Saturday, August 11, 2012

Hush: An Open Letter to the Right | Courtney Carver, Be More with Less

When I first saw the headline for this article, I thought it would speak to my progressive politics. But the author clarified that point right at the start, and I'm pleased I continued reading anyway. She wrote (emphasis added):
I’m not writing this letter to you because of your political affiliation or religious beliefs. I’m not talking about that kind of right. I am writing to your need to be right. I am writing to your desire to fix things. I am writing to your inclination to view the world through a very small lens.
But here's how I related to her words. It bugs me when I'm talking with some people about an idea, and their first reaction is always negative: "Nope, not feasible. Have you thought about the cost, the consequences, the effort, the time, your boss, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera?"

I don't respond exactly this way, but I think: "Of course I have, you imbecile! I wouldn't' be suggesting it if I hadn't thought about such things."

Well, actually, some people do ask good questions that will need to be answered at some point. And, actually, sometimes when I express an idea I haven't thought it through completely. It's just an idea ... and I'm mentioning it as a discussion-starter, to check what other people might think before I spend much time on it.

But it still bugs me. Why begin a response to an idea with "no" -- or other words that mean the same thing? That sure doesn't encourage creativity or any effort at all to deal with an issue, solve a problem ... to simply help!

Now, back to this article. I don't (always) expect to be considered right in my idea-making and idea-spewing. I don't (always) expect someone I admire to be considered right in his or her idea-making and idea-spewing. But I think it's unproductive and ineffective (and simply rude) to make a person feel wrong after first describing an idea.

Carver writes:
Think about how many times in a day you think, “That’s not right.” And then think about what being right has ever done for you. Did you earn love? respect? relief? a promotion? peace? or did you just move on to the next thing to be right about? When you are focused on being right, you lose sight of what is really important.
As she notes, people already too often think to themselves, about themselves, "That's wrong." And without much thought about the circumstances, the motives, the values, the expertise (and so on) of another speaker or writer, they initially think, "That's wrong."

And that's wrong!

Carver writes:
When you remove judgement from a conversation, you have an opportunity to connect with someone and to learn something. Everyone has something to offer, something to teach you, but if you can’t hush, you’ll miss it.
She uses "hush" as a nicer, more productive term than "shut up." And I like it. She concludes:
That’s what we need to tell ourselves when we go to that judgey, pious, I wanna be right place. Hush and invite life to unfold. Hush and give people a chance. Hush and consider that the best things in life don’t come from being right.

Friday, August 10, 2012

What's a quick way to reduce procrastination and increase creativity and self-control? - Barking up the wrong tree

The simple, clear advice in the photo at this blog:
Forgive yourself.
The blog then provides some simple explanations:
  • It reduces procrastination ...
  • Increases creativity ...
  • And increases self-control ....
_______
This blog is featured today (Aug. 10) in Garbl's Creativity Connections--available at the Creativity tab above and by free email subscription.

Today's edition also has other provocative articles, such as:
  • 10 Tips to Nurture Creativity in Your Workplace
  • Creativity Means Thinking Inside the Box
  • Creativity is preceded by errors. You have to take both
  • 10 Tips to Nurture Creativity in Your Workplace
  • 10 Stop Motion Videos to Spark Creativity.



Split infinitives - Oxford Dictionaries Online

I comment in another blog post today ("Drafting Legal Language") on a guideline about splitting infinitives. This short article provides additional information and good advice.

Here's my advice in Garbl's Editorial Style Manual:
split infinitives Avoid awkward sentence constructions that split the infinitive forms of a verb, such as to leave or to help, as in this sentence: Try to not awkwardly or incorrectly split infinitives. But splitting infinitives is grammatically correct--and even useful if it helps strengthen the meaning of a sentence by placing the modifier before the word it's modifying: He wanted to really impress the council. Unfortunately, split infinitives can distract some readers who think they're incorrect.
_________
The Oxford article is featured today (Aug. 10) in Garbl's Style: Write Choices -- available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.



Promoting plain language in public toilets | Gayle Leonard, Thirsty in Suburbia

Up for pee, down for poop.
The two photos at the blog will explain. ...

Simple!

Drafting Legal Documents, Principles of Clear Writing | U.S. National Archives

Hey, wait! Stop! The headline says this article is about "Drafting Legal Documents." But it's not just that. Instead, this article is about "Principles of Clear Writing." And that's for all kinds of documents. So, please, stick around. I'll tell you more!

The article gets right to the point, listing 24 guidelines and providing many examples in a clear "Say ..., Don't Say ..." format.

