Archive | March, 2013

Bachelor of Arts in Common Sense

13 Mar

About a year ago, I was engaged in a serious discussion with someone who felt the need to interrupt me and point out with a condescending tone that I can’t believe everything I read on the Internet.

.........No WAY!

…No WAY!

I wanted so badly to turn right around and show her who’s really boss on the topic of credibility by giving her an hour-long presentation on exactly what sources (of ALL kinds–written, electronic, and even verbal) that you can/can’t trust, why you can/can’t trust them, how to identify them, how to dissect them, how to review and revise them, how to compare and contrast them, and most of all… how to create them. Since that’s what I do or whatever…you know, not a big deal to me or anything.

Thankfully, however, I managed to stifle my rising pride in my passion for literature enough  to avoid any further conflict with the person, and we never revisited that conversation ever again.

People have often asked what I do, and “What is technical writing anyway?” I haven’t quite come up with the best standard answer for that question. I usually just give a few examples. But last night I was scanning my bookshelf for something interesting to read when I came across something that might help me out with this dilemma.

With tomorrow marking Week Three of my new job, I am living and breathing new information, combining technical writing with business development in the world of health information technology. So naturally, when my eye fell on Catherine Smith’s Writing Public Policy, I couldn’t resist the temptation to pick it up.

writing public policy

I have to admit… it isn’t exactly the most delightful book I’ve ever read, but occasionally a sentence or paragraph stands out to me because it’s so matter-of-fact about the things in my work. Take for example this one sentence:

“Written documents should chunk information, use subheadings, and organize details in bulleted lists or paragraphs or graphics” (17).

I should probably memorize this line for the next time someone asks me what my major was or what I do because it pretty well sums up my degree in professional writing.

Apparently it takes a technical communicator to communicate technical communication. It’s seems so easy, and truly, it is as straightforward as it seems, but only by definition. Actually doing the work is usually a messy process because…well, the whole concept of making something professional is that you’re cleaning it up…which suggests that was a mess before.

After reading this paragraph, I now believe I majored purely in the communication of common sense:

In public policy communication, what matters most is not how much you know but rather how much your readers or listeners know after they have read your writing or heard you speak. Information is expected to be useful.

Presentation is expected to be clear, concise, correct, and credible. Public policy work is information-overloaded. Especially in government settings, time is scarce, schedules are nearly impossible, and attention is always divided. Rarely does anybody have patience for disorganized, wordy communication or information that does not serve a purpose. Information functions best when it can be comprehended quickly, trusted as accurate, traced to authoritative sources, and used with confidence (9-10).

Smith, C.F. (2005). Writing Public Policy: A Practical Guide to Communicating in the Policy-Making Process.

New York: Oxford University Press.