Saturday, October 20, 2012

Chris Guillebeau: Balanced People Don’t Change the World | Jocelyn K. Glei, 99U

If you were able to make $48,500 a year by following your passion, would you do it? That number comes from 279 Days to Overnight Success, an e-book by writer and world traveler Chris Guillebeau that outlines how he became a full-time writer/blogger in less than a year. Depending on who you are and where you live, Guillebeau’s projected annual income of just under $50k may or may not sound like much money. 
Regardless, it raises questions about how we define success: Is it about money? Is it about personal fulfillment? Is it about doing good in the world?
That's the introduction to Glei's interview with Guillebeau. Author of the blog, The Art of Non-Conformity, Guillebeau gives provocative answers to these questions:
  • If you had to name one thing all of the remarkable (and happy!) creative people you've met have in common, what would it be?
  • How many priorities do you think you can have at once for prioritization to be useful? Can you be open to new experiences without being willing to deviate from your priorities?
  • Much of your writing and observations seem to be about breaking routine. What's the value of routine vs. breaking routine? 
  • Any thoughts on the "time curve" of being able to subsist on work that's driven by your passion? ... Will 279 days work for everyone?
  • Can your passion necessarily be monetized? You say you spend 10% of your time on "business" and the rest doing the things you love. Do you think that's possible for everyone? 
  • Thoughts on the possibilities of following your passion AND having a well-rounded life?
______
This article is featured today (Oct. 20) in Garbl's Creativity Connections, available at the Creativity tab above and by free email subscription.

Gobbledygook generator | Plain English Campaign

Have you ever wanted to use meaningless, empty phrases that make it look like you know what you are talking about?
If so, simply click on the button at this Web page of the Plain English Campaign:
[A] random piece of business jargon will appear in the box. If you need more than one buzz phrase, just click the button again and again.
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This item is featured today (Oct. 20) in Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs--available at the Plain Language tab above and by free email subscription.

Garbl’s Simple Dreams | On creating fun, positive memories

My daily paper on simplicity features several articles today (Oct. 20) that are especially appropriate for a weekend. Check 'em out if you you'd like to create some fun, positive memories.

How to live a positive life + stay positive giveaway

For years I've been working on living a positive life. There are days when positivity is effortless, but there are more days when it’s a struggle. But even on the hardest days, I know how important it is to keep pushing forward, to keep striving to be positive. ... Here’s how I've learned to live a positive life (even when it’s difficult!). ...

Just For Fun

Just about everything I do is just for fun.
While some people like to focus on being disciplined and achieving goals and sticking to their plans, I find this to be meaningless. What’s the point? You’ll fail about a third to half the time, and then feel like a failure for not being disciplined or sticking to a plan or goal.
In contrast, if you do the exact same thing, but let go of the expectation you’ve set for yourself and just have fun doing it, it’s a complete success. ...

Stop! You Might Just Be Making a Memory

Moments pass day-by-day—interactions with children, spouses, partners, clients, absolute strangers—tiny moments to us seemingly unimportant, yet somehow have the potential to become a memory stored in another’s heart forever. This potential memory has the ability to create a belief system in another that has the capacity of affecting them for their entire life. How wild is that? ...
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Garbl's Simple Dreams is always available at the Simplicity tab above and by free email subscription. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Why plain language is important for business | Sharon Davis, First Line

I like word play. I like coming up with (funny) puns during conversations with friends and colleagues. I'm actually quite good at it and have a reputation .... 

But I also like what Davis writes here:
Writing for business is not about being entertaining, nor about writing a literary masterpiece. There's little point in adding a clever play on words if a portion of your audience is not going to understand it, or in the worst case, become confused by it.
She begins her column noting that some people "brush off" use of plain language because it over-simplifies things, dumbs them down--and because it removes the humor and entertainment value of writing and reading.

And she responds:
What is the purpose of business writing?
In most cases your main goal is to communicate clearly and effectively--and generally you'd like to get your message across to a wide audience, with varying levels of education and language proficiency, as painlessly as possible. This is where plain language wins hands down.
For more advice on writing clearly and concisely by using plan language, visit Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide. It describes these seven steps:
  • Focusing on your reader and purpose
  • Organizing your ideas
  • Writing clear, effective paragraphs
  • Writing clear, simple sentences
  • Using suitable words
  • Creating an enticing design
  • Testing for clarity
 _________
Davis's article is featured today (Oct. 19) in Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs--available at the Plain Language tab above and by free email subscription.