Here are the guidelines:
  1. Write in the active voice. ...
  2. Use action verbs. ...
  3. Use "must" instead of "shall". ...
  4. Be direct. ...
  5. Use the present tense.  ...
  6. Write positively. ...
  7. Avoid use of exceptions. ...
  8. Avoid split infinitives. [My advice: Many readers were taught incorrectly that splitting infinitives is bad grammar. It's not, as most writing experts agree. So go ahead and use split infinitives, but because of that incorrect understanding of the "rule," make sure inserting a modifying word is the strongest, clearest way to write the sentence.] 
  9. Use the singular noun rather than the plural noun. ...
  10. Be consistent. Don't use different words to denote the same things. ... Using a synonym rather than repeating the precise term you intend just confuses the reader.  ...
  11. Use parallel structure. ... This is important when you use a list. ...
  12. Prefer simple words. ...
  13. Omit needless words. ...
  14. Avoid redundancies. Don't use word pairs .... any and all, full and complete ...
  15. Use concrete words. ...
  16. Don't use words that antagonize. ... Use words to which people react favorably rather than words that they resent. ...
  17. Avoid noun sandwiches. ... groups of nouns "sandwiched" together. ...
  18. Don't use gender-specific terminology. ...
  19. Write short sentences. Readable sentences are simple, active, affirmative, and declarative. ...
  20. Make lists clear and logical in structure. ...
  21. Use short paragraphs. ... Each paragraph should deal with a single, unified topic. ...
  22. Use a checklist and review your draft for each of these principles separately.
Cross References
  1. Use cross references sparingly and carefully. ...
  2. Make a cross reference a reader's aid. If you find it necessary to include a cross reference, cite the specific section designation. ...
__________
This article is featured today (Aug. 10) in Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs -- available at the Plain Language tab above and by free email subscription. For more advice on this topic, see Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Why Great Ideas Get Rejected [and How to Prevent Rejection] David Burkus, 99U

Please note the final sentence (highlighted) in this synopsis of the article by Burkus:
Have you ever debuted an exciting new idea to the world only to receive a lukewarm or even highly critical response? Well, get used to it. Mounting evidence shows that we all possess an inherent bias against creativity. The good news is there's something we can do about it.
Burkus writes:
[R]ejections can leave us wondering what we did wrong or why others just couldn't appreciate our creative idea. Fortunately, recent research in human psychology is finally shedding some light on how our brains accept (or reject) new ideas.
He then describes research on two reasons ideas get rejected:
Creativity requires an element of novelty.
For a work to be truly creative, it has to depart from the status quo at some point. That departure makes many people uncomfortable. Despite our oft-stated desire for more creativity, we also hold a stronger desire for certainty and structure. When that certainty is challenged, a bias against creativity develops. ...
Novelty provokes uncertainty. ...
Following up on those research findings, Burkus explains that the most likely culprit for the rejection of creative ideas is the uncertainty of people when they hear about the idea, not the idea itself.

Thus, he writes:
[C]rafting your pitch to maximize certainty should improve the odds of the idea being accepted. You can do this in a variety of ways.
And they are:
  • Reaffirming what the client or your manager knows is true about their project should prime them to be more accepting of novel ideas.
  • Connecting the idea to more familiar ideas, such as previous successful projects or similar works, will also increase the odds that your idea will be seen as practical and desirable.
  • Lastly, try leading clients toward your idea with a series of statements they agree with and then pitching your idea as if it's theirs. ...
_________
This article is featured in today's (Aug. 9) Garbl's Creativity Connections--available at the Creativity tab above and by free email subscription.

The Hyphen [and the Dash] | Guide to Grammar and Writing, Capital Community College

I'm amused occasionally when I hear people talking about using a dash in their writing. It sometimes seems like dash is the only name for a punctuation mark that's a single horizontal line in the middle of a character space.

Of course, it's not. The hyphen also meets that description. And there are two forms of a dash

The Web article at Capital Community College covers some uses of the hyphen and notes several other references (the Chicago Manual of Style and two bad links). So, if you don't have the excellent Chicago Manual handy, here's advice from Garbl's Editorial Style Manual for both the hyphen and the dash.

hyphen (-) Hyphens are joiners. They link words. Use a hyphen to avoid ambiguity or to form a single idea from two or more words: His boss recovered her health. Her son re-covered the torn seat. He is a small-business man. She is a foreign-car dealer. Unclear: He is a small businessman. She is a foreign car dealer. [My online style manual also provides related guidelines at the entries for composition titlescompound wordsinitial-based terms, and race.]

Don't hyphenate most compound nouns--two or more words that work together as a noun: Agent training is running late. But consult this style manual or your dictionary for preferred or commonly excepted terms: president-elect, sister-in-law, good-for-nothing.

