Getting Professional Communication down to a Science

Spencer Schreier 2016The Void in STEM Education

I never thought a break from science courses would actually make me a better scientist.

As a Biotechnology major and now graduate student, my college curriculum focused heavily on subjects like microbiology, statistics, and chemistry- all great courses that supported my research. Over the past years, I’ve noticed my research practices improve and my understanding of science broaden.

However, in the midst of my scientific progress, my collegiate experience didn’t really foster the professional communication skills my future career will surely demand. I’ve found professional communication courses are not well advertised or encouraged to those in STEM fields, so I doubt I am the only one experiencing this deficit.

Yet effective communication is critical to any career pursuit, so I believe we cannot underscore its importance.

Personally, I wasn’t wholly aware of my communicative skill deficit until I diverged from my typical course repertoire and enrolled in a new course here at South Dakota State University called Professional and Technical Writing taught by Dr. Christine Stewart.

Learning by Doing

Dr. Stewart led this course with a proactive, investigative approach:

  • She assigned each of us to interview candidates from our future career fields and gain a perspective for how different careers influence writing.
  • During class, Dr. Stewart taught and led discussion on factors or practices that contribute to effective communication.
  • After practicing what I learned from the interviews and lectures, I demonstrated what I learned by creating documents or presentations important to my future career field.

By combining formal instruction with investigation and application, I gained a comprehensive understanding of what factors play into professional communication.

Some Keys to Strong Writing

  • Concise writing is essential for effective communication. This is especially true in scientific writing, where the content is typically cumbersome and ambiguous descriptions can easily confuse a reader. Sentences should be direct and carry their own purpose.
  • Authors that write in an audience-conscious manner increase personalization and specificity to their writing. The challenge of writing in an audience-conscious manner lies in identifying the groups that compose an audience and determining what they expect from the piece. However, it is a key practice if the writer expects to connect with their audience.
  • An author should grant themselves ample time to repeatedly review and revise their work. Notably, I got great feedback on clarity when asking someone unfamiliar with the piece’s subject to read through it and point out sections they found confusing.

Excite your Science

While these are just a few of the helpful guidelines I learned from the course, I can’t stress the potential to entice your readers by using savvy grammatical practices. These practices improve clarity and (what is especially important) engage the audience. In the midst of our scientific pursuits, many of us forget that our work needs to not only be shared, but shared effectively and clearly in order to give it meaning. After learning how I can improve my writing, I find myself explaining my science with more confidence and feel better prepared to enter the professional field.

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