By Randee Gage, Chihiro Gniadecki, and Genevieve Balivet
On Friday, October 20, the Organization for Professional Writers interviewed Harrison Fischer from Island Seas, an organization dedicated to educating people about the Great Lakes ecosystem and building stewardship for this natural resource. During our conversation, Harrison shared his insights on what it means to write as a Marketing and Communications Coordinator. Below we share some of the key lessons we took from Harrison’s talk.
Audience Impacts Tone And Delivery
Harrison emphasized the importance of understanding your audience. As writing classes teach us, catering to the audience’s needs affects tone and delivery of a piece. For example, a document for experts will be written differently than an introductory article on the same subject. But as student writers, we sometimes tend to forget this since our work is typically only read by one person, i.e. the instructor. But when writing outside of the classroom, one has to remember that the audience is varied and it takes practice and research to understand their needs and expectations. Harrison mentioned how his audience tends to be less familiar with Great Lakes ecology, so his approach is to sound friendly and approachable. He avoids writing that sounds jargon-filled or technical and instead makes it sound like a “coffee shop chat.” He explained, “If it sounds like a friend wrote it, people are more likely to buy into it.” To him, it’s an essential skill of technical writing.
Creativity is Key
Creativity as a concept doesn’t always seem to mesh well with our assumptions of professional and technical writing, often associated with conciseness and constraining genres. Many of us still think of professional and creative writing as a strict binary. Even though their genres may be different, professional and creative writing have a lot in common. Harrison helped us to remember how and why they are connected. For instance, he emphasized the role of creativity in his work, recognizing the importance of adaptability, understanding constraints, and being able to discard the unnecessary components. As part of Inland Seas’ larger mission to educate and connect with the public regarding Michigan’s Great Lakes, Harrison has the unique opportunity to immerse himself within the natural world and derive inspiration from his surroundings. This aspect of his work acts as a means of creative fulfillment. It provides him with inspiration and reinforces that it is the “foundation of what they do”. So without integrating aspects of creative writing, there are missed opportunities for risk taking, exploration, and engaging in a recursive cycle of creation that is ultimately more sustainable in a professional environment. The creative process is relevant across genres and purpose. As Harrison noted, “the larger goal is to communicate and tell a story.” This is true in both creative and professional writing.
Writing is More than Words
Harrison also emphasized that writing is more than words. To craft messages in today’s digital landscape, you must master more than one mode. And this is certainly true for Harrison whose work involves graphic design or working with videos, especially when crafting messages for social media platforms. He also noted how photos and videos offer unique ways for capturing the audience’s attention and completing text-based messages. For example, in their brochures and newsletters, visual design is what helps control the flow of information and builds the Inland Seas’s brand. “Every choice, whether textual or visual, has rhetorical purpose and impact,”explained Harrison. In many ways, our conversation with Harrison reminded us that design is writing and writing is design.
Transitioning into the Workplace
Transition from classroom to workplace writing can be intimidating. And mistakes can and will be made. But as Harrison explained, “Failing a task is not failing a cause; it is learning how to do it better next time.” Even though it can be difficult, it is worth remembering that we also learn by failing. This includes not getting discouraged when applying for jobs. It takes patience and time. The other challenge most of us face when applying for or starting a new job is imposter syndrome. When asked about how he dealt with these commonplace emotions, Harrison said: “I struggled with that a lot, especially when I first started. Do I deserve to be here? I found that the universe rarely makes mistakes. We are put into positions into which we can succeed. [Those who hired you] believe in you […]. You gotta work through it, [have] flexibility to learn and [be] ok with not knowing everything.” Being open to learning new things is what matters. No one expects you to know everything, but show that you are willing to put in the effort. That’s how you build both your skills and confidence in the workplace.