WriteCast Episode 31: Taking Your Academic Writing Outside of the Classroom
© Walden University Writing Center 2016
[Teaser] BRITTANY: There are many, many ways that you can take your academic writing outside of the classroom and rework it for a different audience.
BETH: Welcome to WriteCast, a casual conversation for serious writers.
BRITTANY: I’m Brittany Kallman Arneson.
BETH: And I’m Beth Nastachowski.
BRITTANY: In this episode we’ll discuss strategies to change your academic writing to new formats for various audiences outside of an academic setting. We’ll talk about four main considerations that are part of this process.
BRITTANY: We’re so thrilled to have our colleague Claire Helakoski here with us today.
BRITTANY: She’s here virtually, so we’re all recording from different spaces but we’re very excited to have her with us. Claire is one of the writing instructors in the writing center, so you may have worked with her in a paper review, a course visit, or possibly also a webinar. Welcome, Claire, to WriteCast.
BETH: Welcome, Claire!
CLAIRE: Thanks, guys, I’m really excited to be here I’m a big fan of the podcast.
BRITTANY: So, Claire, you were inspired I think to talk about this topic because of a question that a student asked you, is that right?
CLAIRE: That is right. I got a question in a course visit about how a student could help make social change from their coursework by changing things up to reach a broader audience.
BRITTANY: I think that’s so great and it just gets me excited because it makes me realize how passionate Walden students are about the topics that they’re studying in their courses and how those topics relate to their life outside of Walden. And so we know that some students are really think about how to revise academic writing for a more general audience because as you’ve said we’ve had some students asking about it. And so what we want to do in this episode is bring this to light for students who might not be thinking about that, or who may have never even thought about it as something they could do. So, I thought it might be helpful for us to start with the why. So, why would somebody want to turn something that they wrote for the classroom, which, you know, sometimes--let’s be frank, maybe seems a little dry or boring—into something for a different audience or a public audience.
BETH: One reason you might do this is to help bring about social change in your specific work place or in your community, and so we thought this topic might be a great episode for this week as we celebrate the global days of service.
CLAIRE: Yeah, a student might want to change their work into something else to, you know, make it a little less dry. Or, you know, approach it from a different way.
BRITTANY: Mhm, yes.
CLAIRE: And, the things that we’re writing about at Walden are important, right? They’re all linked to social change and the idea of social change, so, taking it and turning it into something that’s more accessible for a larger audience would be really great, right? Because then you can take your coursework and instead of waiting to enact social change until you’re done with Walden or you’re working on your dissertation, you can do it while you’re here, while you’re a student. And, for example, a nursing student might write a paper about an intervention or a change that certain types of patients should make. And then they could take that idea from their paper and turn it into an instructional brochure or something to share with their patients. And that could be a really great way to connect in a larger sense.
BETH: I think that’s such a great point, Claire, talking about how when we’re in Walden or we’re writing for Walden, that it can feel sort of isolating like you’re writing just for your instructor and I think oftentimes when we talk with students about audience we talk about sort of this imaginary audience that is out there that they’re writing for. And what you’re saying here is, in reality, you could have that audience if you take what you’re writing for Walden and kind of translate it into this other context.
CLAIRE: Yes, right, exactly. So, it’s up to you. You’re writing about things that could change the world, but you’re not necessarily interacting with the people who could help make those changes. You’re just writing about kind of the inner workings of that topic rather than connecting directly with the source which you can with a lot of the disciplines that we’re involved in.
BETH: Fantastic. So, Claire, you’ve taught on this topic before and you’ve worked with students on this before and we’ve heard you talk about four major things that writers should consider when re-working information into a new format or taking something that they’ve written for Walden and using it in some sort of format for a new audience. So could you briefly walk us and our listeners through those four things?
CLAIRE: Yes, so, four major things to think about when you’re re-working a piece of writing to a new purpose are audience, goals, approach, and order. And I’m going to use that example I was talking about with the nursing student who we’ll just call Sandra for our purposes today and let’s say Sandra is reworking a paper that she wrote about walking as an intervention for a patient with a heart condition.
