David Chrisinger
David Chrisinger, Associate Director, Writing Program

We interviewed David Chrisinger, Associate Director of the Writing Program at Harris and instructor for the Writing Persuasive Public Policy Credential Program. In his role, David works with faculty to develop and evaluate writing-focused assignments, assist students in improving their writing skills, and train and manage the Writing Program Teaching Assistants.

We asked him about the Writing Program, what he looks for in a TA, and his advice for students.

What are some of the changes you’ve seen to the Writing Program since you started?

It’s been a whirlwind since I started in 2018. The Writing Program used to be a small group of writing TAs who graded policy memos and were available for one-on-one coaching. I came in and we immediately started doing workshops, bringing in guest speakers, and revamping materials for students. We are continually gauging what is working and what we want to do differently.

The demand has exploded. In one quarter, we had triple the number of students schedule appointments than we had in my whole first year I was leading the program. Students are realizing that the Writing Program is not remediation; anyone can benefit from having a second set of eyes checking your logic. The best writers in the world still need editors.

What type of workshops does the Writing Program do? 

In addition to fundamentals workshops and policy writing workshops, we’ve done workshops on how to write op-eds, how to pitch to editors, and even poetry as practice for policy writing. There’s a need among Harris students to learn to write narrative and language that can “tug on” or haunt the reader (in a good way!). We start with narrative storytelling and learning how to tell stories about policies and the people they affect, and we then use that to make our policy memos more effective.

Last year, we came up with the idea to host a series of writing workshops focusing on the ways culture affects writing craft. Having students talk about the ways we are taught to write—and the expectations that culture places on our writing styles—is a great way to show students that so much about effective communication depends on who you’re writing for and what you’re trying to accomplish with your writing. Since then I’ve been talking with international students about the influences their cultures have on writing, and I’ve amassed a small mountain of new and exciting writing tools I can share with our students. It’s my goal to launch these workshops sometime in the next academic year.  

What advice do you have for students?

Policy analysts are analysts, of course, but really, they’re writers. Do all that you can while you’re with us to improve your writing skills.

"To be an effective policy analyst, you must be a good writer because the amazing results of your regression analysis simply won’t help anybody if you can’t help policymakers understand what they mean."

What do you look for in a writing TA?

We recruit students who are not only good writers, but who have a passion for teaching and coaching. We’re not just copyeditors: we want to give students skills and strategies to take away to their next writing projects, and we want students who want to leave the writing program better than they found it.

How is the new Writing Persuasive Public Policy Credential Program going so far?

So far I think things are going fantastically. We just finished the second week of this new six-week program, and I’m so excited to see what our students are going to do with their policy stories. We’ve got a diverse group of mostly working professionals (and plenty of newly admitted Harris students), and everyone is so passionate about being more effective communicators. That’s such a great combination because then all I need to do is teach the tools, offer opportunities for students to apply them (as well as their own strategies and tools), and occasionally steer people back into the right direction if they start to wander off. Sometimes I feel like a mountain guide or a surf instructor. I get to be there when someone reaches the summit for the first time or catches that first life-changing wave. They did all the hard work, and the joy it brings them to see that hard work pay off—that’s what I love about working at Harris and leading this credential program.  Now let’s just hope the last four weeks go as well as the first two!

Interested in more writing opportunities at Harris? Consider joining the Chicago Policy Review, a student-run journal comprised of approximately 80 writers, editors, and data visualization specialists that "breaks down complex, empirical policy studies into succinct and rigorous analyses that are accessible to everyone, and interviews practitioners on their insights."

Read our blog post from Josh Kruskal, MSESP'20, about his experience as Editor-in-Chief of Chicago Policy Review.