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Saturday, June 2, 2012

Punctuation lapses into a comma | Larry Parsons, :

Comma misuse can be deadly serious.
Sipping my second coffee, my thoughts wandered from appositives and comma splices to my personal failings in punctuation relationships. I confess I have been a cad in mistreating the lovely dash, or L.D., for most of my life. She didn't deserve this boorish behavior. She was always straight with me.
You might get a sense of it from that introduction, but Parsons writes a enjoyable column here. I won't attempt to summarize it. I'll just encourage you to read it.

For more serious resources about punctuation, check out the Punctuation section of Garbl's Onine Grammar Guides. You also can check the punctuation entries at Garbl's Editorial Style Manual.

Friday, June 1, 2012

How Much is Plain Language Worth? | Center for Plain Language

I must get this new book on plain language by law professor Joe Kimble, Writing for Dollars, Writing to Please: The Case for Plain Language in Business, Government, and Law.

According to the description at this site:
The book sets out the elements of plain language, debunks the 10 biggest myths about it, summarizes 40 historical highlights, and summarizes 50 (no less) studies on the benefits of plain language for everyone -- readers, writers, businesses, and government agencies.
Joe is a long-respected advocate for plain language. I got to know him when I was website manager and discussion group moderator for the Plain Language Association InterNational (PLAIN).

You can find more of Joe's plain-language articles and other resources about plain language at the PLAIN website. The website of the Center of Plain Language also has useful resources.

Breaking Up Your Writing Process | enunnally, Hub Pages

One main cause of writer's block -- aka, simply getting started on a writing project -- is the supposed overwhelming task ahead. Blogger Erin describes a useful step-by-step process for getting a handle on that task right form the start. She writes, about covering this issue in her classes:
[O]ne of the first things we talk about is how to break up the writing process so that instead of being paralyzed by the amount of work to be done, they can focus on each individual part and have a much more productive experience.
Erin focuses on essay-writing, but her advice covers most types of writing. Summarized, here are Erin's seven steps:
1. Brainstorming ...
I prefer free writing. Look at your assignment or writing prompt and then sit down and write whatever comes to mind for 15 minutes. Do not stop. If you get stuck, write "I don't know what else to say about this..." and let your ideas go elsewhere. ...
2. Outlining ...
It doesn't matter if you follow the classical form of using roman numerals and such (although that can be useful to some); what matters is that you think critically about your ideas and focus on putting them in the right order. ...
3. Drafting ...
Using your outline as a guide (and maybe even going back to some of what you wrote while brainstorming), start developing your ideas into paragraphs. ... Focus on information at this point. Get your main ideas down ....
4. Second Outline ...
Making an outline of what you have written will help you focus on how your main points are coming across in your essay. You can then compare that to your first outline and see where things may have changed ....
5. Peer Review ...
Having someone else look at it now provides you with sort of a "test audience" so that you can be sure you're getting your point across clearly and fully explaining everything and connecting ideas. ...
6. Revising ...
The goal now is to answer this question: "Have I clearly communicated what I'm trying to say to my audience?"
7. Proofreading ...
It's tempting to fix spelling and grammar mistakes earlier on in the process because we always want our writing to be correct, but proofreading too early can actually create more work for you. ... Focus on your ideas first. ... When you've done that, fix the mechanics so that there are no distractions or confusing points.
For more advice, check out Garbl's Writing Process Links. It's an annotated directory of websites that can help you follow the steps in the writing process, such as prewriting, research, drafting, editing, revising, proofreading and publishing. A separate directory features websites that can help you prevent or defeat Writer's Block.

Choosing the Right Words for Persuasive Writing |

I like this blogger's three suggestions for making your writing more compelling. The blogger notes, correctly:
[W]hen you are trying to persuade someone through your writing, you need to do more than get to the point – you also need to persuade them into doing something.
After all, if your readers doesn't respond in your preferred way (or at all) -- either through action or thought -- what was the point of using your time and energy to interact with them?

The blogger's three elements of persuasion, summarized:

Using comparisons
[W]hen you create a convincing scenario and relate it to something that your reader can connect with or accepts as right/true, it will become a lot more easier for you to get them to understand your point of view and accept it. ...
Overcoming objections
Of course to properly overcome their objections you’re going to have to get to know your audience, and their objections, really well. ... 
Writing with "an understanding pen"
[I]t shows your audience that they aren’t merely heard but that you understand what they’re trying to say. ... Once your readers see you as understanding, they will be able to trust you with much more ease. ...
For more related advice, 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.


