University Academic Advisor

Education, uncategorized

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Grant Writer/Community College Dept. Chair

Education, Non-profit

Interviewer: Would you please state your last job title and where you worked before retirement?

Grantwriter: A Department Chair of workforce training and development at Delaware technical and community college and, uh, throughout the state of Delaware.

Interviewer: Great. And um, how long has it been since you graduated from college?

Grantwriter: My undergraduate degree was 1968.

Interviewer: Great. Okay. Um, and [00:00:30] how long did you work in the community college world?

Grantwriter: Oh, about a total of between part-time and full time, 25, 26 years or something like that. I don’t know exactly, but around there. More than 20 years.

Interviewer: Wow. Okay, wonderful. Um, and could you provide us with a brief description of your primary job functions in that department chair position?

Grantwriter: As a department chair, my primary [00:01:00] function was to write grants for government funded programs, state and local government, and then go before a panel of workforce development people to present the reason that they should give us this grant. The grant was–the grants were all for job training and work readiness for unemployed or low-income people or people returning to the workplace. And then when we received the grant, which [00:01:30] I received–[there was ] maybe only one I didn’t get over the 10 years I was a department chair. Um, when we got the grant then my job was to make sure we had the staff, make sure the curriculum goes–there really weren’t many books that would address these specific jobs. Um, hire subject matter experts and make sure that they knew how to teach, manage the budget, um, get the students jobs [00:02:00] after they graduated, and then report back to the, the workforce development board.

Interviewer: Excellent. In a given week, what percentage of your job required writing?

Grantwriter: I would not say that there was any percentage in a given week. The writing when, when it was done was intense. So it might–I might not write anything for weeks at a time. And then for example, [00:02:30] Department of Labor grants would all be due in January. So I had six grants, um, that I would have to have written by January in order to submit. So October through December, uh, the main part of my job would be writing the grants. So it would depend, it depended whenever, um, whenever an opportunity for [00:03:00] a grant arose, that’s, that was when it was very intense work and research for that time period. But other than that, there really was not, um, a lot of–there were memos, there were performance reviews, you know, those kinds of things. But, but the, the intense writing was the grant writing.

Interviewer: Okay. That makes sense. Um, and so just to clarify, so I’m sure I understand that the primary audiences of those grants were the governing [00:03:30] body that was going to distribute the funds and the purpose of the communication was really, um, to secure these funds for these new or continuing programs.

Grantwriter: Right. So for example, we did a certified nursing assistant CNA training. We did medical records, introductory training, we did welding training. So we would–the grants usually had very specific questions. And because my background, I’m proud to say this [00:04:00] because my background was education, unlike I wasn’t a medical person, I wasn’t–that I, I had a good handle on, on curriculum. And after a few years of me writing these grants, the Department of Labor adapted my curriculum style and demand that everybody write their curriculum for review the way I wrote mine.

New Speaker: Interviewer: Huh. Oh that’s amazing.

Grantwriter: I wrote I, and it was a very simple way that I wrote it. It [00:04:30] was just, um, at the end of this unit, the student will be able to, and I listed what the student would be able to do at the end of the work ready industry training at the end of, um, bed making, you know, or whatever. And I was, um, so it was very clear, very concise, and it was all action based. Something that the readers could say, oh, okay, now I know, you know, cause not everybody on the board was a medical person. They were all workplace people. [00:05:00] It was a workforce development board. And they came from all walks of life within the community. So my primary goal was to make my writing accessible to people who weren’t just like me, who were not necessarily in that, in that field. Um, and I don’t know if I answered your question?

Interviewer: You did beautifully. Yes. Yeah, that’s great. That’s really helpful. And so thinking about these grants, you know, you talked about research [00:05:30] and you talked about the way you sort of frame them and structure them. Could you maybe walk us through the process of a typical grant, like from beginning to end, like how you start the project, what those steps are in the middle, if there’s feedback and revision, sort of what that process looks like.

Grantwriter: Yes, it’s a very boring thing–

New Speaker: Not to me, I promise.

Grantwriter: Um, the first thing honestly, um, and I think this is true with any kind of writing that you do business [00:06:00] writing, uh, any kind of variety is you have to know what the reader wants. And the biggest mistake that I think anybody makes, who writes is you write what you, what you want to say instead of what you need the reader to hear. And there’s a real, there’s a real disconnect there. And I’ve been involved with, with people outside of work who want help writing grants and they don’t like it when I slash and [00:06:30] burn because they want, they want to write what they want, what they want to say, not what the person needs to hear. So the first thing you have to do with writing a grant is to really know the funding source because you have to gear whatever you’re gonna tell them to them. Um, I had a situation where I was helping the nursing department write a grant and that was doctors [00:07:00] who were, and they, they wanted, they put in $1 million worth of equipment that they wanted. And I kept telling them this grant is not to outfit your labs. This grant is to get people into the nursing profession. And of course they didn’t get any money because a doctor is not going to listen to me because he just, he wrote a shopping list. He didn’t pay attention to what the–I always [00:07:30] would say you got other people that will have the cookies in the cookie jar is what you have to pay attention to. That’s the biggest thing. That’s the biggest thing is you have to know–that’s your research. You have to know who these people are, what is it that they want. And that’s before you ever, you know, go to the computer. And you have to read every single bit of the RFP really carefully to make sure that you’re responding to the RFP. Not [00:08:00] saying what you wanna say, but responding to the RFP. And that’s, that’s like a big rookie mistake. Um, and then when I write a grant, I think of it as it’s a piece of persuasive writing. My job is to persuade you to give me money and there’s a hundred people asking for this money. So my job is to say why I should get it first and I should get everything that I want. [00:08:30] So my, my approach has always been to start out with this is how much money I’m asking for. This is how many students I’m gonna train with this money. This is how many I’m going to graduate. This is how many hours each person is gonna get. And so here’s your cost hour per student. And then [00:09:00] that’s it. As far as what I’m asking for. Now, the rest of my grant is, is explaining to them why I’m the one who should get that money. So the rest is not about the ask. I’ve already done the ask up front. So now the rest of my grant is to talk about the, the professionalism of my organization and why community colleges are the best to do this type of [00:09:30] training. And um, one of their, the complaints that I used to get at the meetings was that our salaries were high because we have no–we’re a nonprofit, we’re still state funded and so I have to pay the same salaries as everybody else. So I would say knowing that was going to be a question, I would anticipate that and say, even though a lot of our money goes into salaries, salaries aren’t direct contact with students. [00:10:00] We’re not asking for rent. We’re not asking for you for computers. We’re not asking for–because our colleges applying those things. So I would look for the incentives for them to give us the money rather than, uh, the Salvation Army, for example. Nothing against the Salvation Army, but they were, they were one of our competitions, but they were lower paying, but they didn’t have all staff [00:10:30] who are college graduates. They didn’t have staff who were all teachers. And I never mentioned that, but I just always said what we had that maybe other organizations didn’t. So that’s where the persuasion came out.

Interviewer: Oh, that’s great. That’s really fascinating. And in terms of feedback, once you had a version drafted, was it reviewed by someone else or were you really the sole person with ownership of the project?

Grantwriter: I would, um, well it’s, that’s funny because in the beginning, [00:11:00] um, more people looked at it and then they, they would, you know, make some changes. And I had, um, if for different programs, I had a couple of secretaries and so they, they, they would look at it in terms of, you know, run it through spellcheck, although, um, things like that as an English major, I didn’t really have too many issues with that. Um, they, people in the president’s office would look at it real quickly in terms [00:11:30] of, um, budget. But after a while, as I said, over the years, I only ever didn’t get funded one time. Um, it was like okay, just they just signed off on it.

Interviewer: Okay. Okay. Um, and so how did you know how to perform this specific kind of writing?

Grantwriter: You know what? I don’t know how [00:12:00] I knew…I’ve thought about that and, and I suppose maybe it’s a skill. I happen to be a very logical person. I could never write a story. In college, I had a creative writing class and you didn’t have to turn things in. It was like people just wrote stuff and then you critiqued it and all that. And in desperation, I can’t even tell you what I wrote, but I did write a, [00:12:30] a story cause I knew I had to write something, the whole semester, but my mind doesn’t work in terms of, of the–I’m a big fiction reader, I probably read two, three books a week. But my mind doesn’t work that way. My mind tends to work in a very logical kind of a way. Um, I’ve done the Myers Briggs and I’ve scored real high on the, the thinking part. Not [00:13:00] so much some of the, some of the others, but I think the Myers Briggs taught me, uh, that I, because I then used to teach it a little bit to some of our students as a way of saying–essentially the people in professional development classes where they didn’t understand why they couldn’t yell at a boss if the boss yelled at them, um, about how other people see things. So even though I knew [00:13:30] I was a logical person, I knew, I learned that I had to appeal to people whose decision making was not necessarily logical. Huh. Was maybe more so I had to, you know, so at sometimes in these grants I will put a little story in about Susie Q became a CNA and then went on to become an LPN or she was with the first time–um, [00:14:00] she was so excited that she had a job where she, um, but not a paycheck and didn’t even mind paying her taxes because she–instead of getting welfare, she was contributing. So, so I think my logic led me to believe that–if that makes any sense–that logically I had to appeal to things besides the logic.

Interviewer: Yes. Yes. That’s a great explanation actually. Yeah. That, that makes a lot of sense to me. And it’s a really interesting way of thinking [00:14:30] of it.

Grantwriter: Because again the pose again, you’re, if you’re writing, I think of it and even in, in teaching, I think in terms of like the SPCA commercials that are on TV or the St. Jude commercials, and I think that those are great ways to teach writing using what everybody has in common with these things. So give you the ask, please send us $19 a month, but the rest of the commercial is for you to–why should you have all the [00:15:00] places you could spend money and God knows everybody has got their hand out asking for clarity–why should you send money to the SPCA? And so they don’t kill you with logic. They show you all these sad dogs and St. Jude’s shows you these children and their, and the children are doing the speaking. And so you don’t do it because it’s $19 a month. You do it because of the appeal. You’re persuaded [00:15:30] by the appeal, not by the logic.

Interviewer: Absolutely. Absolutely. It’s–without getting a digressing too much, I’ll say I use those commercials in my writing classes at the university actually. Yeah, I agree they’re–they’re beautiful way to sort of illustrate how to accomplish, how to accomplish what you did as you’re trying to accomplish.

Grantwriter: Yeah, yeah, yeah. But I, I, you know, I, I think I’ve pretty much figured it out on my own. And as I said, I had a really good back–I mean, in high school I had [00:16:00] a high school that drummed English into your head, you know, usage. And my eighth grade teacher, who I loved dearly, he used to write sentences over a hundred words on the board that we had to diagram. And to me that was always fun. So that’s a talent or an interest or a skill with language is something that comes naturally to me and it intrigues me. 

Interviewer: [00:16:30] That’s great. Yeah. And that sort of speaks to this next question. Was there a time in this role as the department chair that you felt unprepared, um, to write one of these grants? Or did it always, was it always a pretty logical, um, preparation you sort of knew what to do and knew how to tackle it?

Grantwriter: Well, I started out not as the person who did that because they were doing that before I came [00:17:00] in, before I worked there. I started out as an instructor and then because of my background, they would ask me to do the proofing. And I would say, you need to change this. You need to change that. And I’m like, yeah, you’re right. That’s not that, let’s write that curriculum this way with, you know, these with the objectives. Let’s not say that we’re going to teach this, we’re going to teach that little. Let’s say this is what the student’s gonna learn. So, so in that way, [00:17:30] I, I moved into a structure that already existed, but changed that structure. From the, from, you know, from somebody, some people were doing it for years and honestly, people were receptive. Um, you know, you know how people are not accepted, receptive to you changing their writing. That’s very painful. Right? Um, being yourself [00:18:00] editor is much harder than being a writer, editing your own work is the party, but that’s their child. Um, so by the time I was doing it as department chair, it really, it was more agonizing for me to get the word I wanted, the sentence I wanted. Lots of times grants had limited amount of space to write. You can only do so many pages. [00:18:30] So the part that was agonizing to me was to put the most in to those pages. So I would write it and then I would say, well, make this a parenthetical phrase, I’ll make it a whole sentence, because then you could get five less words.

Interviewer: Right. Right.

Grantwriter: And so through being told how many pages only I could submit, it made me a, certainly a better, more cohesive, more focused writer.

Interviewer: Oh, that’s [00:19:00] great. Yeah. How long did you typically have to write one grant? You mentioned this sort of timeline for Department of Labor grants. On average, was it a couple of months, a couple of weeks? How long did you work on each one typically?

Grantwriter: Well, with the Department of Labor, they all came in at once, so you may–and you didn’t have to apply for everything of course, but I would typically have a [00:19:30] couple of months to do maybe five or six grants. But as I said, to be honest, I worked off the grant from the year before because they liked it. It was successful. So I wasn’t always starting from scratch. It was rethinking, refreshing, changing things. But I had developed a structure and again, knowing that these were people who were in the workplace, I wanted [00:20:00] to make it as readable and as concise as I possibly could, so I wasn’t wasting their time because that’s gonna make them mad at me and not want to give me money. [laughter] So I wanted to respect the reader’s time. Um, so I think those were my focuses were outward in order to get a good product inward, if that makes sense.

Interviewer: It does. It does. Absolutely. And now looking back [00:20:30] much further than that, back to when you were a college student. You talked about having a great high school education. Um, what kinds of writing do you remember being asked to create as a college student?

