Writing Processes: Academic or Practical?

Lauren Phillips ‘16- ENG

phillips1 We all—or we all should—know how to write. And I don’t mean we’re all literate and capable of holding a pen. I mean that, at Elon University, we all know how to piece together a grammatically correct essay, transfer thoughts to paper, and organize an essay. Some may hate it and others may have a natural gift for it, but everyone can write.

As an English major, I probably end up writing more than the average college student. It’s okay, though: I enjoy writing, and it’s usually relatively easy for me. But this summer, my internship with Pace Communications has challenged my writing skills at every level and made me take a long look at how I write.rhettri

Discussing my process in detail has allowed me to understand it better. In my rhetoric and writing classes, we’ve discussed terms and strategies. Even with the exercises we do in class, though, these concepts always seemed abstract and wholly academic. Writing for my accounts at Pace and analyzing my processes has made the abstract concrete. I understand how to write for an audience and develop a voice—or mimic an already existing one—better now than ever before. Writing about writing may seem redundant or ridiculous, but it’s given me incredible insight into my own writing process—something I’ve never bothered truly examining.

A little background: As I mentioned before, my internship this summer is with Pace Communications, a content marketing agency. (For a crash course in content marketing, my new favorite industry, check out http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/what-is-content-marketing/.) I’m working with two different accounts—one digital, one print—and they have very different methods for achieving the same goal: persuading customers to buy the client’s product. For confidentiality reasons, I’ll refer to the digital account as “Digital” and the print account as “Print.” Each account has had its own challenges, and I’ve struggled with each in different capacities.


I try to keep three things in mind when I write: subject matter, audience, and tone. It’s my own adaptation of the Rhetorical Triangle: subject matter stands for message, audience stands for itself, and tone stands for writer. At Pace, my supervisors provide subject matter, or I supply it myself from research. That’s easy enough. Audience and tone are much more difficult, and they’re the source of my struggles. I find it difficult to separately explain my process for each because, for me at least, audience and tone are so intertwined (I adjust tone to fit the audience), but I’ll do my best.

When I started at Pace, one of the first things I tried to do was understand who my audiences are. Both Digital and Print have well-defined target audiences and, in good practice of rhetoric, cater to these audiences. Digital’s audience is made up of younger adults aged 25-40ish. (I’m going to mimic fashion writing and use “the Digital Adult” to refer to them.) The Digital Adult is middle-class, enjoys indie/rock/punk music, and is into eating out, having fun, and going on cool trips (all within a budget). The Digital Adult is unfailingly patriotic and probably enjoys NASCAR. The Print Adult, on the other hand, is astoundingly wealthy (as in, price tags are irrelevant), well-educated, well-bred, and cultured. The Print Adult enjoys gourmet food prepared by Michelin-starred chefs, brand names, and long-established traditions. The Print Adult tends to be closer to middle-aged and has impeccable style.

Need I point out how different these two audiences are? From the beginning, I recognized that it would be difficult to switch between audiences, but I didn’t understand the extent to which I’d have to do so. I have to adjust my vocabulary, tone, and punctuation on a day-to-day basis as I work with my respective accounts. (It’s not as easy as it sounds.)

“Write something you would want to read.”

I see this quote everywhere, and it’s probably my favorite piece of writing advice. It’s easy to understand: if I write something that I wouldn’t want to read, how can I expect anyone else to read and enjoy it? So I keep that nugget of wisdom in mind when I write. I imagine myself as the audience, with small adjustments, and write for myself.

For example, in a previous internship, I wrote content for a children’s fan club website. The publishing company I worked for produced children’s books, and my job was to write blog posts and letters from the books’ characters. It wasn’t difficult to imagine myself as a member of the audience. What child wouldn’t want to receive a letter from her favorite book character, or read a blog post about that character’s favorite vacation? I thought of what extra information I would have wanted to know about my favorite childhood book characters and used that to write for the website. Easy.

At Pace, it’s not so easy. Digital isn’t too bad. I roughly fit into Digital’s target audience. I’m a little young for the target age range, but I’m middle-class and I like contemporary restaurants. Close enough. I imagine myself a few years older, living in a city and eating out every night, and write for that version of me. Not quite easy, but not an insurmountable challenge, either.

The biggest issue is with Print. The Print Adult and I have almost nothing in common. As I write this, the only similarity I can think of is a love of travel, but my traveling experiences are a far cry from those of the elite Print Adult. I can’t imagine myself as a Print Adult because that lavish lifestyle is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. I can’t imagine who I’m writing for, which makes it difficult to determine if my writing is enjoyable. I don’t know if a reader would like this piece on a $16,000 handbag because I can’t imagine reading an article about a $16,000 handbag.

The second obstacle I face in writing is matching the pre-established tones of each account. I researched both heavily: Digital’s is witty, cynical, and sarcastic; Print’s is lofty and elegant. Again, very different from each other. Similarly to the audience issue, though, I find that writing for Digital comes more smoothly than writing for Print. When I write for Digital I can use my voice, with an added touch of sass. But when I write for Print, I have to adopt a lofty tone that I would never use in real life.

Do you know what “bespoke” means? I didn’t until I started working for Print. (It means custom.) Writing in my usual tone, custom is an acceptable word, but bespoke is practically a keyword for Print. I would never use “bespoke” in an article for Digital, which is why I use completely different vocabularies for each account.

A Solution?

I’ve faced several issues writing for two accounts on polar opposite ends of the audience spectrum. My solution has been to read as many examples of writing as possible, and mimic these. I’ve read every Digital article I can access, and I’ve made a study out of Print’s products. But reading 200 pages of articles about bespoke shoes and multi-million dollar cars didn’t make writing my own articles any easier. I think that the final product matched Print’s tone pretty well, but the process was messy and painful. I agonized over every word and asked myself if there was a more sophisticated synonym. I also had to decide what information was most appropriate to include, which involved a lot of second-guessing myself. But I kept the Print Adult in mind and a previous edition of the product close at hand.

I never would have been able to describe my process without the use of the terms I’ve picked up from my writing and rhetoric classes. It’s a confusing process when I think about it too much, but when I’m writing, it feels natural. I think that’s what all these writing classes and textbooks and projects are trying to teach us: how to develop our own natural writing processes.

Thanks for reading!

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One Comment

  1. Posted October 25, 2014 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

    Just yesterday, it dawned on me how different the writing is in Cosmopolitan magazine compared to Vanity Fair. I honestly don’t know why it took me so long to notice, but I find it funny that the day after I make my embarrassingly late discovery I read this blog.
    I really like the way you’ve organized this post, and like the way you’ve described the struggles you faced. My brothers are both more scientific, and I have a difficult time, sometimes, explaining how word choice is so important. You, however, have done so perfectly.