Saturday, May 5, 2012

Charity, the High-Tech Way | Marvels | Holly Finn, WSJ.com

At other times and places, I'm not very charitable in expressing my thoughts about wealthy people and corporations in the United States. I believe short-sighted greed creates a significant problem for middle-class and poor Americans -- and the country itself. Progressive U.S. citizens must advocate regulation and taxation to correct that corrupted version of capitalism.

Yet, this article provides a spin that pleases me. I am grateful for tax-deductible corporate contributions to nonprofit agencies and organizations -- as well as their support for workplace campaigns like United Way. 

Finn's article begins tongue-in-cheek, I think, and then gives examples of one symptom of Sudden Wealth Syndrome, an "increased philanthropic impulse," in Silicon Valley:
Venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz (backer of Instagram and Zynga) just announced that its six partners will give away half their earnings. This news from Marc Andreessen, 40, and Ben Horowitz, 45, comes just before Facebook's IPO, and just after Warren Buffett's Giving Pledge was signed by tech honchos including PayPal founder Elon Musk, 40, and Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz, 27. Google's Sergey Brin and wife Anne Wojcicki, both 38, this week promised $1 million to local anti-poverty charity Tipping Point—if it is matched by other Silicon Valley techies.
"Talk about peer pressure," Finn writes, before asking a question: "Wouldn't these wunderkinds do better sticking to business?"

She goes on with answers, with examples, to that question. And near her conclusion, Finn writes:
Silicon Valley is nothing if not tribal. Only here, the elders are the youngers. Philanthropy plays to their strengths. They are resilient, craving results but loving risk. They know how to mobilize millions: Scaling equals success. And they understand technology is transferable, profit to nonprofit.
It used to be you were poor and idealistic (young) or rich and jaded (old). Now you can believe in changing the world—and do it. ...
Excellent! I also see it where I live, Seattle (and Redmond), Washington.

8 Ways to Cultivate Serendipity in Business and Life | Matthew E. May, American Express Open Forum

When asked about the secret of Google’s meteoric rise, company co-founder Sergey Brin replied that "The number-one factor that contributed to our success was luck."
But Thor Muller and Lane Becker, authors of a new book, Get Lucky, say Brin wasn't dismissing his accomplishment. Instead, they say that Google's  success must be credited to something more than the credit of any one person. They write:
What Brin can take credit for is being open to serendipity, and being willing to use it to his advantage. 
Matthew May writes in this book review that Muller and Becker outline the skills and elements we need to begin cultivating luck. He quotes Muller and Becker:
Luck is a fundamental part of how the world works. Open any history book and you’ll find stories of curious people looking for one thing and finding another.
May explains that Muller and Becker call their technique "planned serendipity." They write:
Accidents happen. There’s nothing mystical about them—but it’s our practical ability to take advantage of the best accidents that transforms these from forgettable moments into incredible opportunities. This is the essence of planned serendipity, the kind of luck you make for yourself. 
May's review lists and briefly defines the "8 Ways to Cultivate Serendipity ..." from the Muller and Becker book. And he offers this brief quotation from them on how to begin creating a life and workspace open to serendipity:
Break out of your routine! Routine is the enemy of serendipity.

Why art is art | Ramya Sarma, The Hindu

This article is a book review of a new novel by Indian writer V. Sanjay Kuman, Artist, Undone. Sarma's description of the book suggests a story much those written by one of my favorite authors, Haruki Murakami.

But what initially captured my interest was Sarma's introductory paragraph. It begins:
If every artist stuck to his or her familiar genre instead of experimenting with others, life would be rather dull. It is from exploration that novelty begins and serendipity can take credit for a great deal of what is fun, exciting and, indeed, interesting. Writing, for instance, is often not easy for a painter, who otherwise would express a vision of the world and its idiosyncrasies with fluency and sophistication. ...
As for the book review, Sarma concludes:
The book is well written, fluent, easy to read, its words used with celerity and adventurousness, but [the] story itself is not especially coherent or meaningful, not at first reading. ... What is a great deal of fun is the insight provided into the art world, its madness and whimsies, the people who populate it, from the artists to the critics to the buyers to even the occasional visitors to art shows. ...
I'll consider it serendipity that I came across this review. So I might just read this book! 

Clarity Improved by Simplicity: Be Concise | saukvalley.com

Why is it that writers who seldom breathe a sentence longer than a dozen words are not the least bit reluctant to write 30- and 40-word sentences?
And so the blogger begins. He/she writes that people often speak in sentences with fewer than 10 words. But writers struggle to write sentences with the preferred average sentence length of 20 words.

And the blogger's key, accurate point:
Tight, concise writing has the singular goal of promoting clarity.
The blogger provides a few brief tips, with clear examples:
Use active voice ...
Avoid expletives ... [no, not swear words of the Nixonian variety]
Limit participles ...
Write the positive ...
[Eliminate] useless words ...
For more advice on concise writing, check out Garbl's Fat-Free Writing Links and Garbl's Concise Writing Guide.

Connect with your audience through plain language | Tannus Quatre, The Healthcare Entrepreneur Blog

Check out the excerpt here from the Terms of Use for Bagcheck.com, "a fun way to share what's inside our 'bags.'" (I think Bagcheck is somewhat like Pinterest.)

As Quatre writes:
Bagcheck.com understands the need for simplicity, and I don’t need to look further than their Terms of Use page in order to see that they get it ....
Looks to me like Bagcheck's attorneys required it to post the Terms of Use with all their court-appointed jargon. But to aid customers and inject some humor, Bagcheck writes:
Here are the laws of our land with a translation from their original Legalese for your reading pleasure.

Creativity: born or made? | Guadalupe Casas, SABF Blog English

This short article doesn't spend much time focusing on the question in the headline from a psychological or philosophical view. Good! Instead, Casas answers the question by giving some useful tips on enhancing individual creativity. I especially like the first one:
Losing the fear of being wrong will undoubtedly be the main action to take in behalf of stimulate our creativity.
Casas then describes her second important point in motivating creativity:
Changing our point of view towards simplifying and improving something. Fundamental then, is to think things upside down, turn them around and above all, keep track of all our ideas ... [A]lthough they may look crazy or surreal, ideas are all potential triggers of new ideas.
She also emphasizes the value of reading, to feed us with knowledge, which is "the main fuel of creativity." And she emphasizes disconnection:
Allow yourself to turn off all the distractions that surround you for a while; great changes have emerged due to the creativity of man. The world needs many of these small changes to help us and help to create. 
For more discussions on this topic, check out Garbl's Creativity Resources Online. It's an annotated directory of websites that provide advice for increasing creativity and innovation in your writing, in your personal life, on the job, in school, in the arts and elsewhere.

Creativity, Happiness and Your Own Two Hands | Carrie Barron, Psychology Today

Barron's article begins by noting that purposeful hand use enhances well-being in a technologically saturated culture:
Research has shown that hand activity from knitting to woodworking to growing vegetables or chopping them are useful for decreasing stress, relieving anxiety, and modifying depression. There is value in the routine action, the mind rest, and the purposeful creative, domestic or practical endeavor.
No surprise there, as Dr. Kelly Lambert confirmed in her research on the relationship between hand use, current cultural habits, and mood. Barron writes:
She found that hands-on work satisfies our primal need to make things and could also be an antidote for our cultural malaise. Too much time on technological devices and the fact that we buy almost all of what we need rather than having to make it has deprived us of processes that provide pleasure, meaning and pride
That's good stuff, but what I liked most about this article is what the research found about the relationship between hand use and creativity. Barron writes:
Creativity is a powerful tool for altering the inner life because making things or transforming inner states into outer productions fosters solace and satisfaction, even if the stimulus arose from an injury.
She explains that creating things turns fragmentation and tumult into focused drive. And order arises from that disorder ... in a creative way. And when a person creates his or her order -- instead of it being imposed -- the result is "a special peace or feeling of resolution." And that can lead to still more creativity!

As stated by D.W. Winnicott, a psychoanalyst, pediatrician and creativity expert:
It is creative apperception more than anything else that makes the individual feel that life is worth living.
(I just learned a new word for me, apperception. It's the process of understanding in which newly observed qualities of an object are related to past experience. In other words, it's the process of perceiving a new experience in relation to past experience.)

