. I end up reading so much of that that I don’t actually have time to read anything I want to read.

Speaker:              Right. Right.

Speaker:              Because I’m so so concerned with being good at what I do.

Speaker:              Uh huh. And so this really transitions well into this next question. You know, what I’m especially interested in is the points at which people feel unprepared or less than right feeling like they’re not up to snuff in terms of their writing. When you came into this job and you felt that–it sounds like to some extent–what did you do other than–are there things that you did other than research to overcome those challenges or at least make progress?

Speaker:              I think for my particular path , the part that was really big was making sure that I went in a–I went about it in a manner that made sense.  And by that I mean you know first being able to freelance, you know, a few pieces here and there for websites that are big bigger not so big. But being able to get good feedback on those and learn a little bit more about how to write for an audience, a little bit more about what it means to write content online, and then be able to go into that staff writing job at Romper which you know writing wise was very very easy work, but content –you know the content was simple and straightforward and it was, you know, a lot that was based on search engine optimization. So–but being able to learn that part of it then how–you know, how to use keywords effectively in your writing. Where, where the links are supposed to go where, you know, where you want your–what you want your heading to look like, why you want your headings to look  like this. All those things fell into place over there. And so along with the research that I was doing when I was at Romper I didn’t do any social media at all, but I watched a lot of theirs. And then by the time I got into this job I felt a lot more comfortable in that I maybe didn’t have the experience but I had the knowledge on how to go about it.

Speaker:              That’s great. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. You talked about asking for feedback from an editor both your direct editor and a sort of parallel editor. Would you say that–is there someone who oversees your writing direct directly ? Does that primary editor oversee your writing  usually?

Speaker:              My–yes–she does. My managing editor does directly oversee it. The funny part about that is that she doesn’t have a writing background.  She has a marketing background, and it seems to be, you know, there’s this toss up between those two worlds because writing wise I’m like, well, you know this is what makes sense and she’s like you know marketing wise this is what we need to do. So there’s a bit of a conflict between the two worlds, as it is now that I see it. Now that online writing is becoming such a thing in that–you know it’s kind of like the primary way people are gaining information and also outputting information. The dichotomy between the two is something that I find really fascinating.

Speaker:              Yeah, absolutely. That’s really, really interesting. And how would you say –I mean I can see this dichotomy and imagine how it might play out, but how do you think that she judges the success or the quality of the writing that you’re handing her?

Speaker:              I would say directly based on stats.

Speaker:              Oh, wow, that’s really interesting.

Speaker:              I think she personally appreciates my writing and she’s told me that and, you know, she says that many times and even if my pieces don’t do very well she still likes them. But in terms of being the managing editor of the website and my boss she has to look at how it converts.

Speaker:              That’s fascinating.

Speaker:              How long do you typically have to complete a writing project?  You talked about this this piece you’re working on now about finding yourself after having kids as being a longer term project. Is that–but that’s not typical?

Speaker:              That’s not typical. I tend to take a longer time–longer being maybe a week–on the personal pieces because it takes me a longer time to be able to wrap my head around all the emotional stuff like you know in blocks around there and she is fine with that. She gives me leeway on that. But in terms of the more, what would I–I don’t know what you would call the more flat subject  pieces, like the one that I’m working on next is you know dental care for toddlers and infants. Those sorts of pieces I’m expected to put out about four to six a week. And I work three days.

Speaker:              Oh interesting.  Right. OK. So two a day. Wow.

Speaker:              Yeah. 

Speaker:              OK. So now how to shift and look backwards a little bit. I’m wondering what kind of writing you remember being asked to create as a student and the ways in which you think those experiences sort of set you up or didn’t to work right in the workplace. You mentioned being an English major, right?

Speaker:              Yes.

Speaker:              So what kinds of writing do you remember being asked to do?