Gobbledygook, jargon, and plain language « Rhonda Bracey, CyberText Newsletter

In her article, Australian blogger Bracey provides useful advice on writing clearly to meet the needs of readers. She begins with her "Bottom line" suggestions:
  • Use plain language where possible so the reader doesn't have to try to figure out what you mean.
  • Consider how you would explain the concept to your parents, children, grandparents, those who don’t work in the industry etc. – and then use that language in your writing. Plain, simple, and easily understood.
  • Every time someone has to stop and think while reading your document, the organisation incurs a cost – time, lost productivity, rework etc.
  • Every misinterpretation could put a life at risk.
She goes on to comment on the difficulty of reading an document she's reviewed, pulling example phrases from the document.

Bracey writes:
For each example listed above, I had to stop and think, try to figure out (guess!) what the author meant, consult the dictionary, or do all these actions. Each hesitation was a distraction that took my focus away from my objective of reading and understanding the content. ...
Her concluding advice:
So, after you write a sentence/paragraph/section/document, read it through before finalising it to make sure that all the words/phrases you use will be understood by your target audience. If in doubt, think about how you’d explain it to someone outside the industry and use those words instead. Or get someone else to read it and alert you to anything they can’t understand or that they hesitate over.
_________
This article is featured today (Oct. 19) in Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs--available at the Plain Language tab above and by free email subscription.  For more advice on plain language, visit Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

17 Phrases Will Put a Bullet through the Head of Creativity Every Time, Demian Farnworth, Lifehack

You'll need to read, skim or bypass a short introductory discussion about the definition of creativity, but then you'll reach the useful heart of this article.

Under "How We Kill Creativity (and Help Our Competition)," Farnworth writes:
[W]e so often kill great ideas on the spot merely by the things we say. It’s like we push creativity up against the wall—and execute it. ... [L]ook through this list and see if you ever said one of these statements—or if somebody said it to you. Then let’s eliminate them from our vocabulary.
Here are a few examples that I've heard before (Farnworth also discusses each of these and other statements):
2. “You've got to follow the rules.”
7. “That’s not practical.”
8. “You need to be serious.”
12. “I’m not very creative.”
13. “We've tried that and it didn't work.”
___________
This article is featured today (Oct. 18) in Garbl's Creativity Connections--available at the Creativity tab above and by free email subscription.

Creativity 'closely entwined with mental illness' | Michelle Roberts, BBC News-

OK, I can't resist any longer. Too many headlines are appearing (at least in news alerts I'm getting) on this topic. So what's behind it?

In this article, Roberts writes that according to a study of more than a million people by Swedish researchers at the Karolinska Institute:
Creativity is often part of a mental illness, with writers particularly susceptible. ... Writers had a higher risk of anxiety and bipolar disorders, schizophrenia, unipolar depression, and substance abuse. ... They were almost twice as likely as the general population to kill themselves.
Yikes. Writers? Like me?

Well, Roberts writes:
As a group, those in the creative professions [writers, dancers and photographers, I assume] were no more likely to suffer from psychiatric disorders than other people.
Good. But, uh, the Journal of Psychiatric Research reported:
[T]hey were were more likely to have a close relative with a disorder, including anorexia and, to some extent, autism.
Huh? So our creativity somehow causes mental disorders in our relatives? Guess our superiority hurts their self-image ... or something. Right?

Oh, wait, it's the other way around. The mental disorders among relatives of creative people cause the creative people to be creative ... or more creative, I suppose.

And that's apparently good news, according to lead researcher Dr. Simon Kyaga.

Kyaga said:
In that case, the doctor and patient must come to an agreement on what is to be treated, and at what cost.
My question: Uh, who's the patient here?
  • The person with the mental disorder? 
  • The relative whose creativity benefits from the mental disorder of his or her relative? 
  • The doctor who must tell his or her mentally disordered patient that the mental disorder is OK because it benefits his or her relative?  
Says Beth Murphy, head of information at Mind [Mind? I haven't heard of that firm. Better Google it]:
We know that one in four people will be diagnosed with a mental health problem this year and that these individuals will come from a range of different backgrounds, professions and walks of live. Our main concern is that they get the information and support that they need and deserve.
Yes! Please make sure those folks hang around their relatives so their relatives can become more creative! Maybe I can benefit from that.

To reduce costs, though, I'm gonna kick out the "middle man" (the psychologists) and start inviting trios of my relatives to come over more often for dinner. At least one of 'em will likely have a mental disorder that will help me become more creative.

