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Saturday, July 21, 2012

Break That Writer's Block: Ten Tips To Tap Into Your Creative Muse | Lisa Alzo, Archives

I see a lot of blog posts on breaking writer's block, some quite a bit better than others. And I occasionally post some here. This article caught my attention because it refers to a writer's "creative muse."

Blogger Alzo, at a website about writing family histories, concludes:
Writer's block can hit anyone at any time. You may have a great story to tell, but for a myriad of reasons--fear, anxiety, the end of a project, the beginning of a project, too much information to sort through--you may find yourself frustrated with the writing process. Hopefully, the above suggestions can help you break through whatever is stopping you and you can finally write that family history!
Of course, these tips are useful to people writing other types of documents. Here's a summary of her tips:

Implement a writing schedule and stick to it. ...

Use writing prompts or exercises. Writing exercises can loosen up the mind and get you to write about topics you would never think about otherwise. ...

Set deadlines. ...

Pretend you're telling the story to a favorite aunt. ... Because you're telling a story, you'll start with the most interesting material, give detail where it belongs and end by reinforcing the point you want to make. ...

Remember why you are writing. ... Think about what inspired you to write the story in the first place. ... Sometimes just jotting down key words about what you want to write about also helps.

Read. ...

Utilize technology. ... there [are] a number of apps to help with brainstorming ideas, taking notes, and the writing process. ...

Take a hike. Writer's block could be a sign that your ideas need time to develop. ... 

You can find other ideas on preventing or defeating this problem in the Writer's Block section of Garbl's Writing Process Links. That site is 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.

You might find other inspiration at 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.

Some Tips for Dealing with Grammar Myths | Mignon Fogarty, Grammarly

This short article, by the author of the "Grammar Girl" books and column, begins this way:
English can be troublesome.

It’s not wrong to split infinitives.
It’s not wrong to end a sentence with a preposition.
It’s not wrong to use “that” to refer to a person (e.g., the man that bought my car).
It’s not wrong to treat “data” as singular.
Fogarty notes that "language experts say such things are fine." But she warns that many people may think they're wrong because that's what they learned in school (misinformed or not), or they don't accept that language rules change over time.

So Fogarty advises that writers use caution in breaking those so-called rules (or myths). Go ahead and do it if you must, but do so when it's "safest" to do so. I assume that means when writers believe their targeted readers won't notice or care about the supposed error.

For more advice on this topic, see Garbl's Myths and Superstitions of Writing.
This article is featured in today's (July 21) Garbl's Style: Write Choices -- available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.

Plain English About Ounces, Pounds, Dollars and Sense | David Katz, M.D., Huff Post, Healthy Living

"Plain English" in the headline of this article caught my attention. But, ironically, I almost stopped reading the article after the first couple of paragraphs because I figured it really isn't about methods or values of writing in plain English. Instead, I figured, the writer (or his headline-writing editor) was implying only that the article itself is written in plain English.

But I continued reading it anyway, partially because the topic of the article interested me. And by the end I realized that the article is indeed about writing (and reading) -- or literacy in the vocabulary of health and medicine. Or, at least, it's about providing clear, useful information in certain matters of personal health, such as the causes of obesity and ways to prevent it (the medical focus of the article).

I used the word "ironically" above for several reasons; first because an article headlined with "plain English" wasn't (apparently) about plain English; second, because it actually is about plain English (or clear, concise writing); and, unfortunately, because the article misses a key principle of plain English.

That principle of plain English (aka plain language) is that the main point or points of article or document are made clear to the reader at or near the beginning. That's done so the reader knows right away if he or she should take the time and energy to read the article/document. Will it meet their needs?

This article began with defining the problem (certainly an important point that needs to be clear right from the beginning). But it then discusses ways to treat the problem -- not once mentioning anything about providing information (clear or not) to patients until the 10th paragraph.

To aid readers in comprehending the article -- and capturing their attention adequately in the first place -- the article should have highlighted the point of health literacy within the first couple of paragraphs. The reader would then know more information on that solution is coming.
This article is featured today (July 21) in Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs -- available at the Plain Writing tab above and by free email subscription. 