Grantwriter: Well, as an English major, I, I’ll tell you that I think the best course that I ever had other than keyboarding, which was once was in high school typing, um, was a class called Language and Communication. [00:21:00] And the book was written by a, I still have it and I graduated in college, in 1968, the book was written by [inaudible]. And it was really about the use of language, how language communicated, which was not something I ever thought about. You know, you were, you were, you were worried about, you know, subject, verb agreement in term papers and, and [00:21:30] APA style–things that are totally useless in the workplace, cares about footnotes in the workplace. Um, but the Language and Communication taught me to focus on, on the relationship between–whether it’s the speaker and the listener, the writer and the reader, the teacher and the learner. Because teaching and learning are not the same thing. And writing and reading aren’t, there’s a disconnect [00:22:00] there. So, um, one of the favorite things in that class was cow one is not cow two, Huh. And, and I always remembered that. And when I was teaching some communication, I used to have everybody draw a dog and then everybody would show their dog. And then we would talk about how, my, my direction, as the speaker gave everybody in the room a different picture of what a dog was. And that’s, [00:22:30] that’s, that’s a thing in communication that, that we have to pay attention to that you don’t interpret by words the way I mean them. And so I have to be really careful with my words. Right. Um, and I’ve never, that course fascinated me. Um, you know, that was an eye opener for an 18 year old. And then I, I had, you know, two semesters of linguistics and there was a lot of writing [00:23:00] in there and the professor just, you know, all of us who were English majors, we all thought we knew how to write because that’s why we are not, we didn’t feel like high school and he just tore into everything. Um, I think my, there, I remember my very first paper, I got a C- or D and it was shocking that I wasn’t anywhere near as good a writer as I [laughter] [00:23:30] and, and as an English major, you know, there was a lot of, a lot of writing. So, um, I can specifically say when I learned about writing other than I learned about communication, and then I know obviously I did because I went from these, you know, C’s and D’s do and I think a B in the, in the linguistics class. But, but you know, I, I think you learn [00:24:00] if you, you’ve got to be, you got to self edit you, you’ve got to, you can’t admire your own work. You’ve got to be able to take a step back and be critical of your own work. And I, and I know I learned that in my linguistics class and then all the other English classes, I know that there were, there were papers, but a lot of them I think were graded more on content. And maybe by then we were all decent enough writers, [00:24:30] or at least I know my own, maybe it was decent enough that it was more based on content as an organization, you know?

Interviewer: Right. Yeah. That makes sense. Are there things, looking back, are there things that would have been useful for you to learn as a college student that would have made some of the workplace writing you ended up doing easier or would have made you more adaptable to it?

Grantwriter: Well, writing [00:25:00] is specific to purpose and academic writing is academic. Um, and as I said, you know, when, when you had to write research papers for any course, it was the focus was on making sure that you can follow, um, because of AP, I forget now, APA Style and that you, [00:25:30] you did your footnotes and you numbered them and you– there was so much emphasis on academic writing that has no transference into the business world. And I think when you’re an academic, lots of academics have never worked in the business world. And so the kind of writing and the kind of publishing that they do is academic. [00:26:00] And, um, you know, when you go into the business world, of course when I was in college, it wasn’t an email, but some of the, the most hurt feelings and that the problems and relationships come from people’s interpretation of an email as being critical or nasty when actually as the writer, you were just in a hurry. And people’s feelings get hurt because you didn’t say please and thank you. You said we’re meeting, we’re meeting at noon, bring your lunch, [00:26:30] and people get all upset because it comes out as a command or rude or you know, and, and none of that transfers to the workplace. Um, because it’s all–now somebody told me, and, and again, I haven’t done a long time since I’ve done academic writing, that there are now programs that will help you with your footnotes and numbering and that kind of thing that, that make it maybe less onerous. But, um, [00:27:00] but I often, I used to think as a, once I started doing workplace teaching, I used to think every teacher, especially every English teacher or every college professor needs to spend their summers in the business.

Interviewer: That’s interesting, yeah.

Grantwriter: And learn how business people write. And how business people speak. Um, and, and it’s not at all the way you write in academia? [00:27:30] Not at all. I would say that that to me is, is um, you know–yeah I learned you learn usage, you learn organization, you learn some of those things, but that’s not necessarily the things that businesses focus on.

Interviewer: Right, right. This is sort of a, a bigger question, but could you talk a little bit about what was at stake in this grant writing?

Grantwriter: What was [00:28:00] at stake was the employment of my staff because it was, everything was grant funded. As I say, we were not on the um, the state payroll, as such. So there was a lot of pressure. I, when I retired it was like, woo! Because it was a lot of pressure. Once you got a grant, say I got a grant that for four or five job [00:28:30] training programs and I would mingle certain staff among those programs because different people could teach work readiness, basic math, um, study skills. I taught a lot of study skills. Um, but maybe there was a time when I had 40 people employed through grants and if you don’t get that grant the following year, that’s 40 people out of a job. [00:29:00] And so the, the pressure with the writing was basically to keep people employed. And it sounds harsh because you’d think, well, what about the people that weren’t getting the training? Well, they were going to get it somewhere else if I didn’t give it to them because the money was still gonna be there, it was just going to go to some other organization. But, but, and also it was the college’s reputation. It was my personal reputation that [00:29:30] was on the line. So the, there were those kinds of things at stake. Which didn’t happen in the other part of the college, you know, they, when I had a program and I was–and I had money in my budget to buy software that was required, the people on the, on the academic side would get a little annoyed, oh yeah, look, you can do this, you can do that. And I would think, yeah, this year! Next year I may not be here and you will be. [laughter]

Interviewer: [00:30:00] What would you say is the most difficult thing about that very specific sort of grant writing? Is it the pressure? Is there something, is it about, as you mentioned, sort of really tailoring toward the reader. What would you say is the most challenging element of grant writing in that position?

Grantwriter: Well, one, I’ll give you an example of a grant that was kind of new to me was the college had–and we have [00:30:30] our college is a statewide institution because Delaware is so small. So we have campuses in each county, but it was unlike most community colleges that are county based. Ours was state. Um, so we had at my campus and I worked at three different campuses, ending up at the Dover campus and each campus had its own culture, which was interesting. Talk about business culture. We had a grant for Upward Bound, which was [00:31:00] a program for high school students and it was my first federal Department of Education grant. So that’s a good example of, of the challenge. And it was who are these people and, and really what do they want Upward Bound to do? To take the educational-ese out of it. And what is it that we’re supposed to actually [00:31:30] do with these students? And I read grants at a previous brand. They were, they were 4-year grants. So you’re talking about a lot of jobs and also now, because it’s high school, you’re talking about a lot of kids, if you lose the grant, those kids–their program is over. So, so the challenge for in a new grant like that was really getting into what the heck are we supposed to do and how do [00:32:00] I express what we’re supposed to do and how do I answer the questions? Because there were like 10 questions that you had to answer. How do I answer these questions? And I’m not even sure I really understand because of the way they’re written. How do I know that I’m responding appropriately? [inaudible] is what they’ve done before. Because when I read [00:32:30] what they’d done before, I didn’t like the way it was written at all. Um, and each question had points, so there were people who do, and you could volunteer you to be a reader and there were people that went to Washington for a weekend once a year on these grants because they were on a staggered basis, but they went there and they read and each question was scored a number of points. So [00:33:00] you really had to make sure that each question was answered thoroughly, that they understood because they were reading so many. And, and if you lost one point per question, you were down to one 90 and you probably weren’t getting funded. So I think the biggest challenge was really figuring out what they wanted and responding in such a way that you were giving them what [00:33:30] they wanted.

Interviewer: That makes a lot of sense. That explanation is really interesting too, especially the point system. That’s fascinating. Yeah.

Grantwriter: Yeah. Because one person could destroy you if they didn’t like what you wrote, out of four readers.

Interviewer: In your role as department chair, as you were writing these grants, did anyone help you with your writing formally or informally?

Grantwriter: No. Because I was, I was the expert. [00:34:00] Um, again, people would look at the budget and, and et cetera. Um, but not– people came to me from other campuses to review their. Rather than, um–and, in fact you could go to a professional grant writer and I, I decided one year that I was with this Upward Bound, I wasn’t going to have anybody writing that would [00:34:30] never happen and I wouldn’t have the money to pay somebody and just have them read, have them review it. And she had done workshops. I had been to her workshop, which we paid a lot of money, but this was so new to me I wanted all the information I could yet. So I went to her workshop, I went to the Department of Education workshop, I did all this and I had her review it and I thought, she’s nuts! Why is she [inaudible]. That’s really sounds very [00:35:00] egotistical. [laughter] But the funny part, I’ll tell you what the funny part is, uh, the, the ironic part is this professional–is she had people paid her to write their grants and she got caught falsifying the postmark. She had gotten a hold of somehow a postal postmark stamp. And so let’s say it had to be postmarked by tonight at [00:35:30] midnight and because she was behind and she got ahold of this stamp and all 10 people that they did the Department of, of Education, figuring out all these 10 grants that came in like a day later than most of the others, even though they have it correct postmark, l were all done by her. And all of those people, they all–none of them got their money. Because they were not factually postmarked. [00:36:00] It’s truly not something you can put, I couldn’t responsibly ever put it in anybody else’s hands.

Interviewer: Yeah. As you think about your evolution as a writer, you–I wish we had more time to talk about your whole career, but as you think about your career, as varied as it was, how do you think you evolved or improved as a writer?

Grantwriter: I [00:36:30] think I’m developed, again, as I know I’ve stressed this before, but I developed a greater appreciation for the reader. Because that’s the only purpose in my writing was for the reader. So, and everything that I wrote, I measured it against accessibility, interest, et cetera, to [00:37:00] the reader, not to myself. And, and I will tell you, um, a person in this area put out a call for somebody to go over his little book that he’d written and I didn’t see anybody else respond. So I said I would, and I don’t know, I’ve never met him. And he emailed it to me and I, and I did it. And I said that I can give you some editorial ideas if you’re interested. I didn’t–I said, I’m pretty tough. And he said, [00:37:30] yes, he would like them. And he took the first couple that I sent and I haven’t heard from him since. I think, I think he’s angry with me, but I explained to him that I’m an advocate for the reader, that there’s no reason for me to write other than to reach my audience. And I think that if I had to pick one thing, it would be, it’s not to hear the sound of my own voice. And that’s what [00:38:00] most of us writers love the sound of our voices, but it was focus on the reader, focus on the reader.

Interviewer: Right. That’s great. I have just a couple more questions and the second to last one is, um, to what extent did you see writing as valued in the community college, you know, in the, the department that you were working with then? Um, how valued was writing?

Interviewer: [00:38:30] Um, I can’t tell you that writing was valued–it was the results of the writing. The kind of writing that I did. You know, I, and I know that’s typical of colleges in general. The president would put out articles, but he didn’t write them. They came out in his name, but he wasn’t going to bother writing them, you know, other people wrote them. Um, he was too busy, you know, doing other things. [00:39:00] Um, and so I would say I got recognition for my results, not from my writing at the college, but again, it goes back to the reader where I got recognition for my writing was from the Department of Labor, from those people who read my writing.

Interviewer: Right. That makes sense. Yeah. [00:39:30] Um, so how did you define successful writing when you were a student versus successful writing as a grant writer? And would you say that you were a successful grant writer? I can tell what I think the answer is, but..[Laughter]

Grantwriter: Yeah, I mean, I just wrote as that, as I said when we first got acquainted through Patrick, um, is that I had just worked on a, uh, I live in the community [00:40:00] that has our own little lake–a manmade lake–and it’s been around for years, and it needs a lot of assistance now. And it costs money. It’s like people say it is like to have a boat. It’s a hole in the ground that you pour money into, and I, and I just finished writing, um, a grant for this. Now I’ve lost track of your question. I’m sorry.

Interviewer: Oh no, that’s okay. Well, well this, I think you’re answering the second part of it.

Grantwriter: Refresh me on that. The question though, so I can get–

Interviewer: Of course. [00:40:30] How did you define successful writing as a student versus as a grant writer and also would you say you’re a successful workplace writer?

Grantwriter: Okay. Okay. So, um, and as I wrote this, I’m almost 90% sure we’re not going to get the money. Um, but not because of my writing. It just because we’re new to this organization and, and there’s maybe others in greater need and we’re private. I don’t know. But, [00:41:00] but I would say I always felt successful as a grant writer and I was, um, because I was pleased again, I agonized over it, but I was pleased with the result of my agony. Um, uh, and after I retired, Delaware, being a small as it is and everybody knowing everybody, my mother, my daughter’s mother-in-law was good friends with [00:41:30] the college vice president for finance. And he said to her, oh, you’re Janet Edwards is —-your daughter’s married, or your son’s married to Janet Edwards’s daughter, and I know Janet and blah, blah, blah. And he said–the most validation I ever got–he said, we have not had anybody who could replace her. He said she was a worker. We’ve lost so much [00:42:00] after she retired–you know, words to that effect.

Interviewer: What a wonderful compliment. Yeah.

Grantwriter: And yes, and it was wonderful and it was, it was kind of gratifying, almost in a nasty way, [laughter] only because again, when you’re not in the academic side, when you are in the more–I should say practical side, but when you’re in there, you got to earn your own keeps side. You’re looked down upon. There’s a, there’s that class distinction among the real [00:42:30] faculty and the, and the people on continuing ed that don’t have credit courses. So that was kind of a vindication, you know, when, when I heard that. Um, the first part of your question was about–?

Interviewer: Defining success. How would you define successful writing when you were a student versus successful writing as a grant writer.

Grantwriter: Right. Okay. I think defining successful writing as a student is whatever the instructor or teacher said [00:43:00] it was. They gave you a grade. If you got an A, you were a good writer. If you got a C you were not such a good writer. I mean I don’t think it was ever in terms of the work that I did. It was in terms of the grade as we were writing for a grade.

Interviewer: And, and in terms of how that shifted to success as a grant writer, was it–

Grantwriter: When I had a purpose, I had a purpose in writing. [00:43:30] It wasn’t for–it was more tied to a goal other than getting through a course.

Interviewer: And would you judge the success of grant writing purely by whether or not the grant was awarded?

Grantwriter: No, no. Because I guess I don’t think we’re going to get this grant. And I, I think, I think the grant was, was pretty well written. Um, because you, you, you’re not always gonna get it. Um, but I, I think I judged it over the [00:44:00] years, again, by the, the reaction of reader. And the fact that the Department of Labor in particular, um, adjusted their, their RFPs cause they liked how I wrote it. So, I mean, I think that that’s about as much of a compliment as you can get when somebody changes what they’re doing because they like what you’re too.

Interviewer: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Grantwriter: A Department Chair of workforce training and development at Delaware technical and community college and, uh, throughout the state of Delaware.

Interviewer: Great. And um, how long has it been since you graduated from college?

Grantwriter: My undergraduate degree was 1968.

Interviewer: Great. Okay. Um, and [00:00:30] how long did you work in the community college world?

Grantwriter: Oh, about a total of between part-time and full time, 25, 26 years or something like that. I don’t know exactly, but around there. More than 20 years.