Nerd Note: The End of the Punctuation/Emoticon Debate

Well, I don't know how widespread this punctuation controversy has spread, but it's happened inside my head. And this blog provides useful advice.

The problem, as spelled out and punctuated in the blog:

I love it when it rains! ;)
I love it when it rains ;)
Note the exclamation point in the first example.

After a brief discussion, blogger Kenna Griffin offers this "new rule":
When using an emoticon, you should use regular punctuation, followed by a space and the emoticon.
And that means she prefers the first example above. In other words, treat a sentence separately from the emoticon that follows. Don't treat the emoticon as the concluding punctuation mark for a sentence. Makes sense to me!

Of course, in serious writing, emoticons do not exist.

Navigating the rise of the socially responsible corporation | Hayley Berlent, Siegel+Gale

This article responds to projections that more and more companies are becoming more socially responsible ... as a good business investment for effective corporate citizens. That's a good thing, of course!

Blogger Hayley Berlent quotes publisher Arianna Huffington:
By the end of this decade there will be no brand that is not involved in some form of philanthropy. The ones who choose not to follow the trend will simply not survive.
But, as Berlent concludes (emphasis added):
To get the most out of cause-driven initiatives, companies need to communicate in ways that make their commitment and impact more widely and clearly known. This means ensuring the business and cause are aligned; the cause is relevant to customers; the goals and results are consistently communicated; and support and commitment comes from the highest level.
To ensure that companies are no just socially responsible but also fiscally responsible, Berlent asks these four questions and includes examples of how some companies answer them:
  1. Is the cause in alignment with your business?
  2. Is the cause of importance to your customers?
  3. Are the goals and outcomes of the initiative clear, accountable and transparent?
  4. Is the cause inspiring to your leadership and employees?
The rewards for that philanthropy will be worth it. Berlent  refers to data that show socially driven business practices are directly tied to "improvements in recruitment and retention, enhancements in customer perception, affinity and engagement, as well as the bottom line."

Travel Photography Inspiration Project: Cambodia

I've been to the area of Cambodia featured at this website, and I love these photos. They take me back to October 2010 when my wife and I toured Siem Reap, Angkor Wat and other nearby locations.

The photographer's advice and photos are helpful reminders and tips on what to look for anywhere we travel. Whenever and wherever we travel, that effort helps us make connections with other people and cultures on this diverse planet. And doing that is essential if we're ever to achieve peace.

To see my photos from Cambodia, check these three albums:
Here's another collection of photos, by another photographer, from that area of Cambodia.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Creating Global Citizens | Lisa Niver Rajna, Technorati Family

The writer, Lisa Niver Raina, a frequent traveler and a teacher for more than 20 years, says she works hard "to integrate themes of culture and travel into my lessons."

Raina writes:
My students love to hear about where I have been and are eager to make connections with students and authors in other countries. ... I know that both my students love and their parents appreciate these sessions, but I am sad to hear that only 30% of educators regularly talk about other cultures and countries.
Raina acknowledges that writing lesson plans to make real connections with other cultures is time-consuming, but she says it's necessary because what happens “over there” affects us “over here.”

She concludes:
We are all connected through the air we breathe and the decisions we make. I hope we can work together to increase thoughtful dialogue about culture in hopes of creating a global community.

Have writer's block -- or need a shot of creativity? Take a hike! | John Platt,

I like this! Platt's column begins with these two bullet points:
  • Study: A team of backpackers were 50 percent more creative after they had spent four days on the trail
  • 'There's a growing advantage over time to being in nature,' researcher says
Quoting the leader of the study mentioned in the first bullet, Ruth Ann Atchley, department chair and associate professor of cognitive/clinical psychology at the University of Kansas [emphasis added]:
There's a growing advantage over time to being in nature. We think that it peaks after about three days of really getting away, turning off the cellphone, not hauling the iPad and not looking for Internet coverage. It's when you have an extended period of time surrounded by that softly fascinating environment that you start seeing all kinds of positive effects in how your mind works. 
The article explains that in the study four groups of backpackers were given a standard test of creatively before they left on long hikes. A second set of backpackers was given the same test four days into their hikes. The finding: "The second group of hikers — the ones deep into their nature journeys — scored nearly 50 percent higher in creativity."
In a continuation of the article, Atchley says:
Nature is a place where our mind can rest, relax and let down those threat responses. Therefore, we have resources left over — to be creative, to be imaginative, to problem solve — that allow us to be better, happier people who engage in a more productive way with others.