For more information on plain language, check out Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide. There you can learn how to improve your writing skills by using plain-English techniques:

Friday, July 20, 2012

How to Make Writing For the Web Simple and Painless | Research Markets Web Hosting

Do not read the article at this link.

I did not read the article. Simply looking at the article convinced me that the writer does not care about me as a reader.

The article is one long paragraph with no bullets, no headings, no white space, no graphics, no emphasis of anything to aid the reader or give the reader a break from all that gray matter.

So I don't care what the writer thinks.

If you want to improve your writing for the Web or for any type of publication, check out Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide. It describes how to write clearly to meet the needs of your readers--and your needs too! 

It describes these these plain-language writing techniques:

‘He or she’ versus ‘they’ - Oxford Dictionaries Online

This article describes several gender-neutral options to the outdated, sexist use of pronouns like he and him to refer to both men and women. It also comments on the issue of using plural pronouns to refer to singular nouns.

The article says:
It’s often important to use language which implicitly or explicitly includes both men and women, making no distinction between the genders. This can be tricky when it comes to pronouns. ... There are no personal pronouns that can refer to someone (as opposed to something) without identifying whether that person is male or female. So, what should you do in sentences such as these?
One of the choices is to use plural pronouns like they and them instead he or him -- even though the pronouns refer to a singular noun:
If your child is thinking about a gap year, they can get good advice from this website.
The article concludes:
Some people object to the use of plural pronouns in this type of situation on the grounds that it’s ungrammatical. In fact, the use of plural pronouns to refer back to a singular subject isn’t new: it represents a revival of a practice dating from the 16th century. It’s increasingly common in current English and is now widely accepted both in speech and in writing.
Here's what my online resource -- Garbl's Editorial Style Manual -- says about that issue (with links to other related advice):
their, them, they The day may come--and should--when these plural pronouns are accepted as singular pronouns that don't note a person's sex. Some respected writing authorities now suggest this change in language as we eliminate the outdated use of he, him and his as references to both men and women. This updated usage would be similar to use of the pronouns you and your for both one person and more than person, taking a plural verb even when mentioning one person.
Still, for now, consider the potential reaction of your audience--and the reaction you would prefer as the writer or editor--before applying this use. Meanwhile, try other acceptable uses, especially using the plural pronouns to refer to plural nouns. See he or she, he/shehis or hers, his/herspronounssex, sexism. 
This article is featured in today's (July 20) Garbl's Style: Write Choices -- available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.

Who makes the grade? Plain language report cards for federal agencies | Center for Plain Language

In a news release on July 19, the Center for Plain Language announced grades it had given 12 U.S. government agencies it its first Plain Writing Act Report Card. The nonprofit organization is dedicated to clear communication in government, business, non-profits, and universities.

Each agency got two grades -- the first grade represents how well the agency followed the requirements of the Plain Writing Act of 2010, and the second grade reflects how well the agency followed the “spirit” of the act. That legislation requires the federal government to write all new publications, forms, and publicly distributed documents in a “clear, concise, well-organized” manner that follows the best practices of plain language writing.

The Center for Plain Language highlighted a "A" earned by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for meeting the basic requirements and an "F" received by the Veterans Administration.

Annetta L. Cheek, PhD, chair of the Center for Plain Language:
This first Plain Writing Report Card helps ensure that government agencies are following both the letter and the spirit of the Act. We hope to make this an annual event where we grade different agencies each year.
Multiple articles on this report card are reported in today's (July 20) Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs -- available at the Plain Language tab above and by free email subscription.

Why Weird Experiences Boost Creativity | Scott Barry Kaufman, Psychology Today

I like this article on creativity because it emphasizes that serendipity can boost creativity, though Kaufman does not use that term. Serendipity, as I like to define it, involves pleasant surprises and happy accidents.

