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 .

 

Click here to read full transcript
  Tags: , ,

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.

Click here to read full transcript

Tags: , , , , ,

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.

Click here to read full transcript

Tags: , , , , ,

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.

Click here to read full transcript

Tags: , , ,

Shifting Voice In New Writing Spaces Assignment

Resources, uncategorized

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?
Creative Commons License


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Reflection Prompt: Emotion and Writing Process

Resources

Reflection Prompt: Emotion and Writing Process

Level: Developed for use with first-year writers.

Context: This short reflective prompt asks students to consider a quote from a writer in the archive in context with their own writing process.

Assignment:

It’s no surprise that significant research has been done about emotion and affect as they pertain to writing. Writing can be extremely emotional! One workplace writer in the Archive of Workplace Writing Experiences, a former Grant Writer, says of her writing, “I agonized over it, but I was pleased with the result of my agony.”

A lot of writers feel this agony or something like it. For many, the writing process is one of ups and downs. Emotional hurdles—like fear of failure, frustration that the writing doesn’t seem to be “working,” and even, sometimes, boredom—are very real challenges for most writers, and ones we have to grapple with particularly as we develop as college writers. And yet, most of us ultimately hope to feel, as this Grant Writer did, as though the agony was worth it once we have a successful finished writing project.

Write about your own writing process and the emotions that tend to accompany it. How do you feel about writing? What sorts of feelings come up when you are assigned a writing project? Excitement? Fear? Dread? Curiosity? How do these feelings change (or not) as you plan, draft, and revise? Have you ever felt the “agony” this writer describes? Describe your most successful writing project. How did your emotions evolve along with the project? Do you have (or can you imagine) strategies to help you use your emotions effectively or usefully when it comes to your writing?

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Authenticity in Social Media Activity

Resources

Level: Can be customized for writers at all levels.

Context: This activity asks students to consider the concept of “authenticity” in social media writing, and in their writing more broadly. Through this activity, students will learn to identify and interpret writing “personas,” personal and business, as well as consider goals and purposes in online writing. It also asks students to grapple with their own online personas and representations. Instructors might ask start the conversation in class by asking students how they interpret the two quotes below. The individual writing and reflection piece can either take place immediately after this discussion in class or can be assigned as homework.

Assignment:

The topic of “authenticity” is one that troubles many writers, particularly those writing online. Two of the interviews in the Archive of Workplace Writing Experiences mention the struggle of being “authentic” on social media:

A Freelance Illustrator states:

“I try to really write from the heart and connect with my audience, and along with that comes the writing that I do on Twitter and Instagram, both social media writing, but I try my best to be relatable and to be authentic instead of somebody that is just trying to sell herself. So I would say that is my most important writing, trying to forge a connection with another person just by being who I am, without manicuring myself.”

A Business Development Director at a creative agency explains that:

“…we all know what social media looks like, and we know what the popular people on social media post and the copy they write, and you just try to mimic something that looks and feels authentic to you, and is still obviously, you know, lighthearted.”

Considering the quotes above, as well as your own social media experience, answer the questions below:

  1. What does the concept of “authenticity” on social media mean to you?
  • Why do you think these two writers place importance on trying to craft authenticity? Why is “achieving authenticity” challenging?
  • Many writers have an online writing “persona,” which may or may not represent them truthfully as they are in real life. How would you describe your own social media persona? What does your online persona’ life look like, and does it adequately represent your own? What does your persona care, as evidenced by how and why you post?
  • Businesses also, ideally, craft a “persona” related to their brand that they work to show consistently online. This persona may be formal and business-like or it may be more casual, appearing to interact “like a friend.” Find a brand that you follow or interact with on social media. How would you describe the “persona” of this organization? How did you come to that conclusion? (You might cite here language, tone, images, etc.)
  • Using this same organization’s feed, can you determine the audiences you think they’re trying to reach? How can you tell?
  • What purposes (yes, multiple!) do you think they’re working to achieve? What clues you in to these goals?
  • Would you say that the brand is “authentic” online? Why or why not?
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Social Media Analysis Assignment

Resources

Level: Can be customized for writers at all levels.

Context: This assignment focuses on social media, and on asking students to consider audience, purpose, and medium more specifically. This could be done as an in-class assignment, alone or in groups, or as a homework assignment.

