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Saturday, October 13, 2012

Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide | Celebrating International Plain Language Day!

Today, Oct. 13, being the second annual International Plain Language Day, I'm featuring my online advice for clear, concise writing that meets the needs of readers as well as writers. The website for Plain Language Day features "virtual conference" presentations about plain language in YouTube videos, SlideShare shows, and PDF files.

Plain English is an approach to writing that concentrates on the needs of your readers. This approach is often called plain language because of its international value and use in other languages. It is ideal for people who write to and for clients, customers, employees, organization members, ratepayers, students and taxpayers. It helps us write for people who read at all levels of time, interest, education and literacy. It also benefits readers with limited English proficiency or learning disabilities.

Plain English is effective because your readers can understand your message. It is efficient because your readers can understand your message the first time they read it. That reader focus--combined with logical organization, clear writing and inviting appearance--is key to creating usable, informative documents for you and your organization.

The basics of clear, concise writing apply to all types of documents. Following plain-English principles will improve the readability of letters and memos, reports and newsletters, brochures and presentations, instruction manuals and legal documents, and most other documents. The principles also apply directly to writing news releases and Web pages, and they will aid translating English documents into other languages.

Check out these pages in my guide to learn how to improve your writing skills by using plain-English techniques:
For more information and advice on plain language and clear, concise writing, visit these sites of mine:
The second, third and fourth bullets above provide links and information about other websites, organizations and publications. I especially recommend the Plain Language Association InterNational, the Center for Plain Language, and the U.S. Plain Language Action & Information Network

You also can find daily information and articles about using plain language in my online newspaper, Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs--at the Plain Language tab above and by free email subscription.

Garbl’s Plain English Paragraphs | Featuring International Plain Language Day, Oct. 13, 2012

Today is International Plain Language Day, and it is featured in today's (Oct. 13) edition of my online newspaper, Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs.

Related headlines in today's edition:
  • Online Program - International Plain Language Day
  • Celebrate International Plain Language Day
  • Just Do It: Use active verbs as part of your plain language regime
  • Advertising Agencies Have Forgotten How To Use Plain English To Sell Stuff
  • Show plain language your sensitive side in our multilingual society
  • Using plain language for effective communication
  • Tips & Tools: Starting a PL program
  • Plain-Language Resources
My daily online paper is available at the Plain Language tab above and by free email subscription. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Vice Presidential Debate: Joe Biden Was Right to Laugh | Matt Taibbi | Rolling Stone

The Romney/Ryan tax plan is an insulting joke on the American public

That's the point of this article, and I agree.

Taibbi writes, correctly (emphasis added):
Sometimes in journalism I think we take the objectivity thing too far. We think being fair means giving equal weight to both sides of every argument. But sometimes in the zeal to be objective, reporters get confused. You can't report the Obama tax plan and the Romney tax plan in the same way, because only one of them is really a plan, while the other is actually not a plan at all, but an electoral gambit.
The Romney/Ryan ticket decided, with incredible cynicism, that that they were going to promise this massive tax break, not explain how to pay for it, and then just hang on until election day, knowing that most of the political press would let it skate, or at least not take a dump all over it when explaining it to the public. Unchallenged, and treated in print and on the air as though it were the same thing as a real plan, a 20 percent tax cut sounds pretty good to most Americans. Hell, it sounds good to me.
The proper way to report such a tactic is to bring to your coverage exactly the feeling that Biden brought to the debate last night: contempt and amazement. We in the press should be offended by what Romney and Ryan are doing – we should take professional offense that any politician would try to whisk such a gigantic lie past us to our audiences, and we should take patriotic offense that anyone is trying to seize the White House using such transparently childish and dishonest tactics.

And he concludes (emphasis added):
The Romney/Ryan platform makes sense, and is not laughable, in only one context: if you're a multi-millionaire and you recognize that this is the only way to sell your agenda to mass audiences. But if you're not one of those rooting gazillionaires, you should laugh, you should roll your eyes, and it doesn't matter if you're the Vice President or an ABC reporter or a toll operator. You should laugh, because this stuff is a joke, and we shouldn't take it seriously.

Warren Buffett’s 10 Steps To Better Report Writing | Ivan Walsh, Standard Operating Procedure Tips

Walsh is a fan of Buffett, not just because of Buffett's financial expertise but because of the clarity to readers of financial reports that he and his company publish.