Kaufman writes (emphasis added):
A crucial trigger is the experience of unusual and unexpected events. These events can take many different forms, ranging from the loss a parent to living abroad. But one need not experience any of these specific events to think more creatively. In a recent paper in Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Simone Ritter and colleagues propose that any life experience, from the traumatic to the joyful, can lead to flexibility and creativity as long as it diversifies your experiences and pushes you outside your normal thought patterns.
Kaufman describes some related research that led to provocative results with some important implications. He writes:
While prior research shows that early traumatic life experiences can be conducive to creativity, thankfully it's not necessary to lose a parent or experience a physical illness to see the world differently. The core feature is actively experiencing a violation of how things are supposed to happen.
He concludes:
These results also suggest that if you want to get into a creative mindset, do your normal routine in a completely different way. Write with your other hand. Moonwalk backwards on your way to work. Eat something new for lunch. Smile at strangers. Be weird. With your brain re-shuffled, you'll be in a better position to be creative.
Kaufman's research examples and conclusion suggest "weird" actions a person can take to boost creativity. But I interpret his findings to also include unplanned "weird" events -- happy accidents and pleasant surprises that an attentive, observant person can use to boost creativity.

We need to be ready to connect those planned and serendipitous events to the challenges we face. And the result might be a creative solution!
This article is featured in today's (July 20) Garbl's Creativity Connections -- available at the Creativity tab above and by free email subscription.

5 Tips for Shooting Rainbows - Ian Plant | A Hopeful Sign

Many of us have probably taken photos of rainbows, but I appreciated the advice in this article. So I'm sharing it with you. Shooting rainbows is inspiring, safe and fun!

Summarized with just the headings for each tip, here's Plant's advice:
  1. When it rains, be ready. 
  2. Turn your back on the sun. 
  3. Make the rainbow part of your overall composition. 
  4. Polarize for maximum effect. 
  5. Don’t just look to the sky for rainbows.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Seven Habits of Highly Creative People | Linda Naiman, Creativity at Work

Naiman's article is an homage to Stephen Covey (Oct. 24, 1932 – July 16, 2012).

Naiman writes:
Make a habit of these seven practices, and you will be highly creative in your field.
Here are the headings and quotations that introduce each of the seven practices:
1 Prepare the ground
“In creating, the only hard thing’s to begin; A grass-blade’s no easier to make than an oak.”—James Russell Lowell
2 Plant seeds for creativity
“We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we create the world.” —The Buddha
3 Live in the question
“Be patient towards all that is unsolved in your heart. And try to love the questions themselves.” —Rainer Maria Rilke
4 Feed your brain
“If you stuff yourself full of poems, essays, plays, stories, novels, films, comic strips, magazines, music, you automatically explode every morning like old faithful. I have never had a dry spell in my life, mainly because I feed myself well, to the point of bursting.” —Ray Bradbury
5 Experiment & explore
“I make more mistakes than anyone else I know, and sooner or later, I patent most of them.”—Thomas Edison
6 Replenish your creative stock
“As artists, we must learn to be self nourishing.” —Julia Cameron
7 The secret to liberating your creativity
While there is no magic bullet that will liberate your creativity, it can be helpful to remember how you played as a child.—Linda Naiman
  Naiman concludes:
Creativity takes on many forms in business, art, design, education and science. When we express our creativity in these domains, we have the ability to make life and work a work of art.
This article is featured in today's (July 19) Garbl's Creativity Connections -- available at the Creativity tab above and by free email subscription.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

That's the way to do it | Mind your language | Media |

Some writing gurus say there's no need to distinguish between the use of which and that, but I disagree. Using those words correctly can aid reader understanding and reduce reader confusion. And, important for the writer, using them correctly is not hard to do.

This article explains the difference well. Rather than summarizing its key points, I recommend reading it.