Ten Tried And Proven Pointers For Writing For The Web | Online Success Articles

I've made this comment before when I've posted links to articles about writing for the Web, but here I go again: Many of the good ideas in this blog are also useful for effective, interesting writing in print. 

What I believe has happened is that many writers for print have neglected an important point, possibly the most important point, about writing. And that point: You must write everything to meet the needs of the reader, not just as a consumer of whatever product, service or idea you're "selling" but as a reader of words.

So, suggestions made in this article to aid the reader and keep him or her "in your den," as the blogger puts it, are equally applicable to writing for print. Here are headings for each of the blogger's suggestions. Following all of them but No. 5 would enhance your words on a printed page:

1. Make Your Piece Simple to Browse

2. Tease Your Reader
3. Make use of Headings, Sub-headings and Sub-sub headings

4. Add Texture

5. Hyperlink It

6. Give it Some Pizzazz
7. Pose Questions

8. Action!

9. Write for your reader

10. Be Careful of ‘Talking the Talk’

Gender-neutral isn’t new | Gabe Doyle, Motivated Grammar

Where I've worked the past 30+ years, the arguments about gender-neutral language ended years, even decades, ago. I worked in local government in the Seattle, so perhaps we were more progressive on ending use of outdated words and terms. But I don't think so; all the well-known, mainstream style manuals on respected books on writing have also validated gender-neutral language for years.

So while I appreciate the thoughts and advice provided in this column, I'm a bit surprised it was necessary. Still, since blogger Gabe must hear arguments opposing gender-neutral language, I think he does a good job of responding to them. I agree with what he says:
I have two thoughts on this argument. The first: so what? Society progresses, and over time we tend to realize that certain things we used to think were just fine weren’t. The fact that we didn’t see anything wrong with it before doesn’t mean we were right then and wrong now. Furthermore, women have gained power and prominence in many traditionally male-dominated areas, so even if gender-neutral language had been unnecessary in the past (e.g., when all Congressmen were men), that wouldn’t mean it’s a bad idea now.
But my second thought is this: the very premise is wrong. Concerns about gender-neutral language date back far beyond our lifetimes.
Gabe goes on, commenting on use of freshmen, mankind, he or she, and person. He also comments on use of they as a singular pronoun. He writes:
I know I sound like a broken record on this point, but singular they — using they in place of generic he for singular referents of unknown gender — has been around a long, long time. Henry Churchyard’s site lists off examples spanning from 1400 to the present day, with a special focus on Jane Austen’s 75 singular uses of their.
I've also been promoting a transition to using they (and its variants as a singular), but it's a tough sell. One argument I've made is that you and your are used as both singular and plural pronouns, referring to one person or a number of people. And it takes a plural verb in both uses. We should treat they, their and them in the same way.

For additional comment on that topic, check out the their, them, they item in Garbl's Editorial Style Manual. Also see the sex, sexism item.

Footprints: Progressive Steps

My new daily paper features news stories, blog items, Web articles, tweets, photos and videos about progressive/liberal politics in the United States -- a favorite subject and pursuit of mine. The software selects the items automatically from my initial choices in Google+ and Twitter. I'll likely be as surprised -- and inspired, I hope -- as you by some of its posts. You can see it in the Progressive Politics tab of My Garblog and even subscribe to it.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Start Your Summer Right: 5 Creative Writing Tips | Jessica Strawser,

The headline for this article emphasizes creative writing, but Strawser's advice applies to all writing. And it's good advice for anytime, not just in the summer.

Here's a summary of each of her tips -- which include helpful examples:
1. Watch out for subtle wordiness. We've all been taught to eliminate redundancies in our writing, but it takes constant vigilance to catch the most elusive culprits—those that go beyond redundancy into pleonasm. ...
2. Don’t use a long (read: complicated) word where 1 short (read: simple) word will do. ...
3. Redefine how you think of writer’s block. ...
4. Write more by setting a smaller daily goal. ...
5. Don’t abandon your other passions to focus on writing. I find this tip especially helpful in the summertime, when the kid in me wants to play outside. ...
With four of the tips, Strawser lists a book that provides additional related advice.

For more advice on tips 1 and 2, check out Garbl's Concise Writing Guide. That free guide provides alternatives to overstated, pompous words; wordy, bureaucratic phrases; and verbose, sometimes amusing redundant phrases:

Did she really turn herself into police? | Laura Moyer, The Red Pen

This blog posting emphasizes the importance of correctly using into (one word) and in to (two words). Using them incorrectly can create misleading, confusing impressions for the reader. 