Walsh introduces this article:
Buffett writes like he speaks. Direct, immediate and without pretension.
And continues:
Ever read an annual report from Warren Buffet. Try it. Easy, isn’t it? Few successful business-people write so clearly. There is no pretension, no haughty references to obscure allusions and no strange acronyms. It’s all there in black and white.
Building on what he's learned by studying Buffett's work, Walsh has written a short guide on writing business proposals in clear English. Walsh describes his guide:
It explains how to prepare an business documents that readers can digest in one reading. That’s the acid test. They shouldn’t have to read them twice and three times to get the meaning. It also covers how to use Plain Language writing techniques to win more business, accelerate your tender process, and encourage staff to contribute to the overall tender process.
Here's a summary of Walsh's advice, mostly headings of the 10 steps:
1. Start Early ...
2. Study the principles of Plain English ...
  • Identify your target audience i.e. Government departments.
  • Consider what they need to know.
  • Consider the technical terms they may, or may not, know.
  • Develop plain English writing guidelines for your staff.
  • Think about how to organize and format your Proposal.
3. Promote Plain English among your Staff ...
4. Contact an experienced proposal writer ...
5. Review previous Proposals and see where you can improve
Before you start writing, consider the following:
  • Literacy level. ...
  • Clarity. ...
  • Organization. ...
  • Repetition. ...
  • Headings. ...
  • Format. ...
6. Create an outline to help readers find information faster ...
7. Write the [request for proposals], section by section, using plain language techniques ...
8. Review and Revise ...
9. Create an easy-to-read format ...
10. Get feedback – and share it ...
This article is featured today (Oct. 12) in Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs--available at the Plain Language tab above and by free email subscription.

International Plain Language Day - Oct. 13, 2012

This annual event celebrates clear, concise writing and other forms of communication.

After the success of the first International Plain Language Day on Oct. 13, 2011, organizers Cheryl Stephens and Kate Harrison Whiteside have added a virtual and interactive program this year. To help celebrate plain language, they are promoting events with location, contact information, and links at this website.

Also at this site, see abstracts for 2012 IPLDay virtual celebrations under the 2012 Online Program tab. Video and slide presentations will be online for all to use, share, and celebrate on Oct. 13, 2012.

For more advice, information and resources about plain language (aka plain English), visit Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Just Do It: Use active verbs as part of your plain language regime | Caryn Gootkin, The Media Online

If you want to put life in your writing, use active verbs. That's Gootkin's key message in this article. "Just Do It," as Nike says.

She writes:
If you use strong, active verbs, your writing will draw the reader in and hold their attention, communicating your message effectively. ... Passive writing distances your reader from the action of the sentence and, usually, adds unnecessary words to your prose.
Examples of active and passive voice:
  • Active voice: “I made a mistake.” 
  • Passive voice: “Mistakes were made.”
Gootkin explains:
The second example shows how passive sentences conceal the doer of the action, promoting the subject to the head of the sentence despite the fact that it hasn't in fact done anything.
She notes that writers and speakers sometimes use passive voice because they want to conceal the doer of the action--as President Ronald Reagan's speechwriters may have chosen to do in when they included the passive sentence above in his 1987 State of the Union Address. Gootkin goes on to describe other reasons for using passive verbs.

But she emphasizes, again:
Changing a sentence from passive to active reduces the number of words used, fulfilling the plain language principles of using shorter sentences and the fewest words possible to convey meaning. Passive verbs also distance the reader from the action, often introducing vagueness and imprecision into a text. If you don’t have a compelling reason to use the passive voice, don’t.
For more related advice, see the active vs. passive verbs entry in Garbl's Editorial Style Manual. Also see Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide.

This article is featured today (Oct. 11) in Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs--my daily online newspaper available at the Plain Language tab above and by free email subscription.

BTW, Gootkin's article also promotes International Plain Language Day, coming Oct. 13.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Why It's Hard Being A Grammar Nazi | Hunter Schwarz, BuzzFeed

The only thing more annoying than having your grammar corrected is having to be the one constantly correcting everyone's grammar.
That's how Schwarz introduces this delightful but sad photo page displaying examples of incorrect spelling, punctuation and word usage.