But here's how I describe use of those words in Garbl's Editorial Style Manual (it also describes when to use who or whom in place of that, though the confusing choice of who or whom is explained in another link):
that, which, who, whom That is the defining, or restrictive, pronoun for essential clauses: The camera that is broken is in the shop (tells which one). Which is the nondefining, or nonrestrictive, pronoun for nonessential clauses: The camera, which is broken, is in the shop (adds a fact about the only camera in question).
In the examples above, note the correct use of commas: Which clauses are always set off with commas (or sometimes dashes or parentheses), and that clauses aren't. Essential that clauses cannot be cut without changing the meaning of a sentence. Don't set off an essential clause from the rest of a sentence with commas. Nonessential which clauses can be dropped without altering the meaning. Set off a nonessential clause with commas.
James J. Kilpatrick, The Writer's Art, 1984: "Rule of thumb: If the qualifying phrase is set off by commas, use which; if not, use that."
In addition, that is the preferred pronoun to introduce clauses that refer to an inanimate object: Greg remodeled the house that burned down Friday. Which is the only acceptable pronoun to introduce a nonessential clause that refers to an inanimate object: The house, which Greg remodeled, burned down Friday.
When an essential or nonessential clause refers to a human being or something with human qualities (such as a family), introduce it with who or whomThat -- but not which -- also may be used to refer to human beings, as well as inanimate objects. Don't use commas if the clause is essential to the meaning. Use them if it is not. See who, whom.
Theodore M. Bernstein, The Careful Writer, 1977: "Which normally refers to things, who to persons, and that to either persons or things."
This article is featured in today's (July 18) Garbl's Style: Write Choices -- available at the Editorial Style tab above and by email subscription.

Benefits of plain language | Center for Plain Language

In a plain language document, people find information faster, understand it more accurately, and are more satisfied with it.

Those headings begin this article by the Center for Plain Language. The article summarizes findings of a study conducted by the American Institutes for Research:
In a study comparing original and plain language regulations from the Federal Communications Commission, both people who had experience with the old regulation and people who did not have that experience did much better with the plain language version ....
The article also briefly describes these two benefits:
  • Plain language reduces costs.
  • Plain language can bring in more money.
This article is featured in today's (July 18) Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs -- available at the Plain Language tab above.  Here, also, is a link to the Center for Plain Language.

For more information on plain language, check out Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide. It describes seven steps you can use to improve your writing skills:

Salvador Dali’s Creative Thinking Technique | Michael Michalko, The Creativity Post

How to conjure up dreamlike imagery from your subconscious.

That's the synopsis of this article, but the article is not just about creating images for use in artwork. It includes real-life examples of how two businesses used Dali's creative thinking technique.

Michalko writes:
Dali was intrigued with the images which occur at the boundary between sleeping and waking. They can occur when people are falling asleep, or when they are starting to wake up, and they tend to be extremely vivid, colorful and bizarre. He experimented with various ways of generating and capturing these fantastical images.
Summarized, here is Michalko's description of Dali's technique:
• Think about your challenge. ...
• Totally relax your body. ...
• Quiet your mind. ...
• Quiet your eyes. ...
• Record your experiences immediately after they occur. ...
• Look for the associative link. ...
Based on other reading I've done about creativity, I think that last step is key, however a person reaches that step. In dealing with any challenge creatively, from painting a landscape to solving a problem at work, a person needs to look for links and connections.

Michalko's suggests these related questions and others, apparently from Dali:
  • What puzzles me?
  • What's out of place?
  • What disturbs me?
  • What are the similarities?
  • What analogies can I make?
Michalko writes:
The images you summon up with this technique have an individual structure that may indicate an underlying idea or theme. Your unconscious mind is trying to communicate something specific to you, though it may not be immediately comprehensible. The images can be used as armatures on which to hang new relationships and associations.
This article is featured in today's (July 18) Creativity Connections, my daily online paper available at the Creativity tab above and by free email subscription.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

News Writing is Powerful Web Writing | Corina Ciripitca, Propeople Blog

Good Content Has A Purpose

While I think this article provides useful advice about writing for the Web, I'm posting it mostly as a starting place to rant about a point in it that I've also read elsewhere. I'm writing about the value of journalism as a style of writing.

