Discovering One Style Doesn’t Fit All

By Leslie MacManus

According to a recent survey by the National Survey of Student Engagement, on average, college freshmen write more than 90 pages during the school year and college seniors write more than 140 pages. If you do the math, that could be around 450 pages of papers during a full undergraduate career! Add that to the numerous projects and writing assignments in graduate school, and I can confidently say that I had done a lot of writing before my dietetic internship began. So, when I started the University of Maryland (UMD) College Park dietetic internship with a technology or nutrition informatics emphasis, I thought that I would breeze through all the writing requirements with ease. Little did I know, I was about to embark on a 10-month journey that incorporated a different style of writing almost every week! I have just about completed my fifth rotation in this program, so while I feel like I have learned multiple different styles of writing already, I think there will be even more in my future. Let me tell you about a few things I’ve learned in each rotation about writing.

Food Supplement Nutrition Education (FSNE)

First up: writing for a low-literacy audience. During my FSNE rotation, I was tasked with writing a blog post for the FSNE website on drinking water during the school day. I started writing right away, incorporating great vocabulary and detailed sentences that captured the ideas that I wanted to feature in my post. My preceptor then gave me a “readability score” resource I could use to check that my blog post qualified as a 6th grade reading level, which was a requirement for the blog post. I basically received a score equivalent to a failing grade at first. The resource my preceptor gave me had some tips listed to improve my readability score:

  • Use words with less than 12 letters, as long words are difficult to read and say.
  • Write sentences with less than 30 syllables, as long sentences are difficult to track.
  • Break down long sentences into simpler terms or multiple sentences.

With these tips in mind, I set out to write my next draft, breaking down words and sentences into more basic forms. It felt funny writing in a very simple manner, especially since I had just come from graduate school where I recently wrote very long papers, almost in the form of a thesis. This experience taught me that learning how to write in this style can only improve my skill set as a future registered dietitian (RD).

UMD Campus Dining Services and Sustainability

Examples of infographics I created during my UMD Campus Dining Services rotation.

Next on the list: informative writing for a large audience. The UMD Campus Dining and Sustainability rotations included the development of many educational materials for a large audience, including UMD students, faculty, staff and anyone else who may be on campus or visit the website. I had to learn how to take a certain topic and portray the main points to a large audience in multiple different ways: a blog post, a social media post, a poster, a table tent, and more. The fact that these educational materials often included pictures and graphics was an added challenge. I already knew how to create a simple infographic, but this rotation allowed me to strengthen this skill and create more detailed versions that were displayed across campus.

Snapshot of a farmers market brochure my internship partner and I developed at our sustainability rotation.

 

Clinical

Third writing style: concise writing. It may surprise you, but my clinical rotation actually taught me something about writing. After seeing a patient in the hospital, I had to write a short note in his or her chart. This note was a compilation of what the patient told me, what I observed and other relevant information from the patient’s chart. My first note seemed to be a bit of a disaster, as I included way too much information. Providing an extensive amount of patient information in the charted note seemed like a no-brainer to me. However, what I failed to realize was that the patient’s chart included notes from all professions – doctors, social workers, nurses, physical therapists, and more. The RD note was supposed to include only pertinent nutrition information that would be relevant to the next RD, doctor or nurse that visited the patient in the future. This was a difficult thing to learn, but by the end of my clinical rotation I felt like an expert on creating simple, more concise notes. I now know what information to include, what to omit, and how to write it in the most effective way possible.

Me at my clinical rotation practicing my mini case study presentation.

Abstracts

New concept in progress: writing with a strict word limit. At this point in the internship, we have started writing drafts of our abstracts to be considered for presentation at the student poster session of the DCMAND 2020 Annual Meeting. This has been one of the more difficult writing styles to learn, as there is a strict 250-word limit to each abstract. The only experience I have with writing limits has been in a page-limit format, where I am restricted to 5-, 10- or even 20-pages and there is plenty of space to include all the information I feel is pertinent. In this process, I have had to learn how to take my topic idea and compile it into 5 different sections while making every single word count – there is no room for “extra fluff” in the abstract, as it will not be accepted if it is even one word over the limit. If you think this sounds challenging, you are correct! Luckily, I am always up for a challenge, so I have been enjoying this experience so far.

At this point in my internship, I have learned about several new writing styles that I will carry with me into my future career as an RD. I appreciate that I am learning and strengthening my writing skills on a daily basis. I look forward to seeing what writing style I will learn or work on at my next rotation!

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