Although it’s more than 3000 years old, this Chinese proverb from Confucius aptly spells out what I consider to be the key to skillful professional writing: involving readers.
People don’t read professional writing for pleasure; they read it to learn how to do something.
I believe that involving readers is the key to facilitating their ability to “do” by reading. The people who use my documents are the driving force behind my work.
Involving readers is my professional objective and it’s what I do best.
My Writing Philosophy
My way with words as a child led to my calling in life as a writer. One oft-repeated family legend that most certainly helped point me in the direction of writing, describes me at age eight piping up with the perfect name for our new Prince of Peace church newsletter in a matter of mere seconds: “Why not just call it ‘Prints’ of Peace?”
Clearly, I had thing for wordplay.
As a technical writer with more than twenty years of experience, I’ve had the opportunity to create a wide variety of technical texts.
Whenever possible, my writing practice attempts to place users at the very center of a document’s development process. I am not referring to mere “user-friendly” writing, characterized by clear prose, strong visuals, and solid design — that’s a given. I am referring instead to “user-centered” writing, in which the user is not only viewed as the inspiration behind a project but also actively involved as early on in the development process as possible.
I believe that by having a better understanding the specific nature of my users’ work, I can create documents that are customized to the context of use rather than documents that are generically universal for an assumed user I conjure up in my mind.
To accomplish this, I prefer to engage with users before I even start writing. Depending on how widespread the audience, I use meetings, teleconferences, surveys, discussion boards, and on-site observation to make this collaborative connection. I ask a multitude of questions, but more importantly, I listen.
I try to ferret out the organizational and cultural constraints placed on the user as well as the users’ expectations of the document. I continue to engage with users throughout the development process, eliciting feedback and incorporating suggestions. The success of the end product depends on whether or not readers can use it to accomplish the work necessary in their particular situation – so why not include them from the beginning to help ensure that outcome?
The visual aspects of a technical or business document are often just as critical to facilitating understanding as the linguistic aspects. My broad background as both a practitioner and teacher of web page design, graphic arts, and typography, in combination with my professional writing experience, allow me to create documents in which the visual and verbal elements modify, compliment, and compensate for one another to accomplish the goals of the communication.
I love technology and the rapid pace at which it evolves. My lengthy experience as a computer trainer has allowed me to position myself at the cutting edge of technology, and driven me to master a wide variety of software applications.
Nothing makes me happier than having to learn a new piece of software – except maybe having to develop a document that teaches others how to master that same program.
Additionally, I understand the underlying persuasive mission of technical documentation. A well-written technical manual can promote the commercial marketing of a product by making it appear easy to use. My deep appreciation of technology helps inform my writing to this end.
As a professional writer, I have had many opportunities to act as a project manager as well as a project team member. I am equally at ease either leading or being part of a team. As a leader, I try to create a social space in which the entire team feels comfortable in collaborating with one another towards a successful end product. As a team member, I fully engage myself in a project and support the efforts of the group through active collaboration.
In 2006, with fifteen years of experience already invested in the professional writing field, I returned to school to delve deeper. I recieved my Master of Professional Writing degree through Chatham University. This formal education has added a new layer of meaning to what I do. It has helped me to see the documents I create as both rhetorical and cultural artifacts and to think in a new way about the context in which texts are produced, who they are created for, and for what purpose. It has also given me new ways in which to evaluate their potential effects. I constantly push myself to learn new things so I can continue to grow!
Given the opportunity, I will become a valued resource for your organization. I will help you accurately articulate meaning and ideas, develop engaging user-centered documents and eLearning experiences and involve your readers. It’s how they’ll learn best and it’s what I do best, and I’d like to do it for your organization.