For more information on this topic, check out Garbl's Creativity Resources Online.

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Conflicted Class: The Rust Belt as a Source of Creativity | Richey Piiparinen, Rust Wire

In this intriguing article, blogger Richey Piiparinen suggests we should expect some creative, innovative thinking out of the unemployment crisis--and the conflict it creates--in the United States, particularly in the Rust Belt. That's the Midwestern and northeastern states where outsourcing and other economic conditions are reducing employment. At least that's how I read his blog. Let's hope so!

He writes:
Imagine for a moment: there is a spot not far from where I live. It was the Stockyards. It had money and movement. Now it has shells of buildings and gaps in the street line. What’s still there are scrapyards. Into these scrapyards go people’s collections of junk metal. They are getting paid pittance from the metallic crumbs that represent touchable symbols of their own economic demise. That folks, is conflict.
Piiparinen admits that the resulting conflict "can kill," but he writes that it "can also ignite production," not by a"paper-pusher" but by the artist or entrepreneur. And that conflict-stirred creation happens in two ways, from within and from without.

From within, he writes, that conflict prompts creativity "to transgress the mountain of life’s messes." It prompts new insights about challenges to overcome.

Piiparinen wirites:
Perhaps that’s why creativity is so hard, because it is much easier to coast than it is to being aware of the struggles settling inside. It’s much easier to bury the conflict in conformity, and to join the crowd of those pointing fingers at ones who don’t engage in that Puritan wholesomeness of counting beans.
And the more-obvious conflicts from without have a big impact on confronters, people stirred to be creative to deal with whatever is causing the conflict.

Either metaphorically or not (in reference to the Rust Belt), Piiparinen writes:
All across the country people are fleeing their illusions freely. Many are coming here to live in so-called death. What they are finding is freedom to accept life as it is. And with that comes creative powers that may point us in a direction of where life needs to be.

Creativity and Madness: Are They Inherently Linked? | Michael Friedman, Huff Post, GPS for the Soul

In a word, according to Friedman:
No
He continues, quoting Shakespeare, a couple of mythmakers who made the link between creativity and madness, the recently published Jonah Lehrerm, and a couple of other folks. But then Friedman writes [emphasis added]:
The myth that creativity and madness are inherently linked is, at best, a vast overstatement. Why does this matter?
In answer to that question, Friedman gives one example and writes:
On the upside, the myth appears to be a source of pride and hope for some people with serious mental illness.
On the other hand, Friedman lists some "significant downsides to the myth":
  • It glorifies mental illness and may diminish the sense of how important it is for our society to address it seriously.
  • Some people with mental illness reject treatment that might be helpful to them because they fear being robbed of their creative abilities.
  • It may discourage people with artistic potential from engaging in artistic activity.
  • It neglects the healing power of art for people with serious mental illness.
  • It neglects that fact that participating in artistic activity can contribute greatly to achieving psychological well-being.
Friedman's conclusion:
The myth that creativity and madness are inherently linked has a certain romantic appeal, but it does little -- if anything -- to promote human well-being.

McCaskill introduces plain language bill | Matthew Flores, The Maneater

The good news in this article is that there's bipartisan support in the U.S. Senate for the proposed Plain Writing Act for Regulations. The bill would require the language in all federal regulations to be clear and concise, appropriate to the subject or audience.

Said Sen. Claire McCaskill:
Any time we make it easier for folks to access and understand government information that’s a good thing. Accountability in government shouldn’t require folks to have to navigate the weeds of bureaucracy in order to get the most basic information.
This bill is a followup to the adopted Plain Writing Act of 2010. That legislation requires federal agencies to write their documents for the public in a plain, straightforward style of English.

McCaskill, again [emphasis added]:
This bill is a simple way to lose the jargon and shine more sunlight on our democracy, as well as better hold government officials accountable.
Rep. Bruce Braley has introduced similar legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives. He said [emphasis added]:
Whether you like or loathe government regulations, I think everyone can agree that when one exists it should be written as clearly as possible. Sadly, gobbledygook dominates the regulations issued by government agencies, making it almost impossible for small businesses to understand the rules of the road.
For more information, check out Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide.

Dudley changes town motto | TelegramTowns.com

Here's a short story about adoption of a motto for Dudley, Massachusetts, that's punctuated with comments about its meaning--and how to punctuate it.

The motto, as finally adopted:
All was others; all will be others.
That statement was inscribed (with a capital A on the second "all") above the employee entryway of a mill wheelhouse built in 1859. The chair of the town's historical commission said:
It was a way to remind them every day that their position in life is that we're just a moment; there were things before us, and there will be things after us.
Before the town Board of Selectmen adopted the motto, there was much discussion about punctuating some words with an apostrophe, to make them possessive, and whether the semicolon or a comma would be more grammatically correct.

The chair of the historical commission said:
The nice part of this motto is it creates discussion. I like it without the possessive, and that is how the granite is inscribed.
The commission chair, again:
We have a responsibility to know what was before us and to prepare for what is coming after us.
Or, perhaps, as George Santayana said:
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Persuasive writing in a world of denial: Panel discussion | Gabriel Popkin,Science Writing in the Age of Denial

The Tuesday afternoon session “Persuasive writing in a world of denial” was designed to help writers communicate effectively with readers who question scientific consensus. Panelists spoke about the need to understand their audience’s existing mental models, and to write stories that take those models into account.
So begins Popkin's report on this panel discussion. A couple of freelance writers emphasized the use of story telling to help people relate to a scientific topic:
Christie Aschwanden echoed [Steve] Silberman’s emphasis on the importance of story-telling. Stories are “the way the human mind works,” she said. “It’s not something that only deniers do; we all do it. Scientists do it, too.”
Speakers urged confronting directly the fears and mistaken beliefs that people may have. Aschwanden said:
With global warming, the message we’re sending is ‘you’re evil, you’re killing the planet, the only solution is to do things you don’t want to do.’ Climate change contradicts our stories about ourselves, that we’re good people. The place we have to start from is to speak to that story.
Dietram Scheufele, professor of science communication, said writers must frame issues in language that the audience understands:
Can we present facts and phenomena in a way that lay audiences can attach them to what they already know?
We’re being out-communicated .... Persuasive communication has to be finding language that resonates with how people see the world.
Other speakers advocated assertive defense of scientific facts and theories and use of humor and analogies. Popkin described an analogy made by one speaker:
[P]eople insure their houses when there is only a small risk of fire or flood. “Shouldn’t we insure the earth if climate change is 90% likely?” he asked.
For more articles on persuasive writing, check out Garbl's Action Writing Links.

One Simple Trick for Breaking through Writer’s Block | Cela , American Writers & Artists Inc.

Here's a creative way to deal with a writing problem that's covered in an endless number of Web articles. DeLaRosa writes:
When writer’s block stops me in my tracks, I use a simple trick that never fails to get me writing again. Believe it or not, I learned the trick from my high school debate team.
DeLaRosa's fellow debater tells a provocative story but doesn't provide the ending. She urges the listener to come up with one or more endings. DeLaRosa writes:
The simple trick I learned from [the debate friend] is the go-to story. The go-to story outsmarts writer’s block every time. For any situation or topic, you have a go-to story inside of you — some experience, some memory, an image, a vivid dream — something you can use to inspire your writing. ...
Simply going through the motions of typing your go-to story relieves deadline stress and gets your brain out of neutral. Try changing the main characters, or the location, or the ending. Soon more ideas will flow in, and you’ll be over your writer’s block.
If you can't come up with your own go-to story, try using the horse-trading story in the article. That's what DeLaRosa does.

For more information on this topic, check out the Writer's Block section in Garbl's Writing Process Links.

Slices of serendipity | Yvonne Yoong, New Straits Times

This article and its pictures about landscape designer Ng Sek San of Malaysia grabbed my attention with its focus on simplicity, creativity, design, the environment, the writing process (research interviews), photography, gardening and a foreign land (to me)--and Ng's serendipity in making connections!