Here's copyeditor Moyer's example of the problem:
I was copy editing last night when this part of a sentence passed before my gaze: “18-year-old Christina Jenkins turned herself into Culpeper police Monday evening.”
I put a space between the words “in” and “to.”
The next sentence was a quote. It began, “Jenkins walked into Culpeper police headquarters about 6:30 p.m. in the company of her mother and surrendered.”
In this case, “into” was right. I left it alone.
Moyer then provides clear advice and examples for using the two terms. I won't repeat it her and encourage you to read her blog instead.

For more advice on word usage as well as use of abbreviations, capitalization, numbers, grammar and punctuation, check out Garbl's Editorial Style Manual

Less is More -- using plain language at work and why I love twitter | Karen Payton, Bright Communications

The whole point of communication is to share information so if you’re using language that makes the content unclear or inaccessible to your audience you are not communicating well. When your readers or listeners do not clearly understand the information you’ve presented to them the message they walk away with may be entirely different from what you intended.
That is the key message I emphasize when I'm advocating for the use of plain language. But put another way: If your readers don't understand what you're telling them -- and they don't respond as you hope in some way -- why waste time, resources and energy writing to them? You have better things to do, right?

If you don't like the answers to those questions, it's your responsibility -- and not the responsibility of your readers -- to make sure you and your organization are writing documents your readers can understand and use. In other words, use plain language!

Payton writes:
[P]lain language is clear, using only necessary words and presents information in a straightforward, logical way. This ensures your audience gets the message quickly and clearly
Payton then explains three reasons (time, trust and Twitter) why use of plain language has become even more important.

And she concludes [emphasis added]:
Plain language is not dumbing things down and taking an overly simplified approach to language. In fact, it can be harder to get your thoughts out clearly using plain language. ... Remember, we’re in a time-starved environment where every minute counts before you lose someone’s attention so don’t waste their time (and yours) on loquacious, perplexing linguistic gymnastics.
For more information on clear, concise writing, check out Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide. It provides advice on these topics:

Writer's Block: Getting Into the Chair and Staying There | Phil Stutz and Barry Michels, Psychology Today

"If you break down the writing process carefully, you find two points when a writer gets blocked," write blogger Barry Michels. He continues:
The first is when she has to get herself to sit down and start writing. (Believe it or not, some don’t make it. I’ve treated writers who have gone for six months without writing a word.) If a writer makes it past the first point, she has to face the second: keeping herself in the chair, continuing to write. ...
Michels writes that various types of pain are what prompts people not to get started writing. For example, pain caused by dread:
the prospect of having to invent an entire world is a little like having the creative responsibilities of God—with none of the superpowers. The task feels impossible.
For help in moving through that pain, Michels links to previous blog in which the writers discuss a tool they call Reversal of Desire.

Michels then describes the difficulty or ability of writers to generate what the bloggers call "flow." Flow, he says, is "the sense that something wiser and more fluent is using you as a conduit for the writing." He writes:
Flow doesn’t come to those who try to express themselves well. Flow comes to those who express themselves freely.
For writers to reach a "flow state," Michels writes, they must do something counterintuitive: They must accept flawed writing [emphasis added].

As a former public information officer for a wastewater treatment agency, I appreciated this analogy in Michel's conclusion:
If you can’t accept the bad, you can’t get to the good. It’s as if the flow is pure, clean water trapped behind dirty, disgusting sewage. If you can’t welcome the sewage and let it flow through you, you’ll never be able to get to the pure stuff.
(He then refers to a tool developed by the bloggers to help writers do that. But he says it will be described in an upcoming post.)

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

48 Elements of Persuasive Written Content | Uttoran Sen, Copyblogger

"[W]ords are very powerful things," writes blogger Uttoran Sen:
They can make us buy things we didn’t think we needed. They can reveal ideas that we’ve been looking for for years. They can make us cry or laugh almost hysterically.
Sen writes that if you want to master persuasive writing, you'll need to learn the ABCs of the craft, apparently covered in the 48 terms listed here in alphabetical order. Some examples:
12. Common Language
We know you’re smart and you know all sorts of big, fancy words. But unless you’re trying to be irritating, don’t talk down to the reader. Give us something conversational with a common language that we can understand.
24. Instructions
Content leading up to something — a sign-up, a petition, a purchase — must include explicit instructions. Sure, you can leave your reader alone to figure it out, or you can help him out with simple instructions to simply fill in his email address below to get new coupons and specials!
36. Questions
What better way to make people think while reading your material than to ask questions? Rhetorical questions are a highly effective way to engage a reader and transition through text.
48. Voice
Hand in hand with tone is the sound of your voice coming through content. Persuasive content isn’t technical writing, and your unique voice should be present as you’re writing. A strong voice is entertaining, engaging, and enjoyable to read.
For related information, 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. In a democracy, we each have the right and the responsibility to speak out on matters that concern us.

