Thank you for your interest in writing training by L. Michelle Baker, Ph.D., The Conservation Writing Pro. Given that writing is a discipline requiring long-term instruction, all of the following are considered introductory webinars. For more substantial training opportunities, please visit Training.
These online sessions are 90 minutes apiece, for 40 students maximum, unless otherwise noted. Each webinar includes interactive exercises, a handout with reading and writing examples, and suggestions for further practice. Volume discounts are available.
For availability and pricing, please contact:
L. Michelle Baker, PhD
37 Thayers Gull Drive
Martinsburg, WV 25405
Tools for Writers – the Writer’s Triangle and the Writing Cycle: For some people, writing is instinctive; others need a system. And even those with the gift of gab can benefit from a process that sets a strong foundation for a document and keeps the writer tightly focused on each stage of the Writing Cycle. This module introduces writers to two foundational tools: the Writer’s Triangle and the Writing Cycle. In the first, writers will gain a basic understanding of the purpose of their document and its effect upon decisions, policies, and regulations. They’ll also learn to appreciate the variety of audiences that may be reading their work and select an appropriate tone. Next, writers will be introduced to the six stages of the Writing Cycle. They’ll gain an understanding of which activities are appropriate to which stage and get some practice brainstorming, writing, and editing with a variety of different media. Objectives: (1) Ground your document in purpose and context; (2) write to your audiences in an appropriate tone; (3) work systematically through the Writing Cycle one stage at a time.
Grammar & Mechanics Refresher: Can you name the eight parts of speech, define a dangling modifier, or distinguish between a restrictive and a nonrestrictive clause? The sad fact is most professionals cannot. The good news is most professionals don’t need to, until they’re ready to move to the next level. If you want to become an editor, if you want to publish in a scientific journal, or if you want to develop your staff, you need to talk about the craft of writing and understand reference works dealing with grammar, mechanics, and style. This module will give you the vocabulary and resources that you need to move forward as a professional writer and editor. Objectives: (1) Differentiate between grammar and style; (2) identify parts of speech and functions in a sentence; (3) differentiate between various reference works and their functions; (4) edit sentences for grammatical and mechanical errors by asking pertinent questions and using reference tools.
The Finer Points of Usage: Lovers of language and pedants of punctuation will have all of their pet peeves put to rest as we explore the distinction between underlining and italicizing; discuss the right and wrong ways to introduce, punctuate, and construct lists; infer the difference between commonly confused words; and distinguish between comma rules and comma myths. Unfortunately this module will not answer all of your questions because some aspects of language are changing as we speak. Where the guidelines are in flux, we will review some of the recent changes and take a peek at those looming on the horizon. Objectives: (1) Distinguish between several pairs of commonly confused words; (2) understand the origins of the en dash, how it differs from the em dash, and whether it still matters; (3) distinguish between comma rules and comma style; (4) learn to recognize the mistakes that are not; (5) develop best practices going forward for improving usage.
Five Tips for Clearer Sentences: So you’re faced with a sentence that you know is bad. How do you fix it? Too often we cross it out and rewrite it. But there’s a better way. When you understand how sentences work, including the elements that allow sentences to read smoothly (or not), you’re able to quickly diagnose and correct the problem areas in sentences without completely rewriting them. These five tips will help you become a faster, more efficient editor, whether of someone else’s work or your own. Objectives: (1) Put familiar information first and unfamiliar information last to keep readers steady; (2) keep subjects and verbs close together to avoid confusion; (3) consider emphasis; (4) combine short sentences to improve flow; (5) include the occasional long sentence for persuasive power.
Paragraph and Sentence Structure: When readers are confronted with large technical documents, they tend to skim through the paragraphs, reading the first sentence of each looking for topic sentences, and constructing a mental outline of the whole. Then, as they delve into the detail, readers use key terms and transitions to follow the writer’s logic and absorb the document’s meaning. Yet most writers are so consumed with putting the content on the page that structural features like topic sentences and transitions are lost in the process. This systematic, mechanical module focuses on revision processes that allow the writer to create a reader-friendly document with paragraphs that are unified, developed, and coherent and with sentences that flow smoothly and clearly from one idea to the next. Objectives: (1) Identify, assess, and apply the three elements of paragraph structure; (2) combine organizational strategies with paragraph development; (3) use transitions effectively; (4) differentiate between independent and dependent clauses; (5) coordinate and subordinate ideas to improve emphasis and logic.