Compound adjectives, compound modifiers:
  • To avoid ambiguity, use hyphens to link words in compound adjectives (compound modifiers) before nouns. The words in compound adjectives work together to describe the noun. If you can insert and between the modifying words before a noun and make sense of the new construction, you do not have a compound adjective: And would make sense in a sunny, warm daysunny, warm is not a compound modifier. But and would not work in a well-rounded employeewell-rounded is a compound modifier. Another test: If your sentence would make sense if you reversed the order of the modifying words or even removed one of them, don't connect the words with a hyphen.
  • Here are other examples of two or more consecutive words that make sense only when linked with a hyphen as a single idea modifying a noun that follows: better-qualified woman, credit-card application, first-class stamp, 5-ton truck, high-frequency sounds, know-it-all attitude, little-known man, long-range plan, minimum-height requirement, minimum-height requirement, pilot-testing schedule, short-term solution, special-interest money, 250-square-mile area, two-zone system, used-record store, a well-prepared plan.
  • Leave out hyphens in compound modifiers only when no reader confusion would result from their omission--or if the modifying words are commonly considered as a unit: post office box, high school classes, real-estate agent. Also, rewrite sentences to avoid stringing together a long, potentially confusing series of modifying adverbs and adjectives before nouns.
  • When a number and a noun form a compound modifier before a noun, use a singular noun in the phrase and hyphenate the phrase. Drop the hyphens and use plural nouns in other uses: The room measured 6 by 9 feet, but a 6-by-9-foot room. The building has 3,300 square feet of usable space, but a 3,300-square-foot building. The container held 10 gallons, but a 10-gallon container. The type size is 18 points, but 18-point type. Her shift lasted 10 hours, but a 10-hour shift. She was on vacation for three weeks, but a three-week vacation.
  • Hyphens are unnecessary after already, least, less, most and very and after all adverbs that end in lyalready named manager, an easily remembered rule, less expensive project, least liked alternative, most used service, randomly selected addresses, a very good time. ...
  • Don't hyphenate most compound modifiers if they occur after the noun being modified, even if hyphenating them before the noun: The proposal was well documented. The actor was little known. The older woman was better qualified. His boat is 42 feet long, but He has a 42-foot-long boat.
  • Here's the form for suspensive hyphenation: The students recommended a 15- to 20-minute break between third and fourth periods.
Hyphenate co- when forming nouns, adjectives or verbs that show occupation or status: co-chairman, co-pilot, co-worker. [The prefixes and suffixes in my online style manual -- and separate entries for the most often used prefixes and suffixes -- also provide advice on using hyphens.]

A hyphen is not a dash. For example, this organization mail stop, KCS-NR-0505, has hyphens, not dashes. And this phone number has hyphens, no dashes: 206-456-7890. See dash [below] for preferred punctuation between phrases and numbers, times, dates and other uses that show range, such as 1993-94, $23-42, the Seattle-Spokane train. Also see between ..., from ... to, ranges.

A hyphen may be used to divide a word at the end of a line, especially to remove large gaps at the end of an adjacent line. Here are some guidelines for hyphenation to aid readability and reduce reader confusion:
  • Divide words only between syllables, but don't add a hyphen to a word or phrase that already has a hyphen, such as decision-maker or re-election. Instead, break the word or phrase at the existing hyphen.
  • Avoid ending more than two consecutive lines with hyphens.
  • Don't hyphenate a word at the end of a line unless you can leave a syllable of at least three characters on both the first and second lines. Avoid dividing words with fewer than six letters.
  • Don't divide the last word in a line when the second part of the word would be the only "word" on the second line.
  • Don't hyphenate abbreviations, contractions and numbers. Also, don't hyphenate words in headlines and headings.
  • Avoid hyphenating proper nouns.
  • Don't hyphenate words that jump from one page to another page.
  • Avoid hyphenating words that jump from one column to another column or that jump over a graphic image or photo.
dash (--) Long dashes, called em dashes, have three main uses. In these uses, em dashes are usually less formal but more emphatic substitutes for other typical punctuation marks. To preserve the impact of dashes, avoid overusing them. [A note at the end describes how to form dashes; two hyphens next to each another, as shown above, is one way.]

First, use an em dash to explain, justify or stress in the second part of a sentence something in the first part: Fans filled all the seats--the concert hall was packed! The new shopping mall will open Tuesday--if the air-conditioning works. The project was finished on time, within scope--and under budget. The manager was new to the agency--brand new.

