As a writer and project manager, Denise Mullen applies plain language principles to her day-to-day work.
Photo by Greg Ehlers.
Denise Mullen has been writing for over 30 years, but she still sees room for improvement. As a self-identified ‘continuous learner’ she invested in the Plain Language Certificate program to bolster her writing ability in the workplace. Between her day job, running her own business and raising her kids, she’s always searching for a way to advance her communication skills.
Denise, can you tell us a bit about your work?
I work for the Business Council of British Columbia. I write a lot for our website and I also work in the IT sector as a project manager, so there’s a lot of technical writing. As a project manager, I have to write material so it makes sense. I also have my own company and do a lot of regulatory applications which can often be very opaque. For me, this certificate was about making myself more understandable. I have a vested interest in writing something in a way that anyone can understand.
What made you want to take this program?
I’ve always struggled with writing, even though I’ve been writing my whole career. There’s an expectation in my work that you can just write sophisticated things that anyone can understand, but I actually think that writing, as a skill, is both undervalued and not well taught. Only very few people can do it really well. I noticed that as I was going through the course, I began seeing fewer edits to my work. From a productivity and performance point of view the course helped me a lot.
“I think if you’re writing for a living, you probably should take a plain language course—anyone can learn from it.”
Photo by Greg Ehlers.
What aspects of the program did you enjoy the most?
I think the fact that it’s online is hugely important. You get to work with some really interesting people and you get to meet really interesting coaches through teachers, because they’re experts in their area. The online part was useful because it was at my own pace and I got to integrate it with what I was doing at work. I was getting practice in my real life in the concepts and constructive ideas that came from the course. I think as adults we learn experientially, so the less abstract it is and the more concrete it is, the easier it is. It was real-time learning.
Do you have any advice for students considering taking the program?
I think if you’re writing for a living, you probably should take a plain language course—anyone can learn from it. We had everybody in my courses. We had IT people, people in the medical field—there was a full spectrum of people and they can absolutely learn from it. I call writing an apprenticeship and I don’t know if I’ll ever be a journeyman or a master, but if you believe in continuous improvement in your own work and your life, why wouldn’t you take it? Everyone can learn something.
More about Denise
Best way to spend time with friends and family?
I dance, specifically I do modern dance… Dance is very creative and the kind of dance I do is very much based on improvisation—some of the best stuff you come up with comes from mistakes. In some ways, writing is like that too. We think that with writing you have to know the answer and you have to know exactly how you get there. But the last course I took was about free writing, which was liberating because you’re not self-censoring and you can make mistakes, which goes back to my dance—you end up coming up with really great segues and connections to other things.
Best place you’ve travelled to?
I just got back from Spain and I would highly recommend it—it’s wonderful! We walked 180 kilometres on the Camino trail and met so many interesting people.
The last book you read?
All the Light We Cannot See. I read a lot of non-fiction because of my work but I love to read junk food fiction like spy stuff for fun.
What’s your biggest pet peeve when it comes to writing?
The use of ‘ization’ words. I hate it. Just use the short version. If it’s ‘utilization,’ just say ‘use.’ I edit that out all the time. I think it sounds pretentious. Simple is better. In context that might be fine, but in general I hate ‘ization’ words.