Yoong writes: 
Ng who has proven time and again that designing out of pure passion, perseverance and pursuit for perfection makes for a pleasing equation tends to be rather selective in the choice of projects he undertakes while shying away from media publicity. No photographs of him either, if he can help it.
Yoong notes that she had difficulty getting an interview with the shy designer. Her own perseverance paid off in that pursuit. She writes:
These days though, Ng prefers to remain even more low-key - away from the glare of the public eye and happily tucked away in his pursuits of designing his self-built sanctuaries next-door-tonature. Shunning publicity on almost all occasions - preferring snapshots of his projects rather than himself, my desperate attempts to get in contact with Ng for a previous issue went unheeded – with e-mails and calls unreturned – only to discover that Ng was away, busy building makeshift shelters for orphanages in Mae Hong Sorn, Thailand.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Spelling and spell check | Laura Moyer, The Red Pen, Free-Lance Star

Apparently, Moyer is a copy editor for the Free-Lance Star in Fredericksburg, Virginia. And she says she's "a lifelong compulsive copy editor who reads the AP Stylebook for fun. If you ask me a question, I'll try to answer (but I won't do your homework)."

Moyer writes that she has a strong opinion about the use of the spell check function in word-processing programs on computers:
Use it, dammit.
She notes that spell checkers incorrectly flag many proper nouns as misspellings, even when they're spelled correctly. They also flag other correctly spelled words as misspellings. And they miss some misspelled words.

Moyer writes:
It’s well-known that spell check won’t help you if you don’t know your homonyms, or if you misuse a correctly spelled word. It won’t prevent you from saying someone was a volunteer on the rescue squat, or that a student won the Stafford Country Spelling Bee.
So she implies that writers (and their copy editors, if they have them) need to pay attention to those potential spell check errors and oversights.  Yes, they must do that! Still, Moyer writes:
But spell check can save your butt. It has certainly saved my imperfect one. It’s most helpful in flagging words my brain can spell but my fingers can’t type.

92 Teen Text Terms Decoded for Confused Parents | Jessica Citizen (Tecca),Techland | TIME.com

We (uh, they) have come a looooooooong way from LOL, BTW, FYI, IMHO, and even BRB!

The author writes:
To help you in your quest to decode your kids’ space-constrained text babble, we’ve compiled a list of popular terms and abbreviations. Don’t be surprised if you see variations when it comes to capitalization or style; it’s common for some kids to prefer all caps to lowercase or even changing capitalization, whether at the beginning or middle of a message.

Ten Tips For Better Business Writing | Susan Adams, Forbes

I noticed that this article is in the "Leadership" section of Forbes. Of course, our leaders in business, government and other institutions should follow these tips when doing their own writing. But it's also important for their employees to follow these tips--even if it means "leading from behind," as is likely the case.

Adams writes:
By using simple, clear, precise language, and following a few other basic writing rules, you can become a better communicator and improve the prospects for your career.
In summary, here are her tips:
  • Start by writing short, declarative sentences. Never use a long word where a short one will do. ...
  • Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or any kind of jargon if you can think of an English equivalent. ...
  • When you’re composing an e-mail, make your point and move on. If your big idea isn't in the first paragraph, put it there. ...
  • Use plain English, and be specific. ...
  • Curb your enthusiasm. Avoid overusing exclamation points, ...
  • Whenever possible, use active instead of passive verbs. ...
  • Choose pronouns wisely, and don’t be afraid to use “me.” ...
  • Beware of common grammatical mistakes, like subject-verb agreement ...
  • Know when to use “that” and “which.”
  • Another common error is confusing “affect” and “effect.” ...

The Audience You Didn’t Know You Had | Angela Colter, Contents Magazine

Colter makes a convincing argument in this article why writers and editors producing materials for the general public must consider the possibility of an invisible audience for nearly every document. She writes that nearly half the people reading any public document "may have low literacy skills."

She writes:
Don’t believe me? I don’t blame you, it’s a shocking number. But for proof, just check out the results of the National Adult Literacy Survey. It found that 21-23% of U.S. adults had highly deficient literacy skills while another 25-28% had very limited literacy skills.[1] Those two are the groups it defines as having low literacy. The Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development found similar levels of low literacy in North America, Australia, and most of Europe.[2]
Colter then defines "low literacy" and describes people who likely have low literacy. She also notes that we all may be low literacy at times.

She writes:
It’s tempting to think that audiences are coming to our content with the basic skills needed to comprehend and interpret it. That may simply not be the case. Part of “consider[ing] your content from your user’s perspective” is understanding what reading skills the user brings to the equation and writing to accommodate them.
Colter then describes strategies that low-literacy readers might take when they're confronted with something they can't read or have difficulty reading. She writes:
People with low literacy skills have difficulty understanding what they read because they’re spending so much effort on decoding—word and letter recognition—that they have few cognitive resources left to interpret meaning. They may read every word put in front of them, but because they don’t have much left to attend to comprehension, they take little meaning from what they read.
Her description of those strategies is useful because it provides reasons for her next section: "Accommodating low-literacy readers." Colter writes:
You might be feeling like there is little you can do to accommodate unskilled readers. But take heart: there are plenty of ways to present information that make it easier (if not exactly easy) for low-literacy adults to understand and use it.
She concludes by discussing why it matters to accommodate low-literacy readers. Here's my view: It's a waste of time, energy, creativity and resources to write or edit anything for a particular audience if up to half the targeted readers can't read it or won't read it because it's difficult to comprehend.


If publishing a document is important to a writer, client, employer or organization, it's the responsibility of people producing the document to meet the reading needs of the targeted audience. At least they must try to meet the needs of many more than half the readers.

For more advice on creating documents that meet the needs of readers, check out Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide.


The Pleasures and Perils of the Passive | Constance Hale, NYTimes.com

This column is about use of the passive voice in writing. Hale describes it and its opposite version, the active voice:
In the active voice, the subject performs the action. In the passive voice, the subject is acted upon.
In a classic English sentence in the active voice, the subject starts the show, followed by a dynamic verb. The subject is the agent, the person or thing taking the action: She reads. Sometimes there is a direct object: She reads “The Odyssey.” The sentence is pointed and precise. The action flows briskly from the subject, through the verb, to the object.
If that sentence were in passive voice, it would be something like this: "The Odyssey" was read by her. In other words, the person reading The Odyssey ("her") would get less emphasis; the name of the book would be highlighted as the subject of the sentence.

Hale provides another graphic example of the two uses:

  • Passive voice--"Dr. Seuss is adored by most children."
  • Active voice--"Most children adore Dr. Seuss."
In the way Hale began her column, I was expecting it to be a strong argument for frequent use of the passive voice. But, fortunately, that's not the case. Instead, Hale provides several valid reasons for using the passive voice, and she concludes emphasizing that the active voice is usually the stronger, clearer sentence structure. 

I like her little story-telling angle in this concluding paragraph:
Whether you are writing the next novel, a scholarly paper, a legal brief or a brief Tweet, be aware of the voice of your verbs. Try letting each sentence tell a little story, with an agent right there at the start. Set your protagonist in action. Do you want him, as Hamlet would say, “to take arms against a sea of troubles,” or would you rather he be left lying flat on his back, leaving his destiny up to someone else?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Information with clarity: 'Tis a gift to be simple

Writes Judy Knighton, from the Write firm in New Zealand:
With the fallout from financial organisation failures still very much in the news, we've been pleased to see the Financial Markets Authority (FMA) speaking out about plain language.
We were among 62 individual and corporate submitters on the FMA's draft guidelines for disclosure documents, which proposed plain language as a way of ensuring that investment statements meet the needs of investors. We agree. Plain language helps readers:
  • find what they need
  • understand what they find
  • use what they find to meet their needs.
 Despite the concerns of some plain-language criticis, Knighton believes that complex ideas and concepts can explainin plain language:
I embrace the concept of a document that is simple to read. The ideas and concepts may be complex. The document itself will probably be very sophisticated. But all of that sits on the writing and production side of the communication. To the reader, the document is simple. It takes cleverness to be simple.
For more information, also see Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide.