Speaker:              I think it–you know I don’t remember so much about it –I remember you know English comp being–that that freshman English comp class being based on forming argumentative essays I think? You know in a pretty traditional paragraph format–not the five paragraphs essays that you’re used to in high school, but being able to organize and set up a paper in order to make a point. I think was the focus of that. And then as we got into more literature it was always based on analysis for the most part, so using that kind of you know here’s here’s my point , let’s prove it  sort of set up. That’s what I largely remember the English side being. I also was a psychology major as well.  And I think on that site it was more of a lot of analysis as well.  But also just kind of research based presentation of not facts but maybe a concept or an idea.

Speaker:              OK. Yeah. And how do you feel like those writing experiences prepared you for the kind of work you do now, if they did at all?

Speaker:              I’m sure they did in that I was probably able to kind of get a feel for my own writing.  And I was also able to get a feel for how fast I write. Sean always would make fun of me in college because you know we’d have a 20 page paper and I’d start it the night before and he’s like, basically clearly you just work well under pressure and you can’t plan you know worth a damn, which largely seems to still be true. So I think the reason that I can convert, you know, these articles pretty quickly is that I’ve kind of learned how to let go of that perfectionist stream, especially when the writing itself isn’t something that I’m truly connected to or that I feel so strongly about.

Speaker:              Yeah, yeah.

Speaker:              You know whereas like the personal pieces take a little bit more time because it’s so directly connected to me.

Speaker:              Right.  And that makes a lot of sense to me. Are there certain things that it would have been useful for you to learn or to do as a student to be even more prepared at this stage?

Speaker:              I always think that, you know, if I could go back to college now what would I focus on. But I really do find this online content world really really fascinating. I mean I know colleges now have started to gear towards that a little bit. Obviously when you know when we’re in school it wasn’t even a thing right. You know, people–I mean they like live journals, like that–you know, like nobody had blogs that wasn’t a thing, like social media didn’t exist. None of this was relevant. And so I don’t find that the education I had at any fault in not preparing me for the world. I don’t think anybody expected writing to have changed so quickly [inaudible]. You know, it’s really just–it’s been a whirlwind, if you look at it. I think now going forward schools can do a lot to, you know, point kids in the right direction because it seems as though even, you know, fields that are more scientific or anything–like when you’re publishing now you’re doing it online. You know you’re writing interest articles to gain, you know, funding because it draws people in and they feel connected to it and that’s how you get research money. Like all that stuff is so interrelated now that it’s become relevant in every field.

Speaker:              Right. Yeah, absolutely it has. That’s really interesting. Yeah, and I do feel like there’s some flexibility that we really should be teaching now even more so than the content because we have to assume that this writing will continue to evolve, right? Thinking about like how do we teach them about the writing world now but also how do we teach them to sort of evolve with that, which I think comes a little bit more inherently to some people, right, than than others.

Speaker:              Right. For sure.

Speaker:              So this is sort of a shift back to your current writing. Could you tell me a little bit about what is at stake in your writing?

Speaker:              What do you mean by that?

Speaker:              What–why does your writing matter? And what would be the effect of your writing succeeding or failing?

Speaker:              That’s hard because, you know, I feel like as a writer you always feel like you’re writing doesn’t matter.

[laughter]

You always feel like, clearly this is stupid and whey am I’m doing it?  I think it’s important –I think the personal work is important because it’s vulnerable and because it has the ability to connect to people and to make them feel less alone. And I think in that sense of parenting that’s very, very important. I think that informative articles are important because so many people rely on Google for information. And there’s been so much–quote unquote, I hate using this term–but fake news. You know that you kind of want to provide that little piece of reality and you know instead of fear-mongering and instead of using click bait headlines and things like that, you know just kind of reassure people that, hey you know this is the actuality of it, and you know yes you should talk to experts. But also here’s a little bit of a rundown say don’t freak out for the rest of the day.

Speaker:              Right. Right.

