By Katherine Wildman
All businesses move fast – we live in the digital age, and the rise of AI technology, machine learning and data analysis are shaking things up all over the place. But what does this mean for our TICE writing students?
A recent report by Dorian Stone, Business General Manager at Grammarly, has bright predictions for the value of writing at work in 2020. According to Stone, “Written communication will become increasingly valuable, and the ability to communicate ideas and rationale clearly and effectively will become critical to making the right decision quickly, the first time.”
Such developments will impact on this year’s TICE writing students, today and in the future. So, before we began each of this year’s insight days, I asked the students what they liked about writing.
What do you like about writing?
Here’s what they said:
“I love to write because I create stories in my head, and my writing can make them more realistic for me. I also really enjoy sitting by myself and letting my emotions out through my writing.” – Holly
“I like to write because it is a way for me to let my emotions out without hurting anyone’s feelings. Writing helps me cool down if I am angry or sad, it helps me to not lash out on people without thought. It also helps me build my dreams and ideas when they are lost in my mind.” – Adam
“I love writing because there are no rules of what you have to write, and you can express things easier when you write. Also, creative writing is a big area so there are lots of ways to express what you are thinking. It’s not stressful to do.” – Ruby
Writing industry trends
When preparing for our insight days each year, Jenny asks each mentor to consider what’s changed in their industry over the past 12-months – and for me, it’s been these four things:
- The rise of machine learning to assist the written word – with predictive text, applications like Grammarly and Siri – means we can communicate with greater ease and confidence.
- The explosion of TikTok, “the destination for short-form mobile videos” has made micro-blogging fun again.
- More people than ever are tuning into audio information and consuming the written word aloud with the growth of podcasts and apps like Audible.
- Brands are taking the UX (user experience) and accessibility of their websites more seriously as legislation in this area is set to change.
A few years ago, when we asked a room full of TICE students who had a blog or a YouTube account that they were populating with content, four or five hands would go up. Today? It’s all about the ‘Gram – and new kid on the block, TikTok.
Today’s technology means that it’s easier than ever to produce engaging content – and to share it at speed. And as technology evolves and develops, there will be fewer reasons for any of us not to communicate our ideas and rationale clearly and effectively, whether that’s via a short form TikTok video or a lengthy Instagram post.
But, I digress – back to the coalface of writing.
Three years into my role as TICE’s creative writing mentor, it never fails to fascinate me to see how the students prefer to write. This year there was a real mixture of those who rattled off their words on a screen and those who chose to take a sheet of A3 paper (big paper for big ideas) and let their ideas flow onto the page.
And so, the day began.
- Channel your inner Jay Rayner
The hardest piece of writing I’ve ever been commissioned to write was a restaurant review of a Corsican restaurant in London. The food was incredible, the wine pairings sublime – but trying to fill 550 words without saying, a series of ‘delicious’, ‘delightful’ and ‘decadent’ was excruciating. And so, I asked the students to tell me – in great detail – about the best meal they’ve ever eaten. Then laid on a feast of tastes, textures and flavours to help them add those details that would bring their writing to life – and take it to a level beyond the ‘delicious’, ‘delightful’ and ‘decadent’. Issued with a selection of weird and wonderful descriptive words, screens and sheets of paper started to fill with vivid accounts of ambience, sensory experience, conversation, enjoyment and a real sense of time.
“The most interesting thing I learnt in the Insight stage was how to write a food review. I thought it would be very difficult but as I wrote more the words seemed to flow out of my head. I’ve never liked writing non-fiction but the food review was the best piece of non-fiction I’ve done so far.”
– Abigail Akinyemi, George Stephenson High School
2. Ambitions for further education
Then, we looked at the wealth of journalism courses on offer in the North East – from Media and Journalism BA at Northumbria University to the Journalism BA at Sunderland University via the Journalism, Media and Culture BA (Hons) at Newcastle University – with the relevant prospectuses, because I’d thought ahead this year.
3. Sparse, spare, structured (key) words
Next up was poetry, with an introduction to the magnificent Hollie McNish’s work “Famous for What?” – well worth a look on YouTube, and the commercial use of poet Sugar J’s work for the Nationwide Building society.
Poetry, to me, is about restraint and about paring back words to evoke meaning in the reader’s mind in as sparse a way as possible. Which is a little bit like my work when I’m writing search engine optimised copy for websites – you have a certain number of characters and words to play with, so each word and key phrase has to work very hard.
To exercise this skill, then, each student was given a list of ten keywords and asked to write a piece of poetry or verses of song lyrics using as many of the words as possible. An excellent exercise in editing, structuring – and imparting meaning.
4. Please, please, please (let me get what I want)
Oh, persuasive writing. You are a powerful beast. Persuasive writing is that alchemy of words that makes you buy things late at night, sign up for newsletters you’ll never read – and it keeps the business world turning. To explore its power, the students had to argue their case for being allowed to stay at a party beyond their usual curfew – and the results were brilliant. We had text exchanges, thinly veiled threats – and much bartering of dog walks and household chores.
5. Don’t speak to me in that tone of voice
In terms of commercial work, a writer who can develop a brand’s tone of voice is a writer who will be in demand. That’s because it’s a brand tone of voice – along with its visual identity – that gives a business its unique place in the market and makes its communications effective, engaging and memorable.
To experiment with different tones, the students first had to write a letter of fury to a neighbour who had angered them – by forgetting to feed a pet while they were on holiday or dumping a load of rubbish in their garden – and then turn the tables and write a pleading letter, requesting forgiveness. It was interesting to see how each scenario affected the writing that was produced. Anger was short, sharp and snappy – with plenty of exclamation marks – where the requests for forgiveness were more tempered, used longer sentences and added more clauses for effect.
“I love writing and I was worried that I’d never figure out how to do such a thing, but TICE has given me a lot of motivation as to how to make a living as a writer and you know what, I wouldn’t mind making one. The TICE insight course was really helpful and really useful as to what writing was and where it could take you.”
– Student, George Stephenson High School