HEAT Your Paragraphs Up!: Even in a document that is intended to be objective and impartial, data are used to arrive at a conclusion. Between the two lies interpretation. The flow of logic from the data to the conclusion often seems so natural, so obvious, so simple that the writer fails to include it. But that is precisely the part of the document that causes the most disagreement. Consider this: In every trial, both the prosecution and the defense are limited to the same set of evidence. It is interpretation alone that convinces the jury to rule in one side’s favor to the detriment of the other. A simple paragraph structure called HEAT will help to ensure that the data in your documents are analyzed to support the document’s position. Objectives: (1) Identify the thesis statement of a document or section; (2) distinguish between evidence and analysis; (3) analyze evidence clearly for the reader; (4) connect the hypothesis to the thesis in a paragraph.
Go with the Flow – Add Transitions: If you’ve ever had a draft returned with the words “choppy,” “doesn’t flow,” or “irrelevant” blotting the margins, this module is for you. Such comments are frequently found in writing that lacks transitions. By learning to identify and use transitional words and expressions, you can improve the flow of your ideas and demonstrate their significance to your document. This session will identify the common problems caused by missing transitions. We’ll review different types of transitions from the blatant to the subtle, practice using them smoothly and logically, and discuss the advantages to consciously considering connections. Objectives: (1) Identify problems caused by a lack of transitions; (2) understand and employ a range of transitional words, expressions, and alternate methods of connecting ideas; (3) avoid common transition problems, including errors in logic or misplaced emphasis; (4) improve critical thinking with the use of transitions.
Who is Doing What to Whom? Narration as a Revision Strategy: Smart revision is no easy task. Trouble spots are simple to find, but tough to correct. Far too often, we toss whole paragraphs, rewrite from scratch, and end up with just as many problems as before. If you’re ready to stop reinventing the wheel, you may wish to ask, who is doing what to whom? The answer reveals subjects, verbs, and objects that magically fall into place as coherent sentences in logically ordered paragraphs. This module will help you to identify draft material that can benefit from revision. You’ll learn how to ask and answer simple questions that yield helpful clues to sentence and paragraph structure. You’ll practice putting these structures into place, clarifying your own writing as well as the work of others. Best of all, you’ll save time and energy as you learn to revise more efficiently. Objectives: (1) Identify sentences and paragraphs that could benefit from revision; (2) answer the question, who is doing what to whom? (3) put the answer into subject, verb, and object positions to create coherent sentences.
Editing for Substance: Editors are by their nature detail oriented. Yet the first step in an effective editing process is a substantive edit, which looks at the structure, tone, and content of a document. This process is most effective when copyediting and proofreading tasks are set aside as a matter of focus and time management. In this module, editors will have the opportunity to practice the three elements of a substantive edit. Editors will look for content, tone, and structure and will also receive strategies for focusing their attention away from copyediting and proofreading, while still communicating any major problems in those areas with the writer. Objectives: (1) Master the three elements of a substantive edit; (2) focus on a substantive edit to the exclusion of copyediting and proofreading; (3) communicate a substantive edit to the writer without negating the value of later copyedits and proofreads.
Telling Your Story: Scientists like data. Readers like a good story. When it’s time to compile your research into an article, you might need help translating your taxonomies, geographies, average egg production, or fish kill into the basic elements of narration: compelling characters, descriptive settings, and an intriguing plot. This module explores the differences between fanciful, journalistic, and scientific storytelling. It will help you identify the basic elements of a narrative within your own research data. And finally, you’ll learn how to weave the storytelling elements in and out of your sentence structure so that everything from your abstract to your procedures to your discussion is clear and compelling. Objectives: (1) Differentiate between storytelling techniques appropriate to fiction, journalism, and scientific writing; (2) identify the characters, setting, and plot within your own research; (3) weave narrative elements into parts of sentences; (4) craft an abstract that tells a clear, compelling story.
The Final Polish: By the time your paper is ready to be sent to a journal editor, you’ve seen it so often you can recite whole passages from memory. Yet at this crucial juncture small errors can become the most glaring. Pieces of the document to which you’ve never given a second thought, such as the placement of a chart or figure or the manipulation of headers and footers, suddenly become all important. This is the last leg of the race. Here, the true professional is distinguished from the amateur. This module will show you how to view your manuscript afresh, how to separate yourself from the content over which you have labored to see the document as an editor or a typesetter might. You’ll be introduced to the tools common to the publishing industry, including an array of style guides and usage manuals. And we’ll delve into your word processing program to clean out the software junk that can prevent a manuscript from functioning as it should as well as providing you with checklists to be sure all your i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed. Objectives: (1) Do a mindset and a space check to prepare for the final polish; (2) select appropriate reference works for the task; (3) divide the final polish into four segments: (a) proof the layout for headings, margins, and hidden manuscript characters; (b) proof the tables, figures, and charts for mathematical errors; (c) proof the literature cited for mechanical errors; (d) proof the text for grammar and mechanics.