Why simplicity matters | Irene Etzkorn, Siegel+Gale

"Simplicity is the essence of the golden rule," writes blogger Etzkorn. "It’s an indication of consideration":
I've taken the time to move the complexity of something out of the way so that the recipient of a conversation, a deed, a gesture, a letter, understands what I mean.
Etzkorn asks and answers several questions she gets frequently about simplicity. Here are the questions:
  • How does simplicity benefit business?
  • Why is simplicity a necessity?
  • What is the biggest misconception that people have about simplicity?
  • Why is simplicity so elusive?
  • What are the advantages for those companies that adopt simplicity?
  • Can we achieve simplicity in a world that is so complex?
She writes:
Most of our work involves customizing content, carefully timing information delivery, structuring content so that it is intuitive and writing in plain language.

The Simplicity Thesis | Aaron Levie, Fast Company

Levie's article seems to be about development, production and marketing of products and companies. But I think its advocacy for simplicity can be considered much more broadly. Professionally, I'm a writer, editor, communications specialist and photographer, so I'm assessing how my work could benefit from the suggestions Levie makes here.

After all, Levie writes [emphasis added]:
A fascinating trend is consuming Silicon Valley and beginning to eat away at rest of the world: the radical simplification of everything.
Levie writes that any market not simplifying its operation for customers is about to be disrupted. He writes similarly about any service, any product and any category .... I'd include anything written (and spoken, for that matter) among those categories--like articles, brochures, newsletters, reports and speeches.

Levie writes:
This should be a red flag for any product or solution, whether digital or analog, that isn’t minimally complex. If you’re making the customer do any extra amount of work, no matter what industry you call home, you’re now a target for disruption.
In response to a question: So what do you do about this? Levie responds with "Here are just a few ways to get started in achieving minimum complexity":
  1. Think end to end.
  2. Simplicity relates to the entire customer experience, from how you handle pricing to customer support.
  3. Say no.
  4. Kill features and services that don’t get used, and optimize the ones that do.
  5. Specialize.
  6. Focus on your core competency, and outsource the rest--simplicity comes more reliably when you have less on your plate.
  7. Focus on details.
  8. Simple is hard because it’s so easy to compromise; hire the best designers you can find, and always reduce clicks, messages, prompts, and alerts.
  9. Audit constantly.
  10. Constantly ask yourself, can this be done any simpler? Audit your technology and application frequently.
Writers can apply each one of those steps to his or her work.

----------

Here's another article I just read that covers some of the same territory: "In Business, Simplicity is Difficult." Its headings:
    • Accept that what you do is boring 
    • Understand that one more feature will make it worse 
    • Assume you’re wrong.

Serendipity, Impulse and Joy | The Whimsical Gardener

As photographer, writer and gardener, I enjoyed the simple ideas written and pictured at this site.



Punctuation IS powerful

Woman without her man

What more can I say?

Dancing About Architecture: A Field Guide to Creativity | Brain Pickings

Despite the title of the book reviewed in this article, I get a strong impression that this book is not mainly for architects. Popova writes that Phil Beadle's book:
... is unusual in that it’s both a strong, pointed conceptual vision for the nature and origin of creativity, and a kind of activity book for grown-ups that invites you to learn how to implement the skill set of creativity through a series of hands-on exercises applicable wherever your creative journey may take you, from the studio to the classroom to the boardroom.
I like some of the comments that Popova pulled from the book. Beadle wrote (emphasis added):
We create the new not generally through some mad moment of inspiration in fictionalized accounts of ancient Greeks in baths (though the conditions for this can be forced into existence), but by putting things together that do not normally go together; from taking disciplines (or curriculum areas) and seeing what happens when they are forced into unanticipated collision. ...
The mind, at its best, is a pattern-making machine, engaged in a perpetual attempt to impose order on to chaos; making links between disparate entities or ideas in order to better understand either or both. It is the ability to spot the potential in the product of connecting things that don’t ordinarily go together that marks out the person (or teacher) who is truly creative.
Popova concludes:
Dancing about Architecture goes on to explore, both in practical terms and as a broader cultural vision, how we can foster this combinatorial capacity in our individual creative journeys as well as in formal social frameworks like the education system and the workplace.

Birds of a Feather: When Creativity and Commerce Collide | Dan Levy, Sparksheet

Are creativity and commerce two sides of the same coin or different currencies altogether?


That's the question at the top of this article. Levy begins his response by writing, "Commerce and and creativity have always been interlinked." But he notes the tug-of-war of content creators, marketers and entrepreneurs between authenticity and selling out, between populism and purity.

For this article, he asked designers, musicians, filmmakers, writers and marketers how they strike a balance. He writes:
I was surprised to find that their answers fell more or less neatly into three categories:
  • those who see creativity and commerce as perfectly compatible,
  • those who strive to broker a compromise between the two, and 
  • those who cultivate decidedly non-commercial outlets to satisfy their creative needs.
These headings from the article pretty much summarize what Levy heard from the people he interviewed:
  • “Creative Thinking is Commercial Thinking”
  • “Art That Doesn't Require Compromise Becomes Self-indulgent"
  • “Living in Two Worlds Means I Don't Have to Compromise Either One"
For more information on this topic, check out Garbl's Creativity Resources Online.

Encouraging Creativity in Your Employees | Stephanie. biz ladies, Design*Sponge

As creatives, we are blessed with this innate ability to provide new, unique and beautiful products to our clients, but how do we constantly produce in a busy, often taxing design environment?
It's not clear to me who wrote that, blogger Stephanie or guest writer Sarah Stevenson. But whoever wrote it, it's a good question! And the rest of the column provides some useful advice! It concludes:
Creatives are already right-brain thinkers, but they also need care and nurturing in order to keep creating. In our pursuit to design a better future for our businesses and our creative staff, applying these simple steps can help us get there that much quicker. 
Here ares some tidbits of advice below the subheads:

Allot Space for Outside Creativity during the Workday
Taking time to step away from the tasks at hand allows our brains to recharge and reengage, gives the artist an opportunity to explore something personally interesting and helps her return to the project at hand with much more enthusiasm. ...
Build Fun into the Workday
... Think about restaurants you visit that have paper tablecloths and a container of markers on the table? Why not bring this into your studio or workspace? Fun does not have to take away from project time; it can be a quick 15-minute break to do something different and once again, reenergize your brain for creative thinking.
Inspire
... Having all the latest books, magazines and blogs available to use as a jumping-off point gives the artist a break from their creating but also allows inspiration gathering to occur at a different level. ...
Schedule Group Gatherings
There is nothing more beneficial for you and your employees than in-office and out-of-office gatherings. Showing your staff you care about them by providing space for them to get to know you and each other better is one step toward retention. ...
Structure the Workday
... Define the project teams and responsibilities up front, have regular check-in visits with the team and reward them along the way for a job well done.
Say Thank You
... A small note of appreciation, a personal thank you and a pat on the back make people feel wanted and part of the team.


Best Rest Practices for Optimal Productivity and Creativity | Jeffrey Davis, M.A., Psychology Today

We know taking breaks optimizes work-and-create flow. But what are the best practices and under what conditions? Some people advise mindful breaks. Others suggest full-blown hour-long naps. Much depends upon your circumstances and your desired ends.
After describing "an optimal work-and-create flow," creativity consultant Davis provides "a quick review of relevant studies" and his suggestions. You can read theuseful info about the studies in his article. But here are some of his "take-away" tips:

THE YOUTHFUL BRAIN IS FASTER BUT... not necessarily better 
 
Take-away:
If you’re middle-aged and blush because you seem to work more slowly, take heart. You’re likely working at far more effective, complex levels than your younger co-workers. It’s not only okay to take breaks during your work flow. It’s recommended if you want to perform at your best. 

BREAK WITH RHYTHM.

Take-away tips:
I recommend to clients they remove themselves from the work environment if possible.

For a corporate client, I recommended he schedule a walk to another part of his vast office quarters, glance out a floor-to-ceiling window, and then return to his office room, sit in a comfortable sofa normally reserved for clients, and remember the last time he was outdoors working on his ranch—one of his favorite activities.

Step outdoors if you can. ...

Or step away from your work space, and read four pages from a book that brings you delight.

If you can jog or bicycle for 20 minutes, even better—as you’re also increasing the chances of your hippocampus forging new neurons in your middle-aged gray matter ....