CLAIRE: And that she wants to turn that into an educational brochure. So I’ll use that as kind of an example to help explain all these different concepts as we walk through them. So the first major concept that’s important to focus on is your audience. So you want to ask yourself some questions. Who is your audience? This is going to matter because it impacts every part of how we write. You would write differently in an email to your best friend than in a business proposal because of your audience, because the person reading is a different person with different expectations. So you need to ask yourself, Who is your audience? And what do they already know? How informed are they about your topic? Who are they? What do they know about what you’re writing about? And this will help you figure out how much detail you need to include. In Sandra’s case her audience was—for her course paper—was her instructor, maybe some classmates, whereas her audience for this brochure is going to be her patients and people with heart conditions, probably, so it’s going to be a really different approach for her there.
BRITTANY: That makes so much sense and I think going back to what Beth was saying earlier, it really helps to—you know we talk kind of often about this hypothetical reader with our students and what you’re saying, it seems like, Claire, is this jump between writing a course paper and writing something for outside of Walden is kind of giving a face to that hypothetical reader, right? Where you really say, oh, I know, I know who this person is and therefore I can make choices based on what I know about them. I really like that, that makes a ton of sense, and that seems like, going along with that, you would have a different set of goals for the outcome of the writing, too, right?
CLAIRE: Yes, exactly. So, once you figure out who you’re going to write to, you can figure out what your goals are for what you’re writing, and that’s our second big section. What is the goal of what you’re writing? Why are you writing this to these people? And figuring out who your audience is first can help you kind of figure out what the goal of your writing is. The main three goals that writing can have, and they can be combinations, are to inform, persuade, and explore ideas. In Sandra’s case, since it was a paper for her course, it was probably to explore ideas and maybe a little bit to inform. Whereas this brochure that she’s writing for her patients is going to be to inform and probably to persuade them to make a change.
BETH: And, so, would you say, Claire, that when someone is asking themselves about the goal and how it might be changing for this broader audience, does that mean that there would be revision required to kind of adjust the paper based on that goal?
CLAIRE: Yes. I suggest going through these steps first and kind of identifying and sort of making a new outline before you try and revise. Because once you have all the steps kind of in place and you’ve considered them all then it will be a lot easier to revise. So even just on a scratch piece of paper to write down, you know, this is my audience, this is what they know, these are my goals, that will help you focus as you go through and are revising.
BETH: That’s a great idea to think about going through all of these sections first before you make any revisions since the different sections might affect one another or, you know, once you determine your audience that’s going to affect how you think about your goals as well.
CLAIRE: Yeah, that’s exactly right, that they are all going to affect each other.
BETH: So what would be the third section after goals?
CLAIRE: The next section after goals would be to consider your approach. Now that you know who you are writing to and why you are writing to them, how are you going to write to them? And for approach, you first want to consider your knowledge on the subject. So, are you an expert in this subject? Can you rely solely on your expertise? Or is this a case where it’s going to be beneficial to include outside information or supporting evidence? For information based on academic research, you probably should support with outside sources, right? Because you did all that work and did all that research and it will help give credibility to whatever you’re trying to do in that external place where you’re trying to affect social change. And in Sandra’s change, she knows about this topic, right? But she also did all this research for her paper on why it’s beneficial, so she’ll definitely want to talk to her audience in her brochure about why they should make this change and use some supporting statistics and facts to help inform her audience there. It’s also important to consider the audience’s stance on the subject when considering approach. Is your audience strongly against what you’re talking about? If they’re neutral about it, or if they’re already kind of on your side. That will change the type of approach that you want to make. If your audience is already on your side, like they already think that they want to make healthy choices, then you wouldn’t need to be as persuasive as you would in an approach where your audience feels like they don’t need to exercise and they don’t want to. So that will change depending on your audience’s kind of pre-existing stance.