Providing Meaningful Feedback: A professional editor can afford to slice and dice a document before publication; a manager cannot.If you want to establish an ongoing working relationship with your writers that actually works, you have to take the time to not only edit the document but diagnose the reasons the edits were necessary. This means thinking more like a teacher and less like an editor. In this module, we’ll show you how to develop your writing staff so that they understand the editing process and so that they can make improvements to their own writing and ultimately reduce your editing load. Objectives: (1) Approach the document with the mindset of a teacher rather than an editor; (2) learn to diagnose writing problems instead of correcting them; (3) develop language and behaviors that are transparent to your writers.
Effective Editing: Every writer knows how painful the editing process can be: hours of effort, returned with hundreds of tiny red marks that feel more like stab wounds than corrections. Editors, on the other hand, share one common goal: a document that communicates clearly to the reader. And while some editors remain distant throughout the process, others may also wish to foster collaborative, collegial relationships with their writers and perhaps train them to become editors themselves one day. This module will change the way you edit by shifting your focus away from the rules and towards the review, the relationship, and the reader. You’ll be reminded of how difficult the writing process is, particularly for someone who is processing new or complex information and balancing that with regulatory requirements. You’ll learn to differentiate between a substantive edit, a copy edit, and a proofread, and you’ll receive checklists for each stage of the process as well as suggestions for reference works and tools to help you tackle each. We’ll talk about how to use track changes in a more effective manner and do some role playing so you can practice the skills to which you’ve been introduced. Objectives: (1) Determine a mindset appropriate to the document being edited; (2) realize the challenges our writers face; (3) gather the tools we need to be careful editors; (4) establish language and behaviors that will allow us to be transparent; (5) give feedback in ways that writers will respond to and learn from. (NOTES: a) Unlike Providing Meaningful Feedback, this module includes substantial discussion of editorial techniques. b) This is an abbreviated version of the 2-day course, Keys to Effective Editing. Organizations in which managers spend a significant amount of time editing large technical documents should consider investing in the 2-day course, which will benefit both managers and staff.)
Develop a Writing Collaborative: Mature writers never work in isolation but collaborate frequently. Collaboration itself looks different depending on the writer, the document, and the context. In some situations, this may mean scheduling a coffee break with a co-worker to brainstorm a new idea. Or it could involve a week-long conference with co-authors, alternating between whiteboard think-tank sessions, breakout meetings, and periods of solitary retreat. When reviewers are involved, constant communication is a key element of success. But reviewers vary in the stage they prefer to be consulted—from issue identification to copy editing—and new team members may have difficulty determining when to call for help and when to plug away on their own. This session will cull sets of best practices from university researchers, corporate professionals, and government workers to provide you with a variety of scenarios that you can then tailor to your own office’s needs. Objectives: (1) Explain the value of collaboration to co-workers at all levels; (2) distinguish between types of collaboration appropriate to different stages of the writing process; (3) distinguish between types of collaboration appropriate for those with different roles on the project; (4) establish a collaborative plan for large documents that makes the best use of your office’s resources.
Clear Correspondence: Interacting with colleagues isn’t easy. Doing so in writing is even more complicated. Add government policy and regulations to the mix and even the most well-intended message can wind up feeling too stiff, too technical, impersonal, or just plain obscure. Whether you’re starting your government career or you’ve been in public service for decades, this course will help you correspond effectively, with a clear purpose. Your readers will feel that you respect them, their time, and their intelligence. And you’ll get faster, more concise replies when you learn what to ask for and how to ask it. And because English class was a long time ago, you’ll get a few refreshers about language, like where to put subjects and verbs to get the most “punch” out of your sentence, or how to use a comma, a semicolon, and an apostrophe. Finally, you’ll have the chance to air some of your pet peeves so that we all know what is and what is not appropriate in an online context. Objectives: (1) Identify your audience and select an appropriate tone; (2) provide sufficient context for your audience to understand the correspondence and take the action you are requesting; (3) clearly state the purpose of your correspondence and the action you wish your audience to take; (4) keep subjects and verbs close together and at the beginning of the sentence; (5) use commas and other marks of punctuation correctly; (6) establish some ground rules for email etiquette in the workplace.
Grammar & Style Reference Works: Do I need a comma in this sentence? Should this word be capitalized? What is the difference between that and which? No one has all the rules memorized. But every serious writer should have a library of good reference works handy. This module provides a brief tour of a variety of grammar handbooks and style manuals, invaluable resources for anyone who wants to improve their writing or editing skills. You will learn the difference between the hard-and-fast rules known as grammar and the variety of writing choices called style. You will be given an overview of several grammar handbooks, including typical layouts and answers to common writing questions. You will also see how to use the Government Printing Office Style Manual. Finally, you will learn how to use Word’s formatting and grammar features more effectively. Objectives: (1) Distinguish between grammar rules and style choices; (2) use a grammar handbook effectively to answer common writing questions; (3) use a style manual to format documents correctly; (4) use Word’s grammar features effectively.
