Working with Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation has been an exercise in learning how to write for different audiences. As a PhD student, the main audiences that I write for are advisors, professors, and occasionally grant reviewers. Of course, in each of these instances it is important to be concise and communicate your ideas clearly. However, is can sometimes be difficult for people outside of academia to decipher discipline related jargon. This raises the question: how can we learn to write for different audiences outside of our discipline, synthesizing and translating across institutional boundaries?
For the past few years, I have been interested in expanding the boundaries of text-based anthropological practices to include innovative methods such as participatory photography, illustration, and the integration of these multimodal approaches with academic research and writing. I have done this in my own research in several ways. In addition to traditional methods such as interviews, focus groups, and participant observation, I have also engaged ethnographic subjects in the research process through participatory photography and drawing. Through the integration of these methods, I believe that scholars can better understand the specific life worlds of other people through reflexive interaction, bringing what visual anthropologist David MacDougall (2005) calls “a deeper knowledge of being” to academic writing. I also think that this approach can help us share our ideas with broader public audiences. During my time working with AVLF, I have kept this approach in mind while designing client facing content
In fall 2020, I worked with AVLF’s Safe and Stable Homes Project to create a map describing the eviction process to clients. The map uses images and text to guide people through the possible outcomes of the eviction process. The hardest part of designing this map was learning how to translate “legalese.” I have no prior experience reading legal documents and have little experience at the courthouse. Translating legalese meant breaking down each sentence and thinking about the meaning behind it. I also decided to write each step in second person, geared at the reader/client, so that they could imagine themselves going through each step of the process. For each major step, I thought of an image or a scene that could help aid understanding of the process. In some cases, it was particularly hard to visualize something that was entirely taking place on court documents, so I tried to incorporate the actions and experiences that surround the legal process instead. Overall, this helped me to think about the lived experience of dealing with such legal systems. The map is now on display at the Fulton County Courthouse.
Currently, I am working with the Safe and Stable Families Project to describe their Mobile Outreach Program to donors. Recently, SSF applied for a grant from The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation to develop a mobilized effort that will respond to and prevent domestic violence / intimate partner abuse. This program will work through a mobile van that will meet clients where they are. This is important as many survivors have difficulty accessing transportation or may feel unsafe visiting the AVLF office. The van is an alternative to the courthouse, providing a safe an efficient space for clients to complete intake assessments, fill out TPO paperwork, access mental health counselors, find housing assistance, or get transportation assistance.
I am now designing a 1-2 page map explains to donors how this mobile program will work. Writing for donors once again means writing for a different audience. It important to make donors aware of the specific issues at stake and how the project will tackle these. For this reason, my map will include statistics and/or scenarios on the specific barriers that individuals face when attempting to access services. For example, in 2019, Georgia domestic violence programs answered 52,282 crisis calls. This number is likely growing during COVID 19, as transportation and other social services are scaled back in the pandemic. Explaining this to donors shows the extent of the issue at hand. After detailing the issue, I will then detail the specific services that the Mobile Outreach Program provides.
In my future work, I hope to continue learning to write for different audiences and to experiment with different ways to convey academic knowledge. I am also interested in continuing to work with organizations like AVLF that are committed to social justice and change.