Second, use a pair of em dashes to make an emphatic pause or abrupt, parenthetic change in thought within a sentence: The new auditorium--opening six months behind schedule--is getting praise from both critics and audiences. If you'd prefer to play down such a phrase, consider placing it between parentheses instead, or between commas.

Third, use a pair of em dashes to set off a phrase that has a series of words separated by commas: Leif Nelson described the qualities--intelligence, a sense of humor and compassion--he wants in a manager.

As shown in the examples above, do not put a space before or after an em dash (an exception to the rule followed by the Associated Press for newspaper use). 

Avoid using more than one pair of em dashes in a sentence.

A short dash, called en dash, may be used to mean up to and including when placed between numbers, times, dates and other uses that show range: 1993-96, $25-50, $432,000-$560,000 (but $25 million to $50 million), 55-65 years, 7:15-7:30 a.m. (but 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.), ages 15-20, pages 167-78. It also may be used to replace to and versus in capitalized names: the Chicago-New Orleans train, the Huskies-Cougars game. Do not put spaces before and after the en dash. See between ... and, from ... to, dates, ranges [in my online editorial style manual].

Note: A hyphen (-) is not a dash. Most current word processing and design software can create em dashes and en dashes. If not possible, use two hyphens to create an em dash, and substitute a hyphen for an en dash. In Microsoft Word, if you don't space after the second hyphen, the two hyphens become an em dash. See hyphen.

__________
This article on the hyphen is featured in today's (Aug. 9) edition of Garbl's Style: Write Choices--available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

How Is Writing For The Web Different? - My Write Sites

OK. I give up. In other blog posts, I've contended that writing for the Web is not that different from effective writing in other formats: in print, for example.

I've contended that effective writing in all formats needs to grab the attention of the reader quickly. I advocate use of the inverted pyramid style of writing, long used by journalists. It begins with the most interesting or important points of a document or article -- and then adds more detail in the rest of the document or article.

I've contended that effective writing uses informative headings, subheads and bullets to simplify reading and help the reader find the main points.

I've contended that useful and easy-to-read graphics can make written text more effective for readers.

Blogger Marilyn also makes those points in this article -- about writing for the Web.

So what I'm I'm giving up, so to speak? I'm giving up the "which came first" argument. More and more people (most people?) are getting more and more (most?) of their information these days from the Web. That's a fact I can't deny.

And the methods that Marilyn and I emphasize above are just as essential on the Web as they are in other formats.

Whatever people are reading, they don't often have time these days to wade through a lot of gray matter (words only) -- trying to find the key stuff. For the Web -- and for everything else we write! -- we must get to the point quickly. And we must aid readers with headings, bullets and informative, appealing graphics, including photographs and other artwork.

These practices are also among the principles of writing in plain language -- a philosophy that's been advocated for decades in business, law, health care, education and other fields. Fore more information on plain language, visit Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide. It describes seven steps on how to write clearly to meet the needs of your readers--and your needs too!


Creativity Paradox Creates New Value | Dimis Michaelides, Innovation Excellence

Michaelides describes at least six fascinating contradictions in what enables or causes people to be creative, to do creative things. I won't do justice to them by summarizing them here. Please read the blog.

But  Michaelides  writes:
As proponents of creative thinking and innovation practice we must learn to live with such and many more paradoxes of our subject matter. Our vocation is fraught with ambiguity and our capacity to accept many solutions to a problem is the very source of our insight.
And  Michaelides  concludes:
Innovators have no choice but to accept the contradictions and make the best of creative tension and ambiguity, for these are at the core of what brings new value to the world.
For more articles 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. Many of the sites have links to other resources on creativity.

201 Ways to Arouse Your Creativity | Katie Tallo, Write to Done

Creativity is like sex. You fumble your way through, you get lost in it, you fall in love. Both are passionate, rhythmic, pleasurable, and flowing. Both can bear fruit. And both can rack your soul with vulnerability, bliss, fear and awkwardness.
And so begins Katie Tallo, introducing a long list of the "secret tips, methods, and techniques" that 24 other writers have left "strewn across the web." She's included links to their sites, "for the original juice."

Tallo writes, provocatively:
The people I speak of are writers. They lust writing. When you’re in lust, you can be desperate to keep that feeling alive. So when creativity goes limp, writers are the ones who know the secrets to keeping it interested. They know how to flirt with it, tease it and arouse it. In fact, they know hundreds of ways to get their creative freak on.
______
This article is featured in today's (Aug. 8) Garbl's Creativity Connections -- available at the Creativity tab above and by free email subscription.

R Grammar Gaffes Ruining The Language? Maybe Not | Linton Weeks, NPR

Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. I must think about this some more!