DISTRACTION CAN RE-BOOT LONG-TERM FOCUS.

Take-away tip:
Pay attention to when you need to introduce a quick second task. Maybe sending off an email or text message will free up mental bandwidth and get you re-committed to the high-thinking task. ...

THE FULL MONTE NAP:

Take-away:
When you can take an extended creative or working retreat such as an 48-hour in-house retreat, include an afternoon 90-minute nap. Then move from lounge to desk. ...

ENJOY YOUR EVENINGS.

Take-away tip:
Schedule non-digital time in the evenings, especially 45 minutes before sleep. Set up a bi-weekly schedule of evening rhythms: One Monday as “reading night,” One Tuesday as “date night,” et cetera. If you must work some evenings, schedule work evenings. Make them the exception instead of the rule. ...

Writer's Block Is Bunk | Lev Raphael, Huff Post Books

The problem with even using the term writer's block "is that it's a supremely unhelpful way of saying something very basic and ordinary: you're stuck."

Raphael quotes another writer with that statement. He goes on:
When you say you have writer's block, you turn a minor problem into something major like depression or even cancer. Suddenly you're beset by a grave affliction. When writers say they have writer's block, a normal, unremarkable part of the writing process becomes debilitating.
Later, Raphael gives advice similar to other articles I've read about how to deal with this difficulty for writers. But I like his attitude about it. He writes about "being stuck":
Stuck isn't a bad thing. It just means we haven't worked something out, we haven't answered some question in the book, or maybe we're headed in the wrong direction.
As Raphael says he advises his students, when he's stuck, "I leave the writing alone and don't obsess about it."

Good advice!


Still, if you'd like more advice, check out the Writer's Block section at Garbl's Writing Process Links. 

The difference between public service and divisive politics - U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, The Hill's Congress Blog

We must have the capacity to know the difference between the important work of these and other public servants and the divisive politics that seeks to tar and punish all federal workers with the same brush.
Well-stated, Rep. Kucinich! He also wrote:
We must not lose sight of the contribution that federal workers — including the vast majority of those employed by GSA — make each and every day to the smooth functioning of our federal government. These hard-working, ethical public servants do their best to serve the public.
As a proud, now-retired public servant in local government for 30+ years, I know that many, if not most, government workers are committed to doing quality work that benefits taxpayers and users of essential public services.



9GAG - Puns... Puns everywhere.

Visual word play. Silly, sure. But big deal. Smiling and laughing about words--enjoying our language--is as important as serious thought about proper style, grammar and word usage.

If you enjoyed this word play, check out Garbl's Word Play Links.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Chicago Style Q&A: New Questions and Answers

The May 2012 edition of Questions and Answers from the Chicago Manual of Style is out! And as usual, I appreciate its clear, sometimes ironic, and always useful responses.

Here are several I especially liked:

Q. I am agitated about the institutional inconsistency on this point and found the College Board to be of no help, so I turn to you. What is the proper treatment of an associate degree? As I have stated it, or is it “associates” or “associate’s”?

A. Someday someone will do something about institutional inconsistency, and then we can all retire. Meanwhile, both “associate degree” and “associate’s degree” are widely used, and they both seem reasonable and logical. Even if the board never decides on one or the other, you can.

Q. Should she or it be used as a pronoun for a country?

A. Never use she to refer to a country. You’ll sound as if you either don’t know English or last studied it in 1950.

Q. We use CMOS 14 and can find no solution to the following problem. “When we first met, he had done the unforgivable, and it had come out so naturally I’d been pleased rather than offended.” It seems the comma before and is unnecessary. Our author disagrees. Can you help?

A. I’m sorry I can’t check the 14th edition for you; I sold my copy to an antique collector after I tried to donate it to a home for retired copyeditors and nobody wanted it (they all had the 16th). CMOS 16 (6.28) is very helpful on the subject, however, recommending a comma in that position.

The Web page for the May 2012 also contains the April 2012 edition. 

In harmony. My strongest connection. Music | Gary B. Larson

And now for something complete different (from my typical mix of posts). It's still about communication, but a type of communication I have not touched on much (so far) in this blog,

Music is one of my life's major interests. For years, I studied classical piano at home and violin, then viola, through school--from fourth grade through my first year in college. I entered college planing to become a music teacher, but by then my interest in journalism, government and politics was so overwhelming that I switched majors to those subjects--and launched the career of my lifetime.

After I became a Beatlemaniac in 1964, while in junior high school, I started learning guitar and playing in rock bands. Ultimately, in high school, I blamed my classical training and music-reading ability for not becoming a versatile rock guitarist. But I continued playing anyway, moving to a 12-string guitar for playing Dylan, The Byrds, folk music and country-rock. I still play my Ovation occasionally, but I'm also trying, at times, to learn fiddle (bluegrass and Celtic tunes), mandolin and mountain dulcimer. Having reached a plateau in self-teaching, I keep telling myself to get hooked on some music teachers to motivate and guide me.

My wife is a classically trained and college-accredited pianist, though she taught mostly English as a (now-retired) public school teacher. Our common interest in music was one of our first attachments when we met while working in our first post-college jobs. And our sons, now both in their 30s, have "inherited" our interest in music. They consider themselves professional rock musicians, though they're not getting rich at playing in clubs with their groups, producing shows, touring occasionally and self-producing CDs. They and we keep hopin' and wishin'! They are talented!

Music is the probably the strongest common bond connecting my family members and me with one another.

And I love buying and listening to music (mostly rock, blues, alt-country, folk and pop) and going to concerts (mostly rock, alt-country and folk). My wife also likes jazz, and I appreciate it occasionally. We both like Broadway tunes and shows. And I still like listening to  classical music every once in a while.

And that brings me to the following list. It shows the performers I've been listening to the most in iTunes and on my iPod and Nano, according to Web software called LastFM. The artist links are to another website I appreciate, All-Music Guide. It contains a ton of information about the various genres of music, musicians in all genres and their recordings--complete with reviews.

The List, as of April 26, 2012:
  1. Blue Rodeo--alternative country
  2. Bob Dylan--contemporary folk, folk rock
  3. The Beatles--British invasion, psychedelic
  4. Dream Theater--progressive metal
  5. R.E.M.--adult alternative rock
  6. Emmylou Harris--alternative country
  7. The Rolling Stones--mainstream rock, blues rock
  8. Green Day--punk pop
  9. Tish Hinojosa--roots rock, country
  10. Lucinda Williams--roots rock
  11. Steve Earle--alternative country
  12. The Jayhawks--alt country
  13. Neko Case--alt country
  14. Old 97's--alt country
  15. Wilco--alt country
  16. Drive-By Truckers--roots rock
  17. Rosanne Cash--alternative country
  18. U2--adult alternative rock
  19. Joan Baez--traditional folk
  20. Neil Young--contemporary folk
  21. Van Morrison--classic folk-rock
  22. Brandi Carlile--alternative country
  23. Lyle Lovett--alternative country
  24. Pearl Jam--grunge
  25. Bruce Springsteen--American traditional rock

Teaching the value of money through philanthropy | Richard T. Weiland,, Vancouver Su

This column focuses mostly on people who can afford to establish foundations for charitable purposes--and eventually involve their children in managing it.

But the sentence that stood out mostly to me, as a typical middle-class worker, is this:
Some parents make gifts to charities during their lifetime and involve the children in the process.
For more than three decades, I gave an ever-growing contribution to multiple nonprofit organizations through my workplace fundraising campaigns. I've been a vocal advocate and leader in those campaigns, pleased with their apparent success (yet also disturbed at times how low employee participation can be in supporting them). I also gave outside the workplace.

One reason I support  workplace campaigns so strongly is that giving a regular donation from our paychecks is a simple, painless but effective way to make significant contributions for multiple human service agencies. Symbolically, we can "give once and for all," as promoted in one campaign I supported.

Yet those donations can be so unnoticeable, after the initial decision-making, that we contributors might forget about the continuing value of our gifts to our community, country and world.

And our children might not know anything about them. Unfortunately, that's the way it was in my family. I don't recall telling my now-30something-sons about my workplace contributions--let alone involving them in the process of choosing the recipients.