BRITTANY: And that again I think is such an interesting contrast from what we’re able to do in academic writing for a course, right? Where we don’t have a specific person with a specific stance, or group with a specific stance. So I suppose that might mean also, Claire, that the writer might be able to use some of the tools in his or her toolbox that were kind of off-limits for the coursework based writing. Like what would you think about, for instance, using like emotional appeals for persuading the audience, which is something that we advise against in coursework writing for Walden?
CLAIRE: Right and that would be a great approach for a different type of writing. And it’s important to know about the different type of writing, the form of the writing that you’re kind of emulating. And I’ll talk about that a little more in a minute in the order section. So it’s really important to be aware of the conventions of the type of writing you’re changing it into. Because brochures do use emotional appeals just like if you were writing an advertisement or something you’d use an emotional appeal—whereas the conventions of academic writing are that your audience is neutral—they’re in this neutral place where they’re just going to read your work and have their own opinion and walk away. Whereas here you’re really trying to do something, you’re trying to change their mind. So a different approach is probably going to be necessary.
BETH: And to add to that too, Claire, I think a lot of the times when we’re thinking about taking Walden coursework and translating it to this other audience we’re also looking for changes in behavior, which is a little bit different, too. Which is what I think you’re also talking about. Where, for Sandra’s paper, she was presenting the information, putting it out there for an academic audience, but isn’t necessarily expecting that the people who read it will walk more as the result of her paper. But it seems like kind of that—because her goal is different, she’s going to need to take a different approach, because she wants a different outcome as well. Does that seem accurate to you?
CLAIRE: Yes, and that’s why they’re in this particular order, right? The steps. Because it does matter, the order, because audience affects what goals you have and your goals affect your approach and your approach is going to affect the order of information.
BETH: Awesome. So let’s get into order then. What does order consist of?
CLAIRE: Order is probably the most complex of these four steps. As everyone listening will know because you’ve written a paper before and figuring out the order that you’re going to convey information in and how to be the most effective is going to take the most time.
CLAIRE: So the first step is what order of information can best help us achieve our goals? So if your audience isn’t already familiar about the subject that you’re writing about, you’re doing to want to take some time and introduce them to the topic. That’s going to be really important—you can’t just jump in and assume the audience knows why you’re giving them a pamphlet. You have to kind of fill in the gaps. But if your audience does know about the information already, then you can skip to what’s currently relevant so that you’re not going to bore them with stuff they already know. So in the case of Sandra’s brochure, her intended audience probably already knows that they have a health issue, and they probably know that exercise is good for them. So she doesn’t need to spend a whole page of her pamphlet explaining the background on why exercise is beneficial. Her patients probably already sort of know that, and instead she can jump to—exercise is beneficial, here’s the exercise you should be doing…
CLAIRE: Being aware of that kind of information is really important in considering your order and how you’re going to present everything that you’re saying. So the next thing to consider with order is, is there a standard form for what you’re writing. And that’s what we were talking about just a little bit ago. So, what are the usual rules of a form, right? A social media post has different rules than an academic paper, has different rules than an email, has different rules than a brochure. So really thinking about that and, if you don’t know then you can read some. Go and read some. Familiarize yourself with the conventions of brochures—right? Brochures usually have bullet points for example, that’s a really common thing in brochures, and they use emotional appeals, so familiarizing yourself with the conventions of that form is going to help you figure out how you can present your information, and what your reader or audience is kind of expecting from that format.
BETH: So, you know, maybe an example of that, Claire, might be that in your academic writing you’re not using pictures to illustrate points. But a brochure probably, right, has pictures or something in it.
CLAIRE: Yes, exactly. So that’s one of the formatting changes that’s going to be really important to pay attention to. So the next big thing for considering your order is writing down those points you intend to make and figuring out which order you think works best to help achieve your goal. If you’re writing and argument, what’s going to appeal the most to your audience? If you’re writing to inform, what information is most important for your audience to understand? And if you’re writing to explore, where did your explorations start and where did they end up? For this step, since you’ll already have a piece of writing that you’re working from, it’s probably going to be most beneficial to do a reverse outline of your paper or source information, from that kind of base work. So you’ll just go back through and kind of write down the bullet points of what you’ve talked about in your paper, the main points, the main ideas and that will help you logically figure out what information is important to include in this new format. What things are already connected or what things you might have to work a little harder to connect in this different format. For example, in Sandra’s larger paper she might have had a whole section on how walking is beneficial to lowering blood pressure, and then another section on how walking benefits you emotionally. And those two big sections of her paper might just end up being two bullet points next to each other on her brochure. So having that kind of all written down and seeing kind of how much space you have in your new document to devote to that and which points you think are most important or persuasive is going to be really beneficial.