Interviewer: Wow. Okay, wonderful. Um, and could you provide us with a brief description of your primary job functions in that department chair position?

Grantwriter: As a department chair, my primary [00:01:00] function was to write grants for government funded programs, state and local government, and then go before a panel of workforce development people to present the reason that they should give us this grant. The grant was–the grants were all for job training and work readiness for unemployed or low-income people or people returning to the workplace. And then when we received the grant, which [00:01:30] I received–[there was ] maybe only one I didn’t get over the 10 years I was a department chair. Um, when we got the grant then my job was to make sure we had the staff, make sure the curriculum goes–there really weren’t many books that would address these specific jobs. Um, hire subject matter experts and make sure that they knew how to teach, manage the budget, um, get the students jobs [00:02:00] after they graduated, and then report back to the, the workforce development board.

Interviewer: Excellent. In a given week, what percentage of your job required writing?

Grantwriter: I would not say that there was any percentage in a given week. The writing when, when it was done was intense. So it might–I might not write anything for weeks at a time. And then for example, [00:02:30] Department of Labor grants would all be due in January. So I had six grants, um, that I would have to have written by January in order to submit. So October through December, uh, the main part of my job would be writing the grants. So it would depend, it depended whenever, um, whenever an opportunity for [00:03:00] a grant arose, that’s, that was when it was very intense work and research for that time period. But other than that, there really was not, um, a lot of–there were memos, there were performance reviews, you know, those kinds of things. But, but the, the intense writing was the grant writing.

Interviewer: Okay. That makes sense. Um, and so just to clarify, so I’m sure I understand that the primary audiences of those grants were the governing [00:03:30] body that was going to distribute the funds and the purpose of the communication was really, um, to secure these funds for these new or continuing programs.

Grantwriter: Right. So for example, we did a certified nursing assistant CNA training. We did medical records, introductory training, we did welding training. So we would–the grants usually had very specific questions. And because my background, I’m proud to say this [00:04:00] because my background was education, unlike I wasn’t a medical person, I wasn’t–that I, I had a good handle on, on curriculum. And after a few years of me writing these grants, the Department of Labor adapted my curriculum style and demand that everybody write their curriculum for review the way I wrote mine.

New Speaker: Interviewer: Huh. Oh that’s amazing.

Grantwriter: I wrote I, and it was a very simple way that I wrote it. It [00:04:30] was just, um, at the end of this unit, the student will be able to, and I listed what the student would be able to do at the end of the work ready industry training at the end of, um, bed making, you know, or whatever. And I was, um, so it was very clear, very concise, and it was all action based. Something that the readers could say, oh, okay, now I know, you know, cause not everybody on the board was a medical person. They were all workplace people. [00:05:00] It was a workforce development board. And they came from all walks of life within the community. So my primary goal was to make my writing accessible to people who weren’t just like me, who were not necessarily in that, in that field. Um, and I don’t know if I answered your question?

Interviewer: You did beautifully. Yes. Yeah, that’s great. That’s really helpful. And so thinking about these grants, you know, you talked about research [00:05:30] and you talked about the way you sort of frame them and structure them. Could you maybe walk us through the process of a typical grant, like from beginning to end, like how you start the project, what those steps are in the middle, if there’s feedback and revision, sort of what that process looks like.

Grantwriter: Yes, it’s a very boring thing–

New Speaker: Not to me, I promise.

Grantwriter: Um, the first thing honestly, um, and I think this is true with any kind of writing that you do business [00:06:00] writing, uh, any kind of variety is you have to know what the reader wants. And the biggest mistake that I think anybody makes, who writes is you write what you, what you want to say instead of what you need the reader to hear. And there’s a real, there’s a real disconnect there. And I’ve been involved with, with people outside of work who want help writing grants and they don’t like it when I slash and [00:06:30] burn because they want, they want to write what they want, what they want to say, not what the person needs to hear. So the first thing you have to do with writing a grant is to really know the funding source because you have to gear whatever you’re gonna tell them to them. Um, I had a situation where I was helping the nursing department write a grant and that was doctors [00:07:00] who were, and they, they wanted, they put in $1 million worth of equipment that they wanted. And I kept telling them this grant is not to outfit your labs. This grant is to get people into the nursing profession. And of course they didn’t get any money because a doctor is not going to listen to me because he just, he wrote a shopping list. He didn’t pay attention to what the–I always [00:07:30] would say you got other people that will have the cookies in the cookie jar is what you have to pay attention to. That’s the biggest thing. That’s the biggest thing is you have to know–that’s your research. You have to know who these people are, what is it that they want. And that’s before you ever, you know, go to the computer. And you have to read every single bit of the RFP really carefully to make sure that you’re responding to the RFP. Not [00:08:00] saying what you wanna say, but responding to the RFP. And that’s, that’s like a big rookie mistake. Um, and then when I write a grant, I think of it as it’s a piece of persuasive writing. My job is to persuade you to give me money and there’s a hundred people asking for this money. So my job is to say why I should get it first and I should get everything that I want. [00:08:30] So my, my approach has always been to start out with this is how much money I’m asking for. This is how many students I’m gonna train with this money. This is how many I’m going to graduate. This is how many hours each person is gonna get. And so here’s your cost hour per student. And then [00:09:00] that’s it. As far as what I’m asking for. Now, the rest of my grant is, is explaining to them why I’m the one who should get that money. So the rest is not about the ask. I’ve already done the ask up front. So now the rest of my grant is to talk about the, the professionalism of my organization and why community colleges are the best to do this type of [00:09:30] training. And um, one of their, the complaints that I used to get at the meetings was that our salaries were high because we have no–we’re a nonprofit, we’re still state funded and so I have to pay the same salaries as everybody else. So I would say knowing that was going to be a question, I would anticipate that and say, even though a lot of our money goes into salaries, salaries aren’t direct contact with students. [00:10:00] We’re not asking for rent. We’re not asking for you for computers. We’re not asking for–because our colleges applying those things. So I would look for the incentives for them to give us the money rather than, uh, the Salvation Army, for example. Nothing against the Salvation Army, but they were, they were one of our competitions, but they were lower paying, but they didn’t have all staff [00:10:30] who are college graduates. They didn’t have staff who were all teachers. And I never mentioned that, but I just always said what we had that maybe other organizations didn’t. So that’s where the persuasion came out.

Interviewer: Oh, that’s great. That’s really fascinating. And in terms of feedback, once you had a version drafted, was it reviewed by someone else or were you really the sole person with ownership of the project?

Grantwriter: I would, um, well it’s, that’s funny because in the beginning, [00:11:00] um, more people looked at it and then they, they would, you know, make some changes. And I had, um, if for different programs, I had a couple of secretaries and so they, they, they would look at it in terms of, you know, run it through spellcheck, although, um, things like that as an English major, I didn’t really have too many issues with that. Um, they, people in the president’s office would look at it real quickly in terms [00:11:30] of, um, budget. But after a while, as I said, over the years, I only ever didn’t get funded one time. Um, it was like okay, just they just signed off on it.

Interviewer: Okay. Okay. Um, and so how did you know how to perform this specific kind of writing?

Grantwriter: You know what? I don’t know how [00:12:00] I knew…I’ve thought about that and, and I suppose maybe it’s a skill. I happen to be a very logical person. I could never write a story. In college, I had a creative writing class and you didn’t have to turn things in. It was like people just wrote stuff and then you critiqued it and all that. And in desperation, I can’t even tell you what I wrote, but I did write a, [00:12:30] a story cause I knew I had to write something, the whole semester, but my mind doesn’t work in terms of, of the–I’m a big fiction reader, I probably read two, three books a week. But my mind doesn’t work that way. My mind tends to work in a very logical kind of a way. Um, I’ve done the Myers Briggs and I’ve scored real high on the, the thinking part. Not [00:13:00] so much some of the, some of the others, but I think the Myers Briggs taught me, uh, that I, because I then used to teach it a little bit to some of our students as a way of saying–essentially the people in professional development classes where they didn’t understand why they couldn’t yell at a boss if the boss yelled at them, um, about how other people see things. So even though I knew [00:13:30] I was a logical person, I knew, I learned that I had to appeal to people whose decision making was not necessarily logical. Huh. Was maybe more so I had to, you know, so at sometimes in these grants I will put a little story in about Susie Q became a CNA and then went on to become an LPN or she was with the first time–um, [00:14:00] she was so excited that she had a job where she, um, but not a paycheck and didn’t even mind paying her taxes because she–instead of getting welfare, she was contributing. So, so I think my logic led me to believe that–if that makes any sense–that logically I had to appeal to things besides the logic.

Interviewer: Yes. Yes. That’s a great explanation actually. Yeah. That, that makes a lot of sense to me. And it’s a really interesting way of thinking [00:14:30] of it.

Grantwriter: Because again the pose again, you’re, if you’re writing, I think of it and even in, in teaching, I think in terms of like the SPCA commercials that are on TV or the St. Jude commercials, and I think that those are great ways to teach writing using what everybody has in common with these things. So give you the ask, please send us $19 a month, but the rest of the commercial is for you to–why should you have all the [00:15:00] places you could spend money and God knows everybody has got their hand out asking for clarity–why should you send money to the SPCA? And so they don’t kill you with logic. They show you all these sad dogs and St. Jude’s shows you these children and their, and the children are doing the speaking. And so you don’t do it because it’s $19 a month. You do it because of the appeal. You’re persuaded [00:15:30] by the appeal, not by the logic.

Interviewer: Absolutely. Absolutely. It’s–without getting a digressing too much, I’ll say I use those commercials in my writing classes at the university actually. Yeah, I agree they’re–they’re beautiful way to sort of illustrate how to accomplish, how to accomplish what you did as you’re trying to accomplish.

Grantwriter: Yeah, yeah, yeah. But I, I, you know, I, I think I’ve pretty much figured it out on my own. And as I said, I had a really good back–I mean, in high school I had [00:16:00] a high school that drummed English into your head, you know, usage. And my eighth grade teacher, who I loved dearly, he used to write sentences over a hundred words on the board that we had to diagram. And to me that was always fun. So that’s a talent or an interest or a skill with language is something that comes naturally to me and it intrigues me. 

Interviewer: [00:16:30] That’s great. Yeah. And that sort of speaks to this next question. Was there a time in this role as the department chair that you felt unprepared, um, to write one of these grants? Or did it always, was it always a pretty logical, um, preparation you sort of knew what to do and knew how to tackle it?

Grantwriter: Well, I started out not as the person who did that because they were doing that before I came [00:17:00] in, before I worked there. I started out as an instructor and then because of my background, they would ask me to do the proofing. And I would say, you need to change this. You need to change that. And I’m like, yeah, you’re right. That’s not that, let’s write that curriculum this way with, you know, these with the objectives. Let’s not say that we’re going to teach this, we’re going to teach that little. Let’s say this is what the student’s gonna learn. So, so in that way, [00:17:30] I, I moved into a structure that already existed, but changed that structure. From the, from, you know, from somebody, some people were doing it for years and honestly, people were receptive. Um, you know, you know how people are not accepted, receptive to you changing their writing. That’s very painful. Right? Um, being yourself [00:18:00] editor is much harder than being a writer, editing your own work is the party, but that’s their child. Um, so by the time I was doing it as department chair, it really, it was more agonizing for me to get the word I wanted, the sentence I wanted. Lots of times grants had limited amount of space to write. You can only do so many pages. [00:18:30] So the part that was agonizing to me was to put the most in to those pages. So I would write it and then I would say, well, make this a parenthetical phrase, I’ll make it a whole sentence, because then you could get five less words.

Interviewer: Right. Right.

Grantwriter: And so through being told how many pages only I could submit, it made me a, certainly a better, more cohesive, more focused writer.

Interviewer: Oh, that’s [00:19:00] great. Yeah. How long did you typically have to write one grant? You mentioned this sort of timeline for Department of Labor grants. On average, was it a couple of months, a couple of weeks? How long did you work on each one typically?

Grantwriter: Well, with the Department of Labor, they all came in at once, so you may–and you didn’t have to apply for everything of course, but I would typically have a [00:19:30] couple of months to do maybe five or six grants. But as I said, to be honest, I worked off the grant from the year before because they liked it. It was successful. So I wasn’t always starting from scratch. It was rethinking, refreshing, changing things. But I had developed a structure and again, knowing that these were people who were in the workplace, I wanted [00:20:00] to make it as readable and as concise as I possibly could, so I wasn’t wasting their time because that’s gonna make them mad at me and not want to give me money. [laughter] So I wanted to respect the reader’s time. Um, so I think those were my focuses were outward in order to get a good product inward, if that makes sense.

Interviewer: It does. It does. Absolutely. And now looking back [00:20:30] much further than that, back to when you were a college student. You talked about having a great high school education. Um, what kinds of writing do you remember being asked to create as a college student?

Grantwriter: Well, as an English major, I, I’ll tell you that I think the best course that I ever had other than keyboarding, which was once was in high school typing, um, was a class called Language and Communication. [00:21:00] And the book was written by a, I still have it and I graduated in college, in 1968, the book was written by [inaudible]. And it was really about the use of language, how language communicated, which was not something I ever thought about. You know, you were, you were, you were worried about, you know, subject, verb agreement in term papers and, and [00:21:30] APA style–things that are totally useless in the workplace, cares about footnotes in the workplace. Um, but the Language and Communication taught me to focus on, on the relationship between–whether it’s the speaker and the listener, the writer and the reader, the teacher and the learner. Because teaching and learning are not the same thing. And writing and reading aren’t, there’s a disconnect [00:22:00] there. So, um, one of the favorite things in that class was cow one is not cow two, Huh. And, and I always remembered that. And when I was teaching some communication, I used to have everybody draw a dog and then everybody would show their dog. And then we would talk about how, my, my direction, as the speaker gave everybody in the room a different picture of what a dog was. And that’s, [00:22:30] that’s, that’s a thing in communication that, that we have to pay attention to that you don’t interpret by words the way I mean them. And so I have to be really careful with my words. Right. Um, and I’ve never, that course fascinated me. Um, you know, that was an eye opener for an 18 year old. And then I, I had, you know, two semesters of linguistics and there was a lot of writing [00:23:00] in there and the professor just, you know, all of us who were English majors, we all thought we knew how to write because that’s why we are not, we didn’t feel like high school and he just tore into everything. Um, I think my, there, I remember my very first paper, I got a C- or D and it was shocking that I wasn’t anywhere near as good a writer as I [laughter] [00:23:30] and, and as an English major, you know, there was a lot of, a lot of writing. So, um, I can specifically say when I learned about writing other than I learned about communication, and then I know obviously I did because I went from these, you know, C’s and D’s do and I think a B in the, in the linguistics class. But, but you know, I, I think you learn [00:24:00] if you, you’ve got to be, you got to self edit you, you’ve got to, you can’t admire your own work. You’ve got to be able to take a step back and be critical of your own work. And I, and I know I learned that in my linguistics class and then all the other English classes, I know that there were, there were papers, but a lot of them I think were graded more on content. And maybe by then we were all decent enough writers, [00:24:30] or at least I know my own, maybe it was decent enough that it was more based on content as an organization, you know?

