I work with a lot of professional writers. They just don’t know it yet. Most of them are trained biologists. Some of them have Masters’ degrees or even PhDs in biology. They did quite a bit of writing while they were in college, and they always figured it was merely an academic exercise, that one day they would be free to work with the species that they loved.
They imagined themselves in the stream tagging fish, in the forest observing birds in their natural habitats, or walking across a meadow in Montana distinguishing among 3 different types of prairie grass. Little did they know that apart from occasional details on wildlife refuges, the majority of their careers would be spent in offices pushing paper, and the writing skills that they considered a necessary evil are now the primary means by which their mission as conservation biologists is won or lost.
Sadly, the courses that they had in biology and even the supplemental training that they’ve received in government regulations have not always trained them to piece together an Endangered Species Petition, a Biological Opinion, or a Section 7 Analysis.
- How do you compile hundreds of pages of raw data into a single unified report?
- How do you address a member of Congress, a conservation organization, fellow biologists, and the general public simultaneously?
- How do you draft a document efficiently while attending conference calls at which the target keeps moving?
- How do you craft an argument when you know that some of the data is insufficient and existing resources are inadequate to fill those gaps?
- How do you handle uncertainty in a changing world?
I never thought that I would deal with any of these questions. I am not a scientist, and I never wanted to be an English teacher. I consider myself a hard core academic. And apart from one course in Methods of Teaching Composition that was designed to prepare me how to teach writing, I never even took a writing course. I always got by on wit and verve, a certain natural way with words that I guess I was just born with.
I did not consider writing as a craft until my third year of graduate school when I took a seminar in Shakespeare and Dr. Mack pulled me aside after reviewing my paper proposal. His conclusion was uncompromising. Ms. Baker, he said, your prose is eloquent, and it serves to disguise all of your logical inconsistencies.
And with that, my apprenticeship began. So I started to develop tools—the same tools now available on my website, which I use to teach government biologists. Among them is a chart outlining the differences between mature and developing writers. Basically, mature writers collaborate with other writers and divide the writing process into a number of discrete tasks.
Those tasks are outlined in another tool called the Writing Cycle. In my course, 8 Weeks to Writing with Clarity, we drill down into each task with prompts, exercises, and suggestions for each stage. And finally, I use the Writer’s Triangle to analyze a writing situation at the outset.
Since founding Corporate Writing Pro on May 24, 2011, it’s been my mission to expand this work beyond the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. One way to do that could be through my Twitter account @CorpWritingPro. So Thursday, April 5, at 4 p.m. ET, expert editor Shakirah Dawud of Deliberate Ink and I will co-host a TweetChat called #WrMatters.
A TweetChat is a collaborative experience where a group of people come together to ask questions and share advice about a topic of mutual interest. It’s easiest to follow a TweetChat using the URL http://tweetchat.com/. There, you can focus on one conversation without all the other noise that tends to be on Twitter.
#WrMatters will be held once every other week on Thursday afternoons at 4 o’clock ET. We are open to anyone whose profession requires writing daily.
Please note: We are not a group for creative writers or book authors. This group is meant for professionals, primarily subject matter experts but also corporate communicators, who understand the importance of clear communication to their mission.
Our conversations will be open to a variety of different topics. Your questions and comments are welcome; however, we will try to focus each session on one topic of interest. The Writer’s Triangle seems like a good place to start, since that’s the way we analyze any writing situation.
The part of the Writer’s Triangle that tends to give writers the most difficulty is audience, so our first session will focus on that angle.
- Who do you envision as your audience?
- How do you make that determination?
- Do you have more than one potential audience?
- If so, how do you decide who to write for?
- How well do you know your audience?
- What are some of the barriers to understanding your audience?
Join me and Shakirah on April 5th at 4 o’clock ET on Twitter by including the hashtag #WrMatters in each tweet to discuss these and other questions pertaining to your writing. We hope to see you there. Because communication is key!