Tyrannosaurus Lex author Rod Evans | Heidi Stevens, Chicago Tribune

Stevens reviews a new book, Tyrannosaurus Lex: The Marvelous Book of Palindromes, Anagrams and Other Delightful And Outrageous Wordplay, by Rod Evans.

She describes it is "Evans' latest — and possibly wittiest — celebration of the English language."

Quoting Evans:
I consider the book, to some extent, an exuberant excess. It's the Lady Gaga of wordplay books. ... I don't get upset about people playing with language. I wish people would play with it more. ... Wordplay is democratic. You don't have to have a doctorate to enjoy it.
Stevens highlights several sections of the book, such as two that appealed to me as a music lover and occasional musician:
"Piano Words," words whose letters can all be played as notes on an instrument: baggage, defaced, beaded, caged.
"Musical Mondegreens," in which Evans lists commonly misunderstood song lyrics: Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water" sounds like "Slow-talking Walter, the fire-engine guy." It's actually "Smoke on the water and fire in the sky." Elton John's "Tiny Dancer" sounds like "Hold me closer Tony Danza." It's actually "Hold me closer tiny dancer." Simon and Garfunkel's "The Sound of Silence" sound like "Silence like a casserole." It's actually "Silence like a cancer grows."
Sounds like a fun book to get for tickling my punny bone.

If you like this type of writing, check out Garbl's Word Play Links. It has more fun word sites for your amusement and, perhaps, enlightenment.

Is Philanthropy Print Journalism's Last Hope? | Peter Osnos, The Atlantic

The Ford Foundation recently pledged $1.04 million to Los Angeles' struggling daily. We might be looking at the future of newspapers.

Peter Osnos, journalist turned book editor/publisher, begins his article:
It was startling to read last week that the Ford Foundation was awarding a two-year grant of $1.04 million to the Los Angeles Times for the hiring of reporters. The money will be used for coverage of immigration issues, including the Korean and Vietnamese communities, the California prison system, and the border region with Mexico, and to staff a bureau in Brazil.
But here's what startled Osnos (emphasis added):
Ford has long been a supporter of journalism, with an emphasis on public broadcasting and nonprofit enterprises. But this grant represents a different approach: support for a newspaper currently in bankruptcy that has endured years of cutbacks in its resources and revenues. ...
And he notes:
"Conversations" are under way with other news organizations -- the implication being newspapers that share the problems of the Los Angeles Times. ...
[G]iven the realities of our times, it seems reasonable to accept a gift, as long as it is not encumbered with requirements for advocacy or any other restrictions that would pose a serious conflict of interest for a self-respecting news organization. ...
Osnos concludes:
The Ford grant, even at a million dollars, is a small contribution to editorial excellence, but if it turns out to be part of a larger trend toward supporting newspapers as they move increasingly towards digital delivery, then the prospects for traditional news could take a turn for the better.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Garbl's Creativity Connections

I've just launched this daily "newspaper." It features blog articles, tweets, photos and videos about creativity -- a favorite subject and pursuit of mine. The software selects the items automatically from Google+ and Twitter, with no direct involvement by me.

I'll likely be as surprised -- and inspired, I hope -- as you by some of its posts from education, leisure, technology, arts and entertainment, business, science and more.

Besides following this link (and even subscribing by email to the paper), you can read it on the Creativity page of My Garblog.

Good Luck in Business is Hard Work | Ned Smith,

Smith reviews a recent book about "planned serendipity," Get Lucky: How to Put Planned Serendipity to Work for You and Your Business, by Thor Muller and Lane Becker.

According to the website about the book:
A guide to getting luck on your side
As the pace of change accelerates and the volume of information explodes, we feel incredible pressure to connect just in time with the people and ideas we need to thrive, even when we don't know who or where they are. But this uncertainty brings tremendous opportunities if we embrace one of the most crucial drivers of success: serendipity.
Planned serendipity is not an abstract, magical notion. It's a practical skill. Get Lucky is the indispensable resource for anyone who wants to learn this skill and make serendipity work for them.
Smith quotes Muller and Becker to highlight main points of their book.