Weeks writes:
Reading and listening to contemporary English, you just might think that the language is going to hell, and there is plenty of evidence to help make your argument.
But, he continues, an English professor at the University of North Carolina ...
and some others who study the contemporary tongue do not think that bad grammar is necessarily destroying the English language. Instead, some posit, it may be making the way we talk and write more vibrant and relevant.
Says that English professor, Weeks writes:
If clarity of communication is the aim, most prescriptive rules of usage do not really cause misunderstanding. "Between you and I" gets the point across as well as "between you and me."
Weeks then refers to several other linguists, and they make some reasonable points about the development of language. Their ideas are worth considering.

But he also refers to a CEO, Kyle Wiens, who recently wrote a column about the importance of his employees using proper grammar. I've posted a blog about that column. He wrote:
Good grammar is credibility, especially on the Internet. In blog posts, on Facebook statuses, in e-mails, and on company websites, your words are all you have. They are a projection of you in your physical absence. And, for better or worse, people judge you if you can't tell the difference between their, there, and they're.
Weeks concludes:
In other words, Wiens is saying to those who argue that bad grammar is not all bad, there may be a real-world reality in their argument they're not reckoning with.
_________
This article is featured in today's (Aug. 8) Garbl's Style: Write Choices -- available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.

12 paths to plain language: reasons for choosing clarity — Rachel McAlpine, Contented Blog

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
A graphic with that statement by Leonardo da Vinci is the first thing you see when you go to the website with McAlpine's article.

And she uses it to make a point about the attitudes of governments, companies, not-for-profit agencies, and other organizations that pursue and promote plain language.

It's language that's "simple, unassuming, natural, unadorned by sequins or diamonds." It's neither sophisticated (in the highfalutin meaning of that word) nor scholarly.

It's the type of language that you -- I mean the person reading this blog at this moment on your computer, tablet or other device -- should be using in nearly all your writing. 

After I posted this article on my Facebook page, I friend replied:
Down with polysyllabic language! It doesn't make someone sound smart, typically just makes them sound arrogant.

In college I was in a group project with a guy that thought using complex language made him smart but there were four people in our group that were ESL, newly immigrated to the US. He ended up having to explain himself over and over again and never understood that if he simplified his language it would help everyone get the point faster.
McAlpine's article gives the reasons for liking (or disliking) communication in plain language. Here's a summary:
  1. Saving money. Where communication is garbled, time is wasted on non-compliance and unnecessary phone calls. ...
  2. Democracy, human rights. ... As “Everyone is equal before the law”, so everyone must be able to understand their rights.
  3. Web accessibility. Web content must be understandable: ... so that information can be accessed by everyone, regardless of disabilities.
  4. Usability. ... How can any information be usable if it is not understandable? ...
  5. Consumer rights. ...
  6. Help for new immigrants. ...
  7. Clear legislation. ...
  8. Clear legal language. ...
  9. Ease of translation. ... [The European Union] Fight the Fog initiative to make official documents simpler is based on the need for easy translation into other EU languages.
  10. Financial transparency. ... Gobbledygook played a big part in the recent credit crunch.
  11. Protecting a language. ...
  12. Civil Service Code of Conduct. ...
________
For more information on this topic, visit Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide. It describes A seven-step approach to writing clearly and concisely to meet the needs of your readers. This article is featured today (Aug. 8) in Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs -- available at the Plain Language tab above and by free email subscription. 


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

My Pet Peeves: From the F Entries in Garbl's Editorial Style Manual


Here's the sixth in my alphabetical series of pet peeves -- from entries in the F 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:

facility Unless part of a proper name, avoid this word when possible, especially as a bureaucratic euphemism for building. Be more specific by naming or describing individual facilities, such as base, building, factory, hotel, jail, laboratory, museum, office, plant, restroom, stadium, warehouse or even toiletThe council appointed her director of the new jail [not facility, or worse, jail facility].


fact Use this word only if a statement can be verified as accurate, true or correct, not for matters of judgment. Also, a true fact is redundant; drop true

When possible, avoid using the phrase the fact that. Omit needless words: since or because, notbecause of the fact thateven, though, despite or although, not despite the fact thatplease note, remind you or tell you, not call your attention to the fact thatwe were unaware that (or did not know that) instead of we were unaware of the fact thather success instead of the fact that she had succeeded; and our arrival, not the fact that we had arrived

factor Hackneyed if used to mean a thing to be considered, an event or action. Instead, use influence, cause, reason, part, fact, feature, condition or circumstances. Or be specific and name the specific factor that contributed to a particular result.

fairly Vague adverb meaning "more than a little but much less than very." Huh? Eliminate that word, be more precise, or rethink what you're writing about: Change fairly hot to hot or warm--or be specific: 78 degrees.

