The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences

MLDP Recap: Writing in the Workplace with Julie Kalish ‘91

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Read a student's account of our most recent session in our Management Leadership and Development program below. For more information, about MLDP, click here.

On April 16, Professor Julie Kalish ’91 facilitated our fourth session in the Management and Leadership Development Program, “Writing in the Workplace.” She teaches on the faculty of Dartmouth’s Institute for Writing and Rhetoric and several of my MLDP peers know her well from their Writing 5 course. Outside of Dartmouth, she works tirelessly with the Vermont ACLU.
Professor Kalish emphasized the distinction between the academic writing that we are familiar with and the writing that a professional setting demands. She started off by leading us through a discussion of an email that former President Jim Yong Kim sent to the Dartmouth community in March 2012. This opened my eyes to the challenge of writing to audiences beyond the confines of a professor’s office, especially when multiple groups and their diverse concerns must all be addressed. We also realized how different it is to represent a business or institution through writing that reaches out on a global scale than it is to just represent one’s own thoughts in an academic paper.  Particularly striking was data collected by the MLDP program itself. It showed that employers value writing skills above all other attributes in job candidates, yet students did not indicate strong interest in learning how to write. After examining the unique challenges of professional writing, MLDP participants now understand the potential and importance for improving these writing skills.
The three qualities of effective writing, as Professor Kalish illustrated, are clarity, concision, and correctness. Readers naturally expect characters to perform actions, so to achieve clarity we must avoid the confusing passive voice, something I have personally always struggled with. Concision is particularly important in the workplace because employees have limited time and will get irritated if a document is too wordy. Interestingly, correctness extends beyond proper grammar and punctuation to include the tone in which a document is written and the expectations we cannot articulate but recognize immediately when violated in workplace writing. I had not realized how many instant and automatic assumptions we all make about other individuals based on their written communication.
The remainder of the session allowed us to apply these insights about good professional writing to actual scenarios. We prepared email responses to a hypothetical workplace scenario before the session and so could break up into our small groups to compile these into the best possible professional email. Through full-group reflection afterwards, we learned that it is important to strike a balance between crafting a heavy-handed solution and offering no concrete plan, to ask a person with the same job for effective writing samples, and to understand the internal politics of the particular workplace. I thought the small group exercise was a rewarding synthetic application of the skills we learned throughout the session.
Thank you to Professor Kalish for helping us to better understand the demands of workplace writing and sharing her strategies for success!
- Written by Ellen Daily '14

The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences