Monday, April 11, 2016

On My Desk

The aspect I most enjoy in my work as an independent research consultant is the variety – I work with many different sorts of clients, each of whom I assist in unique ways with research, writing, editing, and other information and communication services.

What’s on my desk this week? A whole grab-bag of interesting projects:


Fact-checking a book on a health topic. The book, which was researched and written by a journalist, is very interesting. The challenge with this project consists of deciphering some odd citations and tracking down source documents for specific facts and assertions. The latter can be very challenging, as it requires distinguishing between facts and assertions and unraveling how, over many years, those facts and assertions have been communicated and attributed. It’s never as straightforward as it seems.

Revising a PowerPoint presentation on a workplace safety topic. One of my clients is an insurer with a large workers’ comp book of business in a certain region of the U.S. Their safety professionals create presentations, safety guides, and other publications to help their clients improve workplace safety and reduce accidents. My work is to review the work that the safety pros create, identify and fill (via research) gaps in content, and revise and refine the presentations or papers to make them more readable, more understandable, and more powerful. I love this work; I’m able to combine my interest in risk management with research, writing, editing, and design skills, with the satisfying goal of helping people to be safer and more productive. The current project is a really interesting agricultural safety topic.

Writing a guide on a workplace safety topic. For the same insurer, I am in the final stages of preparing, from scratch, a guide for safe use of a particular type of industrial equipment. There are plenty of safety guides out there, but my client needs to have an original guide that they can brand and disseminate. The process of creating such a guide is fascinating and deeply satisfying. I start out with research, of course, to learn about the machine itself: how it works, how it is typically used, etc. I gather statistics and reports on accidents and incidents, particularly in a target industry where this machine is often used. Sobering stuff. Then I do some wide-ranging research to identify and obtain other safety guides on the topic; manufacturers’ web sites are a good source. It’s fascinating to have the incident statistics in mind as I’m reading the safety guides; it soon becomes clear that the people who write the guides do not. For example, I learned through epidemiological studies that in certain industrial environments, operators of this type of machinery are exposed to respiratory contaminants at the highest rates recorded in any industry, yet the safety guides do not address this issue or recommend and administrative controls or even that operators wear personal protective equipment. Well, my guide covers that topic very clearly. Once I’ve reviewed all the information and developed an outline for the guide, the writing follows very quickly. While the writing takes the least time of the entire project, it is, for the client, the most critical aspect. When lives are at stake, the writing has to be crystal-clear, unambiguous, and actionable. Though I employ the imperative voice, I’ve found it most effective to voice the action items in a positive (“Do...”) instead of negative (“Don’t...” manner.


Research the history of joint ventures between private businesses and a certain sector of the health industry. My client is interested in the history of these sorts of transactions in a particular region of his country (not the U.S.), with a focus on institutions of a certain size. Which institutions have entered into these relationships? How did they fare? What sorts of programs were initiated, sustained, etc.? Should be interesting.

Prepare an annual report for a local non-profit organization of which I am a member. This is volunteer work, but it’s an important part of what I do. The project will consist of endeavoring to obtain all necessary information, statistics, finances, photos, etc., etc., from staff, committee chairs, and officers, then bringing it all together in an elegant report that will appeal to funders, inspire donors, inform members of the organization, and support our organization’s future.


·       Research on state and local requirements to provide business plans with applications for certain certifications, in three states
·       Revision of a book on local history, including re-indexing the book and redesigning the cover
·       Research on how smart home technologies are affecting a certain sector of a certain industry
·       Gathering of census data for a certain sector of the population in a certain region of a single state
·       Creation of a comprehensive. original technical glossary for a certain industrial process

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