Interviewer: Right. Yeah. That makes sense. Are there things, looking back, are there things that would have been useful for you to learn as a college student that would have made some of the workplace writing you ended up doing easier or would have made you more adaptable to it?

Grantwriter: Well, writing [00:25:00] is specific to purpose and academic writing is academic. Um, and as I said, you know, when, when you had to write research papers for any course, it was the focus was on making sure that you can follow, um, because of AP, I forget now, APA Style and that you, [00:25:30] you did your footnotes and you numbered them and you– there was so much emphasis on academic writing that has no transference into the business world. And I think when you’re an academic, lots of academics have never worked in the business world. And so the kind of writing and the kind of publishing that they do is academic. [00:26:00] And, um, you know, when you go into the business world, of course when I was in college, it wasn’t an email, but some of the, the most hurt feelings and that the problems and relationships come from people’s interpretation of an email as being critical or nasty when actually as the writer, you were just in a hurry. And people’s feelings get hurt because you didn’t say please and thank you. You said we’re meeting, we’re meeting at noon, bring your lunch, [00:26:30] and people get all upset because it comes out as a command or rude or you know, and, and none of that transfers to the workplace. Um, because it’s all–now somebody told me, and, and again, I haven’t done a long time since I’ve done academic writing, that there are now programs that will help you with your footnotes and numbering and that kind of thing that, that make it maybe less onerous. But, um, [00:27:00] but I often, I used to think as a, once I started doing workplace teaching, I used to think every teacher, especially every English teacher or every college professor needs to spend their summers in the business.

Interviewer: That’s interesting, yeah.

Grantwriter: And learn how business people write. And how business people speak. Um, and, and it’s not at all the way you write in academia? [00:27:30] Not at all. I would say that that to me is, is um, you know–yeah I learned you learn usage, you learn organization, you learn some of those things, but that’s not necessarily the things that businesses focus on.

Interviewer: Right, right. This is sort of a, a bigger question, but could you talk a little bit about what was at stake in this grant writing?

Grantwriter: What was [00:28:00] at stake was the employment of my staff because it was, everything was grant funded. As I say, we were not on the um, the state payroll, as such. So there was a lot of pressure. I, when I retired it was like, woo! Because it was a lot of pressure. Once you got a grant, say I got a grant that for four or five job [00:28:30] training programs and I would mingle certain staff among those programs because different people could teach work readiness, basic math, um, study skills. I taught a lot of study skills. Um, but maybe there was a time when I had 40 people employed through grants and if you don’t get that grant the following year, that’s 40 people out of a job. [00:29:00] And so the, the pressure with the writing was basically to keep people employed. And it sounds harsh because you’d think, well, what about the people that weren’t getting the training? Well, they were going to get it somewhere else if I didn’t give it to them because the money was still gonna be there, it was just going to go to some other organization. But, but, and also it was the college’s reputation. It was my personal reputation that [00:29:30] was on the line. So the, there were those kinds of things at stake. Which didn’t happen in the other part of the college, you know, they, when I had a program and I was–and I had money in my budget to buy software that was required, the people on the, on the academic side would get a little annoyed, oh yeah, look, you can do this, you can do that. And I would think, yeah, this year! Next year I may not be here and you will be. [laughter]

Interviewer: [00:30:00] What would you say is the most difficult thing about that very specific sort of grant writing? Is it the pressure? Is there something, is it about, as you mentioned, sort of really tailoring toward the reader. What would you say is the most challenging element of grant writing in that position?

Grantwriter: Well, one, I’ll give you an example of a grant that was kind of new to me was the college had–and we have [00:30:30] our college is a statewide institution because Delaware is so small. So we have campuses in each county, but it was unlike most community colleges that are county based. Ours was state. Um, so we had at my campus and I worked at three different campuses, ending up at the Dover campus and each campus had its own culture, which was interesting. Talk about business culture. We had a grant for Upward Bound, which was [00:31:00] a program for high school students and it was my first federal Department of Education grant. So that’s a good example of, of the challenge. And it was who are these people and, and really what do they want Upward Bound to do? To take the educational-ese out of it. And what is it that we’re supposed to actually [00:31:30] do with these students? And I read grants at a previous brand. They were, they were 4-year grants. So you’re talking about a lot of jobs and also now, because it’s high school, you’re talking about a lot of kids, if you lose the grant, those kids–their program is over. So, so the challenge for in a new grant like that was really getting into what the heck are we supposed to do and how do [00:32:00] I express what we’re supposed to do and how do I answer the questions? Because there were like 10 questions that you had to answer. How do I answer these questions? And I’m not even sure I really understand because of the way they’re written. How do I know that I’m responding appropriately? [inaudible] is what they’ve done before. Because when I read [00:32:30] what they’d done before, I didn’t like the way it was written at all. Um, and each question had points, so there were people who do, and you could volunteer you to be a reader and there were people that went to Washington for a weekend once a year on these grants because they were on a staggered basis, but they went there and they read and each question was scored a number of points. So [00:33:00] you really had to make sure that each question was answered thoroughly, that they understood because they were reading so many. And, and if you lost one point per question, you were down to one 90 and you probably weren’t getting funded. So I think the biggest challenge was really figuring out what they wanted and responding in such a way that you were giving them what [00:33:30] they wanted.

Interviewer: That makes a lot of sense. That explanation is really interesting too, especially the point system. That’s fascinating. Yeah.

Grantwriter: Yeah. Because one person could destroy you if they didn’t like what you wrote, out of four readers.

Interviewer: In your role as department chair, as you were writing these grants, did anyone help you with your writing formally or informally?

Grantwriter: No. Because I was, I was the expert. [00:34:00] Um, again, people would look at the budget and, and et cetera. Um, but not– people came to me from other campuses to review their. Rather than, um–and, in fact you could go to a professional grant writer and I, I decided one year that I was with this Upward Bound, I wasn’t going to have anybody writing that would [00:34:30] never happen and I wouldn’t have the money to pay somebody and just have them read, have them review it. And she had done workshops. I had been to her workshop, which we paid a lot of money, but this was so new to me I wanted all the information I could yet. So I went to her workshop, I went to the Department of Education workshop, I did all this and I had her review it and I thought, she’s nuts! Why is she [inaudible]. That’s really sounds very [00:35:00] egotistical. [laughter] But the funny part, I’ll tell you what the funny part is, uh, the, the ironic part is this professional–is she had people paid her to write their grants and she got caught falsifying the postmark. She had gotten a hold of somehow a postal postmark stamp. And so let’s say it had to be postmarked by tonight at [00:35:30] midnight and because she was behind and she got ahold of this stamp and all 10 people that they did the Department of, of Education, figuring out all these 10 grants that came in like a day later than most of the others, even though they have it correct postmark, l were all done by her. And all of those people, they all–none of them got their money. Because they were not factually postmarked. [00:36:00] It’s truly not something you can put, I couldn’t responsibly ever put it in anybody else’s hands.

Interviewer: Yeah. As you think about your evolution as a writer, you–I wish we had more time to talk about your whole career, but as you think about your career, as varied as it was, how do you think you evolved or improved as a writer?

Grantwriter: I [00:36:30] think I’m developed, again, as I know I’ve stressed this before, but I developed a greater appreciation for the reader. Because that’s the only purpose in my writing was for the reader. So, and everything that I wrote, I measured it against accessibility, interest, et cetera, to [00:37:00] the reader, not to myself. And, and I will tell you, um, a person in this area put out a call for somebody to go over his little book that he’d written and I didn’t see anybody else respond. So I said I would, and I don’t know, I’ve never met him. And he emailed it to me and I, and I did it. And I said that I can give you some editorial ideas if you’re interested. I didn’t–I said, I’m pretty tough. And he said, [00:37:30] yes, he would like them. And he took the first couple that I sent and I haven’t heard from him since. I think, I think he’s angry with me, but I explained to him that I’m an advocate for the reader, that there’s no reason for me to write other than to reach my audience. And I think that if I had to pick one thing, it would be, it’s not to hear the sound of my own voice. And that’s what [00:38:00] most of us writers love the sound of our voices, but it was focus on the reader, focus on the reader.

Interviewer: Right. That’s great. I have just a couple more questions and the second to last one is, um, to what extent did you see writing as valued in the community college, you know, in the, the department that you were working with then? Um, how valued was writing?

Interviewer: [00:38:30] Um, I can’t tell you that writing was valued–it was the results of the writing. The kind of writing that I did. You know, I, and I know that’s typical of colleges in general. The president would put out articles, but he didn’t write them. They came out in his name, but he wasn’t going to bother writing them, you know, other people wrote them. Um, he was too busy, you know, doing other things. [00:39:00] Um, and so I would say I got recognition for my results, not from my writing at the college, but again, it goes back to the reader where I got recognition for my writing was from the Department of Labor, from those people who read my writing.

Interviewer: Right. That makes sense. Yeah. [00:39:30] Um, so how did you define successful writing when you were a student versus successful writing as a grant writer? And would you say that you were a successful grant writer? I can tell what I think the answer is, but..[Laughter]

Grantwriter: Yeah, I mean, I just wrote as that, as I said when we first got acquainted through Patrick, um, is that I had just worked on a, uh, I live in the community [00:40:00] that has our own little lake–a manmade lake–and it’s been around for years, and it needs a lot of assistance now. And it costs money. It’s like people say it is like to have a boat. It’s a hole in the ground that you pour money into, and I, and I just finished writing, um, a grant for this. Now I’ve lost track of your question. I’m sorry.

Interviewer: Oh no, that’s okay. Well, well this, I think you’re answering the second part of it.

Grantwriter: Refresh me on that. The question though, so I can get–

Interviewer: Of course. [00:40:30] How did you define successful writing as a student versus as a grant writer and also would you say you’re a successful workplace writer?

Grantwriter: Okay. Okay. So, um, and as I wrote this, I’m almost 90% sure we’re not going to get the money. Um, but not because of my writing. It just because we’re new to this organization and, and there’s maybe others in greater need and we’re private. I don’t know. But, [00:41:00] but I would say I always felt successful as a grant writer and I was, um, because I was pleased again, I agonized over it, but I was pleased with the result of my agony. Um, uh, and after I retired, Delaware, being a small as it is and everybody knowing everybody, my mother, my daughter’s mother-in-law was good friends with [00:41:30] the college vice president for finance. And he said to her, oh, you’re Janet Edwards is —-your daughter’s married, or your son’s married to Janet Edwards’s daughter, and I know Janet and blah, blah, blah. And he said–the most validation I ever got–he said, we have not had anybody who could replace her. He said she was a worker. We’ve lost so much [00:42:00] after she retired–you know, words to that effect.

Interviewer: What a wonderful compliment. Yeah.

Grantwriter: And yes, and it was wonderful and it was, it was kind of gratifying, almost in a nasty way, [laughter] only because again, when you’re not in the academic side, when you are in the more–I should say practical side, but when you’re in there, you got to earn your own keeps side. You’re looked down upon. There’s a, there’s that class distinction among the real [00:42:30] faculty and the, and the people on continuing ed that don’t have credit courses. So that was kind of a vindication, you know, when, when I heard that. Um, the first part of your question was about–?

Interviewer: Defining success. How would you define successful writing when you were a student versus successful writing as a grant writer.

Grantwriter: Right. Okay. I think defining successful writing as a student is whatever the instructor or teacher said [00:43:00] it was. They gave you a grade. If you got an A, you were a good writer. If you got a C you were not such a good writer. I mean I don’t think it was ever in terms of the work that I did. It was in terms of the grade as we were writing for a grade.

Interviewer: And, and in terms of how that shifted to success as a grant writer, was it–

Grantwriter: When I had a purpose, I had a purpose in writing. [00:43:30] It wasn’t for–it was more tied to a goal other than getting through a course.

Interviewer: And would you judge the success of grant writing purely by whether or not the grant was awarded?

Grantwriter: No, no. Because I guess I don’t think we’re going to get this grant. And I, I think, I think the grant was, was pretty well written. Um, because you, you, you’re not always gonna get it. Um, but I, I think I judged it over the [00:44:00] years, again, by the, the reaction of reader. And the fact that the Department of Labor in particular, um, adjusted their, their RFPs cause they liked how I wrote it. So, I mean, I think that that’s about as much of a compliment as you can get when somebody changes what they’re doing because they like what you’re too.

Interviewer: Absolutely. Absolutely.

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Special Collections Librarian

Education

Special Collections Librarian

28:23

 

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

 

A: So my job title is special collections librarian. I work at Marymount University main campus in Arlington, and I graduated from my master’s degree in 2010.

Q: Okay, and from undergrad what year?

 

A: From undergraduate in 2007.

 

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

 

A: Um, so since, what would it be? About 2008, yeah.

 

Q: Okay, perfect. Could you just give me a brief description of your primary job functions?

 

A: So my job is part time, as I said, as a special collections librarian. So Marymount is a very small university, so a small library, and quite small staffing, which means I pretty much in my role do a little bit of everything. So I sort of liase a lot with teaching faculty to get suggestions for like, new acquisitions of special collections materials that they might be interested in us buying, that then they’ll use in teaching. And then all different aspects of collections stewardship that would go through that, so it’s kind of selecting, working with book sellers, purchasing, cataloguing, doing any basic preservation, materials like marketing and promotions, so, like small exhibitions, and occasionally events. And, oh, and then I’m also responsible for the sort of disaster planning for all the physical collections in the library itself. So that’s just sort of like an add-on task, really. So yeah, I think I’m rambling, but that’s about it.

