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The Exodus Project Group

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[S1E11] Move On

Lee Coffin:Yeah, it's a pandemic-induced trend. There was certainly a movement of foot before COVID knocked, testing out of everybody's requirements. But as we've now gone through two cycles with testing being an optional element and in some places an absent element, there are a few places that have gone one step further and said, "Don't even worry about it." But for those of us in the optional space, as we move through the second cycle, I think the trend line is turning into a shift.

[S1E11] Move On

But yeah, the story of test optional continues to be a pronounced one. I saw Harvard's news described as groundbreaking, and I think what surprised me about the announcement was the number of years it extended into the future. So they're taking a much longitudinal look at, okay, let's have a full undergraduate cohort move into and through the college and see what's happening. So stay tuned on this one.

I think in those communities, there's been no disruption, I think. Because you move around the country, you will see different patterns. I think that's the story that needs to be examined a bit more closely. But you're right, my pool, that has not happened and we are moving through this school year with a record enrollment as continuing students come in and out of our student body as the pandemic allows.

Lee Coffin:That's insane. It's exciting to bring the three of us back together again. This episode is called "Family Reunion." And the idea, Claire, it was sparked by your holiday message with the bluebirds, where I started thinking about the way the people I've worked with over the years have become a professional family and network that just stretches on and on and on, even when I don't see people regularly, especially now. But when I step back and think about all the people who have moved through our respective offices, I've come to think of them as my family.

Lee Coffin:I remember the creativity. When I was considering the offer she ultimately extended to me, I remember thinking, "This is a hungry campus. It's got an ambitious president, it sees a vision for itself to move forward in a way that feels really interesting." And I remember saying to one of my mates, as I was saying, "I think I'm going to take it." And she said, "Why wouldn't you?" And I said, "Well, I think in going to work with Claire," and that was a proactive decision to work with Claire.

I saw in you a, a mentor who I really thought I could learn from. But I also saw a campus that was going to teach me how to tell a story, how to recruit. How to be clear about this is who we are, this is where we're going. It had a view of the future, and that ambition felt really exciting. And all these years later as I've moved on to other campuses, that hunger has been something that stayed with me as part of my toolkit as an admission officer and as a Dean like don't be lazy. You can work for a highly ranked, well-resourced place, creativity still counts.

Lee Coffin:And it makes me just shake my head sometimes at how our respective offices, people move among them. And you see once or twice remove somebody from your colleagues' team show up in the role you once had. It's fun. Claire, I never asked you this. What's your origin story? Like as an admission officer at Wesleyan? Tell us about that.

I remember the day you made Connecticut College one of the first places to be test optional and I think it was 1993. And I did see that as a courageous move because it showed me that you can switch course, the policy no longer made sense to you. And even though you were on the College Board board and you were someone who saw value in testing, you also had the confidence to say, "This policy at this college in this moment can change."

But I think a lot of us end up as admission officers and then with a degree of serendipity. I don't know that many people as when they're growing up or certainly even when they're in college say like, "I'm going to do this as my career." And that's one of my goals as I move into what I feel like the final act of Lee as a dean, is to continue to champion college admission and dean in particular as an important job. College is a transformational pivot point in so many people's lives and telling that story to the next generation feels like such an exciting job to have had.

Lee Coffin:No, of course it does. The transcript still counts. There are courses and grades from however many terms, semesters, years were remote. So as we move into this evaluation space, we now have a couple of classes and a couple of academic years, we're all are part of the learning environment. Could have been done virtually and a recommendation from a teacher who navigated this space with a class is valuable. Especially for the current crop of applicants who were juniors during the big surge last year.

11th grade is foundational as it sets up senior year and it sets up the transition to a college curriculum. So a teacher who still has the perspective of, here's how she learned, here are the papers she submitted. These are the questions we asked even with the caveat that this was on the Zoom and not an in-person conversation. But I think there's also qualities emerging around adaptability and resilience and focus and determination. And our campuses at the college side are still scrambled as well as we move through our latest surge and we've gone back to remote on many campuses.

If it's evaluative, the alum or the interviewer will file a report saying, "This is the person I met." And I think learning how to represent yourself verbally with someone who does not know you is an important life skill. You're going to have job interviews, you're going to move through life in lots of moments where people make impressions. You make an impression on another person, and that person will use that impression to make a decision. Same thing.