Planned serendipity

It's fun to write a book about luck. You go out and find people who are really successful and ask them what things in their careers were so important. Based on those conversations, we reverse-engineered the innate skills we called serendipity.
Business breakthroughs

You have a set of practices you do every day — go to the lab, go to the office. And an anomaly occurs. Why does one scientist seize that when others don't? ...
Discovering something incredibly sweet and recognizing it had commercial application was serendipity.
How do you make breaking out of your routine part of your routine. ... There's a lot of paradox and oxymoron in serendipity.
The raw material of serendipity

The raw material of serendipity is creating more opportunities to collide with something.
Silicon Valley is really good at this. It's not an accident. There's a culture that allows for it and allows designed activities and structures that reward it and encourage it.
The ability to see anomalies

Sometimes serendipity also involves forgetting about conventional wisdom. Conventional wisdom would have said, 'A weaker adhesive is not valuable. Why are you still thinking about it?' ...
Especially in the early days, they don't know what success looks like for their business. It's when they figure out what success looks like that their trouble begins. That's when they start looking for the expected as they scale their business and raise more money. It becomes more and more difficult to adapt to the unexpected.
Open mindset

The problem is, they lose [an open mindset]. They forget. The question is, can they find it? And sometimes it takes an existential crisis.
As the business grows, it does have to become segmented. The businesses that were the most successful with this were those that figured out how to remove hierarchy. It's not about eliminating hierarchy. It's looking for controlled and interesting ways you can allow hierarchy to collapse appropriately.
Serendipity is agnostic

This is where small business has a huge leg up on large businesses. In my experience, people who start small businesses are passionate about it. More often than not they see something that they want to do differently. That gives you the beginner's mind, that willingness to see everything fresh and new. That's why small business in this country trumps large businesses all the time.

OUP research reveals children's imaginative language use

Articles about creativity frequently emphasize that children are not necessarily more creative than adults, that adults also can be as creative as children. The problem is that as children grow into adults, their creativity is stifled by external restrictions placed on how they think, feel and act. 

This article highlights new research by the Oxford University Press:
Innovative use of language, a firm grasp of technology, and a thirst for unusual words are just some of the findings revealed about how children use language ....
The report provides information on "children's patterns in language, grammatical structures, and vocabulary use."

I don't think this report contradicts the point made in the first paragraph. Instead, I think it mostly reflects factors that influence children as they're experiencing their new environment and learning to talk and write about it. 

The article reports:
The results show that children are extremely inventive in their storytelling and language use, with many stories focusing on genetic experiments, espionage, and futuristic gadgets. ...
Technology was also a theme in many stories. The terms 'google' and 'app' occur many times: 'googling' is a way to follow clues in a mystery; and 'apps' can be downloaded for use as a prop, avatar, or weapon.
I was pleased to read that the research played down concerns that increased use of "txtspk" will ruin the vocabulary of children. Instead:
[Y]oungsters demonstrated that they know when it is not appropriate, only including it in their stories when transcribing an imagined text message.
Not surprisingly, the report found that misuse of the apostrophe was a common problem among children, and that children made extensive use (overuse, perhaps) of the exclamation mark. Why isn't that surprising? Because those statements could also be made about adults!

Author Steve Berry helps other writers get words on a page | Maggie Galehouse, Houston Chronicle

Steve Barry, author of best-selling historical thrillers like Steve Berry is the New York Times bestselling author of The Emperor's Tomb, The Balkan Escape and The Paris Vendetta, spoke at a recent writer's workshop in Houston.

Galehouse writes that he suggested authors think of every story in three chucks:
Act I: The first 20 percent of the story, in which you establish character, point of view, the major conflict and the crucible - the thing that compels a character to do something he or she wouldn't normally do. ...
Act II: The middle 60 percent of the story that mixes up the action and introduces subplots. This is where the bad guy does bad things, the protagonist gathers clues and romance rears its head.
Act III: The final 20 percent of the story, containing the crisis and the conclusion.
He also suggested that writing in third person ("he" or "she") is preferable to writing in first person ("I"). Third person allows the writer to provide multiple points of view, not just the point of view of one character. Galehouse, however, names a couple of well-known authors who write in first person.

In advice applicable to all writers, not just fiction writers, Galehouse reports:
"Passive voice," Berry informs the crowd, "is a fatal disease." Never write, "The contract was signed by John" when you can write, "John signed the contract."
Avoid "ly" words, he says, because they're symptoms of passive voice. Instead of writing, "He walked slowly," find a better verb: "He crept."
Berry also offered advice to make dialogue more realistic:
Dialogue in books isn't real, Berry continues. Few of us are as pithy and quick in real-life conversations. Still, authors must strive for authenticity. He recommends short bursts of "oblique" dialogue that avoid information-dumping, propel characters forward and introduce conflict ....