That was a mistake. I'm hopeful my children learned about my altruism in other ways and value the model I tried to set for them.

Instilling in our children the willingness to give is an essential part of parenting. And this column makes a valuable suggestion about involving our children in the process of our giving--instead of doing it alone, privately, invisibly. Doing certainly doesn't apply to only wealthy philanthropists!

This column ends:

Whatever the plan, the key to its success as a teaching tool is involving the next generation in the philanthropic process. 
While the parents may have come to respect money because it was difficult to come by, the hope is that the children will gain a similar appreciation by a different path - by discovering how a dollar well-spent can have a significant impact on the lives of fellow human beings.

How to De-Jargonize Your Web Content | Brad Schorr, Content is Currency

If you want people to read your content and more importantly relate to it and act on it, you must speak their language, not yours. Jargon has an extremely negative impact on how content is received.
Of course, the truth of those statements in Schorr's article is obvious.  He goes on to describe seven ways to de-jargonize. Here are his topic headings (and advice I want to emphasize):
1. Have customers critique your content.

2. Have your sales team critique your content.

3. Add customers or sales reps to your content creation team.

4. Centralize and empower the editing function. ... Having a single, strong editor with relentless customer focus is the best way to prevent wild corporate-speak pitches. ...
5. Create an editorial guidelines document. To an extent, jargon is hard to avoid when content is written in-house by people who are used to speaking in those terms. Help them break free by building a document that lists technical phrases and the preferred English translations. ...
6. Outsource content creation.

7. Shift editorial focus from features to benefits. 

Are Social Media Sabotaging Real Communication? | Susan Tardanico, Forbes

Every relevant metric shows that we are interacting at breakneck speed and frequency through social media. But are we really communicating? ...
That's a question Susan Tardanico asks early in this article, after telling a tragic story about how the recent online communication between a mother and her daughter in college wasn't as honest--and hopeful--as it seemed. 

Tardanico continues, answering and responding to other related questions about the benefits and problems caused by using social media to communicate among family and friends--and, especially, in the workplace.
Social technologies have broken the barriers of space and time, enabling us to interact 24/7 with more people than ever before. But like any revolutionary concept, it has spawned a set of new barriers and threats. Is the focus now on communication quantity versus quality; superficiality versus authenticity? ...
Rushed and stressed, people often do not take the time to consider the nuances of their writing. Conflicts explode over a tone of an e-mail, or that all-important cc: list. When someone writes a text in all capital letters, does it mean they’re yelling? Are one- or two-word responses a sign that the person doesn’t want to engage? On the flip side, does a smiley face or an acknowledgement of agreement really mean they’re bought in and aligned? ...
So in this wired world, what’s our new golf course? How do we communicate effectively and build deeper, more authentic relationships when we have only words (truncated at best) instead of voice, face and body expression to get all the important and powerful nuances that often belie the words? ...
Tardanico concludes her article with "Six Tips for Keeping E-Communication Real." They are well worth reading and putting into practice:
  • Address your issues. 
  • Check yourself. 
  • Acknowledge the challenge.
  • Don’t cop out.
  • Be aware of the say-do gap. 
  • Keep the communication two-way.


Monday, April 30, 2012

Improve Focus: 5 Tips for Better Focus and Memory | Celeste Perron, Health Goes Strong

The good news is that the brain can get better with age. As long as you are healthy and don't let yourself get cognitively rigid, you'll be at the peak of your brain's performance and creativity at midlife. You can bend the curve of how your brain ages.
So says Margaret Moore, co-author of Organize Your Brain, Organize Your Life: Train Your Brain to Get More Done in Less Time. Cool!

Perron goes on to highlight some things discussed in Moore's book that you can do "to improve focus and creativity and ensure that your brain thrives through this period of your life."

Here are headings for the suggestions covered in Perron's article:
  • Decrease stress. 
  • Stop multitasking so much. 
  • Take brain breaks. 
  • Feed your brain. 
  • Stay cognitively flexible.

“Words Like Loaded Pistols”: The not-so-lost art of rhetoric | Laura Miller, Salon.com

Words Like Loaded Pistols isn’t a how-to book, but chances are that anyone who reads it will acquire a trick or two. Many a catastrophic best-man toast or limping pitch meeting demonstrates the need for a better understanding of the elementary guidelines laid down well over 2,000 years ago: Know your audience and strive to portray yourself as one of them; adjust your style to the tenor of the occasion; consider starting with a tactical concession; and so on. The marvel is not that the old techniques still work, but that we ever persuaded ourselves that we could do without them.
That's how Laura Miller concludes this review of a new book by Sam Leith that "celebrates the power of persuasion, from ancient Greece to Barack Obama." So, it sounds like a useful read--and a stimulating read as well, as Miller suggests in her first paragraph:
Yet as Sam Leith points out in his delightful and illuminating Words Like Loaded Pistols: Rhetoric from Aristotle to Obama, we live in the most rhetorical era in human history, surrounded by and embroiled in argument, enticement, invective and panegyric wherever we turn.
Between the beginning and end of her review, Miller describes how Leith describes the upsides and downsides of rhetoric. Referring to Barack Obama's speech-making, for example, she writes:
If Barack Obama won the presidency largely on his strengths as an orator (a testimony to rhetoric’s importance if there ever was one), that same eloquence has become a stick to beat him with in the hands of his critics. Rick Santorum is typical in dismissing Obama “just a person of words.”
And quoting Leith on the 2008 election:
It seemed that though we expected politicians to make speeches, we didn’t like them to be too good at it.
Sad, if not totally true.

And in another example from U.S. politics, Miller refers to the brouhaha over Sarah Palin and "paramilitaristic language" after the 2001 shooting by a lunatic gunman of Rep. Gabrielle Gillfords and 13 others in Arizona. Miller writes:
Leith breaks down Palin’s statement using classical rhetorical terminology, but he also holds it up as an illustration of the ironic paradoxes of anti-rhetoric. “The way she chose to defend herself against trial by media was through the media; while denying that words could be held responsible for inciting hatred and violence, she asserted that media reporting on her” was inciting hatred and violence.
Sadly, again, Miller writes:
Leith, a British journalist and novelist, wants to revive the formal appreciation of rhetorical technique, but he acknowledges that today it’s precisely when we are most aware of rhetorical skill that we condemn it.

Editorial skills kit – part 3: Writing for the web | queenie and the dew

Blogger Sally jumps right in with a short discussion about one of the most important concerns in writing for the Web (and all other publications, for that matter), with these two headings:

The traits of an online reader
First and foremost it's important to remember that reading a webpage is not like reading a book. ...
Audiences first
Try putting yourself in their shoes and think about how you would read your blog. Would you read a blog with tiny pictures and big blocks of text? Probably not.
And on she goes, covering these topics:

General tips on writing for the web
Everyone is different, but I try not to cover too many topics in one blog post. ...
The opener
You only have a few seconds to grab a reader’s attention before they decide to move on, so make the most of your opening paragraph. ...
Short sentences
It’s much better to use short sentences and small paragraphs. People can soak up more information online if things are in bite-sized pieces. ...
Subheadings
Subheadings should help readers find the information they need. Use plenty of them and make sure they are relevant to the text immediately below them. ...
Bullet points

Links

Ten Questions Your Web Designer Should Be Asking You | Wes McDowell, Small Business Trends

If you are a website manager planning a new website or planning a website renovation, these questions are for you. I have found that designers (for publication as well as for the Web) often ask just the right questions to help even editors become more reader-friendly and reader-focused. if we aren't meeting the needs and expectations of our readers, what's the point of publishing anything!

McDowell writes:
Going beyond general stylistic questions that you might expect a designer to ask, these questions are designed to get to the heart of what it is you need your website to be for your business.
If you are working with a web designer who isn’t asking you these questions, you would be wise to bring them up and provide answers to them sooner than later.
Here are the questions. McDowell's article provides more information about their purpose and value:
  1. “Can you describe your business in a few sentences?”
  2. “Who are your main competitors?”
  3. “What sets your business apart from your competitors?”
  4. “Can you describe your target customer?”
  5. “What is your deadline for completing the site?”
  6. “What are some other sites on the Web that you like and why?”
  7. “What specific functionalities would you like included on your site?”
  8. “Who is going to be responsible for the website’s content?”
  9. “What key search phrases would you like to be found for?”
  10. “How much time do you want to put into new content creation per week?