Cool. It'll be like trying to catch something that's contagious! But, er, can they be blood relatives, or must I also invite the in-laws?
______
This article (and other like it) are appearing in my daily online newspaper  Garbl's Creativity Connections--available at the Creativity tab above and by free email subscription.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Simplicity rules | Russ Meyer, Siegel+Gale

Referring to Google, Amazon and Apple, Meyer writes:
Their brand success can be directly tied to simplicity, to making life simpler for their users. They adhere to a set of simplicity rules to define their brand experiences. These rules are worth considering for any brand trying to simplify their customer experience and drive customer satisfaction, commitment and connection.
The advice in Meyer's blog can be applied to product design, marketing, branding and other things that affect and interest customers. But I considered his comments in the context  of plain language--writing (and designing) documents in a clear, concise way that meets the needs of readers (as well as the writer).

Some pertinent excerpts from his blog and my related comments:

1. Consider the context
Every brand thinks it’s the most important thing in its user’s life. Seldom is this true. A user’s experience with a brand is just one event in an action-packed life. Good brands map out their customer experience looking for opportunities to simplify and eliminate steps, confusion and complications in ways that add value. Great brands look to where the brand and the experience fit within their user’s overall life, seeking to make not just the experience easier but a user’s overall life easier. ...
In their focus on the needs of the reader, writers in plain language focus on what their readers want and need to know. They don't try to say more than they have to. Like you, readers are bombarded with all kinds of information from many sources. Like you, readers have much on their mind at home, at work, at school and at play. And like you, they don't have the time and interest to read, understand and act on all the information they get.

So, reading your document is probably not the highest priority for many potential readers. Your readers' needs and wants should influence what information gets the most emphasis in your document. And your readers' needs and wants should influence what information you drop from your document.

2. Go deep
Simplicity is not just eliminating steps, clarifying language or using intuitive graphics. Brands that succeed due to simplicity understand that everything must work together, clearly and seamlessly. ...
Plain language principles emphasize testing a document before publishing and distributing it. The production process or should include steps for staff and management review--correcting and improving the content, structure, language and design of a document. 

But before completing and distributing a significant document, we should make sure it's tested by a sampling of targeted readers? Is it clear to them? Does it make sense? Do they get your point? Do you get the response you were seeking? And do they discover errors in accuracy, grammar, style and spelling?

3. Avoid “feature-itis”
Rather than continuing to add incremental features to a brand experience over time, great brands stand firm once they reach a level of simplicity, resisting the urge to add brand “bells and whistles.” ...
Plain-language writers pay extra attention to choosing not only the information to include but also the information to leave out. They cut points and information not clearly relevant to their program or project. Cutting nonessential information also saves time for writers, their reviewers and editors, their readers, and people or vendors translating their document into another language. A key question to ask: "Do I really need to say this?"

Usually, the main point should be easy to find--at the beginning of the document. Tell readers early: the conclusion and whatever readers should do with the information. By getting the most important information upfront, readers can find what is important to them and then decide how much more detail they want.
_______
This article is featured today (Oct. 17) in Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs--available at the Plain Language tab above and by free email subscription.

For more information on plain language, visit Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide.  It describes seven steps for using plain language:
  • Focusing on your reader and purpose
  • Organizing your ideas
  • Writing clear, effective paragraphs
  • Writing clear, simple sentences
  • Using suitable words
  • Creating an enticing design
  • Testing for clarity.

New Report Highlights the Advocacy Gap | Shayna Englin. Frogloop

In this blog, Englin summarizes the findings and the recommendations of a study her firm and others conducted to answer these questions:
  • How do political activists experience advocacy?
  • How is it received by its ostensible targets in the U.S. Congress?
In other words, as stated at the Englin Consulting website
  • What does Congress do with all those emails? 
  • And what do the people sending them really think about advocacy?
And the general finding:
[T]here is a significant "Advocacy Gap," a disconnect between how activists mobilize and how Hill staff say they should mobilize to move policy. Moreover, there is a gap between what activists do and what they know to be effective.
Englin's blog lists six key findings, but here are three I thought most significant (because they emphasis what's most effective in lobbying Congress):

  • When it comes to Congressional advocacy, all politics is still local. Members of Congress and their staff want to hear from their constituents, and only their constituents. Contact from outside the district is wasted effort at best.
  • Effective advocacy is rooted in how policy is made on the Hill. Policymaking in Congress happens according to a set of rules and within a specific process. Members of Congress can only act on policy in certain ways at certain points in the process. Effective advocacy makes the right asks of the right Members at the right points in the process. Doing so demands a deep understanding of how Congress works, and missteps can be costly.
  • Quality trumps quantity on the Hill. A few personal emails beat hundreds of form emails; calls from a few constituents able to articulate on the phone why they care about an issue and how it affects them are better than calls from hundreds of constituents parroting a talking point; and constituents showing up in person is best.
Of course, the other findings also are significant because they show that many activists aren't as effective as they hope to be in the methods they're using. 

