Week 1 - Principles

We had a great first class! For those of you following along online, I’ll do my best to recap the activities each week. I’ll also post my slides and notes from the students for your reference. (Thanks in advance to the folks who volunteered to share notes!)

This week’s update will be a bit longer than usual, as I need to explain the structure of the class and some of the methods we use. Similarly, I lecture more in the first week than I do in the following four classes.


Warm-up exercise

I open each class with a timed writing exercise. I find these quick, structured exercises to be an interesting and effective way to dive in and start writing. I don’t agree with the adage that you need to write every day, but I also want to counter the idea that writing needs to be a big event. Jotting down notes, writing tweets, using speech-to-text to transcribe your thoughts, answering emails, and texting all qualify as practice.

One of my goals with the first week is to gather input from everyone about what they’re hoping to learn. Writing is stressful for most people, so I decided to switch things up this semester with a hopes and fears exercise.

I passed out two colors of sticky notes and markers. Then, we took 7 minutes to write down hopes and fears:

If I were doing this kind of exercise with a client, we would go through each sticky note and put them into groups. To save some time, I clustered the sticky notes after class. You can find a summary of the notes here.

Writing and content basics

Next, I gave an overview of the class and my take on writing in general. I tried to weave in some recent work for good measure. After that, we talked about the kinds of things we’ve been reading and writing lately (e.g., cover letters, email, blog posts).

Values and principles exercises

We worked through two other exercises together: writing about someone we admire to get to our own core values, and looking at sites we admire for inspiration. I try to make it clear that this course is a series of starting points, and these exercises help us articulate what good writing is as a group. I added the attributes that we came up with to the slides for future reference.

Next week, we’ll talk about developing your own style and look at the differences between voice and tone. After that, Robyn Kanner will join us to talk about her work on MyTransHealth, and how she uses Twitter to share her work (and feelings!) with a broader audience.