Ciripitca writes (emphasis added):
People visiting websites are a special target for writers, hence a different approach should be taken once you start writing for the web. This is a bit different, from a design point of view, as well as content related point of view from press journalism. However- it doesn’t mean press journalism should be totally ignored – as it has the basic tips a writer should respect and insert into his stories.
What bothers me when I read articles about writing for the Web (and writing for other types of documents) is that the authors often minimize the value of the journalistic style of writing. And I have a hunch most of them do so because they have never studied journalism and never written as a journalist. I assume they've gotten their understanding of journalism by watching TV news, listening to radio news or, perhaps, reading a newspaper or news magazine.

I should admit, if you don't already know, that my background is in journalism. I majored in journalism (and political science), was editor of my college newspaper, became editor of a weekly newspaper editor when I graduated, studied journalism/communications again in graduate school, taught journalism part-time at a community college, and worked as a daily newspaper reporter (and photographer).

But I continued to use the skills, techniques and knowledge I learned and used in my journalism education and experience when I moved to public relations, communications and marketing for nonprofit and public agencies. And I daresay I would have continued using that background if I worked in the private (profit-making) sector.

Now, as I highlighted in the quotation above, Ciripitca gives news writing some credit.

Important Comes First

She emphasizes methods that should be important in both fields of writing (and other fields as well):
Like in press journalism – catchy titles should be one of the main points a web content writer should focus on. Better on to focus the attention of your readers on the main message you would like to pass on. You don’t want the message to get lost in a variety of letters, so that the reader has to think what to read first.
Journalism, of course, isn't just about writing "catchy titles" (aka headlines). The headline is supposed to be a short summary of the first paragraph (the lead) in a news article. And that lead is supposed to "focus the attention of your readers on the main message you would like to pass on," as she describes for Web writing.

In other words, the lead is supposed to provide the most important or most interesting details in a news article. The remainder of the article provides more information about those initial details.

In journalism, that structure is called the "inverted pyramid" -- and it is also the best structure, in my opinion, in writing for the Web (and many other types of documents).

As I've written in another related blog post, news articles can also have internal inverted pyramids -- often highlighted with a subhead. The first paragraph below that subhead provides key details, and the following paragraphs providing additional information.

In print, those internal inverted pyramids might be important enough to get a sidebar article (such as in a nearby box). That can be done on the Web as well, but the Web also can give those internal pyramids their own page -- with links to and from the introductory or main article.

The Shorter The Better

Ciripitca writes:
Concise writing is tough – it’s either too short without many details, or long with lots of useless stuff in it, making it impossible to finish. Most online stories seem long, even if studies show that users go online to read, rather then press stories. ...
I think she means that people are choosing to read Web articles instead of printed articles. I think that's true (sadly, for print publications). But her point about concise writing is just as important in journalism as it is in writing for the Web. One of the key elements I learned and taught in journalism is that articles must be concise. That means short sentences, short paragraphs and only as information as necessary to get the story across.

And referring again to the inverted pyramid: One of the useful things about that technique is that it aids readers in making their own choices about the length of an article, how concise it is. They can get all the key details in the first few paragraphs and then make a choice if they want to learn more. That works in Web writing too! Readers can follow a link to a new page for more details or stop where they are.

That technique is also useful for newspaper editors and Web writers/designers. If editors don't have room (in a newspaper or radio/TV broadcast), they can drop later paragraphs from an article. And if Web managers don't have time or interest for another page, they can drop it because they've already provided the key info on the intro or main page.

Include Call to Actions

Ciripitca writes:
Call to Action is important for any website. This is what engages the user to explore your website further, or get to the subject he might be interested in. The more time a user spends on your website – the better. This means that you are on the way to achieve the goal you are striving for.
This is the point that I think is most different between news writing and Web writing. Because the news media are not supposed to have a point of view (see the objectiveness section below), reporters and editors aren't necessarily as interested as Web writers in getting readers to do something after reading an article.

An article on a website -- or the entire website -- may have a goal of getting readers to buy something or form an opinion or attend a meeting or express an opinion or take any other type of action. A reporter or editor likely doesn't have the intense desire for readers to take action.