Finally, Englin makes valuable recommendations, based on the findings, about what activists should do to become more effective. Here are headings for the suggestions in her blog:
  1. Abandon list building through messages to Congress.
  2. Invest in making higher impact activities easier for advocates.
  3. Get deep into districts, shifting away from Washington, DC.
  4. Abandon the notion of “Congress.” Embrace Members of Congress.
Englin's blog includes a link to the entire report.

Also, I learned about this report in a blog by Kivi Leroux Miller featured today (Oct. 17) in my daily online newspaper: Garbl's Good Cause Communication. It's available at the Nonprofit Communications tab above and by free email subscription.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

More people should write | James Somers, the jsomers.net blog

OK. I can't argue with the headline. As a professional writer, I write for a living. But until I started writing this blog, I didn't write much outside work. Sure, I have written longish emails to some friends and family members, and I write frequently in Facebook and Twitter, but they're mostly short and very short notes in messages I post.

I don't write for its own sake--and for the benefits it might bring me to do so.

This column by James Somers gives some good reasons why I--and most people--should do it ... or at least try to do it.

He writes:
You should write because when you know that you’re going to write, it changes the way you live.
And then he describes a book of essays about scientists' notes, which detail the questions raised as the scientists observes plant and animal life. By observing things and by asking questions about what they see, the scientists stretch their minds and learn things.

Somers writes:
That’s the promise: you will live more curiously if you write. You will become a scientist, if not of the natural world than of whatever world you care about. More of that world will pop alive. You will see more when you look at it.
It’s like what happens to a room during a game of “I Spy”: if your friend spies something red, the red stuff glows.
He then describes how he imagines this writing process, using creative metaphors like "a mental bucket," "an attractor for and generator of thought," "a thematic gravity well," and "a magnet for what otherwise would be a mess of iron filings."

And then he provides an easy way to get started. I recommend reading his easy-to-read column and get started. I know I'm going to do it.

This essay reminds me of a former colleague (a writer) who's become an artist. She carries a sketchbook with her, always prepared and often planning to spend free time recording what she sees. She's become even more observant and benefits from the experience and creativity that results.
__________
This article is featured today in Garbl's Simple Dreams--available daily at the Simplicity tab above and by free email subscription.

Monday, October 15, 2012

BBC News - The Business of Giving

The rich are getting ever richer, big companies are getting bigger, while new fortunes are being created faster.
However, some of the super-rich are discovering that with a lot of money comes a lot of responsibility.
In a new series we will be looking at how companies and rich individuals are discovering their social responsibility and are using their wealth to change society and the wider world.
That's the statement of purpose BBC News uses to announce this series. Here samples of some of the articles:
What motivates philanthropists? From wartime child refugee to self-made multi-millionaire and philanthropist, Dame Stephanie Shirley's life has been more eventful than most.
The corporate ethos driving charities. The large, staring eyes are all too familiar, whether they belong to a starving child or an abused animal.
The drive to make giving more effective. If you've had a successful career and made a fortune of many millions or even billions, then deciding to give it all away to charity is not a decision to be taken lightly.
Power of policy-making in the hands of philanthropists. Deciding to give away a lot of your wealth to good causes is an admirable act, but exactly how powerful does it make you?
______
Also see the Nonprofit Communications tab above for more articles describing and promoting philanthropy, altruism, charitable giving, and the good work of nonprofit organizations. 



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

Here's the 12th in my alphabetical series of pet peeves--from entries in the N 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 | M peeves

near miss, near-miss A near miss (without a hyphen) is a miss that is near, like a blue jacket is a jacket that is blue. But near-miss (with a hyphen) is a hit. Avoid confusion by using near-collision (with a hyphen) instead of near miss when describing a narrowly averted collision.

neither When used on its own without nor, make the verb singular: Neither of the men was ready.

nevertheless Overstated. Simplify. Try even so, but, yet, still or however.

new development, new improvement, new initiative, new innovation, new introduction Redundant and wordy. Simplify. Drop new.

nice It has many meanings, including "finicky," "precise and subtle," "delicate," and "scrupulous." And it's commonly used to mean "friendly, pretty, courteous, respectable or good." If you mean one of those words -- or any of the other definitions of nice -- be nice to your readers and use one of them. Or describe why you think something is "nice" He volunteers at the dog shelter; not He's niceTheir house has indoor plumbing; not Their house is nice.

