BY: CHRIS JOHNSON
I didn’t really know what to expect when I began my technical writing internship with UD’s IT Communication Group (IT-CG) at the start of my junior year. My manager had told me that, put simply, the job of the IT-CG was to “communicate ‘the IT story’ to members of the UD community” on a daily basis. A year and a half later, I’m a senior continuing to work at the IT-CG as a part-time employee, constantly gaining experience in the art of communicating with a university audience. I now know better than ever what communicating IT’s story involves.
Every day at my job is a little different depending on what’s happening in the realm of technology of UD’s campus. My communication duties range from small jobs like posting content on IT’s @ITatUD Twitter account, writing and organizing online help files, and posting safety articles on the IT security blog, to larger jobs like writing UDaily articles showcasing faculty use of technology and designing websites for new initiatives on campus. Each method of communicating is distinct and requires a different approach depending on who I’m working with and who the audience is (i.e., faculty versus students).
Although my skill set has been sharpened for a technology-based communication position, what I’ve learned about writing and designing for a University audience is applicable to most people working in communications. Here are a few tips I’d like to share.
Audience analysis is key
There’s a reason audience analysis is covered so much in all those COMM and English courses. Working for the University, I must write in a different voice depending on whether I’m communicating with faculty, staff, students, or all three. For example, when I redesigned the Connecting page for UD’s networks, I had to write network descriptions in such a way that they applied to everyone from freshman entering college for the first time to data custodians concerned about protecting PII (personally identifiable information).
It’s important to sit down as a team and discuss the possible audience members of any given piece of communication. What mood will they be in? Do they need quick answers or thorough explanations? What level of vocabulary should be used? These are the essential questions to ask while developing any piece of communication.
Make it visual
Visuals are especially important for social media, but also for other types of communication, like news articles. A UDaily article about a malware attack on campus computers is necessary and helpful, but a “hook” is needed to draw the reader into the story. What better way than to create a simple, yet compelling visual to warn the readers about how serious a current issue is? Other times, information can be boiled down into a graphic to help the audience better understand what they’re looking at. This infographic I created helps explain UD’s security response process.
Photoshop is an essential piece of software that everyone should learn how to use before entering the workplace. Another software I use for creating graphics is Sketch for Mac. For flow charts and diagrams, Draw.io is fantastic.
Learn to code
Sure, it’s easy to come to work, get the required work done, and leave. But without actively seeking new experiences in an internship, it’s hard to advance forward. I talked to my boss once about getting more involved with different IT partners on campus, and I’m now one of the lead marketing team members for UD’s new Blue Print 3D Studio. I’ve written multiple UDaily articles, and got to design the official logo. Awesome.
Another way to get involved is to delve deeper into whatever topic is currently being written about. I once had to boil down this complex presentation into an easy to read news release, which required far more research than I had initially anticipated. After a day’s worth of research and interesting tangential reading, I can honestly say I know more about ArcGIS geographic mapping software than I ever could have imagined.
Chris Johnson is an English Professional Writing major at the University of Delaware, with minors in advertising and interactive media. He’s had three on-campus internships before his current internships with UD’s IT Communication Group. After graduation this spring, he plans to continue working as a communicator for the University. To chat, email him at ccj@udel, tweet @heyccj, or connect on LinkedIn.