But: A well-written news article likely provides enough information to aid readers in responding in some way, if they choose to do so. It just doesn't tell readers the best way to respond.

In addition, writers and editors (and their publishers) are interested in people continuing to read specific articles and the rest of the newspaper (with its advertising). So they do try to provide interesting and useful, if not also provocative, information. The broadcast media also have those aims.

Also, most reporters are inspired by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution -- or at least they once were inspired by its free press and other free-expression rights. Quality journalists know that people need information so they can understand what's happening around them and to them -- and then take action if they choose to affect what's happening.

Objectiveness comes first

Unless you have an interest in being on one’s side – objectiveness is an etiquette any writer should respect. It’s not about arguing a subject over a drink with some friends. While making your point, try not to take a specific side. Write straight to the subject, stating your ideas in a user friendly way – so that no one gets offended.
Actually, I'm somewhat surprised by that statement. In my experience, most websites are likely to be promoting or highlighting products, services, points of view, people, places, and other things (including the website itself). They can be hard-sell marketing sites or subtle soft-sell informational sites.

So they're likely "to take a specific side," which Ciripitca cautions against doing. Of course, as she suggests, providing information in a user-friendly way, inoffensive way is a good idea. But if a website manager or owner wants readers to respond -- or take action -- in a certain desired way, it's productive to provide facts and reasonable opinions about those facts to accomplish those responses and action.

On the other hand, objectivity is a long-time principle of journalism -- even to the point of silliness. Despite criticism by politicians on both the left and right, most reporters try to be fair and balanced (though not "fair and balanced" as defined by the conservative Fox News network). Within an article -- or within ongoing news coverage of an event -- they try to represent at least two sides of an issue.

Now I wrote above about "silliness." While people and organizations in a controversy are entitled to their opinions and while the news media should report differing opinions when available, people and organizations aren't entitled to their own facts (IMHO).

The news media have a responsibility to fact-check what politicians, businesses and others are saying to determine if their statements are accurate -- accuracy being another key principle of journalism. And the media should report on inaccuracies, provide complete information and even reveal lies when necessary. To not do so is silliness, at best, and incompetence, at worst -- in a simplistic effort to be objective.

For more information on clear, concise writing, check out Garbl's Plain English Guide. It describes plain-English (aka plain language) in these steps:
And for more information on what I call "action writing," see 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.

Monday, July 16, 2012

My pet peeves, terms beginning with c | Garbl's Editorial Style Manual

Here's the third in my alphabetical series of pet peeves -- from entries in the C section of Garbl's Editorial Style Manual. My style manual covers editorial issues like  abbreviations, addresses, capitalization, English grammar, Internet terminology, numbers, plurals, possessives, punctuation, spelling and word usage. It focuses on U.S. standards for spelling, punctuation, definitions, usage, style and grammar. 

Earlier blogs:

can, may Commonly confused. Use can when writing about capability, physical or mental ability, or the power to do something. Use may when writing about authorization or permission and sometimes possibility: They can finish the report by November. May we have an extra month to finish the report? You may lead the horse to water, but you can't make it drink. May is almost always the correct word to use in a question.
can't hardly Incorrect. "Not" is implied in hardly. Use can hardly, instead, or drop hardlyHis daughter can hardly wait. His daughter can't wait. 

Selected advice and preferences from the capitalization section:

Rule No. 1: Use capital letters to begin proper nouns, sentences, headings, some abbreviations and acronyms, and the important words in composition titles. Proper nouns are the particular names of people, places and things. 

Rule No. 2: Do not capitalize the first letter of a word (or words in a phrase) simply to highlight it or because you or someone else think it's an important word. Excessive, arbitrary capitalization distracts the reader and hinders reading.

Even if a person, business or organization begins its name with a lowercase letter, capitalize the first letter of the name at the beginning of sentences, headings and headlines: Gary de Shazo won the design award. De Shazo expressed appreciation for the support of his colleagues.