FAQ Abbreviation of plural frequently asked questions; it doesn't end with a redundant s. Except in headings, spell it out on first reference; FAQ is fine for later references.

farther, further Often misused or confused. Farther suggests measurable physical distance: The plant was farther away than they thought. Memory aide: The far in farther refers to physical distance.

As an adjective, further means "more" or "additional" in time, degree, amount or quantity: She had further news. But consider using simpler more instead. Further is also used as an adverb meaning "in addition" or "moreover." As a verb, further means to "advance or promote": She worked to further his career. But consider using simpler help.

feel, think Not interchangeable. If ideas are based on feelings or emotions, use feel. But if ideas are based on perception, memory and judgment, use think (or believe). 

fewer, less Fewer (or few) stresses number, and less stresses degree or quantity. Use fewer for plural nouns and individual items that can be counted, less for singular nouns and a bulk, amount, sum, period of time or idea that is measured in other ways: Fewer than 10 applicants called. I had less than $50 in my pocket. Fewer dollars, less money. Less food, fewer calories.

few in number Redundant. Drop in number. Or replace with infrequent, limited, meager, not many, rare, scant, scarce, sparse or uncommon.

(the) field of If someone works in a field of wheat or corn, wonderful! We need family farmers. But if someone works in the field of accounting or journalism, simplify and drop the field of as redundant and unnecessary. The area of is also unnecessary. 

finalize Pompous and often misused. Use only to mean "make final" or "put into final final form." Otherwise, simplify. Replace with finish, end, complete, settle or wrap up, depending on your point. Change: I will finalize the report. To: I will finish the report.

final outcome, final result Wordy. Redundant. Simplify. Drop final.

first began, first started Wordy and redundant. Simplify. Drop first.

flammable, inflammable, inflammatory, nonflammable Sometimes dangerously confused. Flammable and inflammable both mean "combustible or burns very easily." But use less ambiguous flammable when making a safety warning. Use nonflammable to mean "will not burn." Inflammatory means "tending to inflame or excite the senses, or tending to incite anger or disorder."

flier, Flyer Flier is the preferred spelling meaning "a bulletin, handbill, pilot or someone who travels on a plan": Staff members delivered fliers about the public meeting. Flyer is a proper name of some buses and trains.

footnotes, endnotes Often confused, misused and overused. Footnotes go at the foot, or bottom, of pages; endnotes go at the end of chapters, articles and books. But avoid using them, except for bibliographic references or citations. They force readers to look somewhere else on a page or another page for the information they contain. That interrupts reading and can cause reader distraction, confusion and frustration. Instead, try putting the information in parentheses within the text. If you must use them, consider footnotes first.

foreign words and phrases Before using an unfamiliar foreign word or phrase, consider the needs and interests of your readers. If your readers may not understand the words, consider using an English alternative, defining the foreign words or suggesting the meaning of the words within the context of your document.

Don't italicize (or define) foreign words and phrases commonly used in English and listed in English dictionaries: bon voyage, versus. Also, don't italicize foreign language names of cities, buildings, streets, organizations and other proper nouns.

Italicize truly foreign words and phrases the first time they're used in a document. If they're used again in the document, use roman (or regular) type. Truly foreign words and phrases have not become part of the English language; they're not listed in English dictionaries, or they're identified as foreign in English dictionaries. Translations are typically put in quotation marks and set off with parentheses immediately after the foreign words or phrases they translate. 

Complete sentences or long phrases in a foreign language are not usually italicized. If they're direct quotations, place them between quotation marks instead. And again, if using an untranslated foreign-language statement would confuse, annoy, frustrate or insult many of your readers--and make you look foolish, pompous or arrogant--don't use it.

formal Formal writing, formal language and formal words have their place, but it's not usually a place where communication is clear, concise and friendly. Be wary of visiting such a place when you want others to take the time to read, understand and even act on the words you write. If you want to put distance between you and your readers, use formal writing. It'll surely be cold and uninviting for your readers and lonely for you. This style manual suggests simpler alternatives to formal, pompous and pretentious words and phrases. 

for the purpose of Overstated and wordy. Simplify. Delete or replace with for or to.

for the reason that Overstated and wordy. Simplify. Replace with because, since, for or why.

free As an adverb, free means "for nothing." So for free is usually redundant; drop for. Also redundant is free gift; drop one word or the other.

fundamental Overstated. Simplify. Cut or change to basic, important or needed.

future Wordy, if used with the words in the near ... or in the not too distant .... Simplify. Use soon,shortly or even be specific: tomorrow, this Saturday, in a week, next month and so on.

future plans Redundant. Simplify. Drop future

Expect Beautiful » Patricia Christopher, Finding Serendipity

Christopher writes about a nearby farm field on a windy country road, and she posts two wonderful photos:
So we were coming home after the rain one night this week, and I noticed I could see the sky through the windows of the barn. And with the sunlight behind, it made this beautiful silhouette. And I started to realize change meant different, but not necessarily bad different. ...
I need to remember to be brave in the face of change. To embrace anticipation instead of mourning. To expect beautiful.