Among his reasons explaining the headline:
  • Everywhere you go, you're pained by the lack of respect for the English language.
  • It's like you can't fully enjoy life unless everything is written correctly.
  • But it feels like no one else cares.
  • People using the wrong "your."
  • And the wrong "its."
  • And the wrong "bye."
  • And let's not even start with how bad things are on the Internet.
For advice on correcting spelling, punctuation and word usage, visit Garbl's Editorial Style Manual. It also provides advice on abbreviations, addresses, capitalization, English grammar, Internet terminology, numbers, plurals and possessives.

Garbl's Myths and Superstitions of Writing | Gary B. Larson, Garbl's Writing Center

For decades and even centuries, respected authorities on writing, reading, editing, grammar and word usage have disputed the 11 myths and superstitions of writing listed on this Web page

Unfortunately, they continue to be taught and followed in education, business, law, and government, on the Internet, and in conversations between parents and children.

The listed myths include these popular "rules":
  • Never split an infinitive.
  • Never begin a sentence with But or And.
  • Never end a sentence with a preposition.
Each listing includes an authoritative opinion about the myth, an example of acceptable usage, and citations for all authorities disputing the "rule." Most listings include a link to Garbl's Editorial Style Manual for more related information. 

The Power of Simple Words | Terin Izil, TED-Ed

Long, fancy words designed to show off your intelligence and vocabulary are all very well, but they aren't always the best words. In this short, playful video, Izil explains why simple, punchy language is often the clearest way to convey a message.

The site also includes:
  • Quick Quiz--five questions to test your understanding
  • Think--a question for you to ponder about “fighting for space in an attention span that continues to shrink across generations”
  • Dig Deeper--several online resources for more advice on using clear, concise writing. 
This article is featured today (Oct. 10) in Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs--available at the Plain Language tab above and by free email subscription. 

Garbl’s Creativity Connections

Today's edition (Oct. 10) of my daily online paper, Creativity Connections, features three articles with similar headlines:
  • 3 Easy Exercises to Boost Your Creativity
  • Creative Direction: 8 Ideas for When Creativity is Too Easy or Too Hard
  • 7 Ways To Stimulate Your Capacity For Creativity.
And it features one article tackling the challenge from another point of view:
  • 13 Ways to Destroy Creativity.
Creativity Connections is available at the Creativity tab above and by free email subscription. For more help and information on the topic, visit Garbl's Creativity Resources Online at Garbl's Writing Center. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Romney's "47 Percent" Blunder Reveals the Hidden Heart of His Agenda | Charles Derber and Yale Magrass, Truthout

I highly recommend this article. It describes the true "parasites" in the United States--and they are NOT part of the "47 percent." The authors write:
Romney made a fatal error. Parasites had always been defined as a minority of America, mostly African-Americans. But with the "47 percent," he suddenly turned a huge percentage of whites into 'parasites.' This deeply alienated the millions of whites who had always gained self-respect by identifying with the class of the "productives" or "creatives," a world apart from the minority parasites.

Romney turned his most important swing base - white workers - against him, and, in the long-term, gave them reason to question the legitimacy of the entire parasite narrative.

But it gets worse. By defining half the country as dependent on government, Romney suddenly opened up the question of who was not dependent. And a series of stories about Romney, Bain Capital, and Romney's taxes began to make clear a revolutionary truth: that the corporations and richest Americans, such as Romney himself, were actually the most dependent, the most parasitical. ...
The article concludes:
After the election, mass campaigns like the Occupy movement, focusing on removing money from politics, ending most corporate welfare, expanding social welfare and creating true democracy, must continue and expand. The government, even an Obama led government, must know the people will never be quiet until it becomes a government of the people, not the corporations.

Mitt Romney’s Most Dishonest Speech | Fred Kaplan, Slate

When it comes to lies and half-truths, Romney saves his best stuff for foreign policy.

Kaplan writes about Mitt Romney's campaign speech on Monday at the
Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia:
It was expected that he would distort President Obama into a caricature of Jimmy Carter. But it was astonishing to watch Romney spin a daydream of himself as some latter-day George Marshall, bringing peace, prosperity, and hope to a chaotic world—this from a man who couldn't drop in on the London Olympics without alienating our closest ally and turning himself into a transcontinental laughingstock.