Capitalize common nouns such as party, river and street when they are an integral part of the full name for a person, place or thing: Ballinger Street, Rheinard River, Queens County, Democratic Party, Puget Sound. Lowercase those common nouns when they stand alone in later references: the party, the river, the county, the street, the sound.

Terms about organizations:
  • job titles and descriptions Consistency is key. Capitalize official job titles when used immediately before a name as part of a name: Finance Department Director Virginia Schwieterman, Accounting Manager Billie Burke, Budget Planner Mary Munchkin, Computer Technician George Bailey, Media Specialist Tim Wright.
Lowercase titles when used alone or when set off descriptively from a name by commas, often after a name; when applicable, capitalize only the names of departments, divisions and other groups: Virginia Schwieterman, Finance Department director; Billie Burke, manager of the Accounting Division; Billie Burke, accounting manager; Mary Munchkin, budget planner; George Bailey, computer technician; Tim Wright, media specialist. 
  • organizational structure Capitalize the official (proper) names of all organization departments, divisions, sections, offices, units and groups: the Englehart Department of Finance, Accounting DivisionCustomer Services Section, Property Tax Information Office, Marketing Unit, Documentation Group. Use the whole name on first reference.
For later references, shortened versions of organizational names--without the common nouns departmentdivision,section and so on--are acceptable. Capitalize the "proper" name part of full names when using only that part of the name and dropping the common noun: Finance, Accounting, Customer Services. Don't capitalize those words, however, when describing the general function or work of a group. Also, lowercase the "common" (or generic) name part of the full name when using only that part of the name: the department, the division, the section. Be sure the context makes clear the organizational unit the common name is mentioning.
catch-22 Sometimes misused. A catch-22 is not any simple catch, or any tricky situation with a hidden complication. From the excellent antiwar novel of the same name by Joseph Heller, a catch-22 is an absurd or paradoxical situation in which the desired outcome is impossible because of built-in illogical rules: The experienced editor couldn't get promoted to supervisor because he didn't have any experience as a supervisor.

center around Illogical and redundant. Substitute onin or at for around, or use revolve around. Avoid center upon.

children's The apostrophe always goes before the s when showing the possessive: the Children's Home Society. Don't use childrens' (with the apostrophe after the s); children is already plural.

choice between, choose between When between follows choice or choose, use and, not or, between the choices: The students had a choice between taking a midterm exam and finishing another homework assignment. We had to choose between a helicopter ride and a catamaran ride.

clearly Vague. A fact is no more evident when it is clearly evident. Use sparingly to mean "obviously" or "undoubtedly." Drop clearly--or just use clear

comma The correct and preferred uses of commas deserves a blog post all by itself. Stay tuned. 

company names When using a company (or product) name, you have no obligation to help a company market itself (or its products). For most proper names, capitalize the first letter of each word, or capitalize a different letter if preferred by a company: eBay. But capitalize the first letter if it begins a sentence. Do not use all capital letters unless the letters are individually pronounced: IBM and BMW but Subway and Ikea (not SUBWAY and IKEA). Don't use exclamation points, asterisks and plus signs that some companies use in logos and marketing materials for their company (and product) names: Yahoo, not Yahoo!Toys R Us, not Toys "R" Us. Unless it's part of a company's formal name, replace the ampersand (&) with and.

compared with, compared to Often confused. The more common phrase, compared with means "to examine the similarities or differences of two or more things": He averaged 23 points a game in 2001 compared with 17 points a game last year. The speaker compared Congress with the British Parliament. The less common compared to means "to liken two or more things, say they are similar or show a resemblance": The backhoe operator compared her work to climbing Mount Everest. He compared life to a battle. Memory tip: Compared to is metaphorical while compared with is statistical.

complement, compliment Often misused or confused. Complement is a noun or verb for "something that fills up or completes": The company has a complement of 250 drivers, 75 mechanics and 10 office workers. The two ideas complement each other well. A hat may complement a suit, but you would compliment the wearer on her or his hat. A related term: full complement.