Monday, May 28, 2012

7 Tips I Use to Spark My Creativity | Gretchen Rubin, Huff Post, Healthy Living

After blogger Rubin notes that everyone has differing things that prompt their creativity, she provides some creativity-producing strategies that might work for you ... because they work for her!

In summary, here they are:
1. Take notes. I have a compulsion to take notes as I read. I write down quotations and bits of information that catch my interest. ...
2. Follow my interests. ... Instead of focusing on what I "ought" to be doing, I allow myself to wander -- by buying an odd book, poking around the Internet, or exploring an unusual place. ...
3. Buy supplies. ... I encourage myself to make an occasional creativity-supporting purchase.
4.Draw an idea-map. This is a process of writing down ideas in a way that helps you see new relationships and possibilities. ...
5. Enjoy the fun of failure. ... Telling myself that I can enjoy the "fun of failure" has made me (somewhat) more light-hearted about taking risks. ...
6. Read random magazines. ... I love the feeling of possibility that I get whenever I browse in one of those stores that carries 500 different magazines.
7. Indulge my magpie impulses. ... When I have the urge to collect materials, articles, or information, I now indulge it. Although I generally fight against any stuff that could become clutter, as with note-taking, I find that these collected materials help spur my creativity.
I'll add a concept of creativity that I present at the top of all the pages in my main website: Garbl's Writing Center. It's a pencil. I think that "old-fashioned" writing tool is a perfect symbol for creativity. If you have an idea, write it down, try it out, see if it works. If it doesn't work, if it turns out to be a mistake, erase it. That's why pencils have erasers!

And then, of course, keep writing down your ideas, symbolically, and trying them out. Correct your error, fix your mistake, until you write something that works!

For more information, check out Garbl's Creativity Resources Online

Unleash The Creativity In You | Noch Noch, Forbes

You CAN be creative! You do NOT have to be an artist, painter or musician to be creative. You didn't "lose" your creativity when you became an adult.

OK, now that THAT is out of the way, what does writer Noch Noch say about it? He briefly describes creativity:
The definition of creativity encompasses the act of forming new ideas, transcending traditional rules or patterns. Thus, it is a concept that can be applicable anywhere.
Note the emphasis I added. That mean you, the person reading this word and this word and this word right now.

Noch writes:
Creativity is not a mysterious force only a precious few have. It takes work and time to develop. We can get better at creativity. It is a skill. I have been reading about creativity recently, and particularly take to a book by Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way. Once we are in tune with our creative selves, we can apply those skills in our daily work. ...
Noch provides some "key takeaways" from Cameron's book. Here's my summary of Noch's summary (Iif you're really interested, get the book):

1. Protect your craziness
At the fragile start of a new idea, it is essential to guard the shaky ground [your] inner child is on. Protect [your] craziness from those who laugh at [you], especially as they are doing so out of jealousy they hadn’t discovered what [you] have.
In other words, distance yourself from cynics at least temporarily to create a safe environment for your inner child to grow.

2. Embrace shame
We are conditioned by society and growing up that certain things makes us look silly. Curiosities are suppressed because we are afraid of others’ judgment and an otherwise brilliant idea is trashed.
In other words, if you're embarrassed doing something, keep doing it anyway (as long as it isn't immoral or unethical). You might discover something cool!

3. Cut the excuses
We invent excuses and obstacles that are not authentic problems. ... Stop rationalizing!
In other words, for example, you are not too old or too young to pursue your dreams. And you probably have the time to do it.

4. Forget perfectionism

As Cameron writes writes:
Perfectionism is a refusal to let yourself move ahead. It is a loop – an obsessive, debilitating closed system that causes you to get stuck in the details of what you are writing or painting or making and to lose sight of the whole. Instead of creating freely and allowing errors to reveal themselves later as insights, we often get mired in getting the details right. ...
5. Creative growth is erratic
Creativity is a skill that can be acquired. Like every other skill it takes practice and time. The growth is an erratic movement. Today we might do well but tomorrow we might be sluggish. Let the creative soul rest every now and then.
For more information, 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. Many of the sites have links to other resources on creativity.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Is Congress getting dumber, or just more plainspoken? - Sunlight Foundation

I've already posted a couple of times about a recent study that reported on the apparent grade level of speeches in Congress by senators and representatives. I've emphasized the fact that a lower grade level is an achievement of success -- to be praised, not condemned.

