Recently I asked our current students to share a brief story about how Northern Arizona University coursework has been helpful in their current workplace writing endeavors. Our program serves students in early and mid-career. We help people who want to change careers both within the professional and technical writing field and we help those who want to enter that field. The stories our students share may resonate with anyone who’s considering a graduate program.
Create a Welcoming Environment
I work as an advisor at a university, so creating an inclusive, welcoming environment for students is essential to my job. After discussions about gendered pronouns and singular “they” in my Workplace Grammar course; however, I realized that gendered language can be anything but inclusive for some individuals. As a result, I am now more cognizant of the pronouns I use when communicating with students via email: I use the singular “they” where applicable in the hopes of creating an overall more positive interaction with the student. The thought that my technically “proper” grammar might be offensive did not occur to me prior to the class, and I’m grateful for the new perspectives my graduate coursework gave me.
Charge up the Career Ladder
These next two stories show how NAU classes have changed reputations and reinvigorated careers.
My work title changed since I joined the NAU Master’s in English-Professional Writing program. Don’t tell Mignon Fogarty, but my new, unofficial work title is Grammar Girl. My colleagues consider me a writing and grammar guru since taking classes at NAU. I edit all communications coming from our office, including emails, executive reports, and campus-wide memos. You name it; I’ve had my eyes and hands all over it.
I gently tell my boss, a former high school English teacher, that he has a great love of the comma. We work on our shared weakness with passive voice. I’m currently campaigning to end the rampant use of bullets in every work document. My NAU lessons have paid off, because I now review and edit all communications coming from administration. I am the de facto editor-in-chief a.k.a. Grammar Girl. Taking NAU classes reinvigorated my work reputation and career. Thank you, NAU!
NAU’s Masters in Professional Writing is the best graduate program for workplace writers. I have applied everything I have learned in the program to real life workplace writing situations. Below are some of the topics I use in my daily writings:
- How to focus on sentence structure to avoid confusion.
- How to eliminate jibber jabber or filler words.
- How to properly format an email for maximum effectiveness.
- How to properly write internal documents like memos and reports for increased clarity.
- The proper use of white space, font, and color in professional documents.
Throughout the past six months, my employer has recognized me for my ability to simplify convoluted documents into easy-to-use, user-friendly versions. NAU’s graduate courses provide opportunities to learn and grow professionally, and I highly recommend them to anyone wanting to improve their writing skills.
Improve Workplace Efficiency
This next story is about how our Advanced Technical Writing course helped one of our students to avert an administrative disaster.
The staff at my place of work dedicated much of the first week in August 2018 to a debate on the policy governing the screening of height and weight requirements for U.S. Army soldiers. Some of the staff believed that if a soldier did not meet height and weight requirements they were to be sent home immediately while others believed that the height and weight requirements only applied to specific courses we teach. The situation had resulted in countless man hours being lost to the debate with subsequent unverifiable PowerPoint presentations and unorganized memorandums ensuing in the coming days. After enduring all I could take, I finally decided to apply some of the skills I had learned in Advanced Technical Writing to the issue.
Research, audience-analysis, and putting it all together
The first step in resolving the issue began with audience analysis. Who would this information affect most directly? This would determine the appropriate rhetoric or writing style needed in the document. In this case, the primary audience would consist of instructors and managers of courses taught at our training center.
Step two in the process involved organizing and consolidating the most relevant information so the reader could easily find the information they needed. Armed with the appropriate facts and references, I set out to organize sections of data under specific headers. By using headers and numbered lists throughout the document, I addressed key issues of the debate with verifiable references.
This document pacified debates and streamlined efficiency throughout our organization. The lack of military jargon and the use of plain English wording throughout the document proved a welcome change from the military writing style so many were accustomed too. The return on investment I saw with this document reflect the lessons I acquired in advanced technical writing and motivate me to apply other concepts to my future writing endeavors in the U.S. Army.
Write and Teach
The next accounts come from two of our students who are educators at various levels: K-12, community college, and university levels.
Create Clear Communication
While the professional writing program has helped me in my work as an educator–and now an educational coach–in many ways, probably the most practically applicable has been how I structure my professional emails. Three simple lessons have made a huge difference in my clarity when communicating with colleagues: I make use of blank space (no more giant blocked paragraphs!), I make correspondences scannable using bold fonts, highlighting, and size, and I ALWAYS start with an introduction (Hey team, Hi Dave, etc.) and electronic signature. This has been extremely helpful in ensuring clarity for my team, but has also increased my work load since my colleagues now want me to draft all our team correspondences.
High Desert Education Service District
I had taken a few graduate English classes, but had not pursued the courses in earnest until I took over a class from one of our adjunct professors who left a week before class began. It was an ENG 102, and I was terrified. I had taught 101, our other freshman composition courses, but 102 was totally new and “the” class to teach. At the same time, I began a graduate course, so I was in double the anxiety phase. However, the strangest thing happened.
The graduate class I was taking lined up with the new class I was teaching; therefore, I asked the professor if I could use some of her material (I am eternally grateful to Erika Konrad). The gist of it is that my graduate course gave me the confidence to teach 102; and, the material made teaching fun—I shared my grades, my writing, and some of the exercises with my students. For them, they were getting a taste of what was to come in their later course lives.
Not only have the courses helped me teach, my writing also changed—I tech write more for clarity and cleanness; and, I have been asked to publish some of the writing from my courses. However, the greatest gain is that I am no longer scared to write anything. My viewpoint has changed, my writing has changed, and what I am learning is helping my department, which is priceless.
-Donna Knepper Taylor
Professor of Reading and English
Arizona Western College
Prepare for the Freelancer’s Journey
Many of our students are either currently freelance technical/professional writers and editors or they are taking our classes to prepare themselves to launch a freelancing career.
I have been able to apply many components of my NAU English classes to my current freelance writing. First and foremost is the realization that none of us writes in a vacuum. Professional writers work with programmers, designers and subject matter experts, among others, on a regular basis and that was genuinely surprising to me. I guess I’ve heard one too many stories about lonely, solo writers. My classes emphasized teamwork and respect.
My NAU English classes also taught the importance of technology. My instructors stressed openness and willingness towards advances in software. I found myself resistant and fearful about new advances, but my classes pushed me to address my concerns. NAU taught me how to work with new technology, specifically content management software. I’m still anxious about new advances but, because of NAU, I’m willing to learn what I need to for my current profession.
Mountain Sky Choices
Although I can’t describe everything I’ve gained from my time in NAU’s professional writing program in a simple paragraph or list, because these benefits extend far beyond academic knowledge, I’ll include my top three:
- Professional credibility and confidence. Just yesterday I was hired to each English composition at my local community college. My Master’s degree got me in the door, but my own professional growth during my time at NAU gives me the confidence to know I can do the job.
- Friendships and professional partnerships. I’ll maintain these friendships and partnerships for the length of my career.
- The chance to explore a passion project in depth, which is the use of plain language in technical communication. Using what I learned at NAU, I developed and wrote my Beyond the Bulleted List program as my capstone project; I now use this program to train technical and professional writers to write content that is clear, concise, and complete.
ClearPoint Technical Communication
NAU writing courses have helped me become a better proofreader and editor for publication preparation and by-laws revisions. Also, I have noticed that my presentation skills—especially my “sales pitch”—have improved.
How will you write the story of your career? Contact me at Erika.Konrad@nau.edu, or visit our website at https://nau.edu/cal/english/degrees-programs/graduate/ma-professional-writing/ for more information about how NAU’s Professional Writing Program can help you.