How to Fight Writer's Block and Keep Your Writing Warm | Holly Robinson, Open Salon

If you're addicted to the writing life and want to "tame the symptoms of this nonfatal but debilitating condition," Robinson provides some "home remedies." For example:
Keep your writing warm. ... [I]t's important to keep your work warm during slow spells. Even if you're not writing, visit your work. Just read it over once a day for five minutes.
Here are the headings for her other remedies:
  • Know what comes next. 
  • Be armed and ready. 
  • Unplug. 
  • Change locations.
  • Describe what you see. 
  • Retype sentences. 
  • Switch up the point of view. 
  • Create a ritual. 
  • Draw a story board. 
  • Have fun. 
For links to still more advice, check out the Writer's Block section at Garbl's Writing Process Links. That site is an annotated directory of other websites that can help you follow the steps in the writing process, such as prewriting, research, drafting, editing, revising, proofreading and publishing.

Teaching the future | Sara Rubinistein, Savannahnow.com

This article is aimed at teachers, but I think the advice applies well to writers. Students aren't the only people easily distracted from the information presented to them in school. All of us are easily distracted from because of all the information that bombards us.

So, consider the advice here in terms of writing, of connecting with your readers. If teachers can connect with distracted students using good instructional techniques (and new technologies), perhaps writers can filter through the distractions facing readers by considering the methods of teachers.

Rubinstein writes about a textbook in which the readers are mostly teachers:
[C]urriculum expert Heidi Hayes Jacobs reminds readers to take that step back and consider the big picture, the questions that we, as parents, educators, and students, should think about every day but that probably only occur to the latter group with any regularity.
What’s the point of all this school stuff anyway? Is any of it important?
Writers must apply those two questions to everything they write.

Rubinstein writes that for students, the answers are too often not clear:
What am I learning? Why? What does anything that takes place in a classroom have to do with what I will need to succeed in the real world?
Similarly, if writers can't find compelling answers to questions like those, readers will pay only cursory attention, focusing only on what they perceive is important.

Rubinstein:
What if American students are bored because their classes are boring?
When asked to nail down the source of their boredom, students cite unexciting material and a lack of relevancy. 
That statement would be equally true if "readers" replaced "students." As Rubinstein writes: "Maybe our kids know what they’re talking about." Definitely!

So, with some word replacements, here's additional relevant advice from Rubinstein:
  • Are we doing enough to ensure that our documents prepare our readers for the world as it is and will be, rather than the world as it was? That it strikes them as interesting, meaningful, and relevant? 
  • We have to help our readers to take advantage of this moment – to be flexible thinkers, ready to work together to tackle the novel challenges of the modern world. 
Rubinstein also touches on the importance of using technology to reach students---since students are already actively using technology for other purposes. Fortunately, professional communicators are already doing that.

Get Your Doctor to Stop Using Medical Jargon | Richard C. Senelick, M.D., HuffPost, Healthy Living

Ever experience this before?
A few months ago, my wife asked me to accompany her on a visit to the doctor to help interpret her test results. As my colleague rattled off a detailed explanation of "pH, calcium metabolism, oxalate ratios and the effect of citrate," I realized that even I didn't have a clue what he was talking about.
And that's a doctor who's confused!

Senelick explains that people with the worst health literacy skills have more health problems. He then writes:
Jargon is pervasive in all professions, but it has its greatest impact when doctors try to communicate with patients -- people whose lives are at stake. Health care professionals have their own verbal shorthand that may be highly effective when they speak to each other but causes confusion when used with laymen.
Senelick again points out his empathy for patients by noting a study of cancer screening that found patients had difficult with words like mammogram, tissue, biopsy, prostrate and rectal. He writes:
I was surprised because these words seem like "everyday" common terms to me, and I have to wonder how many times I used jargon when I thought I was speaking "plain language."
Fortunately, he writes, medical schools (I guess) are educating a new generation of doctors and nurses to use plain language. Still, he provides some steps we can take in a "simple program" called "Ask Me 3." It provides three questions to ask your doctor:

• What is my main problem?

• What do I need to do?

• Why is it important for me to do this?

And if you're still concerned about getting "jargon-packed answers," he provides more tips to help you get a clear understanding of your problem instead.

If anyone in the medical profession is reading this, I strongly suggest that you talk (and write) like the patients you're treating. In other words, YOU be a translator who's also helping to cure health illiteracy.


Learn How Persuasive Writing Can Help You Boost Your Sales | Josh Farrell, Business to Business Solutions

You do not have to be a mastermind for persuasive writing, but having the know-how for it will allow you to move your online marketing business to the next level. 
Farrell targets his wordy advice at online businesses marketing their products on the Web. But within all those words, he provides some advice useful to other people trying to write a persuasive document--from a speech to a brochure to a letter to Congress. I'll highlight his three methods.

After hyping something called the Constant Cash Machine, which you can ignore, he recommends a "popular method among writers that is known as 'the future glimpse.'" With that method, he writes
You persuade your audience to take action by giving them a very real picture of the future once they’ve taken that action. If you really want to have them on the hook, show them what they have now and how different their future will be if they just take action today.
Another method is "social proof." As I read his advice (and agree), he says people like to find out what other people, organizations or reviewers think of something before making choices. If they respect that the source of that review, they might follow its advice.

Farrell writes:
The obvious example of social proof can be seen in testimonials/case studies and referrals from others. You can tell that social proof is what is compelling the social media today. Of course if you do it correctly, you can also place social proof in your writing, which could vary from a professional review to just dropping names.
Farrell's third method is to "be convincing." Writers must have "an extreme sense of security"--or confidence, as I read it--in the point they're making or the product they're marketing. He writes:
It is critical that you believe in yourself when writing a piece and pass that conviction along with your text, so as to catch and hold the interest of your reader.
For more online advice on persuasive writing, check out Garbl's Action Writing Links. It's an annotated directory of websites that can help you get people to read your writing, keep readers interested and persuade them to respond while they're reading or afterward. 


Get Gooder Vocabulary: Dictionary.com | NicNeely, Gizmos Freeware

NicNeely begins this review of Dictionary.com noting that finding an online dictionary is no big deal; it's an easy search. Instead:
Dictionary.com here is a free app that gives me so much more than just definitions. It has become one of the most used apps on my phone and is well worth taking a closer look for this week.
The review describes the three basic functions of the website:

Daily, which contains a Word of the Day, an informative Hot Word article about linguistics, and a trivia-laden Question of the Day.

Search, which allows you to find any words from the dictionary, by speaking them or typing them in the search box.

Trends, which gives users a view of the most searched words in their area and the most searched words within a time period.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Students find joy with strings attached | The Age

I studied violin and viola in the public schools from fourth grade through my first year in college. And outside school, I learned to play piano and guitar. That music education and experience played a significant role in my growing-up years. It was essential to my success in school--and still!

Music instruction in school (and outside school) was also significant to my wife, who majored in must in college. Piano was her instrument of choice. And my two sons studied music in school and on their own. They now consider themselves professional musicians (though they're certainly not getting rich at it!)

I mention all that because this article reconfirms to me the essential role that music instruction must play in our schools. Our communities must pay for it--and involve as many students as possible in it.


The article discusses an intensive music-instruction program, based on a successful Venezuelan model, that introduces orchestral training and performance to children who are otherwise unlikely to experience it. The Venezuelan experience has reached 4 million children during the past 37 years, but just 30 students have entered the new program, so far, at the Australian school described in this article.

The benefits there have already been noticed:
Not only have the children — selected randomly from more than 70 who applied to take part — embraced the disciplined training, but a survey sent out after six months showed 90 per cent of parents noticed an increase in their children's confidence, with 95 per cent saying their children were happier and 95 per cent now more positive about their child's future.
Says the assistant principal:
Not only have the children lapped it up, never complaining about the extra work, but the parents are highly supportive, too. They can see the benefits. It's had huge benefits for their whole learning, too; we're seeing positive effects on their other work.
Not surprisingly, funding is a stumbling block for expanding the program. But the article notes that the initial program in Venezuela also has a social justice element that helps aid philanthropy to support it. And that benefit is now also aiding funding for the Australian school.