 

Q: Excellent. No, no, that’s great.

 

A: Oh, and donor relations. Yeah we have one main family that are donors, and then seeing any other potential donors, to where their donation would fit into special collections comes through me.

 

Q: I see, okay. That is a little bit of everything.

 

A: Yeah. ‘Cause I’m a one man band, so yeah.

 

Q: Right, right. So in a given week, could you estimate maybe the percentage of your work that requires writing?

 

A: Um, good question. So, [interviewee talking to interviewee’s child] Um, I would say that almost–  I would say that yeah, actually probably a really high proportion involves writing in some form of another, because the amount of work I do that’s actually practical, like doing some preservation or something is very, yeah, five, ten percent of my time. So I would say yeah, probably some form of another, it’s like 90 percent of the time is some form of writing. So yeah, I don’t know.


Q: Great. That’s okay, a ballpark is fine. So, could you tell me a little bit about the forms or types of documents that you most often write?

 

A: I think that’s more of an overestimate actually, but let’s say it’s over 50 percent, yeah, because there’s a lot of reading as well. But let’s just say yeah.


Q: Sure, sure.

 

A: So the types of things I write – so let’s see, a lot of emails, I suppose there’s things like meeting agendas and minutes, what else? Oh, I was saying about the, what do you call it? The disaster plan, so some, oh and something that, so that’s– yeah kind of like policy documents, like internal policy documents that I write, and then, yeah like contributions to like the collection fund or [inaudible 4:27], cataloguing policy, or, you know, annual reviews, so those sorts of documents. And then other writing, I guess it’s not prose, but let’s see, if I’m cataloguing, or I’m doing the metadata that’s associated with that, and then so a little bit of writing in terms of, for promotional outreach so, submission that involves writing captions, you know, a bit of advertising material like Facebook, and Twitter posts to promote what we’re doing, so yeah, sort of various aspects–

 

Q: Yeah, really various. Yeah, and it seems like it’s a pretty good mix of internal and external audiences, is that a fair–?

 

A: Yeah, I mean I think– so it’s pretty much all sort of what we call– mostly all around the Marymount community, however, I suppose it’s internally intensive, library employees, like working documents or policies, and then an external audience would be, for sort of start with faculty but still part of Marymount, and then yeah, and then a sort of little bit externally if I’m going to– communicating with book sellers, or other libraries, or staff at other libraries that are part of the WRRC, the Washington Research Libraries Consortium.

 

Q: Right, okay, perfect. Could you walk me through the process, sort of start to finish, of a typical project or a recent project? Maybe the disaster plan, since that’s an annual writing project usually?

 

A: Um, yeah. What aspects of it?

 

Q: So everything from planning, to any research that goes into it, to drafting feedback revisions, anything that sort of happens along the way, from the beginning of that document, and it sounds like you probably starting with something, a draft, each time, but, to how it’s considered sort of final at the end there?

 

A: Okay, umm, I suppose it’s just a very small thing, but something I was doing very recently is we just changed the name of the room where our special collections are kept, and we’re changing the, so there’s lots of bits and pieces to do to sort of update that on everything, but one of the things to do is rewriting the policy for the room itself. It’s very short, like very short document, and I suppose what was involved with that– well I was looking at what it was existing, how it was originally, and then updating it how the room could be used now, so I [inaudible 7:32] a draft, [inaudible 7:33] my supervisor, who’s the collection manager, and then it also went to the university librarian to check. So what tends to happen is my manager tends to spot occasional grammatical errors, as well as content, and then it’s sort of sent for final approval and feedback from those two librarian, and then it sort of be sent back to me for edits, and [cross talk 8:10]–

 

  1. Perfect, okay. How did you know how to perform these types of writing? Everything from writing that metadata, to writing a disaster plan, to writing a caption for an exhibit – it’s a lot of different forms.

 

A: Ah, okay, yeah, I suppose– um, yeah I mean, I suppose I look a lot of how other people have done it. And so sometimes I look– so particularly with caption writing, I’ve looked at sort of style guides– there’s one I remember that I still occasionally refer to now, books produced by the V&A, Victoria and Albert Museum in the UK. And that was incredibly slow, because it just kind of, um, yeah, took me through each stage of the information that I was trying to like– oh yeah, because the caption was short, so it’s really important that what you’re putting into an audience and everything, so, yeah, so looking, yeah, examples elsewhere, and then, yeah, looking for yeah, writing guides if they are available.

 

Q: Is that V&A guide a public document?

 

A: Yeah, it is publicly available.

 

Q: Oh interesting, that’s cool.

 

A: And then, one thing I’ve found is the style– you know, obviously American English is different to British English, so it’s almost like, when I was first here, I made a really, really conscious effort to look at how things are written here, and try and write in that style, even though I didn’t kind of look at a style guide for American english. But then, I’ve sort of now being here long enough, by that it starts to come naturally because I’ve spent, because you’ve been here more than two and a half years, I’ve spent a lot of time reading American English, and then I started to pick it up and use it in my writing.

 

Q: And did you– sorry to interrupt, did you go to library school in the UK, or?

 

A: In the UK, yeah.

 

Q: In the UK, okay, right, right.

 

A: So yeah, can you repeat the original question? I’m losing track.

 

Q: Absolutely. How did you know how to do these types of writing?

 

A: Um, yes, I suppose looking, yeah, as I said, at examples as were, and then, guides if possible for writing a type of document. ‘Cause one thing I did find when I started working is that even basic things like, “How do I take minutes in a meeting?” I was like, “I don’t know how to do this!” So if there’s ever been any kind of like internal training offered, which sometimes there has been by previous employers, then I’ve done that. But normally it’s just looking at what’s been done before, and how it’s done, yeah.

 

Q: Perfect, yeah. You sort of just did, but if you don’t mind, describing a time in your career that you felt unprepared as a writer at work?

 

A: Yeah, this happens quite [inaudible 11:30] [laughter], like because it’s new, I don’t know, like a new style of um– yeah, I’m thinking of an example– I suppose I should say I’m also dyslexic, and this was just picked up when I was at university, so it’s also made me, perhaps like not particularly confident in my writing ability. But I suppose, as I already talked about, in terms of like writing captions, as it were, that’s something I need to do a bit of research about. So let’s see, cataloguing, there’s particular protocols for you know, how you should write things. In a way that’s easier, ‘cause that’s kind of set out in a kind of guide, yeah, cataloguing guidelines.

 

Q: There’s a specific form, okay.

 

A: Sort of like format and [inaudible 12:25].

 

Q: I see, okay.

 

A: And then, but yeah like also, just recently doing a policy document at work again, so just looking how they’ve written them elsewhere, and then ask for feedback, as well.

 

Q: Yeah. Have you found that you’ve gotten useful feedback in your current position?

 

A: Yeah, I have.


Q: That’s great, good. You mentioned the sort of head of the university library – is that the person who would typically oversee any writing that you do?

 

A: Um, no, it would normally be– [interviewee talking to interviewee’s child] Thank you! Um, it would normally be my supervisor, who’s the collections manager, yeah.

 

Q: I see, okay, perfect. And do they see everything you write? Or just certain documents?

 

A: No, it’s more, yeah, key things like for instance, recently I was making updates to the special collections pages on the university library’s website, so that would definitely have to go by my manager, just to okay that. So it’s those, yeah, kind of policy documents, and anything going on the website–

 

Q: So more formal?

 

A: Yeah, more formal.

 

Q: Yeah, okay, that makes sense. Um, I’m sure this varies a lot from project to project, but how long would you say you typically have to complete a writing project?

 

A: Um, oh gosh, yeah it varies a lot. It depends what it is, because it could be something that’s, you know, quite concise and it’s done in a Word draft, it’s done in a few hours, or it’s something that I’m chipping away at over a few weeks. So, but generally it’s quite short, like in the workplace, it’s usually quite short timescale that I’m working on something.

 

Q: Yeah. So now sort of looking back toward your undergraduate days, what types of writing do you remember being asked to do as a college student?

 

A: So I did a joint honors degree, which it may not be called that here. So I studied psychology and sociology, so I did notice that the, yeah the type of writing we did was slightly different. So the essays were, kind of came up in both. In psychology, there was lots of short, sort of small experiments we do, so they’d be written up as a sort of, yeah, report, like a very miniature research paper I guess. And then, I’m trying to think. Other writing– and then presentations, so writing for that, and obviously writing in exams, and then it would tend to be either essays in exams, or long questions, yeah.

 

Q: And in what ways do you think that writing prepared you, or it didn’t, for the kind of work that you do now?

 

A: Um, yeah, I don’t think it really prepared me at all [laughter] for the writing I did after university. I think I got a good basis of like, how the written style that those– ‘cause I was sort of aware of the differences between those two academic subjects, the writing style, and I think I had a good basis for how to write in those fields, and got familiar through reading journal articles, and you know, and the rest, but I don’t think it prepared me for workplace writing. ‘Cause again, you know, it’s usually quite, it’s not exactly technical, but it was academic writing, it wasn’t applied as in the workplace.

 

Q: Yeah, exactly, okay. What are the types of things that you wish you had learned or done as a student that you think would have prepared you better?

 

A: I think, so, I suppose like the different styles of work, covering some of the different, maybe different formats of writing that you could be asked to do in the workplace. So, you know, from the basics of, you know, how to, you know, format meeting minutes, and how to record that, to how to, yeah, different styles of ways of writing reports and writing like concisely, or, you know, writing in a way that, what am I trying to say, it’s I suppose like in plain, not like simple language, but like in plain language, because it sort of is– academic writing is not how, you know, you kind of, um, not that you’re writing for a lay audience at work, but you don’t need to overcomplicate it, you want to make it easy for people, not oversimplify, but make it understandable, so yeah.

 

Q: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.

 

A: So I think there was a lot of support at university in terms of writing for, you know there was like, like very good career center, in terms of like writing CVs or resumes, and like application letters. So that I had lots of support with writing on, so writing to get a job, but not so much the writing once you were in the job, yeah.

 

Q: Excellent, yeah. What would you say is at stake in your writing at work these days?

 

A: What do you mean by at stake?

 

Q: Why does it matter and what would be the consequence if you weren’t effective?

 

A: I suppose, one thing I suppose is being understood clearly, and I think I’m more aware of that because I’m British working in American culture, so I’ve become quite like, “Am I using the American way of writing something so there’s not confusion?” What’s at stake, I suppose– it’s not so much where it’s kind of like a dry policy document, but I think I am quite aware when I’m writing something, like for social media or a you know, a promotion for a little exhibition, I kind of think, I see other people’s examples, and I think, “Oh they’re really good at writing that in like catchy or like fun way,” and I’m like, that does not come naturally. And I was like, I don’t know if they just do it more easily, or whether they spend more time on it, but I’m kind of like, “Okay, I can write this dry policy document no problem,” but like actually experience in writing something entertaining or drawing people in, I don’t, yeah, that’s hard.

 

Q: That’s interesting, yeah. That actually leads into my next question, which is, what is the most challenging thing about writing in your position?


A: Yeah, I suppose that’s what I’ve just described. So when it’s not just kind of laying out the information but trying to present that information in a particularly appealing way in a written format.

 

Q: Yeah, that makes sense. You mentioned, in previous jobs, like training and workshops and things like that – has there been any other writing help that you’ve gotten, either formally or informally?

 

A: I suppose formally, I did have a bit of help at university, not really so much my masters but my undergraduate, ‘cause they sort of picked up on the dyslexia when I was at university, and there I had some one-to-one support, so I could go and talk to someone about, like, you know, essay plans, and they check some of my written work, then, you know, was it clear, was it, you know, kind of, yeah, not so much content, but looked at my main argument [inaudible 21:10] and that sort of thing. Other– and then informally, I suppose just, yeah, I ask people occasionally just to sort of check over what I’ve written.

 

Q: And is that usually for clarity too, not for content, or the other way around?

 

A: It’s normally actually for– yeah, it’s normally more for, that it’s clear, not that it’s, not so much content, because I just sometimes, even with you know, using like Microsoft or whatever else to write things, I’m sometimes, like I don’t see, I have sometimes difficulty seeing my own mistakes, so I often, yeah if it’s something important, I’ll ask someone to just quickly flip through it.

 

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

 

A: I suppose I’ve– good question. I think it’s like, I still feel like it’s very much like a work, like I’m still working on my writing at work, it’s something, ‘cause I feel like there’s often this new thing, new audiences or something that I’m writing for, or in a new format, so I’m sort of, I feel like I sort of teach myself along the way of how to write for it. I don’t know particular report or for a particular audience, um. I think I’m a lot less shy now of just sort of saying, “Hey, I’m dyslexic, please, I don’t see my own mistakes, will you just like have a look?” And people being very receptive to that, and being helpful. I suppose not being shy, [inaudible 23:15], you know. Where it’s like, “Oh God, if I make a mistake, I’m going to get caught out!” And then, you know, you like not really care– I suppose as you get older, not caring so much being judged for how you write, so yeah.

 

Q: That makes a lot of sense, yeah. I think a lot of people have that, the older you get, like, no matter whatever you see is your writing failure, it seems like almost everyone has some way that they’re worried about everyone seeing this thing that they don’t feel like they do well, yeah. To what extent do you think writing is valued in your organization?

 

A: I think, um, yeah, I think writing is, I’d say it’s quite highly valued, because it’s so much about the work that the university– and it has both in the teaching, and then all the sort of support side that goes alongside that. It’s amazing, I mean, I almost find it surprising they don’t offer more guidance, even if, for writing styles, because it is so fundamental to people’s jobs, that there isn’t, I mean my last employer in the UK was very good, and they had lots of other resources that you could use for guidance in all sorts of aspects, you know those kind of like soft skills of having the work of whatever it be.

 

Q: Was that a university too, your last employer?

 

A: No, it was a not for profit, it was called the Royal College of Nursing, so it’s like a professional membership organization.

 

Q: Okay, okay. Interesting. And our last little set of questions: so how would you have defined successful writing as a student versus now, and would you say that you are a successful workplace writer?