So why am I posting again about this study? I have three reasons:

First, because some news media continue to write about the study's findings in negative and misleading ways. They imply that members of Congress who speak at lower grade levels are less smart -- or "dumber," as the headline for this link offers as an alternative to "plainspoken." (My blog post, BTW, links to an article by the organization, Sunlight Foundation, that conducted the study.)

I disagree with that assessment. Why? Because for members of Congress -- and for all of us -- communication is more effective when more and more people can understand it. To be plainspoken  is a good thing! Communication is not successful when fewer and fewer people can understand what a member of Congress is saying or writing -- or understand what you are saying or writing.

While the "dumber" label may be true for some of members of Congress, I maintain that most are likely doing it as people skilled in both quality communication and quality politics. (Or, at least, because their PR advisers and speech writers are skilled communicators!) They also may be naturally, normally plainspoken, not caught up (yet) in the jargon and atmospherics of highfalutin, rhetorical speechifying.

Second, I'm posting about this study again because it provides insights that I wish the PR and campaign advisers for progressive/liberal politicians would read and consider. I'm a progressive/liberal political activist, and it dismays me that, as reported in this study, conservative politicians are more plainspoken than progressive/liberal politicians.

I'm willing to bet that "Tea Party" politicians and activists have been so successful partially because they're speaking and writing in language that most people can easily understand. It's not necessarily what they're saying but how they're saying it that gets them votes and support. Liberal, progressive politicians and activists absolutely must do the same thing if they want to gain support and win elections.
And third, I'm disturbed that reporters emphasizing the negatives of this report are being ironic, at best, or hypocritical, at worst. As a former newspaper reporter/editor and journalism instructor, I know -- for a fact -- that journalism students are taught to write at a lower grade level.

Journalism students -- and skilled journalists -- know that not because they're "talking down" to readers. They're doing it because they're trying to reach as many readers as possible. And most people, even high school and college graduates -- do not normally talk, write, read or listen at a 12th grade level.

A junior high/middle school level (sixth to ninth grade) is much more common and comfortable for most people -- even when they can understand and use language at a higher level.

The lessons of this study -- about effective, high-quality communications -- apply to all fields, not just politics and government. Every one in every field -- from law and medicine to education and engineering -- can be and should be more plainspoken, at least when they're talking and writing to people outside their narrow, jargon-filled field of interest.

If you would like to be more plainspoken (and "plainwritten") -- as I strongly recommend -- please visit Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide.

Writing for the Web – How to Be Memorable | Melissa Breker, Fresh Spark Strategies

Initially, to be honest, when I read this blog post, I wondered, "What's in it for me?" And to that I asked myself, "Why share it with people who visit my blog?"

But then I started pondering Brecker's suggestions for "Creating Memorable Web Copywriting." (Her introductory comments about a content plan and her concluding nutshell tips on copywriting weren't new insights for me.)

But those suggestions prompted some thoughts that I hope will benefit my blog posts -- and people who read my blog:
1. Be Personal – Share Your Expertise 
Too often, when I come across an article I like, I simply summarize or excerpt its most significant points (to me) and post those points. I don't, often enough, add my insights, related experiences or other personal reaction to the article. And that's kind of lazy -- though I should note that summarizing an article is not always "simple." For me, the thought process for doing that actually can lead to a better understanding of an article's main points -- an understanding that could also benefit my blog readers if I took time to describe it in my post.
2. Break the Rules
I typically post only articles that I agree with in most ways. I highlight the points I find most valuable and ignore points less meaningful to me. I don't often post articles that don't fit my point of view, and I don't often comment on points within articles that I don't value. But I'm reconsidering that. Like a good drama, some conflict is what makes it interesting and tantalizes people to watch it again -- or read other books by its writer. And beyond being dramatic, writing about differing points of view can help clarify the issue (and, perhaps, win points for my point of view!)
3. Solve Problems
Of these suggestions, I feel I'm accomplishing this one pretty well. As I wrote in the first paragraph above, I typically ask myself "What's in it for me?" when I find an article. And if I post a comment about it to my blog, I try to highlight information that could benefit my readers, that they could relate to in some way.

My experience in journalism and public relations has been filled with considering what's interesting or important to potential readers. If my target audience isn't likely to value the information I'm providing, why write about it? Or, if I think my audience should value it, I must write it to emphasize how the information meets their needs (not just my needs or the needs of my employer or publication).

I think I'm practicing what I'm preaching to myself (and to you) in this blog post.

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