The article reports that similar programs are under way in Britain, Canada, New Zealand, Spain, Austria and the United States.

Northeast Ohio schools welcome electronic devices to promote learning | Ellen Kleinerman, cleveland.com

This is a new view, for me, on student use of smart phones in school. My wife, who teaches English to international students (from Asia, the Middle East and elsewhere) has talked with me about students focusing their attention on their smart phones (for non-school work). And that use distracts them from what's happening in the classroom. 

But Kleinerman reports that in this Ohio school district, classroom use of cellphones and other electronics devices by students and teachers is becoming more and more widespread:
From pop quizzes through text-messaging to lab results loaded onto electronic tablets to looking up information on smart phones, teachers are finding ways to engage students with the latest devices.
Says school district Superintendent Robert Scott:
Technology is part of kids' lives. It's here to stay. Students are allowed to use their wireless devises anywhere in the building. Cellphones, smart phones, iPods, iPads are all considered a resource and are used at a teacher's discretion.
The rest of the article quotes teachers and students on how technology is used in classroom lessons--and how it aids learning. 

To guard against abuse, Kleinerman writes:
[S]tudents and their parents have to sign a digital driver's license before accessing the school's wireless system. The district has the ability to track when individual students sign onto the system. Firewalls are also in place to block access to inappropriate sites.

Does handwriting have a place in today's tech-driven classrooms? | Caire Penhorwood, CBC News

Hmmmmmmmmmm. Interesting question! And so are the answers--from college professors. Here's the basic answer in the subhead:
Educators say basic writing and spelling skills still necessary for success in school and life.
Penhorwood begins by writing that elementary school students no longer spend much time "endlessly copying letters and sentences from a a chalkboard." She says that teachers don't spend much time on "perfecting strokes and proper curves in cursive writing."

She notes:
With the advent of new technologies like tablets and smartphones, writing by hand has become something of a nostalgic skill.
But she then reports on some college professors and studies that emphasize the benefits of teaching handwriting skills as well as spelling and computer technologies.

Virginia Berninger, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington in Seattle:
I think it is wise to continue teaching handwriting. We need to continue to help kids be 'bilingual' by hand.
In a study published in 2009, Berninger and her colleagues found that when writing with a pen and paper, participants wrote longer essays and more complete sentences. They also had a faster word production rate.

In another study, Berninger looked at the role of spelling in a student's writing skills. She found that how well children spell is tied to how well they can write:
Spelling activates some of the thinking parts of the brain in the frontal lobes. We think that it is a cognitive portal, because it helps us access our vocabulary, word meaning and concepts …. It is allowing your written language to connect with ideas.
As a longtime writer and editor, I value the useful writing and editing tools built in to computer applications and available online. But I also appreciate very much the point Berninger makes here, for children while they're learning and after they become adults:
In our computer age, some people believe that we don't have to teach spelling because we have spell checks. But until a child has a functional spelling ability of about a fifth grade level, they won't have the knowledge to choose the correct spelling among the options given by the machine.



7 Steps to Take Now to Increase Your Creative Output | Amy Neumann (with Eliza Wing), Huff Post, GPS for the Soul

What lies beneath the commitment to create? How can we position ourselves in ways that elevate our work?
Neumann and Wang answer those question in this article. They describe "useful qualities anyone can develop to help them along a creative path." Here are their topic headings:

Question Authority

Don't Act Your Age

Give Generously (To Yourself AND Others)


They quote social media consultant Ann Tran:
Creativity originates from several basic life elements, one of which is generosity and a heart curved outwards toward the world. Giving time and attention to others, listening intently to them, and taking in all the beautiful, interesting aspects of life - these set the stage for the birth of creative ideas.
Respect the Practice

Be Truthful

Pay Attention

Be a Dreamer


They quote social media adviser Sean Gardner:
Surround yourself with great people, be visionary and determined about your future, and always do your best ... and then some! Life is too short to not give it all you've got. Let the world see the amazing person you aim to become.

5 Tips for Generating Breakout Opportunities | Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha, Business on Main

Our professional lives are not a sequence of equally important jobs. There are always breakout projects, connections, specific experiences and, yes, strokes of luck that lead to unusually rapid career growth. Here are some tips for finding and generating those kinds of breakout opportunities. These work equally well for a startup as they do for an individual’s career.
So write Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha in this excerpt from their book, The Start-Up of You.

As the headline says, they give five tips:

1. Brim with curiosity.
For you in your career, curiosity (with or without frustration) about industries, people and jobs will make you alert to professional opportunities.
2. Court serendipity.
You create accidental good fortune by being open to potential opportunities and acting on them.
3. Cultivate randomness.
[R]aise the likelihood that you stumble upon something valuable by stirring the pot to introduce the possibility that seemingly random ideas, people and places will collide and form new opportunities.
4. Connect to human networks.
[I]dentify the people in your network who always seem to have their hands in interesting pots. Try to understand what makes them hubs of opportunity, and resolve to meet more people with those characteristics.
5. Take intelligent risks.
Make a list of risks that are acceptable to you but that others tend to avoid, and go for them.

How Great Entrepreneurs Create Their Own Luck | Thor Muller, TechCrunch

This is the story of how a young Irish fine artist accidentally became a materials scientist, founding a high-growth company that created a whole new product category. It’s also a parable for how great entrepreneurs systematically create their own luck.
That's the start of this article by Thor Muller, author of Get Lucky: How to Put Planned Serendipity to Work for You and Your Business.

After telling the story of Jane ni Dhulchaointigh, Muller writes:
Jane’s stunning rise is the result of her mastering what we call the skills of planned serendipity, a set of behaviors that have allowed her, over and over again, to generate the chance discoveries, recognize the good ones, and take action on those that matter most.
Muller explains that Jane's success is similar to that of virtually all successful startups:
the ability to harness serendipity, the unplanned discoveries, large or small, that end up being the turning points in careers and businesses.
He goes on to describe what we can learn from Jane's breakout success, covering these topics:

Start With A “Geek Brain”
... an obsessive curiosity in an area of interest and the ability to notice anomalies, overcoming the conventional wisdom that constrains others.
Find Space to Play
[P]remature focus can kill good ideas before they ever emerge.
Be Opinionated
[Jane] saw the potential in her chance discovery only because she had an overriding purpose that gave her a unique perspective.
Project the Possibility
[Be] willing to publicly put [your] ideas into the world, allowing them to connect with the as-yet-unknown people and opportunities that make [your] products possible.
Follow Unplanned Paths
[D]o something that was not only unexpected but would have seemed absurd a few months before.
Design Openness into the Product and Company
Creating permeability at the edge of [Jane's] company allowed new directions and opportunities to serendipitously emerge.
Muller concludes by describing "the kind of luck that matters."



Strong community relations reduces the culture of fear | Deon Price, Daily Republic

Why would I risk being labeled a snitch by reporting a serious crime to assist an organization that has a history of mistreating citizens in its own community?
That's the question asked in this column by Deon Price, a youth life skills coach in Fairfield, Calif. He writes that the negative stigma of snitching even crops up when he's talking to grade school students about bullying and how to handle schoolyard conflicts. Most students say they won't tell a teacher when someone starts a fight; they consider that snitching.

Price writes:
There is an unwritten code in the urban community that says keep your mouth shut and don’t talk to the authorities. People have a hard time communicating with local law enforcement due to years of mistrust and tension with police officers.
Price explains that the reputation of misconduct by police agencies is one reason for that mentality, as I've also read about in Seattle, my home. He writes:
Incidents like the situations that recently occurred in Stockton and Oakland involving police shootings are a good example of why some police departments have a deteriorating relationship with the communities they serve. 
But, he writes, his community is taking strides to change things. I keep hearing that's also happening in Seattle. I hope so.

Price concludes:
A person who takes a risks for a righteous cause should be honored, not threatened. ...
As community policing becomes more prevalent and we continue to have healthy dialogue between local leadership and the public, I am confident that we can eliminate this culture of fear.
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