To the extent that Romney recited valid criticisms of Obama’s policies, he offered no alternatives. To the extent he spelled out specific steps he would take to deal with one problem or another, he merely recited actions that Obama has already taken. ...

As he has on other occasions, Romney asserted that a president must “use America’s great power to shape history,” not to let events shape America. But the fact is there are no superpowers in today’s world; no country has as much power to shape history—or as little immunity to the influences of others—as America did in the Cold War era. To exercise true leadership, a president must come to grips with the limits of his or her power. This has nothing to do with notions of “American decline.” It has to do with the shattering of the Cold War world.
And he concludes:
Romney is right that, in some cases, most notably Syria, Obama has not done as much as he might have to influence the course of events. However, there is almost nothing in Romney’s speech to suggest that he would do better—and a great deal to indicate he’d do much worse.
This article is featured today, Oct. 8, in my daily online "paper," Footprints: Progressive Steps--available at the Progressive Politics tab above and by free email subscription.

» Learning to Sit Alone, in a Quiet Empty Room | Leo Babauta, :zenhabits

I have a constant need to hear music, whenever possible. It inspires me, calms me, motivates me, soothes me, activates me ... depending on my mood and circumstances. So this blog caught my interest. And I'm going to try it out!

Babauta writes:
Think about some of the problems of our daily lives, and how many of them would be eased if we could learn to sit alone, in a quiet empty room, with contentment.
If you’re content to sit alone quietly, you don’t need to eat junk food, to shop on impulse, to buy the latest gadget, to be on social media to see what everyone else is talking about or doing, to ...
His concluding challenge:
Can you practice being alone, being still, being quiet? Just a little at first, then perhaps a bit more. Listen, watch, learn about yourself. Find contentment. Need nothing more.
This article is featured today, Oct. 8, in Garbl's Simple Dreams--available daily at the Simplicity tab above and by free email subscription.

Monday, October 8, 2012

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

Here's the 11th in my alphabetical series of pet peeves--from entries in the M 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:

A peeves B peeves C peeves D peeves E peeves F peeves G peeves H peeves | I peeves | J peeves | K & L peeves |

magnitude Overstated. Simplify. Try size, importance, influence or greatness instead. Also, try substituting simpler most important or greatest importance for of the first magnitude.

major breakthrough Redundant, wordy cliche. A breakthrough is an important new discovery. By definition, it's already major. Simplify. Drop major.

majority, most Often confused. Use majority to describe "more than half a total or amount" and "the group, party or faction with more than half the votes": A majority vote of only 51 percent is no mandate to make changes that affect everyone. Use simpler most to mean "greatest in amount, quantity, number, extent or degree." Also, use simpler most instead of almost all. And simpler most may replace these wordy phrases: vast majority, the great majority, a significant majority and the overwhelming majority. Or be more specific about the details.

Use majority for describing the larger of two clearly divisible things: A majority of the councilmembers voted for the resolution. Or be specific: Fifty-two percent of the councilmembers were for the resolution. When majority is used alone, it takes singular verbs and pronouns: The majority has made its decision. If a plural word follows an of construction, the sense of the sentence will determine use of either a singular or plural verb: A majority of three votes is not enough to control the committee. The majority of the houses on the block were destroyed.

mandatory Beware of redundancy when using this word, as in Washington law requires mandatory use of seat belts. Instead, Washington law requires use of seat belts, or Use of seat belts is mandatory in Washington

man-made Outdated term. Use artificial, handmade, synthetic or manufactured instead. 

man, manned, manning Do not use man as a verb. Use staff instead or forms of use, operate, worked or run. Change: Three employees man the office. To: Three employees staff the office. Three employees run the office.

manpower Outdated word. Use workers, labor, staff, staffing, physical strength, human effort or work force instead.

many, much Use many with numbers, things that can be counted, and things that comprise several separate entities: many buildings, many cars, many dollars. Use much with mass or abstract nouns and nouns that refer to amounts or quantities instead of numbers: much salt, much courage, much help

maximize It means "to increase to the maximum, to enlarge as much as possible." But if you mean only increase, raise, enlarge, enhance or intensify, simplify and use one of those words instead.

