This post begins a profile of our second interviewed Public Relations graduate. This subject is something of a “two-fer,” as she went on to obtain an M.A. in English at Slippery Rock. While a graduate student she also gained certification to teach secondary-level English, and at the time of the interview she had just completed a term-long job at North Allegheny High School north of Pittsburgh, substituting for a veteran teacher who had taken a leave. “North Allegheny Senior High does semester-based courses, and I had an English Literature IV with the seniors, and a Composition III for the eleventh graders.” With her decision to pursue a teaching career, it appeared that most of the consciously persuasive writing she was doing currently involved job-seeking.
The persuasive and/or public writing she offered as samples had been completed while she was an undergraduate or graduate student, but they also represented successful experiences in a variety of genres. For one thing, she had published two articles in a community-based magazine—one written as an undergraduate described the elephant herd housed at the Pittsburgh Zoo; the second completed while a graduate student and concerning itself with a rescue shelter for abused or abandoned exotic pets. Another sample was a paper aimed at communications professionals, written with a Slippery Rock professor and presented at the national conference of the Broadcast Education Association. The subject, before receiving her undergraduate degree, had served an internship with the communications office of the Pittsburgh Zoo. One sample from this experience was a press release and the second an article that appeared in the zoo’s newsletter. Finally, the subject supplied us with her answer on Literary Criticism written for her graduate comprehensive exam.
These samples also indicated experience in writing for a varied readership. The two articles in the community magazine claimed, according to the publication’s web-site, an audience of around 20,000 affluent, well-educated suburbanites, while the zoo news release was aimed at “typical zoo goers that would come to the Pittsburgh Zoo, and maybe anyone else who was interested in sea turtles that might not necessarily come to the zoo because … I think they had sea turtles long ago but they don’t anymore.” The newsmagazine article had a more narrow audience of zoo members. The conference paper “actually won first prize in the division we were in,” while the exam response clearly was successful in gaining a pass from one professor.
This audience diversity has made the subject alert to stylistic adjustments she would have to make. For instance, regarding the article on the animal rescue shelter, “for a general audience, you don’t want to completely make them feel so sad that they don’t really want to go to the place because they think that they’re going to see malnourished animals.” To illustrate what she meant, the subject read a sentence from the article: “’Pumpkin the lion was found in a dog crate that was made for an animal half her size.’ … Pumpkin the lion, the web site goes into further detail about how she couldn’t walk, four months afterwards her bones were sticking out, her paws were deformed. I just figured telling them a dog crate half of her size was enough information to show them how horrible it was.” The subject was very aware of the different style demands of the news releases (“… more active style sentences, shorter, to the point, because if the newspaper’s going to run with it, they’re either going to send someone out to cover it, or just take a few facts and throw it into their newspaper.”) and the magazine articles (Adopting a “conversationalist tone,” with greater sentence variety, and “make it sound more as if it’s a story than just a block of information like a press release.”).
The subject was also aware of how prior knowledge might influence both style and content. A press release wouldn’t have the wealth of information as something written for zoo workers or American Zoo Association members or researchers conducting studies, for example. The conference paper featured “a lot more jargon” about technology and categories of students under study. Written with a Communications department professor, that paper required that she “throw in sentences here and there,” necessitating that she “kind of mock _______ writing so I could try to fit it in, and so it wouldn’t be blaringly obvious when he would have written something and I would have written something.” Because she was the English graduate student, the subject also took on the role of “copy editor.”