PWC Q&A: Program Advisory Committee member Sharon Aschaiek

This year we’re taking you behind the scenes to see how PWC operates and hear from key people on the team. In this post, we connected with a member of our program advisory committee (PAC). Our PAC is composed of writing professionals who advise on what kinds of content we should be including in the program in order to stay current with industry standards. See our list of PAC members here.

Sharon Aschaiek is an experienced writer whose company Cocoa Media serves the higher education sector. She is online at www.cocoamedia.ca

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Sharon Aschaiek

What do you do as a member of the PWC Program Advisory Committee?

Together with the other members of the committee, I help shape the content and format of the PWC program by sharing my knowledge and insights as an independent communicator. Drawing on my experience of running a communication business since 2004, I share my perspective on the key expertise students need to know to excel as a professional freelance writer or communicator. Collectively, our PAC focuses on ensuring the PWC program is current and relevant, and optimally prepares students to succeed.

What are some industry aspects that the advisory committee discusses more regularly?

Writing and communications is a vast career area that touches on almost every type of sector and organization. This means the profession can be affected by a variety of forces and trends. Among the aspects of writing and communications trends and issues PAC members discuss are:

– how new and social media affects writers – how they gather information, how they market themselves, and the new kinds of employment opportunities available to them

– the strong need for writers to be able to translate complex research findings into easy-to-understand content

– in an employment environment that in many contexts features contract, part-time or freelance work, the value of having entrepreneurship skills

– the importance of effective storytelling not only in journalism, but in communications for all types of organizations

– how the evolution of the English language, particularly as influenced by social media and mobile technology, affects the way writers work

– how the shift in the format of communications to including more images, video and audio affects the perceived value of written communications, and the way writers do their jobs

– the importance for writers to understand how to be compliant with Ontario’s Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act

What do you think is the benefit of having an advisory committee?

A program advisory committee helps ensure a program teaches the knowledge and skills students need to excel in their field. The PWC PAC provides guidance on how communications activities take place in organizations, what employers expect from their communications staff, what are the core elements of effective communications, and how writers can navigate and take advantage of the range of work opportunities in communications. The PAC is essentially like a direct connection to industry that offers insider information and insights on trends and opportunities in communications in order to best prepare students for the field.

Why did you agree to help out?

I enjoy being part of the PWC PAC because it’s very rewarding for me to help people succeed in a field that has been so good to me. I have been writing professionally since 2000, and have been freelancing since 2004, and my writing career has been deeply satisfying in many ways.

As a writer, I find storytelling to be a fun challenge, and I like being able to share important or inspiring stories that can influence how people think and feel. As an independent communicator, I enjoy the flexibility of choosing my clients, projects and hours. Being part of the PWC PAC allows me to share my passion and expertise for writing and communications, and to provide up-and-comers in the field with a strong foundation for their career.

You’ve also been a guest speaker in the program. What is your best advice to students as they enter the writing world?

As with all things in life, persistence is key. While there are many writers competing for jobs, there are also many opportunities, so keep job searching, prospecting and networking, stay current on trends in writing and communications, and keep practising your writing skills.

Market yourself and your strengths as a writer by consistently blogging and sharing your posts on social media. This not only helps promote your abilities as a writer, it allows you to practise your writing skills.

Whether or not you want to work for an organization or be a freelancer, it helps to have a specialty. Having a niche in an area of communications, e.g. in health-care writing, internal communications or email newsletters, allows you to stand out among employers. It can also help you command higher fees, since you have a specialty not everyone else has.

No matter where you land, be professional. Show up on time, complete every project according to word count and by deadline, be cooperative and helpful, share your (good) ideas, and go beyond your job description. Even if you aren’t (yet) the strongest writer, these qualities can help make you indispensable.

Consider working for yourself. It’s sensible to start your writing career at an organization to gain experience and contacts, and to see if this working style suits you. If it’s not your bag, remember that freelancing is a viable option that is less scary than you may think. Running a writing business lets you practise the skill you love on your own terms and enjoy potentially significant lifestyle and financial rewards.

 

PWC Q&A: Professor Helena Moncrieff

This year we’re taking you behind the scenes to see how PWC operates and hear from key people on the administrative and teaching staff. Professor Helena Moncrieff teaches PWC’s Editing for Writers course in first term and the Writing Principles: Advanced course in second term. If there’s a reason our students know their CP style, Helena is it! We asked her how she got started as a writer, and about her favourite grammar rule.

 

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Helena Moncrieff

How did you get started in writing? What has been your career trajectory so
far?

 

I don’t remember not writing. I have clear childhood memories of listening to conversations outside my bedroom window and writing them down. I’ve always liked the rhythm of dialogue. It would be easy to say that’s how I ended up in journalism school, but I’m not sure that at 17 I really knew what I was applying for.

My first writing job was working on a newsletter called Zephyr for Environment Canada’s Atmospheric Environment Service (the weather office). Looking back, it was a great summer gig for a student and gave me a really strong portfolio to get started. My first full-time job was with CKO radio in Ottawa as the city hall reporter. I carried a microphone for several years in Thunder Bay, back to Ottawa and finally in Toronto at Queen’s Park.

That led me to a five-year stint in politics writing speeches, news releases and strategies as press secretary to a cabinet minister. Then it was into a national trade association doing much the same for the insurance industry. It was way more interesting than I expected. Now I run my own freelance business writing a lot of features and op-eds for a nice mix of non-profit corporate clients.

What do you like about teaching writing?

It’s a really good reminder of the distance I’ve travelled in writing. It tells me that these skills are not “natural.”  They have to be learned and practised. It is lovely to read student stories after the winter break and see how fluid the writing has become. Even though we take students through a lot of different formulas, I think there is freedom in being unshackled from essay style.

What is your best advice to students as they enter the writing world?

All experience is good. There are no wrong choices at this point. But don’t write for free unless you see a something in it for you. Your skills have a value.

What is your favourite grammar or writing rule?

Favourite is too strong a term, but I like seeing collective nouns treated as singular. For example, “the couple eats dinner together.”  I know that many publications are leaning the other way now, led, I believe, by writers or perhaps just speakers in the U.K. They might write, “The couple eat dinner together.”  Some do the same with staff, family, army, band and a batch of other words. On the other hand The Beatles is a band, but I wouldn’t argue with “they are coming to Toronto.” In fact, that would be so interesting, who could worry about the grammar?

There is always a way to write around it. Still, I may have to surrender on this one as the plural collectives become part of the general vernacular.

PWC information session March 9

infosession.jpgYou have questions. We’re holding an info session.

Please join us on Thursday, March 9, 2017 from 6:30 PM – 8:00 PM in B109 at Humber’s Lakeshore campus. 

At the information session, you’ll have a chance to meet members of the PWC team and talk to us about the program’s courses and internships.

RSVP to PWC’s student advisor Beth-Anne Chansavang Beth-Anne.Chansavang@humber.ca. Or just come by! Hope to see you there.