Why Frequent Trips Outside Your Comfort Zone Are So Important | Michael Hyatt

Hyatt doesn't spend much time in this article discussing the point of the headline. Instead, he describes seven ways on how to maximize trips outside the comfort zone.

But why do that? He writes:
  • This is where the growth happens.
  • This is where the solutions are.
  • This is where fulfillment resides.
In short, the really important stuff happens outside your comfort zone.
 Summarized, here are his seven ways to maximize those trips:
  1. Acknowledge the value. ... The first step is simply to confess that getting out of your comfort zone is a good thing. ...
  2. Lean into the experience. ... [E]mbrace the discomfort. Move toward it. ...
  3. Notice your fear. ... Just notice the anxiety or fear but keep moving forward. ...
  4. Don’t over-think it. ... All you really need is clarity for the next step. When you get it, take the next step in faith ....
  5. Play full out. ... You have a better chance of success if you give it your all.
  6. Celebrate the victory. ... [Learn] the importance of marking the moment, recognizing the achievement, and expressing my appreciation. ...
  7. Pause to reflect. It’s also important to take a little time to process your experience. What did you do well? What would you do differently next time? ...
___________
This article is featured in today's (Aug. 7) Garbl's Creativity Connections -- available at the Creativity tab above and by free email subscription.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Writing English as a Second Language | William Zinsser, The American Scholar

I just came across this excellent Zinsser talk to incoming international students at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism in August 2009. His advice is also essential to native English speakers. (Zinsser's 17 books include On Writing Well, now in its seventh edition, Writing to Learn, and Writing with a Word Processor.)

After introductory comments addressed to his international audience, Zinsser asked:
What is good English—the language we’re here today to wrestle with? It’s not as musical as Spanish, or Italian, or French, or as ornamental as Arabic, or as vibrant as some of your native languages. But I’m hopelessly in love with English because it’s plain and it’s strong. It has a huge vocabulary of words that have precise shades of meaning; there’s no subject, however technical or complex, that can’t be made clear to any reader in good English—if it’s used right. ...
And he continued, talking about "the damaging habits" of using English wrong.

He explained that English comes from two main sources: Latin and Anglo-Saxon. Words from ancient Rome, he said, "will strangle everything you write," while words from the "plain languages" of England and northern Europe "will set you free."

And why do those Latin words strangle and suffocate the way we communicate? Zinnser said:
In general they are long, pompous nouns that end in -ion—like implementation and maximization and communication (five syllables long!)—or that end in -ent—like development and fulfillment. Those nouns express a vague concept or an abstract idea, not a specific action that we can picture—somebody doing something.
His perfect example:
  • Latin--“Prior to the implementation of the financial enhancement.” 
  • Anglo-Saxon--“Before we fixed our money problems.” 
He explained that Latin-derived vocabulary uses long vague nouns and weak passive verbs, while Anglo-Saxon-derived vocabulary uses short descriptive nouns and strong active verbs.

Zinsser then said, with disdain:
[Latin] is the language that people in authority in America routinely use—officials in government and business and education and social work and health care. They think those long Latin words make them sound important.
And he gave more real-life examples of bad writing and good.

For example, from Thoreau's Walden in 1854. Good:
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of nature, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
And rewritten, bad:
A decision was made to go to the woods because of a desire for a deliberate existence and for exposure to only the essential facts of life, and for possible instruction in its educational elements, and because of a concern that at the time of my death the absence of a meaningful prior experience would be apprehended.
Zinsser then described his "four principles of writing good English." Briefly, they are:
  • Clarity. If it’s not clear you might as well not write it. ...
  • Simplicity. Simple is good. ... Writing is not something you have to embroider with fancy stitches to make yourself look smart.
  • Brevity. Short is always better than long. Short sentences are better than long sentences. Short words are better than long words. Don’t say currently if you can say now. Don’t say assistance if you can say help. Don’t say numerous if you can say many. Don’t say facilitate if you can say ease. ...
  • Humanity. Be yourself. Never try in your writing to be someone you’re not. Your product, finally, is you. Don’t lose that person by putting on airs, trying to sound superior. ...
As Zinsser concluded, he emphasized two points:

First, writing in plain language is even more important these days as people get more and more information through the "new media":
This principle applies—and will apply—to every digital format; nobody wants to consult a Web site that isn’t instantly clear. Clarity, brevity, and sequential order will be crucial to your success.
Second, organization of that information must be based on logical thinking:
You can solve most of your writing problems if you stop after every sentence and ask: "What does the reader need to know next?”
Supporting both those points, Zinsser noted a maxim his students find helpful: One thought per sentence.

