By Reed Mangels, PHD, RD
(Though this article is geared towards VRG’s interns and volunteers, we hope it also helps our readers understand our approach to articles.)
At VRG, we welcome interns and volunteers because of their enthusiasm, new ideas, and talents. We think of our work with interns and volunteers as an opportunity to convey our commitment to accurate and understandable information. The materials that you develop while interning or volunteering with us may appear on our website, in a blog post, in Vegetarian Journal, or as a brochure or hand-out. In any case, we want to feel confident that your work represents our standards and is something that we can enthusiastically promote.
Sometimes students or other volunteers are surprised when we ask them to develop a timeline. We would like them to understand the writing process and a timeline can be helpful with this. A good writing assignment is not done hastily. It requires careful research and critical thinking. Writing assignments typically go through several drafts, with extensive revision for each draft, resulting in a strong final product.
A helpful first step once you have a writing assignment is to develop a working outline. What do you want to cover in your assignment? What is a logical flow? Where will you need to do research? As you begin work on your assignment, it’s likely that your outline will change. You’ll find new questions to investigate or decide that some topics aren’t fitting well. That’s fine – simply revise your outline.
Keep your readers in mind. What are your goals in writing this article? How would you like to see the information you provide used? Think of the practical application of what you’re writing about. For example, if you’re writing about new research on choline, consider what questions readers may be asking – What vegan foods have choline? How much choline do I need? Should I be concerned about choline?
Once you have an idea of the information you will need to gather, it’s time for background research. You may think of research as something done in a scientific laboratory. That is one kind of research but it’s not what we’re referring to when we talk about research in the context of a writing assignment. The kind of research we’re talking about is the investigation that provides a foundation for your article. Your research may be talking to a variety of people to get different perspectives. It may be contacting a company for information about their product. It may be reading articles about your topic. In any case, the sources you choose are important in establishing the credibility of your piece.
We can help you identify experts or people in different parts of the country to contact. For example, if you’re working on an article about vegan food in long-term care facilities, it’s not enough to only talk about the facility where you’ve visited a family member. We’d expect you to contact long-term care facilities in different parts of the country, of different sizes, and using different models of food service.
If you’re searching for background information on the internet, look for original research as preferable to someone else’s interpretation of research. For example, you might find an industry group talking about a study that is favorable to their product but when you read the actual study, you learn that the results were more nuanced.
You are responsible for providing accurate information. Carefully check the sources you’re using to make sure you’re accurately transcribing their numbers. Document your sources so that you have a record of the web page or the package that you got information from. Keep a record of people you talked to including their name, contact information, date you spoke with them, and what they told you.
One common misconception is that we are looking for something superficial – like much of the writing you’re likely to find on the internet. While we want pieces to be readable and engaging, we are also looking for depth – for details. For instance, instead of saying “fortified foods supply vitamin B12,” you might explain what a fortified food is, describe how to identify a fortified food, or provide some examples of fortified foods.
If your assignment is to write about a technical subject, remember that most people aren’t familiar with technical terms and have an uncertain idea of what they mean. It’s your job, to explain these terms in an understandable way. Ask yourself if your dad or your younger sister or your best friend from high school would understand your words.
When you turn in an assignment, even a first draft, take the time to turn in something you feel good about. At a minimum, use software to check spelling and grammar. Read your work out loud and listen for awkward phrasing or overly long sentences. Look for organization and a smooth flow from one paragraph to the next.
Be sure that what you submit is your own work. Use skills like paraphrasing and summarizing rather than copying what someone else has written. If you use direct quotes, indicate these with quotation marks and a citation of the source.
We hope these suggestions will help you to grow as a writer and to be successful in your time at The Vegetarian Resource Group.
These articles may also be of interest:
A Dozen Excellent websites for nutrition and health information if doing research for school papers or nutrition internships. https://www.vrg.org/blog/2016/11/11/a-dozen-excellent-websites-for-nutrition-and-health-information-if-doing-research-for-school-papers-or-nutrition-internships/
Nutrition Is a Science https://www.vrg.org/nutrition/nutrition_science.php
For information about Vegetarian Resource Group internships, see: https://www.vrg.org/student/index.php
To volunteer for VRG, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
To support VRG outreach and research, donate at www.vrg.org/donate