Writing in the Workplace: Kerri Smith, Assistant Director for Faculty Programs & Adjunct Professor at New York University

kerri smith northeasternKerri Smith earned a BA in History from the College of the Holy Cross in 2003. She graduated from Northeastern in 2005, after earning her MA in College Student Development and Counseling. She went on to receive her Ed.D. in Higher Education Administration in 2012 from the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville.

Dr. Smith currently works at New York University as the Assistant Director for Faculty Programs in the Office of Residential Life & Housing Services and as an adjunct professor in the masters program in Higher Education & Student Affairs at the Steinhardt School at NYU.

What media do you rely on for writing? What genres or types of writing do you do at work?

I tend to go back and forth between using electronic devices for writing (laptop, iPad) and good old pen & paper (or whiteboard). Typically my brainstorming process will start with a pen and paper so I can visualize what it is I’m trying to express. After I have an initial idea, I’ll move to my laptop and the work will actually start. At work I do a variety of writing – reports, marketing materials for our website or other print materials, program proposals for conferences, articles for publication, and lots and lots of emails.

Who do you write for, or what is your audience? What are your goals when you write at work?

I typically write for a variety of audiences at work – students primarily but also parents, faculty, staff, and outside stakeholders. In many instances I am trying to communicate the importance of getting involved in a particular program or initiative. My goals in writing are to make sure that I am clear, concise, and engaging. Oftentimes the only way that others will interact with me is through my writing and so I want it to reflect a high quality.

Have you had a challenging writing experience at work? What was the outcome?

The most challenging writing experience has been crafting marketing materials for admitted students to help them decide whether or not to participate in our learning communities. Trying to be concise due to space constraints of our brochures and still exciting, engaging, and clear is a challenge. But I’ve learned to gather input from current students on what would be helpful and catch their attention along with looking at other samples of writing on similar programs at other institutions has helped make this process easier.

kerri smith northeastern
Faculty Fellows in Residence at NYU

Do you ever collaborate on writing projects?

Yes, I’ve collaborated on writing articles for publication and writing reports. A few of my female colleagues and I created a women’s writing circle group to help turn our dissertations into articles and from that have come other collaborations on research projects that we hope to turn into articles. I think that working with others when it comes to writing can be stressful because you are merging several different styles but it also can push you to become a better writer and hold you more accountable than when you are writing solo.

What is your writing process like?

My writing process typically involves a lot of thinking (and listening to music) before I ever start writing or typing. I have a hard time getting over that initial hurdle of starting but once I do, I find it easier to keep going. I have never really been the type of person that writes long outlines or bullet points. I have an idea in my mind of how I want the piece to flow and then I just get started. I’ve found that anything that doesn’t work in the initial draft can be fixed in the editing process.

Do you seek feedback on your writing?

At first, no, because I was afraid of what others would think and putting yourself out there can be nerve-wracking. But I’ve realized how important feedback can be and that you do not have to accept every piece of feedback you receive. I typically will ask for feedback from several people who I know will be able to look at different elements of my writing – content, grammar, tone, etc. It is always good to get second (or third) opinions just to make sure that what makes sense to you will make sense to others. And getting regular feedback on writing is really the only way to improve.

kerri smith northeastern
Smith in Germany with a group of MA students from the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse.

Can you share a memorable writing experience, at work, school, or elsewhere?

In school it would have to be finishing my dissertation and seeing all of the work and struggle become a reality of a 150 or so page document. I actually really loved writing my dissertation (well, chapters 4 and 5) and felt that I learned a great deal about myself in the process. While it might not be the best thing I will ever write, it represents the start of a journey into a field and career that I love. And now, helping others to write through teaching my grad class has been one of my greatest joys.

What makes you a better writer or helps you reach a better final product?

I think that having the time to go back and edit and re-write and edit and re-write really makes for a better final product. If you don’t factor in the time for those stages, many times you end up with an unfinished product. I also have found that having others give me deadlines will help ensure I have that time for editing – if someone else is holding me accountable I’m more likely to do the work. It’s easier to justify procrastination if you’re the only one who knows!

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