No. Use as the abbreviation for number when used with a figure, in both singular and plural forms: the No. 3 choice, invoice Nos. 4311 and 5207, lot No. 23, apartment No. 6. Don't use the number symbol or sign, #, to stand for No. or number.

noncontroversial All issues are controversial. A noncontroversial issue is impossible. A controversial issue is redundant.

none are, none is Both phrases are correct, depending on the noun that follows them (or the understood noun if you're not naming it). If that noun is plural, use a plural verb; if it's singular, use a singular verb. Thus: Of the eight applicants, none of them are qualified. Every child went to the haunted house, and none [of them] are returning. None of the applicant's proposal was persuasive. None of it is safe for children. If the noun form is unclear, use a singular verb.

none at all Redundant. Replace with none.

notify Formal. Simplify. Use tell instead.

not only ... but also Balance the sentence grammatically when using this phrase. If a prepositional phrase follows not only, for example, a prepositional phrase should follow but also. Correct: The fall in the birthrate varies not only from city to city but also from area to area. Incorrect: Not only does the fall in the birthrate vary from city to city but also from area to area.

nuclear, nuke Potentially misused. George W. Bush and some other U.S. presidents have mispronounced nuclear. But just because presidents say something doesn't make it true or correct. (Think WMD in Iraq.) It's "noo-klee-ar," not "noo-kyuh-lar." And spell it correctly too; it's not nucular

Also, casual use of the slang word nuke for nuclear minimizes the death and destruction that would come after use of nuclear weapons. Avoid using nuke whether you're writing about attacking with nuclear weapons or cooking with a microwave oven.

numbers Spell out most whole numbers below 10. Use figures for 10 and above: five, nine, 15, 650. [There are exceptions to this general advice. The numbers entry in my style manual includes more advice, but it deserves its own blog posting.] If you're not already doing so, use the number 1 key on your computer keyboard to create the number 1. Don't use the old-fashioned, potentially odd-looking lowercase L key to create the number l

numerous Overstated. Simplify. Try many, or be specific.



Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Self-Destruction of the 1 Percent | Chrystia Freeland, NYTimes.com

The top 1 percent cannot evade its share of responsibility for the growing gulf in American society.


Some excerpts from Freeland's thoughtful, provocative opinion piece:
The history of the United States can be read as one such virtuous circle. But as the story of Venice shows, virtuous circles can be broken. Elites that have prospered from inclusive systems can be tempted to pull up the ladder they climbed to the top. Eventually, their societies become extractive and their economies languish.
That was the future predicted by Karl Marx, who wrote that capitalism contained the seeds of its own destruction. And it is the danger America faces today, as the 1 percent pulls away from everyone else and pursues an economic, political and social agenda that will increase that gap even further — ultimately destroying the open system that made America rich and allowed its 1 percent to thrive in the first place. ...
Historically, the United States has enjoyed higher social mobility than Europe, and both left and right have identified this economic openness as an essential source of the nation’s economic vigor. But several recent studies have shown that in America today it is harder to escape the social class of your birth than it is in Europe. ...
Businessmen like to style themselves as the defenders of the free market economy, but as Luigi Zingales, an economist at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, argued, “Most lobbying is pro-business, in the sense that it promotes the interests of existing businesses, not pro-market in the sense of fostering truly free and open competition.” ...
It is no accident that in America today the gap between the very rich and everyone else is wider than at any time since the Gilded Age. Now, as then, the titans are seeking an even greater political voice to match their economic power. Now, as then, the inevitable danger is that they will confuse their own self-interest with the common good. The irony of the political rise of the plutocrats is that, like Venice’s oligarchs, they threaten the system that created them.

Garbl’s Plain English Paragraphs | A daily online newspaper on clear, concise writing

My daily paper features blog articles, tweets, photos and videos about plain English, aka plain language -- a philosophy of clear, concise writing I advocate. The Paper.li software selects the items automatically from Google+ and Twitter, with little direct involvement by me. I'll likely be as surprised -- and inspired, I hope -- as you by some of its posts.

You can find my paper at the Plain Language tab above. It's also available through free email subscriptions.

For more information on plain language, visit Garbl's Plain Language Resources and Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide.

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