BETH: It sounds like a lot of what students can do is use the revision tools or strategies that we talk about for academic writing in this other context. So it seems kind of like a lot of those skills will translate. Does that seem accurate to you or do you think that there are some big differences there in the actual making of the changes.
CLAIRE: A lot of our information focuses on academic writing but that doesn’t mean that you can’t apply the tools and ideas to a new, you know, set of circumstances. It’s just important to really be aware of what those conventions and format changes are going to be. Can you make an emotional appeal, can you use a picture, those are important questions to know. But then the general idea of organizing things logically or how do you present information, like what’s the first thing you want to say—those are ideas that you can shrink down and apply to different formats.
BRITTANY: I’m getting so many good ideas. It kind of makes me want to go back and find stuff that I wrote in my time in college and grad school and see if there’s anything there to create again. Because it really makes you think again about what we’re doing in our academic assignments and how we can take them outside of the academic setting so this has been so instructive, Claire, so thank you. And I want to just remind our listeners as well that we’re using this example of a brochure as this example of outside of Walden, outside of the classroom type of writing that you might want to do, as an example throughout this episode, but that certainly doesn’t mean that that’s the only kind of thing you can do with your academic writing outside of the classroom. There are many, many ways that you can take your academic work outside of the classroom and we’re curious to hear from you so please let us know via any of the ways that you normally get in touch with us if you want to email us or contact us on social media—let us know if you have done this before or if this gave you an idea for a way to take your academic writing outside of the classroom and rework it for a different audience. And then, Claire, I’m wondering, can you go through those four points again so that we can kind of just keep them fresh in our listeners’ minds as we wrap up the episode?
CLAIRE: Yeah, absolutely. So whenever you’re re-visioning your writing into something new, be sure that you’re considering your audience, goals, approach, and the order that you’re going to present that information in your new format.
BETH: And we hope that you are thinking about this a lot this week during the global days of service and thinking about how you can use yoru writing and your coursework at Walden to work towards social change and sort of enact your vision of social change. As part of the global days of service we are celebrating social change as well and specifically writing for social change. So one of the things we love talking about in the writing center is the ways that students can connect writing and social change and use writing to help develop ideas for social change. And also the way that you can use writing to help communicate your vision of social change to your community and your network and your family and friends as well. So as part of that we have our webinar “Writing for Social Change: Exploring Perspectives” scheduled this week. But we also have recordings of these sessions along with another recording on grant proposals and blogging. So do take a look at those if you’re interested in more discussions about writing and social change in different ways. If you would like more information about any of the things that we talked about here today, including talking more about writing for a specific audience, reverse outlining, revision strategies, any of those things, take a look at our website and our blog. The website, a great place to go is the top right corner in the search box. You can type any of those key terms and you’ll find just oodles of information, so we encourage you to take a look. And so just let us know, too, if you have any topic ideas or things that you’d like us to talk about on the podcast. Email us, chat with us, get in touch on social media, whichever way is most convenient for you, we’d love to hear from you and what you would like us to talk more about on the next episode.
BRITTANY: Yes and finally, thank you so much, Claire, for joining us on the podcast today. It’s been just a pleasure having you here and thank you for sharing your great ideas for taking writing outside of the classroom.
CLAIRE: You’re welcome, I’m so glad to be here.
BRITTANY: Well thank you, everyone, and we’ll see you next time.
BETH: Thanks, everyone!
BRITTANY: WriteCast is a production of the Walden University Writing Center. This episode was produced by me, Brittany Kallman Arneson; my co-host, Beth Nastachowski; and our colleague, Anne Shiell.