may, might Both words suggest possibility. One meaning of may suggests a likelihood that something will happen. It may rain. Might suggests a remote possibility or a possibility that once existed but no longer does: I might as well be the man in the moon. I might have married her if our circumstances had been different. Consider using might if using may could imply permission instead of possibility: The graduating seniors might skip classes on Friday

may perhaps, might perhaps Redundant and wordy phrases. Drop perhaps. And drop possibly from may possibly and might possibly.

meaningful Vague and overused, as in meaningful action, meaningful discussion, meaningful dialogue, meaningful experience and meaningful relationship. Delete or try serious, useful, important or easy to understand instead. Or add meaning by describing what you mean by meaningful.

media Media takes plural verbs and pronouns when it refers to more than one medium of communication, such as TV, radio and newspapers: Radio and television are popular entertainment media. The Internet is now a major news medium. But it's becoming acceptable to refer to the mass media or communications media or news media as a singular entity that takes singular verbs and pronouns: He's convinced the local news media is out to get him.

midnight, noon Don't capitalize, and do not put a redundant 12 in front of either word. Use midnight and noon instead of misleading, confusing and inaccurate 12 a.m. and 12 p.m. Although equipment like clock radios may need to be programmed using 12 a.m. for midnight and 12 p.m. for noon, readers likely won't know the difference between 12 a.m. and 12 p.m. in other uses.

Also, midnight is part of the day that is ending, not the one that is beginning. A 24-hour day begins immediately after midnight and runs until midnight. When writing about the beginning and end of a day, say it runs from midnight Thursday to Friday at midnight or from midnight Jan. 28 to Jan. 29 at midnight. An alternative is to write that an event begins after midnight, Jan. 28, and that something is due or ends by midnight, Jan. 29, or before midnight, Jan. 29

minimal, minimum These adjectives have subtle differences in meaning. Minimal means "extremely small in number, amount or degree ... and not worth worrying about": with minimal support, minimal objectives, minimal amount of painMinimum means "the smallest number, amount or degree that is possible, necessary, acceptable or lawful to have": Of any one in his family, he had minimum contact with his father. Minimum wage. Minimum payment.

minuscule Often misspelled. Not miniscule. Memory tip: Think minus. Also consider replacing with simpler tiny.

monies, moneys Don't use this jargon for the plural of money. Replace it with simpler cash, funds or even money. But if you must sound like a bureaucrat, use the preferred spelling moneys, not the illogical spelling monies.

more, most Most one-syllable adjectives and adverbs add the suffixes -er or -est to show comparison with other items--as in strict, stricter and strictest. And most adjectives and adverbs with two or more syllables are preceded by more (or less) and most (or least), like logical, more logical and most logical, and difficultless difficult and least difficult. Using both the suffix and more (less) or most (least) to form the comparison is redundant. When comparing only two items, use the comparative -er or more(less). When comparing three or more items, use the superlative -est or most (least). Be aware of irregular forms (like badworse and worst), and check your dictionary when in doubt.

mouse If you have more than mouse looking for cheese in your house, you have mice. If you have more than one mouse for your computer, you have either mice or mouses. But mice is apparently the most common usage.  

myself Often misused. Use this word to refer to yourself or for emphasis: I dressed myself. I'd rather do it myself. But don't use it self-consciously as a substitute for me. Incorrect: He asked Tina and myself for a ride home. Give it to him or myself. He talked to Tina and myself. The horse carried Tina and myself. Correct: He asked Tina and me for a ride home. Give it to him or me. He talked to Tina and me. The horse carried Tina and me.

To test for correctness: Remove the other person's name and the conjunction from the sentence, leaving myself; if it sounds incorrect, it probably is. For example, you wouldn't want to be heard saying, "He asked myself for a ride home. Give it to myself. He talked to myself. The horse carried myself." 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Romney’s Sick Joke | Paul Krugman, New York Times

Mitt Romney’s empty promises about health-care coverage

Mitt Romney said his health-care plan covers pre-existing conditions. But his answer on this issue, writes Paul Krugman, was the biggest of many misleading or dishonest claims he made during Wednesday’s debate.

Krugman writes:
What Mr. Romney did in the debate, in other words, was, at best, to play a word game with voters, pretending to offer something substantive for the uninsured while actually offering nothing. For all practical purposes, he simply lied about what his policy proposals would do.

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