On Writing for the Public
I’m not an engineer. I’m not a businesswoman. In fact, I am an anthropologist and a writer—things that seem far off from the purview of this blog, but my goal is to share another perspective, one that draws attention to issues as seen from the outside.
I’m not even that great of a writer, but I’m convinced being a good writer is more valuable than any major, any job, or any award or grant, no matter the discipline. Why? Regardless of inspiration, design, engineering, or business, if individuals cannot write for a public audience or for more than themselves, they will stagnate. When I think about engineering or business, what I see is a monolith that operates within its own sphere that has its own language and culture employed to roar into the future. They try to simultaneously create, research, and innovate, but I don’t feel like they reach out. The answer to cure this sentiment is in making writing for a public audience a priority. There is a difference between educating your consumers and them understanding.
Making writing for a public audience a priority in businesses, labs, and offices means a commitment to sharing ideas, creating goals, and clearly expressing thought in ways a wider audience (and hopefully your colleagues) will understand. Being able to write for a public audience is crucial because the reality is, there is no funding for those who cannot articulate their ideas or over articulate their goals to funding boards or the NSF. There is no reason for someone to donate to a non-profit without a clearly worded and easily understood mission statement. Innovation is great. Creativity is necessary. But we need good writing that can be geared towards a wider audience that forces those in companies to really look at and be able to synthesize what exactly they are doing.
In the end, as Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, writes, “Greatness is not a function of circumstance, greatness is largely a matter of conscious choice and discipline.” Where I come from, we don’t call writing for a public audience “dumbing it down”. Instead we look at it as a choice, a chance to connect, and to foster growth. It may seem like a waste of time to put effort into conveying ideas to a public audience, but I promise as an outsider, we appreciate it.
Mona is a recent graduate from Grinnell College with degrees in Anthropology and History. Her focii were mass media communications and collective identity. She currently works for the Grinnell College Communications Office as a staff writer and researcher.