Write Compelling Copy for Twitter and Facebook: If you’re a business professional and you’re responsible for a Twitter or Facebook account, you’re facing a number of challenges, not the least of which is wading through all of the advice offered by so-called social-media experts. Your goal is to share quality content quickly, easily, and directly with your primary audience. That shouldn’t be so difficult. And yet for many professionals, it is. This module applies some basic writing principles to these two new social media platforms, weaving the mechanics of Twitter and Facebook into the old standards of journalistic writing like the 5 Ws, action verbs, and personal pronouns so you can write more effectively and more efficiently while engaging your audience. Objectives: (1) To gather information that will help us understand our audiences on Twitter; (2) to write Tweets that are interesting and conversational to Twitter readers; (3) to write Tweets using Twitter’s unique conventions and designs; (4) to write Facebook posts that are clear and compelling; (5) to use Facebook to link to other media while providing context and suggesting an action.
Prevent Lubricious Abstruse Incognizable Nonsense: On October 13, 2010, President Obama signed the Plain Writing Act of 2010. His pen strokes were not the culmination but the commencement of a labor shared by government entities around the world and happening across industries as diverse as health care and finance. In this module, we’ll put PLAIN Language into a global, multi-industrial context. You’ll get examples and practical tips for how to implement plain writing in your own work, no matter how complicated your subject matter. And we’ll close with an alternative to this ridiculous title, one that allows you to establish a working relationship with your reader. Objectives: (1) understand how plain language affects writers and readers in many industries; (2) define plain language and learn something about its global history; (3) assess a document for its plain language requirements; (4) implement plain language standards in your own writing; (5) make plain language a personal habit and a cultural initiative.
Make an Appointment to Write: The greatest barrier to clear, effective communication is the lack of time. But you don’t need a time machine to overcome this obstacle. Nor should you be spending endless nights and weekends at the office. This module will offer practical suggestions on time management in general and specifically in relationship to the Writing Cycle. We’ll identify some best practices in terms of time management. And then we’ll talk about how to tackle all kinds of projects, both small and large, in realistic and effective ways that guarantee timely completion, a more natural working schedule, and a more polished document. Finally, we’ll connect time management questions to the six different stages in the Writing Cycle, so you can pull yourself out of any rut and recognize those rare and precious opportunities when they come along. Objectives: (1) Identify and consolidate time “wasters”; (2) recognize tasks appropriate to various times of day; (3) chunk time to complete smaller writing projects; (4) identify and schedule writing tasks for large projects; (5) manage your energy and your time during each of the six stages of the Writing Cycle.
Reduce the Reader’s Workload: If reading a document has ever left you absolutely drained, chances are it contained no subordinating structures. If you’ve ever failed to see the relevance, the writer probably didn’t coordinate ideas. These two simple strategies – subordination and coordination – allow our readers to identify a hierarchy of ideas in our documents and thus process information with ease. Without them, it becomes nearly impossible to make connections or come to an agreement on key issues. If you want your documents to read smoothly, if you want your readers to see your point clearly, if you want your arguments to communicate effectively, you need to coordinate and subordinate skillfully. We’ll discuss how to identify sentence groups that require a high degree of attention and how to reduce the reader’s workload by subordinating ideas. We’ll also talk about the benefits of coordination and see how both together can improve our flow, our reader’s retention, and our document’s effectiveness. Objectives: (1) Identify sentence groups that require a high attention span; (2) select the right ideas to subordinate and the logical transitions to do so; (3) use coordinating structures to improve relevance and flow; (4) balance subordinating and coordinating structures logically and smoothly.
The Craft of Persuasion: Advertisers and politicians understand how to push our buttons and make their products irresistible. Certainly biologists and government employees base their decisions upon sound science and consistent policy. Still, many of our documents require that we take a position and defend it to the best of our ability. That involves persuasion. And those documents will be effective if we understand how to use persuasive techniques appropriately and effectively. In this module we’ll talk about the difference between the cheap trick and the sound argument. We will identify the three classical tools of persuasion—pathos, ethos, and logos. And we will discover how to develop techniques you already know to effectively deploy those tools and keep your audience well disposed toward you, your position, and your conclusion. Objectives: (1) Employ persuasive strategies appropriate to letters, biological opinions, listing documents, and other kinds of scientific and government writing; (2) use narration, description, and tone to establish an emotional connection with your audience; (3) demonstrate your good sense, good will, and good character both as the author of the document and as a representative of the U.S. government; (4) employ critical thinking strategies, argument analysis, and organizational patterns to strengthen your argument.