He said:
Readers only process one thought at a time. So give them time to digest the first set of facts you want them to know. Then give them the next piece of information they need to know, which further explains the first fact. Be grateful for the period. Writing is so hard that all of us, once launched, tend to ramble. Instead of a period we use a comma, followed by a transitional word (and, while), and soon we have strayed into a wilderness that seems to have no road back out. Let the humble period be your savior. ...
________
This article is featured in today's (Aug. 6) Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs--available at the Plain Language tab above and by free email subscription. For more related information, visit Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Plain language a commercial edge? | Joh Kirby, Law Institute of Victoria

Here's the synopsis for this article, but much of Kirby's advice applies to all types of writing and professions, not just to legal writing by lawyers:
Applying plain language principles to your work as a lawyer has the potential to give you a strong commercial edge. Even without this motivation, international trends suggest that lawyers may be required to be better written communicators.
Kirby writes:
[C]lients who understand their legal situation are more likely to be able to make informed decisions about it and more likely to be satisfied with their legal advisor and the legal process generally. 
Change one key word in this question, and it refers to customers of all types of businesses:
What is the impact if, once they take the step to contact a lawyer, they can’t understand what is being written and are too intimidated by the whole process to ask?
Kirby explains briefly that key principles of plain language have been taught for decades. First published in 1927, Fowler's Modern English Usage Dictionary promoted clear, direct language, as did a well-known essay by George Orwell in 1946.

Kirby points out, though (emphasis added):
[T]he definition of plain language has developed over time to become more sophisticated, with a focus on the audience’s needs, not just simple words and clear writing.
He then goes on to explain three key factors to consider when improving communications with clients (and other customers):
  • Know your audience
  • Organise your information well
  • Write clearly.
Kirby's article describes each factor in more detail. He also lists several organizations that provide more website advice. Here they are, with links:
  • Clarity -- "a worldwide group of lawyers and others who advocate using plain language in place of legalese"
  • Plain Language Action and Information Network (aka PLAIN) -- "group of [United States] federal employees from many different agencies and specialties who support the use of clear communication in government writing."
  • Center for Plain Language -- a nonprofit organization in the United States that "wants government and business documents to be clear and understandable."
  • Plain Language Association International (also abbreviated as PLAIN) -- "a growing volunteer nonprofit organization of plain-language advocates, professionals, and organizations committed to plain language."
_______
For more information, visit Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide. It describes a seven-step approach to writing clearly and concisely to meet the needs of your readers. Steps: reader and purpose, organization, paragraphs, sentences, words, design and testing. 


7 Common Problems Solved by Owning Less | Joshua Becker, Becoming Minimalist

Summarized below are seven common problems that blogger Becker and his family solved by selling, donating or discarding more than 70 percent of their possessions. Those things included books, clothes, cookware, decorations, furniture, tools and toys.

(These type of suggestions are becoming more and more important to my wife and me as we downsize and prepare for retirement. Fortunately, we followed some of these ideas even when our two sons lived at home.)
1. “I don’t have enough money / I’m in debt.” ... Purposefully deciding to own fewer possessions is an important step in getting your financial house in order ...
2. “There’s just not enough time in the day.” ... Just think about all the time we waste caring for our possessions: shopping, researching, organizing, picking up, cleaning, repairing, replacing – even earning the money to buy them in the first place. ...
3. “There’s always so much cleaning to do / Even after I clean, my house feels cluttered.”  ... Own less stuff. It works every time.
4. “My house is too small / There’s never enough storage around here.” Chances are pretty good that your house isn’t too small – you’ve just put too much stuff inside it. ...
5. “I’m too stressed.” ... Every increased possession weighs down our lives with new things to worry about, care for, and maintain. ...
6. “I can’t decide what to wear / It’s so hard to keep up with the changing fashions.” ... [C]arry a beautiful wardrobe filled with a few timeless pieces that you truly love to wear. ..."
7. “I wish I had…” ... [T]his constant dreaming, hoping, and envying other’s possessions is stealing from our joy and contentment today. ...
__________
This article is featured in my daily online paper for today (Aug. 5), Garbl's Simple Dreams -- also available by free email subscription. 

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