 

A: Um, the first part of that question, I suppose yeah, it was slightly different successful writing as a student, because that was focusing on the– [interviewee referring to interviewee’s child]… It was almost like, yeah like the content was very important, not that it isn’t now, but you know, had you found the most recent, most relevant research, that you put into essay, so you really, you know so they’d almost like, not that, you know, spelling, punctuation, and grammar wasn’t important, but that was just like one aspect in lots of other criteria that then could form your writing. I suppose you get that feedback, you’d get a detailed grade of the different, you know, how you’ve met each requirement, um. And then repeat the rest of the question?

 

Q: Sure, and how would you define successful writing in your current position? And would you consider yourself a successful workplace writer?

 

A: Um, successful writing in the workplace I suppose does what it intends to in that it’s understandable for the audience that is intended to read that, whether that’s internal or external. Something I was trying to use to be, without leaving information out, but to be as concise as possible, and not put any unnecessary information in if it is needed. ‘Cause I’ve come across that a lot,  at my current job, some incredibly lengthy documents that no one’s ever going to read because they’re so long, and there’s not even a decent summary at the beginning, so, and the last bit was am I a successful writer?

 

Q: Yeah.

 

A: Um, I’d say yes and no. I think, I think I can write well, I just think it takes me, it just takes me quite a bit of time, and this is the same as when I was a student at undergraduate or masters level. It was like I, you know, I could get very good grades on assignments, but I really had to put the time in. I can’t kind of just rush to complete it. So if I’m under a lot of time pressure, there’s [inaudible speaking to child], I mean like with anyone, it’s not going to, yeah, it might not be as good. But I think given the time, and like I was saying, like if I can go away and research a particular style of you know, how to write a particular thing, and look at examples as well, and look at how they’ve done it before, and then drafting, and get someone to check it, and you know, make final edits, I can do a good job. But if it’s something we don’t have time to do that, then it’s harder to write as well.

 

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Marketing Director

Business, Education

Marketing Director, Educational Software Company

Date of Interview: February 24th, 2017

Transcript:

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

A: I am the senior field marketing manager for analytics and student success initiatives at Blackboard, and I graduated seventeen years ago [laughter].

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

A: My primary job functions include setting up campaign management for all outbound marketing campaigns around our analytics and student success products at Blackboard. So that is developing strategy, go-to-market strategy for those products, lead generation, demand generation, awareness campaigns, event management, there’s some writing involved, there is some contractor management involved as well.

Q: Great. How frequently are you required to write, and if you could maybe estimate in an average week, what percentage of your job requires writing?

A: I would say 20 to 30 percent of my job requires writing. We don’t have copywriters in house on staff. We do utilize them for larger projects that require a lot of writing, pages and pages and pages. Normally what I’m doing is writing either campaign briefs, or strategy documents, or powerpoint presentations. But then also I’m responsible for some of our outbound copy, as well, that you would see appearing in marketing emails, as well as smaller brochures or flyers that might appear at a trade show or that a salesperson might leave behind at a sales presentation.

Q: Great. And that 20 to 30 percent that you mentioned, does that include email communication or no?

A: Yes.

Q: Great, perfect. What forms or types of writing or what kinds of documents do you most often complete? You mentioned a few of them there.

A: A lot of my time is spent writing internal communication. Explaining what types of campaigns are going on, explaining strategy, those types of just internal business types of documents. But a lot of my writing also involves that outbound communication that our prospects and clients are seeing, and that’s primarily in the form of marketing email communication. There’s some writing that occurs or you’ll see on what we call data sheets, or a marketing flyer, a sales slick, that sort of thing. More often than not, I tend to prefer to let a professional writer handle some of that, but if I need something quickly and cheaply, I’ll do it myself.

Q: Could you describe the primary audiences that these types of writing are most often reaching and the primary purposes of these types of documents?

A: Sure. The audiences range from technical positions, or persona as we call it, within higher education institutions, primarily open enrollment style institutions, community colleges, state school systems. Also then more higher level persona within those institutions: presidents, provosts, senior directors, and vice presidents usually involved in enrollment, student success, student retention, sometimes academic affairs as well.

Q: And the purposes of those documents are primarily sales oriented?

A: Sales and marketing oriented. Either making someone aware of a product or a solution or an offering, making them aware of a change or an enhancement if they’re already a client or a user of that product and solution, or just general awareness of what Blackboard is doing in a particular area, particularly around student success or student retention.

Q: Were you familiar with these types of writing when you were a student? And if so, how did that affect your approach to them in the workplace?

A: Not in that particular type of writing. I never imagined, especially when I was a student, that I would be writing to that particular audience. And funny enough, now that I think about it, I don’t know exactly what audience I was planning on writing to. I know I was given the impression that I’d be writing to a business audience, but at that time I didn’t know exactly what that meant and who those people were. I found throughout my career that as the audiences change, you have to adapt to those audiences and sometimes change your tone and sometimes change the way things are presented, depending on what the audience is.

Q: And you mentioned as a student, sort of what you were imagining as– did you study marketing and business as a student?

A: I studied journalism and public relations. So there was a little bit of a connection there. At the time I thought I was going to be in public relations, even though I didn’t really know what that meant. I got into marketing because I was advised that that is one of the easier ways to get into public relations. Nobody got into public relations right after college, especially from someone who was going to a small college in the countryside of Pennsylvania. So to find myself in marketing with then what would gradually evolve into a role of public relations, and 17 years later I’m still in marketing [laughter]. It still hasn’t happened. So there was a lot of instruction around crisis management, more journalistic style of writing, more about just sort of corporate overviews or how a corporation might be doing something well for the environment, and how you would position it for the press, you know, those types of things. I never really really took any courses or study around marketing writing or even how to write internally within business, regardless of what business that would be.

Q: Okay. Could you describe your writing process, including how tasks or assignments are given to you, or sort of appear in your life, any preparation you take before writing, and the steps from the start of the project to a final version of a piece of writing? And if it’s useful, you can choose one specific kind of–

A: Well so I’m involved heavily in my own strategy, so I do a lot of planning, and I’m aware of what’s coming up in terms of my output over the next, let’s say 90 days. I know when I’ve got a brochure coming up, I know when I have an email campaign, I know when we have a big event coming up that we’re going to need collateral for, and so I plan that way and I look at what’s coming up and what I’m able to do myself, and what I’m going to need help doing. I do a lot of research in terms of what has been written before for these audiences. I take a lot of time and I go back, and I look at things that have done well. So we have resources here and members of the team who are able to catalog those best practices. Whether it’s an email that it performed well, or a digital ad that performed well, or flyer that is really hot and everybody loves to receive it and there’s some action taking off of that. So I’ll look at those things, and I’ll study how our people are positioning the communication toward that particular audience, because I’m not a member of the higher education community, and I’ve never been a member of the audiences that I’ve written to, so I have to immerse myself in that world and try to understand that person. And then you sort of take a look at exactly what is the instance, not every bit of communication’s going to be the same – an email doesn’t sound the same as a flyer, doesn’t sound the same as a boilerplate company description, doesn’t sound the same as something that you would put in a powerpoint presentation – so you got to think a little bit about what the occasion is and what you are trying to get across. Then also there’s the instances where I am trying to drive somebody to do something, whether it’s fill out a form, or give me their contact information, or download a study or a white paper, or sign up to attend a webinar, or if I’m just telling them that Blackboard is going to be at an event and you should come and visit us and it’ll be really great. So there’s all these little nuances to that that you have to think about and you have to plan through because it’s not all the same. But then keeping that common thread of this is how you talk to a president or a provost at a higher education institution who’s running a state school system, that sort of thing, you’ve got to keep that in the back of your mind of course.

Q: Absolutely. And then in terms of, if your documents go through revisions or multiple drafts, how do you approach making those changes or improving from one draft to the next?

A: I’m really open to it because it’s a lot of trial by error for me. Regardless of what industry I’ve been working in, that’s the way I learn what works best. I am by no means an expert and I am by no means a copywriter, and I’ve found over the years that as resources have become more and more limited– where when I started after college, every business I worked at had a team of business copywriters who were trained to do what a lot of us marketers are doing today. So you would rely on them and not really even deal with revisions or, you know, there might be some stylistic changes. I’m more than happy to have somebody look at my work, especially somebody who’s more keenly familiar with who I’m trying to communicate with, and give me feedback, because otherwise I’m just sort of making it up as I go and hoping for the best, and that’s not what I really want to do.

Q: Gotcha. So those comments that you’re often seeking, they tend to be about audience?

A: Audience, yeah absolutely. I mean surely, if I’m working on something long enough, I will miss a word that I misspelled, or some grammar, or something like that that I wasn’t familiar with, and that’s always helpful as well. But a lot of times, the revisions are more audience related. Like, “Oh, this would be more effective, or this is not what we say, and this is–” because what I’ll try to do, I think I tend in my writing, particularly to this audience, which has been new to me for about a year now, I’ll overcompensate a little bit. So I’m talking to somebody in the academic community, so I’ll try to make myself sound smarter than I am, and so the writing comes across fake and phoney. A president of a university is a person too, and they’re going to respond differently to something that sounds fake and phoney than something that’s a little bit more organic. So people will tone it down a little bit, and you know, “Back off of that a little bit, or maybe you rephrase this, and you don’t have to sound so stuffy about this particular research study, it’s not that big of a deal,” and so that’s been interesting as well. And I think that applies to any of the industries that I’ve worked in before. I think I would tend to overcompensate to try to make it sound a little bit more professional. But I’ve learned over time, these are people too, and they respond just like any other human responds to something, and there’s a time and a place for that too. But there’s also a time and a place to sound like a normal person and communicate like a normal person, so try to put that into the writing.

Q: That’s really interesting. Do you mind telling me briefly about the previous industries that you’ve worked in?

A: Sure, oh wow, there’s been a few. So previous to my current role, I was writing to lobbyists and lawyers and very senior officials at government contracting offices. So there’s, again, a whole other level of pretension that I felt like I had to deal with, and I needed to sound like they– and I needed to talk like a lawyer, and I needed to sound like a lawyer, and that’s just wasn’t necessarily the case as well. They also were human beings, and they respond to things like a normal human being does and you have to keep that in mind. But I also had to make sure that things were professional and very streamlined. These are people who are very busy, and they have their busy, busy day, and you have to consider that as well in terms of what you’re putting in front of them. Are they really going to read the whole thing? And how to get the most important points in front of them quickly. I think I learned that the most in that role. And prior to that, I was working in the wholesale capital asset and commercial goods industry, which is a whole other beast altogether. And all those people have a whole other style that you have to sort of get in line with. These are people who go to flea markets and swap meets and buy bulk truckloads of merchandise to resell on ebay. So that was a different style and a different tone and I had to learn how those people communicated with one another. I relied on people in the industry or people that I was working with to help me do that.

Q: Great, that’s really helpful. How long do you typically have to complete a writing project, one of the more formal writing projects?

A: Well, we’re just all so busy all the time that I would like more time to do what I do. I probably spend a lot less time than I should on some things. Particularly if it’s just an outbound marketing email communication, I’ll probably write it the day or two before it’s supposed to go out, which I don’t advise anyone to do, but that’s just sort of the nature of the game sometimes because there’s so much going on. So with something like that, I feel comfortable enough that I can do that, have somebody look at it, have somebody from the email marketing team say, “Hey, maybe you should make it only one paragraph, not two paragraphs, that works better for us in terms of email performance. It should have more than three links in it, or it needs a better call to action.” And we can get that done quickly. If it is a series of emails or if I’m writing landing pages for a webinar series or promotion or something like that, I will take additional time and I’ll build in the time to have other people look at it, and spend time with me, and test it out, and try it out, knowing that there probably will be a good bit of revisions going back and forth. But the funny thing is there that people that are reviewing it aren’t necessarily the official reviewers of that copy, you kind of have to make do and you have to say, “Hey, can you look at this, I know that you’ve done something around this topic before. Can you take a look at it? Or do you think this would work?” So you’re just sharing it with colleagues, you’re sharing it with other members of the marketing team, sometimes you’re sharing it with salespeople who are more of the subject matter experts. There’s no real official copy reviewer here, and I haven’t had that in years and years, I’d say. You make do and you try to work it out the best you can, and get the help that you can, until you get to the point where you feel comfortable enough releasing it to the public.

Q: That’s super interesting. Do you feel like it’s a better system?

A: No, no. I loved having a team of copywriters who I knew were trained and who were able to adapt their writing style and their writing skill to any industry and any audience, because that’s what they were brought in to do. I do miss that, I miss that a lot, because there’s sort of that level of comfort there that’s gone now. I’ve had things go out with spelling errors, and I’ve had hell to pay for some of that because you work at some of these organizations and you’re basically embarrassing the entire organization if you send even an email communication out to 300 presidents of a university and it has a spelling error in it and you’re supposed to be working in higher education – it’s ridiculous. It happens now because there’s no one who is officially assigned to making sure that that doesn’t happen. You just have to do the best you can, but there’s so much going on all the time that stuff like that gets missed. I don’t think stuff like that got missed when there was a team of writers who was responsible for making sure that that didn’t happen. And I do miss that.

Q: Interesting, okay, yeah. Can you tell me a little bit about what is at stake in your writing?
A: Reputation, for one. You are the voice of an organization always, you’re representing an organization always, and it goes back to what I was just saying – if you make a mistake or something doesn’t come out right, or you’re saying something wrong, it’s really the organization’s reputation is at stake. Nobody knows who I am or where that email came from. A lot of times, I’m writing as a ghostwriter for somebody. I’m writing as the vice president of so and so, and their name is on the email, my name’s not on the email. So you’ve got to think about that always and that’s when it gets really tough if there’s a mistake. And there’s mistakes a lot of the time now because I’m not a professional writer, we don’t have professional writers. And then there’s also the transactional business aspect of it – I’m trying to get somebody to buy something at the end of the day. And so what I’m writing has to be informative enough, impactful enough, interesting enough to get somebody to do that, because that what I’m getting paid to do at the end of the day.

Q: How would you say – I know there’s no one specifically designated to oversee the quality of your writing – but how would you say that, if not your boss and the people around you in the organization, judge the success or quality of your writing?

