There’s an art to extracting the main points of a text. Digging through quotations and references or weighty legislative prose to work out exactly what the writer is saying takes time and usually several tries.
I didn’t really expect to spend much of my time as a Quality Coordinator doing this kind of wordy dissection. However when our team decided to publish a monthly compliance newsletter I was immediately drawn to the idea. Did your eyes glaze over at the words ‘compliance newsletter’? This is not page-turning stuff, we’re well aware of that. However, it’s important that staff members – even those far removed from compliance – have a broad understanding of the issues that affect our business. All the more reason to ferret out the key points hidden in turgid compliance-speak and turn them into more easily digestible articles and graphics.
Writing can happen quite automatically, following some subconscious inclinations towards a certain approach or tone or format. But sometimes it may miss the mark and end up telling a different story or, worse still, no clear story at all.
Writing about work
These are a few principles I’ve come to employ to write about work in an engaging way:
- Put your audience’s interests first. I always start with the audience. Who is going to read the newsletter (perhaps optimistically we always assumed we’d have at least one avid reader) and what exactly do they need to know? How much detail is required? Are the broad brush-strokes enough or do they need more information? Then I’d go digging. Highlighters are a clear choice for this work. Even though I’m loathe to print for printing’s sake, sometimes you just have to get in there with a pretty pink highlighter and find what you’re looking for.
- Chunk key information into bite-sizes. I love (and hate, at times) the challenge of distilling the information into ever smaller chunks. Just getting rid of extra words, chucking them behind me like a cured hoarder cleaning out her kitchen. Creating infographics is great for this. Finding the little icon (I use Canva, which offers a good selection of free features) that perfectly encapsulates what you’re trying to say is as grand a victory as any. Add to this a short, pithy sentence or two that is the very essence of the point we clawed out of that boring text three paragraphs ago and you’re winning.
- Be brave and share it. The most useful lesson I’ve learnt over the past year and a half (or seventeen issues of a newsletter, if you prefer to measure time that way – I know I do) is to just put your ideas out there. I was seconded for a few months to Learning and Teaching Services and found there the very freeing culture of not being overly attached to your ideas. Revealing your creation, whatever it may be, to another person takes bravery. But I also realised it’s less terrifying when you understand that everything you create doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s better to get it out there, raw, perhaps a little ugly and see if anyone else can help shape it.
If you’ve ever flicked wistfully though the Learning and Teaching at Navitas website and some tiny part of yourself (or big, loud, shouty part) thought “I could do that” or “I have an idea for an article…I think. Maybe it’s terrible…” I would urge you to get in touch. What you have to say, your experience, your knowledge is important and your colleagues will want to share in it. Plus, there’s nothing quite as exciting as seeing yourself published.
Kate is authoring her own new narrative right now as she heads back to the UK to start an amazing new project, opening a coffee roastery and barista training school that can grow to offer subsidised courses to job seekers and refugees. We’d like to thank Kate for her awesome and creative contributions to the Learning and Teaching website and wish her all the best for the future!