Pros Write

Communicating at work with Kim Sydow Campbell, PhD

About Pros Write

I’ve been talking about the role of writing for professionals for nearly 35 years. My “talk” has always taken place in a university classroom or an academic journal. I’m not ready to stop talking in those contexts, but I am tired of their constraints. So why not talk with fewer (or at least different) constraints here? There are things I really want to SAY.

Like . . . why do so few recognize how bizarre it is that the US educational system thinks teachers who like to read literature are the best candidates to teach young people how to write? These teachers mean well, but all they offer are platitudes like “writers must analyze their audience” followed by a requirement for at least five double-spaced pages. I guess it works out OK for the 10 or 15 or so years people remain students who write about literature for teachers who like to read literature. But what about the writing they do for the REST of their lives? You know–the kind of professional writing that determines whether they get a job or earn a promotion or win funding for their business venture.

Don’t get me wrong. I have loved reading literature for as long as I can remember. But writing like Austen or Twain or even Stephen King hasn’t earned me a promotion. Not once.

What gets me professional R-E-S-P-E-C-T is my ability to create a document that helps other people do their jobs with minimal reading effort on their part. It’s about bringing order to chaos. Making the complex simple.

That ability was hard won. It started with a knowledgeable mentor who was willing to read the crap I wrote and provide generalizable feedback based not on platitudes but on his knowledge of linguistics and his own professional writing experience. It continued with my willingness to admit I had never written anything but crap–despite my history of straight As in English–and to apply my mentor’s guidance. It also required the kind of knowledge literature teachers rarely have. I’m talking about explicit (not tacit) knowledge of workplace language or discourse. God bless you, Frank!

This blog will allow me to share some of what I’ve learned. I’ll go on record that nothing I can give you will do you any good without humility, tenacity, and selflessness. Platitudes are easy. But it’s not easy to earn the rank of “pro” writer.

Thanks for joining me!

ksc 2020v2
Dr. Kim

17 thoughts on “About Pros Write

  1. I’m looking forward to learning from what you have learned — especially language insights rooted in research and careful observation of professional communication in the real world.

  2. Hear, hear! I have always wondered about the school system, too. I’d love to get my hands on students and show them how to really write, or at least what I know to this stage. This brings me to my next point: I have a writing background (BA Translation) and write in my job, but I want to be able to market myself as an expert plain language writer. What’s your advice to accomplish this goal?

    PS My fascination about plain language involves how it fits in with usability.


    1. I’m looking for professional writers, that’s what brought me to this fantastic blog that I can’t peel myself away from (despite having a major deliverable tomorrow). I’m a writer (BA in English Writing) and SEO, and the #1 challenge my clients struggle with is producing a consistent pipeline of quality content. Dr. Kim I’d love to talk with you about this if you have a few minutes (anyone else reply to this comment and I will be notified via email).

      I’ll say it one last time…what a wonderful blog Dr. Kim has produced here. Kudos to her for the effort, experience and wisdom that have gone into producing this remarkable and memorable site.

      1. Thanks for your praise, Craig. This site was a labor of love.

        I haven’t blogged regularly in a few years now. My day job has made it impossible. But I hope to come back to it when I step aside a chair of my academic department this coming fall. That department, by the way, is devoted to technical communication. We are one of a handful in the world. I regularly post job openings on LinkedIn and Twitter on behalf of our students and alumni. You can learn more about us at

  3. Interesting! In addition to blogging I write grant proposals, so I am definitely interested in what you have to say. Thanks for dropping by my blog and liking my post.

  4. I have been following your blog and am a plain language writing consultant myself. I am also working on an MA.Ed in Literacy at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax. I have been asked by my academic supervisor to come up with a theoretical framework for my thesis. Theory is an area in which I struggle as I am more focused on the practice of writing and usability. Is there a particular “theoretical lens” through which you see your work? If so, can you suggest some theorists that I should look into? My supervisor suggests Paulo Friere after conversations with me but she is not acquainted with plain language. I wonder if there are others I should look at. I would really appreciate your help.

    1. Hi, Catherine! I’m thinking about the best way to help.

      There is no single theoretical lens that illuminates everything about plain language practice. Instead, I look to linguistics and psychology for relevant theories that can be fruitfully applied to the practices.

      Are there some specific practices of interest to you? Have you developed research questions yet? Breaking down your interest in plain language to specific questions is the primary hurdle in completing a thesis. It isn’t easy. But it’s necessary.

      I’ll gladly chat with you outside of the blog if that would be helpful. Just let me know.

  5. Thank you so much for getting back to me. I have a research question but, of course, it can change. For now it is: “Does plain language improve comprehension, compliance, and satisfaction with government services?” I would be thrilled to discuss this with you outside the blog. Please feel free to email me.

    1. Thanks, Chas! I love the Johnson contributions to The Economist. But I hate that it’s been rolled into the Prospero blog, which deals with arts & culture.

      I love the end of the post:

      “There is one double-space after a full stop in this column. For fun, see how long it takes you to find it. If you noticed it already, and it distracted you from the rest of the piece, Johnson humbly suggests you might be focusing a little too much on the wrong things.”

      Good stuff!

  6. Maybe that’s out of netiquette but I must admit I just love your blog. Helping organizations and people at large communicate better helps foster quality, service and reaps so many untold benefits … I currently teach Business English but I have worked in companies before ( 2.0 and 1.0 alike) and I can swear hand on my heart I’ve seen money lost through leeking communication systems.

  7. I stumbled on your site looking for something else, but came across the comment on your ‘about’ page about the problem of having literature professors teach writing. I can’t agree more. I taught writing at the college level for a while, and quickly realized that writing classes (with the possible exception of advanced creative writing courses and their ilk) should be under the communications department, or each university’s equivalent. Unfortunately, with all the obstacles involved (including but not limited to meddling by administrations, inter-departmental politics, and the adjunct instructor plantation system) I don’t see that change being adopted in many places, now or ever.
    Keep up the good fight, though.
    – Chris

    1. Thanks, Chris. I’m sorry for the long delay in acknowledging your comment. I’ve been in the midst of an interstate move. My new job is in a department of technical communication where I have joined with lots of others fighting the good fight!

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