Laurel Beason has covered the journey from journalism to technical writing, and everything in between. If you are new to the field and would like to find out how you can move forward with the "think-forward" mindset, then tune in. In this episode, we chat about:

Note: This transcript is AI-generated. Please ignore typos or text that may appear confusing. The transcript has been edited for general accuracy.Zohra Mubeena-Mutabanna 0:08 Hello, listeners. If you are curious about technical communications, then this podcast is for you. In each episode, I will interview a guest who will share their unique journey. This is inside tech comm with Zohra Mutabanna Let's get started. I'm honored to welcome today's guest, Laurel Beason. Hi, Laurel, how are you?Laurel Beason 0:33 Hi Zohra. I'm good. Glad to be here today. Yes. I'm Laurel Beason and I started my career as a newspaper reporter, way back in the late 80s, and got into technical writing in the mid-90s. Here in Dallas, when it was really a Boomtown for technical writers. I had been in grad school learning how to teach English, and I thought I would teach writing at the college level. But when I came to Dallas, my fiance, was a tech writer and knew a lot of tech writers. And there were so many opportunities for tech writers. My first job was as a technical trainer, but then I quickly realized I'd rather do the writing than the training. So I've been doing it doing technical writing ever since you're a veteran. Yeah,Zohra Mubeena-Mutabanna 1:23 you would have invaluable advice for anybody that is looking into this field, I suppose. So you started your career as a newspaper reporter. What I would like to know is, as you transitioned from being in the field of journalism, over to technical writing, what was that? Like? What are the transferable skills that you could kind of capitalized on? Just share a little bit about that with us?Laurel Beason 1:52 Yeah, I've often thought that the background in journalism was really a great preparation for technical writing. I've often looked back and just been really thankful that I had that training and those experiences early in my career as a writer, two main things. One thing that comes to mind as a benefit of that training is the ability to ask questions, and to not be afraid to ask questions, and to ask that so-called dumb question. And to ask questions with the audience in mind, to ask questions, knowing I have to leave this interview, or this city council meeting, or school board meeting, or whatever it is, with all the information I have, I have to then turn around and write something for an audience. So that was really great training. And I often think that prepared me for all kinds of intimidating conversations with engineers, people who know more than I do, but I have to ask questions to, to draw that out.Zohra Mubeena-Mutabanna 2:53 I couldn't agree more with that. Interestingly, I also kind of come from a journalism background. And I did not work as a journalist, but I worked for a media company, and what you shared with me the ability to ask questions, and knowing your audience, it's half your job as a technical writer. And if one doesn't have that skill, or is intimidated to ask questions, as a technical writer, wouldn't you agree that that's something that you would want to cultivate and focus on? Because your job depends on it?Laurel Beason 3:28 Yes, yeah, I think that's a great thing that we're talking about because people think about technical writing, sometimes as writing. And of course, it is a job that involves writing. But yes, information development skills are a huge part of it. In fact, I've often heard writers say that they'd rather be writing than doing all of the many, many other things that we have to do as writers. But the research, which is what we're talking about, right, interviewing and so on, information gathering, yes, the fun part two,Zohra Mubeena-Mutabanna 3:58 I sometimes also feel like I'm getting to know the psychology of the person. And when I approach them with those questions, I'm trying to keep that psychology in mind. What do you think about that?Laurel Beason 4:08 Yeah, I think when you're talking about psychology, are you talking about the psychology of the person you're interviewing?Zohra Mubeena-Mutabanna 4:15 Yes, yes. So yeah. Like when you're talking to engineers, some engineers are very forthcoming with information. So you may not go as prepared because you know, you're going to get that while another engineer may not be forthcoming. So you kind of get to know the person, as well as your grooming your skill to ask the questions.Laurel Beason 4:35 Right. Yeah. And that was part of the journalism training, too. How do you establish rapport with the person you're interviewing? How do you walk in cold, you have an appointment, but you're walking in cold in terms of bombarding this person with a bunch of questions. You don't want it to feel that way to them that they're being bombarded. You want them to feel that you're friendly and A nice person to talk to, and that by talking to you, they're achieving a goal to Yeah, they have a goal of sharing this information with the public, or the readers of the Help site or the technical manual. And so you're helping them achieve a goal. So yeah, I agree that psychology is a good word for it. Yes, yeah. The other thing I want to mention about journalism is that it also gave me the experience of having to write on demand having to write in any situation to write quickly, to right off the top of my head. I think, when I was in school, when I was in college, as an undergrad, I'd like to spend a lot of time thinking about what I was going to write and planning what I was going to write, and perfecting what I was going to write. But in journalism, there's no time you go to a city council meeting. And on the way, I remember this many times, on the way from the city council meeting to my office, maybe a 10-minute drive, I had to outline the story in my head and think about the key points and, and then write that, the minute I got back to my computer. So I'm sharing that because I just think that's so important for technical writers too. We can strive for perfection, we have to strive for getting things done on time. And it's a different approach to writing. That's part of the fun to working under a deadline and trying to make it clear and well structured, but getting it done. I want to dig deeper because this isZohra Mubeena-Mutabanna 6:45 I think I haven't focused on it as much writing on demand. Because, again, coming back to my process that I kind of tried to follow. As a journalist, you are not part of a development lifecycle or software development lifecycle. So you really have to be thinking on your feet. I want to understand from you when you say writing on demand in the field of technical communications, how does that apply? And