Compliment is a noun or verb for "praise or a flattering remark" and "something free": The supervisor complimented the staff for a job well done. The supervisor's compliment boosted morale.

completely This adverb is often completely redundant. Simplify. Don't use completely before full and words likededicated, destroy, devoted, eliminate, perfect, silent, superfluous, unanimous and unique--and redundant.

comply with Try replacing with simpler follow, keep to, meet or obey.

compose, comprise, include Compose is not synonymous with compriseCompose means to create or put together:The division is composed of six sections. Compose takes of, but comprise never does.
Comprise means to contain, consist of or embrace. The whole comprises the parts. Use it in the active voice and name all the parts that make up the whole after the verb: The division comprises six sections. The zoo comprises mammals, reptiles and birds. Don't use comprised of. Think about using simpler consist(s) of or contain(s).
Use include when what follows is only part of the whole: city government includes the Parks and Human Services departments. 

concerning Overstated and formal. Try replacing with about.

consensus Commonly misspelled. Its first letter is the only c. Means "general agreement or opinion of all or most of the people concerned." It does not necessarily mean unanimous agreement. Avoid using the redundant consensus of opinion and general consensus. Simply use consensus or agreementBroad consensus is acceptable.

consequently Overstated. Simplify. Try replacing with so.

continual, continuous Often misused or confused. Continual means "repeatedly, often recurring or intermittent, with breaks in between": She has to repair the car continually. Periodically or intermittently are useful, clear synonyms forcontinually to describe something that starts and stops. Continuous means "uninterrupted, in an unbroken stream":Sales have been growing continuously for the past five years.

continued Don't abbreviate. ContinuedContinued on Page XContinued from Page X, and even To be Continued are clear, concise statements. But if you must abbreviate continued for some questionable reason, use contd., without an apostrophe. Other abbreviations for continued also are abbreviations for other words.

convince, persuade Often confused. Convince involves thought, trying to affect a person's point of view. Persuadeinvolves action, trying to get a person to do something. Convince usually goes with of or thatHe convinced his boss of his value to the company. She convinced her colleague that she was rightPersuade usually goes with toThe students persuaded their teacher to extend the deadline.

could (not) care less If you care somewhat about something, drop the not. But if you don't care at all, keep it.

crisis, crises Sometimes misspelled, misused and overused. Crisis is singular and takes singular verbs. Crises (not crisises) is plural and takes plural verbs. A crisis is "a significant coming together of events -- a turning point -- in which the impending outcome will make a decisive or abrupt change." Avoid referring to -- and responding to -- every difficult situation as a crisis, be it an identity crisis, midlife crisis, environmental crisis, financial crisis, economic crisis or the supposed "bankruptcy" of the successful 70-year-old U.S. Social Security system nearly 40 years from now.

currently Redundant, overstated or imprecise. Unless you're contrasting the present with the past, omit currently, change to now or today, or be more specific about time element.

cutting edge, on the Cliche. Think about replacing with advanced, innovative, new, original or unconventional.

cynic, skeptic A cynic is a disbeliever. A skeptic is a doubter. Skeptics may be good journalists; cynics never are.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Writing for the Web: Five (or Six) Questions | OneWorldsee

I like this short article. It emphasizes what I believe about writing for the Web, as a former journalism student, newspaper editor/reporter, and journalism instructor. I also continued using these writing methods for other types of documents when I went into public relations/community relations for nonprofit and public agencies.

The inverted pyramid method for writing news articles is ideal for the Web. It puts the most important information in the first (lead) paragraph and then provides more details in descending/declining order of importance.

An article can have internal inverted pyramids, each with its own subheading, with sections of the article also providing information in declining order of importance. On the Web, those sections can get their own page.

As for the focus of this article -- the 5 W's and H -- they are the key questions a reporter and a Web writer needs to consider and answer, starting with the the lead paragraph.

The inverted pyramid method also fits well with plain-language principles of writing. For more information on plain language, check out Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide.

You also could check 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. It links to other websites that also provide advice on help people reading and use our Web sites--without clicking away.

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