Government biologists, engineers, and economists tend not to think of themselves as writers, despite the fact that they spend most of their time producing lengthy, technical documents. And while you will readily join a society of other scientists, you may not consider the benefits that a professional organization of writers or editors could offer.
Professional organizations create spaces to engage their members in regular conversation about a specialized topic. They host discussion forums online. They organize conferences, both national and regional. And they ask for feedback.
Professional organizations also publish newsletters with tips, advice, and information. They offer learning opportunities, like webinars and courses, often at a substantial discount. And they suggest books and reference works that are targeted to the work you do. Outside of training, a professional organization provides the best opportunity for you to grow as a writer.
Perhaps most importantly, professional organizations need your voice. Government writers produce as much, if not more, writing than all of print media each year, and they face some of the most complex writing challenges in the world. Yet by and large, you struggle in the void while so-called “professional writers” work cozily in their own niches. Expose them to the problems you encounter every day, and challenge them to help you find solutions.
I’ve compiled a list of professional organizations that serve writers and editors like you. Realize that this is just a starting point. You may not be an exact fit for any one of these organizations. But begin with one that looks appealing to you. I think you’ll be surprised at how much you will gain from membership. And I know how valuable your contribution will be from the unique perspective you bring.
ACES: American Copy Editing Society. Journalists with swagger. ACES was founded in 1996 and holds an annual conference, as well as several regional conferences. Although they were founded to serve newspaper journalists, their mission includes copy editors of all stripes. So if you work at the management level and edit lots of documents, this is an organization for you to consider.
ACS: American Chemistry Society. ACS represents scientists, professors, and students. They offer an online networking forum as well as regional chapters for discussion and collaboration. They have a weekly magazine as well as a research database, with limited free access to members and a range of insurance plans.
AESE: Association of Earth Science Editors. AESE features an online quarterly publication as well as annual conference.
Center for Plain Language. Connects trainers with companies. Frequent events are held at the National Press Club in Washington, DC as well as online.
CSE: Council of Science Editors. Formerly CBE, Council of Biology Editors. Publishes Scientific Style and Format, now in its 8th ed. Opportunities for online engagement are limited, but they hold an annual conference, have an authoritative library, and offer excellent training resources.
ISMTE: International Society of Managing and Technical Editors. ISMTE is devoted to the world of peer review. Their focus on managing an editorial office and producing a journal in a timely, ethical, and professional fashion could provide insight to managers and editors within the government who are working within a chain of command to publish large documents within a regulatory framework.
NAGC: National Association of Government Communicators. Particularly if you write difficult, sensitive correspondence or offer presentations, you should consider joining NAGC. NAGC was specifically founded for external affairs, so anyone who interacts with the public is eligible to join. The organization will also allow you to network with government officials at the state and municipal level so you can improve collaboration with local partners.
NASW: National Association of Science Writers. Formed in 1934, NASW works with the writers who report science to the media. If you want to hone your layperson writing skills and write more frequently for your hometown newspaper or even a national magazine, this is the organization for you.
PCS: Professional Communications Society. PCS is a division of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the “I triple E.” The Society helps scientists communicate more clearly through collaboration, best practices, and training. They offer a quarterly journal, training podcasts, and an annual conference.
STC: Society for Technical Communication. Founded to serve a) people who write technical documents, b) people who write instructional manuals about how to use technology, and c) people who use technology to publish their work. Most government writers fall into category (a). Among other publications, the Society produces a journal, a magazine, and a blog. And they offer “seminars, online certificate courses, and webinars” for members, some at a substantially reduced price, others for free.
Do you have a favorite organization? Be sure to share it with us here!