A: Well, we look at performance metrics really. At the end of the day that’s all that matters to a business, I think. Outside of reputation, they’re going to be looking at the hard numbers. Did an activity that required writing result in new leads being brought in, and new business being brought in? That’s what we look at it. And then we look at, okay, what worked and what didn’t work? And then you sort of filter it back down to the writing. We look at a campaign in a holistic view when something does really well, and then it sort of filters back down later. That’s when I go back and I look at the things that did work, and I’m like, well, “How did I word this? Why did this work? Was this call to action really effective? And I should try to use that again.” But at the end of the day, the business is looking at did it bring in leads that convert to a sale.
Q: Have you had any writing training or education since graduating from college?

A: No. No, I mean, informally I’ve worked with some really, really smart people, and again, I think the review process is a training in itself. But no, definitely all informal and nothing that I had had the ability to even– and I never even considered going out and seeking that out. That might be a good idea [laughter].

Q: What challenges did you face when you entered the workplace as a writer in those sort of early years right out of college?
A: I think the fact that there’s so many different styles that you need to consider. The way you write an email or a memo to a CEO is not the same as the way you would write a letter or an email to a coworker or a colleague or a counterpart. Then an email communication is different from an online web communication, and that wasn’t laid out for me. I hear a lot about students today, who are especially in the workforce – people are seeing that students are having those same challenges, that their writing style is almost the same across the board, no matter who they’re writing to, and no matter who’s reading it. And I do remember that being a challenge, and I remember having a tough time pivoting from the way you wrote your assignments in school to writing business communication. It wasn’t the same at all and nobody made that distinction for me at the end of school as I was preparing to graduate and set out for a career. It was more verbal communication that we spent a lot of time on: “This is how you interview, this is how you answer these types of questions, this is how you talk to your boss, this is the proper way to talk to your colleagues,” and things to avoid and pitfalls and things like that. But never really prepared to, “Here’s how you write an email–”. You know, I was thrust into the world of email marketing at 22 or 23, and never had written a business email before or back then, we had fax marketing as well, so I didn’t know how to write a fax marketing that was effective. And then having to present information about how those things did to your boss, that’s also a different communication style. So I think the different styles of written business communication was something that was left out in my education.

Q: That’s really interesting. Can you think of practical steps that you took in those first few years to acquire those skills, or to shift those skills?

A: It was a lot of trial by fire, it was a lot of mistakes that I’ve made. Again, that was a time where I was working with really smart people whose job was to support writing efforts, and working with those people and learning from them, and learning from my colleagues as well. There was people who had been there for a long time, my bosses at the time just say, “No, that’s not how you do this,” or “No, this is what an effective call to action is.” I didn’t know what a call to action was when I graduated college. So learning as I went on the job, on the job training I guess.

Q: Are you able to identify, and you sort of talked about this already, but are you able to identify specific changes in your writing between college and now? And if so, what do you attribute this shift to?

A: Practice. The practice – doing it again and again and again – and I think the more I do it, the better I get. I am by no means a very, very good business writer, but I know enough to be dangerous, as they say, and enough that I can get an email out and get some people to register for a webinar if I need to. At the end of the day, no one’s going to be asking me to write a white paper or an extensive study on something, nor do I want to, because that’s not what I’m good at and I recognize that. One of the positives of not having a team of writers to rely on is that I do get to flex that muscle a little bit, and learn a little bit, and keep at it, so that I don’t lose that skillset when I need it. So just doing it myself and learning as I go, and making those mistakes, is the thing that keeps me active with my writing. And then it keeps me interested in writing outside of business as well. Now and again I’ll find myself doing a little bit of writing outside of the business world just for my own enjoyment, and kind of break away from that sort of stodgy, very structured business tone that you have to have sometimes.

Q: We talked a little bit about ways in which your academic background did not prepare you to write in the workplace. Are there, on the other hand, things from your academic life that you felt did prepare you for writing in the workplace?

A: No, I think it was a lot more preparation to get into the workplace. I go back to– they taught us how to write a resume, they taught us how to write a cover letter, they taught us how to write a thank you note, all the things that people did back then when they were looking to get into the workplace. I don’t know if that’s happening today. I think it was a lot of effort spent on making sure we got you out of here, and got you a job after you graduated, and then you’re on your own after that. And that’s the way I truly feel. A lot of my training was in speech communication. I took speech classes, I didn’t take writing classes. Which, now thinking back as a journalism student, I think I took the standard English and things like that, but there wasn’t, from what I can remember, a specific course of writing that I took to help me prepare, definitely not business-focused writing. I wasn’t in a business school at all. And there’s things I would do differently for sure. Oh gosh, if I went back, the things I would do differently, in terms of my education and what I’d prepare myself for, but I am grateful for the instruction that I got because it got me a job two weeks after graduation. I don’t know if students are doing that these days. But that’s what I feel the emphasis was on. The emphasis was on we will prepare you to do whatever it takes to get you a career outside of this institution when it is time for you to leave.
Q: Interesting. We’ve mostly answered this question, but in what ways were you unprepared as a writer as you entered the workforce. Is there anything that you’d add that you haven’t touched on here?

A: Again, I go back to business writing, how to speak to a certain– I didn’t spend time learning different audiences that different industries might be marketing to or selling to. My first job out of school was working at a publishing company that specialized in executive-level newsletters to companies in the Fortune 500 and that sort of thing. Nothing in school prepared me how to write a communication for that type of person, nor the next type of audience that I worked with. Again, I wish I had a little bit more of an understanding of the different types of business audiences that are out there that are receptive to different types of marketing and selling, because it does change. And then knowing the industry that you’re in and what you’re trying to sell. At that time I was trying to sell newsletters about wireless communication and the gaming industry and the cable industry. I knew nothing about those things and you’d have to pick that stuff up because you have to sound like you know what you’re talking about. There was never any preparation for anything like that. And again, it was all just sort of learning about it as I went.

Q: Two more questions. Would you say that you’re a successful workplace writer?

A: I could be better, I could be better. Sometimes during revisions and proofing and things that I get back from people who’ve looked at my work, I’ll go, “Oh geez, I should’ve known that,” or “Geez, why did I do it that way?” or “Oh, that makes so much sense.” I don’t feel like I do it enough to really, really, really, really, excel at it – I do it just enough to get by. Again, like I said, nobody’s hiring me to write a report a white paper, but I’m deadly with an email [laughter].

Q: And what skills would you say are most central to writing in your specific role?

A: Understanding the audience. Understanding what are they looking at all day long? What are the things that are effective in terms of communication for them? What are the things that bring them in that are interesting to them? What is their day to day struggle like? What does their day look like? What do they have to deal with all day long? So understanding the best way to communicate with them that is a way that doesn’t get lost in all the other clutter and the things they’re looking at all day long, whether it’s on the internet, or whether it’s on their own internal communications, or other marketing that they’re getting, or sales messages that they’re getting. You have to understand how to stick out in the fray of all of that, and that it takes a little while to understand that. And again, it’s trial by error. Luckily, when you’re in a marketing organization, you’re constantly being judged in terms of was your output or your activity effective? And so we’re looking at that all the time and we’re making changes based on the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of certain types of communication. So I get instant feedback in terms of how something did that I was responsible for writing, and then we take the time, as much as we can, to understand what went right and what went wrong, and then how to make changes for the next time. And I like that, it’s a fun part of the job actually.

Q: Great, thank you so much.

A: You’re welcome.

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Instructional Librarian

Education

Instructional Librarian, University

Date of Interview: February 7th, 2017

Transcript:

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

A: Sure, so I’m John Danneker, I am the director of the Odegaard Undergraduate Library at the University of Washington in Seattle, and I graduated from undergrad, I’m assuming that’s what we want in this case, in 1998. So it’s coming up on almost 20 years.

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

A: Sure. I’m the administrative department head for a large, on-campus library here at UW Seattle, so I am basically tasked with making sure that we do everything in terms of the needs of the undergraduate students for the university, and their experience in the teaching and learning realm in particular with libraries and other resources. Basically the job responsibilities is to be the eyes and the ears for anything that is going on undergraduate-related, and figure out ways that the libraries can work within that. I have an incredibly talented staff of almost 50 people here within the building, libraries-wise, from librarians to undergraduate students who work with us to make that get done.

Q: Great, thank you. Could you describe the primary audiences to which you write in your job, and the primary purposes?

A: Sure. They’re varied, actually. Audiences for me can be anything from internal staff emails – I write a lot of those – and those are not only within my division, but then across the entirety of the libraries, and the libraries has about 350 employees. So some of that might be things geared towards all of them, it might just be localized, and then we have other partners with whom we work regularly to support the students. So they might be people in learning technologies and IT, or somebody in the university writing centers, or things like that. So those tend to be emails, occasionally memos, if it needs to be something that is a little more formal. I write a lot of letters, recommendation-type letters, and/or other memo-type things of that nature, and that’s probably a lot of my primary writing, I would say. There are occasionally sort of position arguments that need be made as well, about various high-level decisions because of the number of people that we serve and the size of the building that I’m in. So occasionally there might be some of those types of things as well.

Q: Great, thank you. You talked a little bit about this in describing the audience, but what forms or types of writing, or what kinds of documents to you most often write?

A: If you were to break it down just in sheer volume and number, I would say that emails are probably the first, and then some sort of reports, be they kind of committee reports or task forces or those types of things. Those tend to be the two most frequent things that I’m writing.

Q: Great, okay. And were you familiar with these genres when you were a student? And if so, how did this affect your approach to them when you got into the workplace?

A: You know, it’s really interesting – as a student I think you use email for different things potentially, but it’s also true that over time it feels like it’s become more formalized into, even if this is an email, this is like a more formal way, it’s not like a social media-ish type of way of communicating with people, although I do a lot of that as well, and even professionally we do a lot of that as well. So I don’t think anyone really taught me how to structure businessy-type emails and things. I think a lot of that was being in the workplace, having good mentors, having good people who modeled things well, where it was like, “ah, okay, I see.” And learning things like– when you’re writing kind of an argumentative paper, it’s one type of presenting your evidence in one way, but then also there’s the politics sometimes that come out of the workplace of, you know that there are certain things that you and this person know, and you may or may not choose to make all of that evident within a particular email or something like that, because you want to phrase or shape how things are going to be perceived based on the audience.

Q: Great, excellent. How frequently are you required to write? If you had to break down percentage-wise in a given week, maybe what percentage of your job is writing?

A: Wow, that is a great question. I would say easily 50 percent at least. There’s a lot of other communication – so I have a lot of meetings, but probably the written time that I spend actually writing or consuming writing or drafting writing and things like that, of all types, whether again it’s the emails or reports or whether it’s even academic papers that I’m working on, I would probably say it’s about 40 to 50 percent of my, any given–

Q: –great, okay, okay. I’m going to ask you a little bit about your writing process, and I guess it’s probably helpful to think about maybe one of the more complex or longer things that you write, one of the reports, or one of the cases where you’re trying to bit persuasive, but maybe you could just tell us a bit about your writing process, including how those assignments or tasks sort of begin, how you’re given them, or how you develop the need for that, and then what steps you take sort of all the way to completion.

A: Sure. So a couple that come to mind – we have things like annual reports that we have write, of course it’s a big division within a big sort of support unit, and so that is a process of– it’s an assignment, if you will, an assignment that comes down from certain parts of the library system, and also with the general knowledge of, “these are the types of things that you need to be doing annually”, just to make sure that people are aware. The audience for those tends to be internal, but it is also sometimes used as an external document. It could be for fundraising purposes, it could be excerpted, it could also be things that are being used to make persuasive arguments with different departments as far as funding that’s not fundraising, but more like departmental funding requests and things like that. And also working with partners, I’ve found this kind of document to be really, really useful. So it’s a process that takes months usually, in that people are starting it early, and I think people– because I’m not the sole author of this, this is more of a compiled document, and so a lot of my work within that is making sure that I have division heads within my building who are responsive to deadlines, seeing what they need, working in terms of getting the sheer data available, and making sure that we are able to compile all of that, and giving them also a structure has been really important because we have so many different divisions. So what we tend to do is to have a– this is going to be responsive to this particular framework, in our case it happens to be a strategic plan framework. And so each division within my library is then writing things based on that known framework. And then it’s my job, ultimately in the end, to write kind of the forward and afterword and types of things, and then also find that common voice. So it’s writing but it’s also editing at the same time, and I find it really challenging but fun [laughter]. But even with the number– because you have so many different voices coming in, and that’s really great, but then you want to try to make it feel like a through-composed document ultimately in the end. So from start to finish I would say yeah, it probably takes a couple of months, and that’s like everything from data gathering, it’s not constant writing clearly. And I, like anyone else, I am a crammer, so even though I know that a deadline is say, the end of August, for this or whatever it might be, I’m going to get most of my best work done, let’s put it that way, within the ten days before a deadline. Although I have learned over time that just for my own personal style, I am not somebody who can work up to the deadline. So I tend to be a– I set myself a deadline that is several days in advance of the actual deadline, then I throw it away and don’t think about it for a day or two, and then I come back to it and I say, “all right, now semi-fresh I going to see what I can do to clean this up a little bit.”

Q: That’s great, that makes a lot of sense. What do you usually find when you do that? Does your perspective on it change significantly in that day or two period?

A: It does. I’ve found that sometimes for me it’s finding the common threads, and because again– and what I’ll oftentimes do is take those pieces, make them into like, “Okay, I’m going to find the voice that I want to use throughout all of this,” but then it may be that you need– it’s like finding good research that is then going to help lead your writing, and kind of make you realize the holes that are there, that, “Oh, this hasn’t been addressed at all, this could be my new– there’s a new piece of this that I’d want to do.” So for me, it’s related to that but different, in that it’s kind of what are all of these, like what are the things bubbling up? What are the themes that are inherent in this, but only when you see it as a corpus? And then when I can see these individual pieces all coming together, it helps me to be able to think, “Ah okay, here’s my, this is my hook, this is my angle for this particular document this year.” And interestingly, that’s probably a process that I use with a lot of other long documents that I write. When I’m doing an academic paper of any length, for publication, if it’s a study or if it’s– and I tend to be, when I do those, I’m not somebody who writes a lot of, I don’t do as many data-driven studies as some might, mine tend to be thought pieces or those types of things. So I’m using sources in different ways, and so it’s oftentimes kind of melding and pulling these ideas together and then thinking, “What isn’t here? Or what is the idea that I can pull out of this that seems to be the overarching, main topics for people?”.

Q: Great, thank you. Obviously this is going to vary from document to document, but what would you say is at stake in your writing?

