Professional Writing and social responsibility

Filed in Student Experience by on January 18, 2019

Those of us who chose to major in Professional Writing are aware of how important writing well is for our future. But are we aware of the societal impact our work can have?

I’ve been learning a lot about writing professionally this year, both at school and at work. One of the most interesting things that I’ve discovered is how important it is to write responsibly. Everything we put out there, whether it’s published in a book, a magazine, or just on the internet, creates the language we adopt as a global culture.

My current job is to write and compile pieces about the intersection between spirituality and humanitarian action. In my research, I’ve found that neither of these topics are commonly written about in terms I feel comfortable with. Articles on spirituality and religion always have a very aloof tone, or are so full of clichés that they become vapid. And when it comes to humanitarian action, too many non-profits reduce the conversation to an “us” and a “them,” with no sense of inclusivity whatsoever. It made me think: is it any wonder that spirituality is often perceived as pretentious or cheap, and humanitarian action is often carried out with a “savior” mentality?

As my team and I dive into these topics, we are realizing that we have to create a new language for ourselves.

We try to stay centered on our own experience, and not imply first-hand knowledge of other cultures or experiences when we do not have it. When we write about social issues, we steer clear of “us” vs. “them” wording, trying instead to make it about how we can fix the world around us, and how we can make sure we improve. We also avoid terms like “you should” or “you have to”, and try to refrain from either self-aggrandizing terms (like listing our various achievements when they aren’t relevant) or a high-and-mighty academic tone (referencing multiple niche authors in a way that is not accessible to those who have not read them). We make sure that the images associated with our text feature diverse groups of people, in a diversity of realities. We try to question ourselves constantly, asking: will a person walk away from this article with a thoughtful, hopeful feeling, or are we falling into controversy and criticism just for the sake of it?

We’ve had to stay focused on what we want, avoiding the urge to copy trends we see in news sites or listicles; constantly reminding ourselves that we are trying to create a new way of speaking, writing, and maybe even thinking among ourselves and our readers.

There are values embedded even in the most boring corporate document—and writers are the ones who put them there, sometimes unthinkingly. As a Professional Writing major at WPI, in a school that is so closely involved with humanitarian action around the world, but also deeply embedded in the technical, one could easily be swept away by the logistics of the writing craft. But as we put out information into the world, describing projects, research, or even instructions, we also bear a heavy burden of responsibility.

Through our connection with science and technology, we will most likely be involved in many of the great steps our generation takes in the many fast-growing industries WPI students end up in, and what we write about those steps will probably outlast us—even reaching the hands of people generations after us. As professional writers, it’s up to us to keep in mind the importance of the way we write, and its profound effect on the civilization around us. How will we use our writing for the betterment of the world, no matter what area we end up working in?

About the Author ()

Nasim Mansuri is passionate about the written word and its role in the betterment of society. She is currently pursuing a BS in Chemical Engineering and a BA in Professional Writing at WPI.

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