Yesterday I introduced you to a graduate who does a lot of writing in her position with a university-sponsored institute that promotes palliative care as an integral part of palliative care. The genres and media in which she writes are varied, as are the audiences she must address. In this posting, I focus on her writing processes, on how she applies what she learned in our academic program, and on what she thinks we must include to improve that program.
The subject saw herself as “between the generation of people that still have to compose things all on paper and the generation of people that can completely do everything on computer.” Her “ability to write with a pen on paper is rapidly declining” but still used to take notes when collaborating with the director and as a way to initiate composition, a kind of sub-conscious invention device. “I write things down on paper and then I don’t ever refer to it again. It’s just that the process of, I mean, because of the way I learned as a kid, that the process of writing something out on paper is helpful, and then I’ll just turn and start typing things on the keyboard or whatever.” Regarding software, she commonly uses Word, Excel, and Power Point, and Adobe Photo Shop to alter the photos she incorporates “a lot in my writing.” The subject has moved from Page Maker to In Design, and from Dreamweaver to “a new content management system, I don’t know what that will be for the web.” Because the university’s communications and marketing department is not “flexible and fast enough” she often consults with “friends who are graphic artists” when preparing a publication and believes she will have to take classes on publishing. Her challenge is to “package and pre-flight” her files so they are ready for immediate printing. She recommends that professional and creative writing majors do much more with Photo Shop and In Design. “Even if in the end they don’t end up having to use it in their job … I don’t know how you could not end up having to interface with people that use it. … If you have at least some clue you can talk with the graphic design people in a more intelligent way, and you hopefully can keep yourself from getting taken advantage of.”
Regarding the value of her undergraduate writing experiences, the subject credited her time as a writing center tutor for helping her focus on the “macro level” while overcoming her tendency to “get super stuck in the minutiae of writing, in all of the little technical things…” She was grateful for the different genres she practiced in diverse courses like Advertising Copywriting, Technical and Scientific Writing, Grant Writing, and Composition and Rhetoric. She also singled out literature courses like World Literature, Women in French Literature, and Literary Criticism for helping her “conceptualize and make connections between different types of authors or different bodies of work …” Although, as a Professional Writing major, she initially thought such course requirements were a “pain… it definitely rounded out some space for the way that I think, and I think that it helps my writing.” When the interviewer pointed out that designers of our writing programs wanted to help students become good editors by exposing them to both rhetorical and literary theory, the subject said “I probably edit at least as much as I write. And I’m continually amazed by how many people just can’t write. …I’ve gotten stuff from people with Ph.D.s from huge Ivy League schools and their writing is just a disaster. It’s not that they’re not smart; they don’t take their time, or they just aren’t good at pulling things together in a cohesive manner. …A lot of them are faculty.”
Going back even further, the subject remembered developing a field study of “homesteaders” in College Writing I and doing more of an “in-depth research thing” on the same subject in College Writing II. “I don’t know why I connect that at all to what I’m doing now, except to say that I think to a lot of people it seems strange and a little odd, and yet, to me I thought it was really great, and so there was this sense of wanting to share and let people know how cool this culture was, or these people that were living in this way and I think you can draw a lot of connections between that and palliative care, except … for me palliative care has the ability to do so much for people when they are living with serious illness and I feel like there’s this whole world of people that need access to it and don’t know about it.” In the first-year writing courses, the subject began to recognize writing as a form of action that would allow her to have some direct effect upon the world. To sum up, the subject hoped our undergraduate writing program would offer greater practice with a variety of writing technologies and in executing persuasive “making-your-case writing,” including journalistic op-ed pieces. “You see in different ways all the time how important it is, not even so much to say things well and say them clearly … but also to tell a good story. If it’s not a good story, if the story doesn’t make sense and doesn’t make somebody feel it, then I find it doesn’t really matter.”
The research techniques the subject used as an undergraduate and still uses now include drawing articles from library data-bases and visiting web-sites, both governmental and organizational, to double-check information. She had some experience while in school evaluating web-sites, and also doing surveys and phone interviews. Still, cold-calling people for information in her previous and current positions remains a challenge for her. “Sometimes you introduced yourself with an e-mail to arrange a phone time. There definitely was a lot more; you just had to be bold and it took me a while.”