Assignment:

Social media is a new writing genre that organizations have had to learn how to create in the past decade or so. Some do social media extremely well, and some, of course, really don’t. In the AWWE interview with a Director of Business Development at a creative agency, we hear a reflection about both the importance of social media and the fact that he feels the agency doesn’t designate adequate resources to it:

“I believe in the power of [social media], and I would even say that we should invest 100 times more in it than we do, but at this point, it’s meant to be like a fact checker, kind of like a check box. One, it’s just meant to show a little personality. If someone we’re already in conversation with us or in the early stages of vetting and they happen to likes Instagram and uses it heavily, if they were to check us out it’s visually engaging, it shows some personality, it’s consistently showing our brand, like we, it’s consistently designed, all which I do in an app in about five minutes a day. We show our culture a little bit, and it’s meant to be more smart sarcasm and wit, is kind of the energy and vibe that we give off outwardly, I don’t know if that’s necessarily like the type of people we are, but it’s usually energizing, it has a little bit of a wit to it. And when I’m writing, it’s pretty plain, you know, we’re leveraging some type of quotes, or writing about a client and keeping it short and sweet, and just really trying to boost people’s awareness in our active community of what that is, and then I think over time, it could lead to more organic reach. But it’s pretty straightforward, it doesn’t, I don’t have a ton of input, I think I’ve, we all know what social media looks like, and we know what the popular people on social media post and the copy they write, and you just try to mimic something that looks and feels authentic to you, and is still obviously, you know, lighthearted.”

Like many organizations, this interviewee’s company struggles to successful write for and utilize write social media. Summarize his perspective in answering the following questions:

  1. How does the Director of Business Development view social media as it is currently used in his organization?
  • What types of posts does he currently write?
  • When he says he’s trying “to mimic something that looks and feels authentic,” what do you think he means?

The interviewee states that he mimics “what the popular people on social media post.” Many organizations do this—look to other, perhaps bigger or more successful organizations in their field—for inspiration and guidance for their online communications. To get a sense of how this is done and to learn to better analyze social media texts (and all texts), please follow the instructions below:

  1. Choose an industry you’re interested in, either personally or professionally. (You might choose, for instance, the industry of yoga, restaurants, banking, or aerospace).
  • Within your chosen industry, choose two different organizations that have an overlapping social media presence. (Meaning that they utilize at least one of the same platforms; they’re both on Twitter or Facebook, for example.)
  • On the platform they both use, examine their social media presence over the past month to two months and answer the following questions:

For organization #1:

  • Describe the tone and language used.
  • Who do you think their audience or audiences are? How can you tell? What assumptions is the writer of the post making about their audiences?
  • What do you think their top two or three primary purposes are on social media? (For instance, they may be looking, first, to “sell,” but they might also want to display themselves as an “organization who cares,” or as a particularly reliable brand.)
  • Find a post that you think is particularly successful or unsuccessful. Describe the post and why you think it succeeded or failed (be sure to contextualize this with the audiences and purposes you note above.)

For organization #2:

  • Describe the tone and language used.
  • Who do you think their audience or audiences are? How can you tell? What assumptions is the writer of the post making about their audiences?
  • What do you think their top two or three primary purposes are on social media? (For instance, they may be looking, first, to “sell,” but they might also want to display themselves as an “organization who cares,” or as a particularly reliable brand.)
  • Find a post that you think is particularly successful or unsuccessful. Describe the post and why you think it succeeded or failed (be sure to contextualize this with the audiences and purposes you note above.)
  • Which organization do you think is more successful in achieving their purposes and reaching their target audiences? Why?

What advice would you give the less successful organization?

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Contextualizing Figures and Visual Data

uncategorized

Level: Can be customized for writers at all levels.

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

Assignment:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Writing for Experts in the Field:

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

Someone in your Peer Group:

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

Someone Who May be Skeptical of the Data:

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

Technical Delivery Manager

Sciences

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

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

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

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

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

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

SPEAKER:             –from undergrad.

SPEAKER:             Oh from undergrad?

SPEAKER:             Yeah.

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

SPEAKER:             Fifteen years [laughter].

SPEAKER:             Fifteen years, yeah, okay. 

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

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

SPEAKER:             Does PFE stand for something?

SPEAKER:             Premier field engineer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SPEAKER:             Yeah.

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

SPEAKER:             They do., yeah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SPEAKER:             Nobody oversees my writing.

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

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

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

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

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

SPEAKER:             Yeah, exactly, yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to read full transcript

Tags: , ,