Helping “unexpected writers”

Dave Clark calls them “unexpected writers” – technicians, engineers and other employees who, with little or no training, must produce documents and reports. Their poor writing costs companies money.

“Engineers or IT people or scientists will write these proposals,” said Clark, the associate dean for the humanities in the College of Letters and Science. “They’ll do the best they can. But then there’s another person who has to go in and copy edit or rewrite the whole thing.”

Clark, who works as a writing consultant for a dozen Wisconsin companies, believes there’s a better way. With former doctoral student Tatiana Batova and help from UW-Milwaukee entrepreneurial programs, he founded Responsive Writing Solutions LLC. The company is developing customizable software to guide workers through the writing process.

They’ll be able to use templates to organize their writing, standardize documents for global use, and manage content they’ve already created.

“Our goal is to say, ‘If you get better at this, through software and training, then you can save a lot of money,’” Clark said. “You won’t have your CEO sitting up nights copy editing documents.”

He’s in the process of bringing Responsive Writing Solutions through UW Ideadvance, a program that fosters entrepreneurs within the UW System by providing grants and business mentoring. In addition, Clark and his team were recently chosen for the National I-Corps program, a National Science Foundation program that fosters entrepreneurship through training and grants. It’s quite a feat because the program almost overwhelmingly focuses on products in the science, technology, engineering and math fields. The award comes with a $50,000 grant and additional business training in Atlanta.

“I-Corps demands that businesses conduct 100 interviews with potential clients to determine the needs of the current market,” Clark said. “You try to figure out what the problem is in a quantifiable and objective fashion. Having done that, you are better prepared to build a product.”

Along with providing solutions for Wisconsin businesses, Clark expects Responsive Writing Solutions to help train UWM graduate students in technical writing and offer writing-intensive internships to undergraduates.

Ultimately, he said, the company will be able to take a comprehensive look at any organization and its writing needs, and recommend the right solutions – be it software, help from a professional writer, or both.

“This will be something that we can scale,” he said. “I can go into an organization and say, ‘OK, tell me about the templates you work in. Tell me about the proposals you write.’ We’ll develop a solution that is specific to them and that will allow their unexpected writers to benefit from the same kinds of tools professional writers use.”

– Sarah Vickery