Monday, March 9, 2015

Wendy McTammany ’95 on changing careers and adapting her writing to suit new audiences and purposes

Wendy McTammany ’95, Physical Therapist Assistant at Evangelical Community Hospital
Who I am as a writer has changed over the years based on my career, but more so as a result of whom my audience is at any given time. Something that I feel I was able to grasp at Bucknell, when I was writing every day for different classes, was that clear communication is paramount. I know that this sounds a bit cold and clinical, but depending on his/her audience, a writer has to change vocabulary, structure, organization and/or format. Even the most informal writing is ineffective if your reader cannot understand what you are trying to say.

When I was at Bucknell, my English essays were far different from the short stories I wrote in my creative writing class. Not only because they were for a different purpose but also because they were for a different audience. My social science essays needed to clearly communicate in the language of that discipline. When I went to graduate school for education, I had to write lesson plans that communicated to my cooperating teacher and to the professors at school while also teaching my students. As a teacher, I had to write test questions that were clear enough to elicit intelligent responses from my students and also answer my question. I made it clear to my students that clear communication and audience focus was important to me. I responded to student complaints that their history or science teacher was asking for different formatting for essay references by reminding them that different audiences and purposes require different styles of writing, different ways of communicating. (Not that they liked that very much, but I do think most of them eventually understood what I meant.)

Communication, one can see, is the reason that we write. We write to share knowledge, to express emotion, to elicit a response from our readers.

After eight years at home and doing little more writing than emails and an occasional poem or story for a now defunct informal writing group, I went back to school to become a Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA). I had been out of the classroom as a teacher for eight years and out as a student for twice that. I was going to have to learn to communicate in the language of the medical professional and that was a bit intimidating. I clung to my focus on audience and purpose, and that focus helped me to tackle a technical writing class and then move on to writing daily patient notes when I got my first job out of school.

As a PTA, I write daily notes about patients that have to quickly and clearly convey information about that patient’s symptoms, progress, exercise program, pain level, etc., so that any therapist who sees that patient after me can quickly know just where that patient left off and what needs to be done to best care for him or her in the future. I may not be available for questions, so I have to be clear and, as time is a factor with appointment scheduling, concise. Again, it all comes down to clear communication.

I don’t get the opportunity to write for fun very much, but I feel that I am truly blessed to feel so confident when wading through the sea of different kinds of writing. I think that my writing experiences at Bucknell were varied and not always easy, and tackling them gave me the writing confidence that I have today. I love to craft a piece of writing with an audience in mind; it feels (at the risk of sounding too sentimental about writing) almost like creating a personalized gift for that audience. Thank you, Bucknell for giving me one more writing assignment. This is my first blog post… another new form of writing to add to my ever growing list.

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