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Word Matters: Good Work, Bad Writing, and Related Thoughts

Mary Vitcenda, Senior Editor
Twitter. Facebook. YouTube. Pinterest. Sparkol. Radio spots.

These are just a few of the communication channels available to Extension staff and educators — channels that do not deliver words on paper. But that doesn't mean there's no writing involved in creating content for these channels. The tweets, the Facebook posts, the video scripts, and so on — they all require writing at some stage. What's more, there's a case to be made that writing is fundamental to nearly everything we do at Extension as we share what we’ve learned with Minnesota and the wider world.

Think about it. Writing is required throughout the life cycle of nearly every resource we provide at FD — from their birth to death and moments in between. Or, stated more prosaically — from proposal, to content development, to marketing, to maintenance, and even to sunsetting a program or service if it’s no longer relevant.

Writing also is required for reporting outcomes and research findings to Extension’s funders, partners, and numerous constituents. These reports may be posted on our website, presented at a conference, or conveyed via a journal article – just to name a few venues. And don’t forget promotion narratives.

But what about face-to-face instruction, you might ask. Where’s the writing in that? Well, in-person instruction does involve improvisation at times, but planning is required in order to meet learning objectives. And planning involves, you guessed it, writing.

Actually, planning first involves thinking, and good writing follows from clear thinking. But let’s save that discussion for later. For now, just focus on the fact that we use writing skills to plan face-to-face classes and workshops. I could go on. But I think I’ve made my point that writing is integral to our work at Extension. So, if writing is at the heart of so much of our work, why not do it well?

As a senior editor with FD, I was hired, in part, to help staff members and educators with their writing. This is why I’m launching this column for the Family Matters blog. Each month I will share tips, tools, and tales about my experiences editing some of your pieces. Don’t worry—there will be no naming or shaming involved!

I’ll also share some of my experiences writing and editing before I came to Extension six years ago. I’ve been plying this trade for more years than I want to say, first as a newspaper reporter and then in communication roles with non-profits and businesses. I’m also a big reader of books and articles about my craft, and I’ll share words of wisdom from those, too. Here’s a nugget I picked up in an article by Laura Hoelscher, editor of the Journal of Extension, in that publication’s June 2006 edition. She communicates the importance of good writing at Extension, or anywhere for that matter, when she says: “Bad writing can obscure good work. And who wants that to happen?”

Mary Vitcenda
Senior Editor

P.S. I welcome your comments and questions. And don’t be afraid to critique my writing! Everybody needs an editor, including me.

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