A: Wow, yeah, you’re right it could vary so much. I mean, it could be everything from good relations among staff, depending on how I’m writing to various departments and things like that. It could be the failure or success of our budgets for two years, based completely on how persuasive certain pieces of an argument are and how much– I’ve learned, especially here in this present work environment, being at a R1 institution, and where we have a lot of evidence-based and data-driven decision making, that I can feel all I want, but just saying that “I feel this way” or that “we feel this way” is not going to necessarily make a hill of beans difference to some people who need to make those final decisions. So I think that that’s always an important piece to consider. It’s not life or death, no one is living or dying based on what I’m writing necessarily, but it tends to be very relationship-oriented and very partnership-oriented. I could misspeak, and completely sever or damage a relationship for years to come. There’s sometimes if it’s an email or something like that, then I have to do things like think about the various angles. And again, life is political sometimes, even when you don’t necessarily want it to be. So it’s making the best case for what we need to be doing in terms of what the student needs are, what the faculty needs are, and those kinds of things. So figuring out, I guess occasionally if there’s a small bridge that you have to burn, but I try not to do that ever.

Q: Right, right, okay. Does anyone oversee your writing?

A: Oversee is a really interesting question. So I answer directly to an associate dean within the libraries, and I feel that we have a great relationship in that if I have a particularly sticky or thorny thing that I’m trying to figure out in my writing, I could definitely consult her. I’m really lucky in that we happen to have the Writing and Research Center for the university, the main writing center for the university, is here in our building, and a lot of our research librarians are also at least minimally, if not fully trained to be writing tutors. So I happen to have a lot of people on my staff where I can say, “Here’s what I’m trying to do,” or, “Can we talk through this particular thing?” or whatever. So I’m in a pretty privileged position in that way, because I realize not a lot of people have that access to that necessarily. I have kind of a direct person who’s been my direct supervisor, but then at the same time I have a lot of people that I would consider colleagues that I can bounce my writing off of.

Q: That’s helpful, that makes a lot of sense. How would you say that the success or quality of your writing is judged or assessed?

A: That also sort of depends on the type of writing. I think that when I’m writing sort of the standard emails and partnerships and working among our staff and things like that, I mean it’s do we get the results that we need to in order– again, I always try to base it– for me, it’s having the central focus of the needs of the students and faculty and things like that. So ultimately, is what I’m writing and what we’re planning or doing serving their ends? If that accomplishes that, then I think that that’s pretty good writing. And also the same thing with say, performance evaluations for staff, I’m responsible for a lot of those types of things, either authoring them directly or being a reviewer for others who are authoring them. So, is that staff member going away with a real good sense of how their performance is affecting a larger whole, are they seeing the system [?15:22] , and are they an acting member in that, in terms of playing a role in setting goals and thinking about where they fit within the organization moving forward? So if we do that, and if we have people doing that, then I say, “Okay, this is successful, this is a good attempt at this.” Then, you have your other things like obviously a peer reviewed article is– people are either going to like it or they’re not, based on the review, and then you’re going to have to do some editing work and things along those lines. Sometimes those are just completely external and harder to pin down in terms– as you know all too well [laughter], as you are in this realm all the time. So I think it just varies greatly.

Q: Okay, that’s great, okay. Have you had any training or education specifically in writing since you’ve graduated from college? I know you have a graduate degree in library studies, but how much, if any, actual focused on writing, either within that or separately have you had?

A: I might be sort of the odd duck here, because I haven’t been in a classroom setting formally for writing learning, or I can’t remember any specific job trainings that I went to or anything like that. However, in a previous position I was very, very involved with an integrated writing program with librarians working with writing professors, and a freshman writing program in particular. So for me, I learned so much through working in that program, just because it made me think a lot more about the arguments that we make, certainly as students are trying to figure out how to make an academic-based argument, but then it also becomes a very applicable thing and transferable for them if you make it so. I guess sometimes they need to make it a little more obvious, and I think the shortcomings of having that kind of upbringing, if you will, into this is that people can sometimes get pigeonholed into thinking the world is going to function like this. But you can always learn how to have different powers of persuasion, if you will, or how to employ different research more effectively. I think we’re seeing it on a national scale right now, with questions of information and data and media literacies, right? And getting people to understand the value of those sorts of things. So some of it’s been formal, some of it’s been through association with other people who were doing it more formally, and others has just been kind of information people are, I think in some ways, they have to be thinking about. Because it’s what we do that enables that kind of communication, ultimately in the end, so that we can’t be thinking of ourselves in a vacuum, because ultimately if somebody wants information, and they’re coming to us for that, they’re going to be using that to some end or another. So thinking about their final products and what they’re trying to achieve is always an important thing.

Q: Great, yeah, absolutely. Getting back to your sort of writing process, is there anything that you do to prepare to write, whether that’s an email – obviously you spoke to this idea of making sure that the researcher data is available depending on what kind of longer form piece you’re working on – but are there other preparations that you take?

A: Yes, particularly if I’m responding to a prompt. I’ve learned over the years to make sure I understand what that prompt is, and understand what the pieces are that somebody is really looking for. Especially since, as you can probably tell, I’m long-winded [laughter]. I know that sometimes I need to be a little more thoughtful about presentation of the idea, and so I will try to do things like either idea mapping, or sort of thinking about– I draw a lot, so I actually, one of my more interesting things, at least for me it’s interesting in the writing process, is a lot of people draft, and then do a lot of revision, and draft and revision of– I don’t tend to do that quite as much as some other folks, so I do almost visualize things in a way. I will sometimes draw ideas and sort of how they flow from one another, and then that helps me to structure. It’s not as often with emails, say necessarily, but it could even be something like that, where it’s like, “All right, this is a high stakes important thing, and I need to make sure that I hit all of these points.” So dropping those things in the right order– another place where this works great for me is on, like I said, I write a lot of recommendation letters or I have to review those kinds of things, and thinking about the ways that the presentation of the facts or data are going to be the most impactful to that person I think are really–

Q: That’s super interesting, especially the drawing component of it. That’s really interesting.

A: It’s so weird, it’s something that I’ve done for years, and it has always worked for me. And I also, I walk around a lot, and that’s so weird. I’ve already told our staff this when I moved to this job, that sometimes when I’m working on a hard writing problem in my brain, the best thing that I can do is to almost activate a different part of my brain. Because for me, writing feels like one thing and I have to be in the right mode and those kinds of things, but if I can go into sort of like a monotonous task-oriented kind of thing, where it’s just something that I do over and over again, that will sometimes actually help my brain to then structure things. It’s more about structure, I think, than– because initial ideas and brainstorms and those kind of things I tend to not have as much trouble with; I think it’s sometimes the opposite, it’s like limiting it down and not wanting to go too broadly into something. Then that process is kind of like, doing something completely different helps me then to start thinking about structures of how something might be most effective.

Q: Got it, that’s really interesting, okay. How long, you said with annual reports and things like that, it might be a several-month process. But for a typical writing project, what would you say is the average amount of time you have to complete a writing project?

A: I would say average amount of time from start to finish? Like, so the deadline– ?

Q: From start to finish, yeah.

A: –or how much time does it actually take? I think the majority of what I do probably takes less than a half an hour. Of that say 40 to 50 percent of my life, if you were to break that down further, I’d say of that 50 percent, the vast majority of that, maybe not vast, but at least a majority of that is a lot of communicative emails and that sort of thing, or relatively short bursts of reporting on things. So for me, it tends to be a lot of those are within a half hour time range, sometimes an hour. Some of that stuff I can just know if I set aside this amount of time, I’m going to be good on it. But then there’s others that you do a chunk of it, and then you have to come back to it, and it’s going to be something that’s going to take a long time.

Q: Okay. Do you have any recollection of specific challenges you faced as a new workplace writer?

A: Yeah, I was not very good at– I think early on I had to learn how to process things like data that were available in such a way, to use them to inform what I was writing and then present them in a way that if it needed to be the most important thing, that that was then made the most important thing. I tend to gravitate towards long structures, and I’ve had to learn that that doesn’t work for people nearly as well in a workplace setting all the time. So if I do have to write a 25-page annual report on something, then it’s probably good to have a one-page, quick hit summary as well – that executive summary kind of idea – I didn’t understand any of that. I was just like, “Well why wouldn’t people just figure that out from, you know, it’s like I took all this time to write you the 50-page version. Can’t you figure out what it’s like–?” [laughter] “Oh, that’s precisely why they can’t figure out what’s important!” Because when you’re writing 50 pages, everything is important to you or you wouldn’t be writing about it for that length of time. So then having to find the ways to distill that down was really, really important.

Q: That’s great, that’s great. Do you feel that there are any challenges that you still face as a writer?

A: Oh yeah, certainly. I think you always have to be thinking about tone. Tone is really interesting, especially when you live in a very fast-paced, social media driven kind of world that we do all the time. Finding the right ways to phrase things that are, like say for instance, if something needs to have constructive criticism, you need to find a way to do that that is responsive to the person and again, makes whoever the reader is feel like they’re a part of that whatever it is that you’re doing, without alienating anybody. I think that that’s always a challenge right now, is still finding ways to– just because some of the external factors are affecting that person when they opening their emails, or whether they’re getting that report that you’ve written that they’ve been waiting on or whatever else, so that’s definite. And I think I’m always trying to refine ways to visualize things a little bit better for people. I’ve tried to work with incorporating a lot fewer words in certain documents and finding different ways to make things obvious. That could be a data visualization, it could be charting, it could be a number of different things that really will help people to see – or different audiences if there’s multiple audiences who might be looking at something – finding the ways to make that resonate with them I think is always a fun challenge for me. Going back to that annual report idea, it’s going to look very different for my associate dean, who is the person that I have to report it to, and then here’s the cover sheet, sort of, bullet-point list. But then if I’m taking that same thing and extracting it for a fundraising event that we’re doing, yeah I know people are not going to sit there and read, but they’re going to be really intrigued by, “Here’s this cool little snippet of information with this amazing photo that goes along with it that shows these students doing this cool stuff in this building.” So it’s almost the rhetoric of the nonverbal, or not verbal, but I guess the non-textual.

Q: That’s interesting, that’s really interesting. Other than – you mentioned this idea of sort of not being able to pair down or be as concise when you were a new workplace writer – but are there other big changes that you see in your writing style, generally, as you’ve evolved as a workplace writer?

A: Well that’s definitely one of them, I already mentioned that one, but that’s definitely something that I see. You know, to be honest with you, I think over time you learn different formats and different structures and you then, like I have kind of my tried and true way that I tend to approach certain types of documents. An example would be performance evaluations and things like that, where you know that this is something, that you are building on something that already exists, and the way that you – especially if you’re doing that for say, I don’t know, ten different people – the way that you look at that across the entire body of those, and if you really are kind of in the position that I am where you’re making sure that you have a staff who are all moving towards particular goals, or you want people to be thinking not only for themselves individually, but thinking as a whole group along certain destinations, then I think making sure that you find ways to get those things in with every person is really, really important. So I have kind of templates, for lack of calling it anything else, but it’s not an actual template, it’s more like how this document will be structured to make sure that everyone is getting some pieces of this. It’s what they individually have achieved, and writing as much about that as I can, but then also relating that, and taking those pieces that I get from them, and saying, “This is great in that it looks at this larger goal or larger vision kind of thing that we have.” Finding ways to work those in are really, really important, and I do a lot more of that now than I did say, 20 years ago.

Q: Gotcha, interesting, interesting. So in a sense it sounds like you are sort of building up these tools for yourself in order to develop your writing, like to make yourself more consistent and to make sure that you’re achieving these things that you want to achieve.

A: Yeah, that’s the way I– I think that’s so important right? When you have so many different people, so many different personalities that you’re working with, who are working with you. We’re so lucky to have so many different personalities, right? One size is not going to fit all, so the way I look at it is I tend to talk about tools in a toolkit frequently. Even in writing a similar type of thing for a group of different people, I’ll fine-tune this a little bit for this individual versus that individual, or something like that, or knowing the personalities behind the things as well, like is this person going to respond better to this, or to that? Even though the basic idea is the same, but thinking about the ways that different personalities are going to interpret or play into that.

Q: Right, right, okay. Two more questions: the first is, would you say that you’re a successful writer in the workplace, and why or why not?

A: Yeah, I think I’m pretty good at communicating. Our folks need to all feel that they’re part of a larger whole, and that needs to be again, like I said, grounded in something that is bigger than just what we are doing. So I think that I am successful particularly in doing those kinds of things, in making sure that what we’re doing is based in the best possible experience that we can be creating for our students or faculty, staff, whomever those people are. I think also it really, again, it’s also sometimes dependent upon the audience reception, and the way that different people may take different documents and things like that. But generally speaking, and I think largely speaking, it seems like when I’m writing something, it’s something that I’ve had more thought time with, and as a result, it tends to be a lot more persuasive. Personality is great, but I tend to be kind of somewhere like a forced extrovert, kind of introverted person, a little bit. My job is very external and working with a lot of people all the time, but I think I do some of my best work when I actually have a chance to not immediately respond to something, but then sit back, think about it, and then that’s where I think those effective communications are.

Q: Great, great. And the last question: what skills would you say are the most important to writing in your specific role?

A: Systems thinking is way more important than I ever realized it would be. So realizing again the various readers, and being able to craft whatever it is that I’m writing, and it may be something as subtle as language differences or something like that that I employ when I’m writing. I think that so much of the effectiveness of the writing is largely again dependent upon the relationship that you already have. If you’re forging a new one, it’s one thing, but if it’s a relationship that you already have or you’re trying to move into a different direction or something like that, a lot of it is soft skills I guess. But it’s more people-based, like understanding who the person is and how they’re going to take this, if I’m trying to be persuasive. It might be something else, like you know, if I just really– I’m also, I try to be very forthcoming in what I’m writing if it’s like, “I don’t know what I’m doing here and I need some,” you know? I don’t tend to be somebody who sugar-coats a lot, I’m not going to beat around the bush on something like that, I tend to be more direct. So I’ll just be like, “Hey, I have this idea, I really want to know what you think about this,” or, “I have no idea what to do about xyz, what do you think are some things we might be able to do in this situation?” And then kind of gathering that back as well I think is really something that’s been very important for me in my particular role in what I do.

Q: Excellent, thank you so much!

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