The art of professional writing

Written by Marissa Rasgado, undergraduate student, DePaul University and participant in the  Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program

Our third seminar about professional communication was led by Steven Pijut, Associate Director of the Writing Center at Washington University in St. Louis. Professor Pijut described that a common misconception of writing is that it’s a skill you are born with, but in actuality, it’s developed with continuous practice.

A typical timeline of writing includes: assigning a topic or task, gathering information, processing information, writing drafts, revisions, and finally submitting and celebrating. Although this process may seem linear, it contains deviations, and the process differs for each person. Professor Pijut discussed how when creating a draft, it is common for people to fear this process because they don’t want to write false information, but he encourages people to write down the wrong ideas because later it can be revised.

Professor Pijut also incorporated an exercise to write emails to our professors and principle investigators in differing situations. We spent time drafting each situational email and discussed the format we choose to write them in and what was necessary information to include. The exercise allowed us to practice the language and tone we use in everyday situations when we are writing to people in senior positions, like our supervisors.

Professor Pijut then discussed two significant ways to improve our writing. The first is being aware of how you use the to-be verb. It can be utilized either in a passive or active voice. Using a passive voice is indirect and longer, but is commonly used in scientific papers, while an active voice is direct and short when you are trying to be concise. The second is utilizing nominalizations, which are nouns you use in your writing that can be transformed into adjectives or verbs. Nominalizations are useful because they can make your writing sound more concise.

Overall, I believed this experience was beneficial to my peers and I. I will be able to apply what I learned in my day-to-day life through emails or in larger assignments such as essays.