Speaker:              You know, I think that’s relevant  because it’s becoming–information is so widely spread now and a lot of times–you know, 85 percent of the times it’s incorrect . So it feels important in that sense. If the writing itself were to fail –I mean it fails in two ways it fails by not being important to the reader.  And it also fails in not being–or the reader not being able to reach it, and that you know that part of it lands on marketing and search engine option optimization and you know getting traffic to your website and things like that, which are everyday struggles for us.  But it also you know when an article falls flat, when it doesn’t get a lot of views and we know it’s good stuff it’s can be really upsetting because we know it’s not getting to the people that we need to get it to. And so it’s not helpful. You know, it doesn’t help that it’s out there. It has it can only help if the person who needs it is reading it.

Speaker:              That’s great. Yeah.  What is the most difficult thing about about writing in your specific position?

Speaker:              For me. It’s writing in a less academic  tone . Because 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 that’s, you know, a lot of the comments that I get in terms of edits 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.

Speaker:              OK that’s great. That’s interesting.  You mentioned the feedback that you get from your editor. Other than that feedback , has anyone helped you with your writing in the workplace?

Speaker:              No.

Speaker:              How do you believe you’ve evolved or improved as a writer in this current sort of field, so maybe since you started freelancing till now?

Speaker:              I think a lot has been on my  own kind of , you know, transformation–my own side research and what I do to try to implement those things in my writing. But I really do  wish that I had somebody to , you know, kind of just develop me. But it’s you know like we were talking about before it’s –the people that are the higher ups in my –in our company, aren’t writers by profession. Or by background. And that can be  frustrating  because at some point it feels less professional than it should. But I think that’s also the nature of just being a part of a website like this.

Speaker:              What do you mean by–  Where–

Speaker:              Oh, I”m sorry. Go ahead.

Speaker:              No go ahead.

Speaker:              I was going to ask you , what do you mean by less professional than it should.

Speaker:              You know there’s still that part of me having  gone through an English degree, having gone through a master’s program, having worked with university writers for so long as a writing tutor. It –it doesn’t feel like writing a lot of the time. It doesn’t feel like the writing that you’re used to. You know, and that’s that has a lot to do with the fact that I resist change  in every corner. But it’s–you know, like, we were talking about the field of writing has changed so much in the last 10 years that  you kind of–and this is me speaking solely for myself here–but I judge people that don’t know how to write, in the sense of how I’ve learned. And in the sense of like education-based writing. You know, the girl who started our company is–she is excellent at being able to reach her audience she’s you know had a very successful personal blog, she has you know 50,000 Instagram followers and she’s grown the Every Girl loves websites , you know, to millions of page hits a month, but  for some reason I still  don’t feel like that’s  writing.

Speaker:              Right. That’s really really interesting to me. And that leads me to the next question which is, like,  I can see how you view the writing here. How do you think the organization as a whole values writing ?

Speaker:              I mean it’s definitely an  integral part of the website. They push out, you know, the Every Girl pushes out, I think four posts a day, and we do too at this point. We’re working on moving up to three. But it’s you know that’s all the content is writing–in social media too. So it’s extremely important. And they’re very, very effective  at it.

Speaker:              Right.

Speaker:              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 and you know little phrases that people, the kids nowadays  use. [laughter] But then, it’s like, you know, for me it’s like well can I take it as seriously as I take say the 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?

Speaker:              Right. That’s great. That’s a really interesting way to think about it.  And this is actually just our last set of questions so how did you define successful writing as a student versus successful writing in your current position, and would you say that you are a successful writer in your current position ?

Speaker:              As a student I think , you know, I solely went off of what my professors comments were and what my grades were in order to judge what the writing was and I was always pretty good at academic writing. This I find a lot harder . Would I consider myself successful? I think  maybe I’m, you know, maybe I’m at the beginning of the path where I will someday feel like that? But I think–I think I can be effective  in the writing that I’m doing. You know I do get comments from people that say that, you know, that the  article  was helpful to them or it meant a lot to them or they could relate. And I consider those things a measure of how successful it was .

 

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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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Shifting Voice In New Writing Spaces Assignment

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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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Contextualizing Figures and Visual Data

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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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