how does one, if you do not come from a journalism background? How does one work on that? I do see a parallel that you do. And even if you're working in a process, you're thinking on your feet, you're kind of coming up with an outline of what this content or this article is going to be like. So I do see the parallel. It's a very intriguing, I think value add, and I want you to share more, and kind of the whole thinking process. It really is intriguing to me.Laurel Beason 7:41 Okay. Yeah, this is great, because this is going to be creating the meaning as we talk here because it's not something I've thought about in terms of how would somebody develop that skill, but I know it's a skill writers need. Writers need to be able to think ahead to the writing, as they're asking the questions. And they need to, you know, think forward to the next conversation as they're writing to writing something and you're thinking ahead to the follow-up questions, you need to go ask someone else to fill in the gaps. So it's all about thinking about your audience, all the time. All of these different facets of our job are tied together. There's not a discrete-time when you're gathering information, and then that ends and you start writing. Right? It's all right, flow. But you're writing on demand is what you asked about. I think it's a mindset that we develop when we write every day. It's a mindset of plowing through the writing, I'm going to write what I think the message is. And as I'm writing it, I'm aware that this is not the final draft, it will get better as it goes along. But I have to write something. Deadline pressure is always there. Especially now, I think when I started working as a technical writer, we were working on waterfall projects. And we did have time to write. But now, all of us are working in a much faster pace. Even if our companies don't use the word agile. We're writing the fast pace we on my job now. And in my previous job, we could write something today and click a button to publish it. So the public could read it, the users of our help site could read it the same day. So that's what I mean by writing. Yes, giving up those ideas of perfection. Writing what you know, writing it as well as you can, knowing it's not the final draft. You'll tweak it as long as you can, but then you will let it go because it's clear enough.Zohra Mubeena-Mutabanna 9:56 I'm taking my notes as you speak, because what you touched upon I think what you said made complete sense to me, as you were kind of giving me an insight into what on-demand writing to you looks like. I'm thinking, yeah, right, I do that. And probably most technical writers do the fact that you're writing iteratively. And you want to give up your ideas of perfection. That's what you said. And that makes complete sense that your article can never be perfect. And you have to be accepting of that. But at the same time, your audience, if you have your audience analysis, done to some extent, then you know what kind of Article you're going to be writing. And you keep that front and center. And then based on that you write your article and you ask your questions, you have defined a scope is what I'm trying to say. And within that scope, you can do your on-demand, because you have sort of a certain set of parameters to guide you. Because if you go in without any of that, then you're going to be all over the place. So you do want to think so as you said, you're thinking about what my writing is going to look like what my structure is going to be, that allows you to write on demand, but you have in your head started planning for it ahead of time. And your questions guide you. What do you think about how I paraphrase that?Laurel Beason 11:17 Yeah, I think that's good. And that will help people to think about how they can either acquire those skills or hone those skills. The planning is so important understanding, not planning in the sense of having a detailed outline and pages and pages of pages of doc plan. But planning in the sense of, as you said, understanding the audience understanding the purpose of this document I'm writing, understand the need of the audience understand the need of the project team I'm working on, so that I'm working very efficiently. I'm guided by that understanding of the purpose, I'm asking questions with that in mind, and then creating what I think people need. And that's partly the training. As a journalist, probably most people have heard about the inverted pyramid style, and the five W's and the H and these things we've all heard about journalism, there are certain principles and structures that people learn when they go through journalism training. But we go through that too. And as technical writers, right, whether we have formal training, or we learn on the job, we know there are some there are topic types. For example, there are ways that we do things. There's a style guide that tells us this is the way that we do things. So not saying it's formulaic, because you're thinking on your feet all the time, right. But those structures, those best practices, I think, are so important to learn and to adhere to. Because that's what enables us to do this hard thinking, this complex thinking and to think on our feet and, and write things make senseZohra Mubeena-Mutabanna 13:05 that, of course, I would completely agree with you on that. You touched upon the inverted pyramid. I mean, as a writer, I know what you're alluding to, but for our audience, in your words, however you think of it. Can you talk a little bit about that?Laurel Beason 13:23 Yeah. for journalists, it's one of the first things you learn in journalism school is that if you think about information is a pyramid with the most important information comes first in the news article, and all of the most important information comes first. And as you continue writing the article, you go down to the nice to know but not necessary to know information. So that if needed, if the article is too long, it could be chopped from the bottom and still retain the essential content. So I was just giving that as an example of something. A newspaper reporter learns and uses. I always put the most important information first because somebody the editor might chop my article from the bottom. You know, in technical writing, it's things like you know, when I was teaching technical writing for a while, it was things like teaching them to structure procedures with numbered steps, and have one task per step and begin that step with a verb and use subject, verb order, sentence structure. those rules make it sound formulaic. But journalism is not formulaic. It's very challenging writing and work. And technical writing is not formulaic, either, right? complex, but I think the low structures those habits are Best practices, just like the planning, lik


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