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Saturday, December 1, 2012

Chicago Manual of Style Q&A: New Questions and Answers

The Chicago Manual of Style isn't my first reference when checking on or confirming various matters of editorial style, from punctuation to capitalization, from use of numbers to use of abbreviations  As a former journalist, I favor the Associated Press Stylebook. It's less comprehensive than Chicago, but it covers most matters important to me. The two guides are in sync on most style questions. Plus, I like AP's easy-to-use alphabetical format.

But I'm highlighting Chicago in this blog because I do value its authoritative preferences, especially when I can't find the answers I need in the AP guide. And I like its monthly Q&AChicago editors respond to questions from readers and writers. I subscribe to the free Q&A feature and get email messages about new posts on the Chicago website.

Always useful or potentially useful, the Chicago responses run the gamut from simply providing a style rule from the book to commenting with friendly tongue-in-cheek about unusual, obvious or simplistic questions.

Here are some samples from the November 2012 Q&A:
Q. How do I punctuate around internal ands? E.g., “We invited John Smith, Bob Jones and his daughter Jill, William, Doris, and Mable Johnston, Pat and Tim Roberts and their new baby, Jack and Elaine Miller’s mother, Judy Finch, and Tod and Deirdre Cook.” Admittedly, it is never quite this bad.
A. Use semicolons to indicate that some of the names are grouped: We invited John Smith; Bob Jones and his daughter Jill; William, Doris, and Mable Johnston; Pat and Tim Roberts and their new baby; Jack and Elaine Miller’s mother, Judy Finch; and Tod and Deirdre Cook.
Q. I was taught that one cannot have a “first annual” of anything—that “inaugural” or “first-ever” were the appropriate terms. Lately, though, I have seen some college websites indicating that “first annual” is now acceptable. What is the CMOS ruling?
A. Your view is a popular one, but in referring to the first of many annual events, neither “inaugural” nor “first-ever” conveys clearly to the reader that it wasn’t the last. Surely “first annual” can refer to the first occurrence of what has since become an annual event. Although it doesn’t make much sense to use “first annual” to describe an event before the second annual one has taken place, banning the phrase altogether seems extreme.
Q. How do you spell out the sound of a scream? I’ve seen everything from “aaagh!” to “argh!” to “aahhh!” Please tell me there’s a limit to the number of times one can repeat letters!
A. There is a limit to the number of times one can repeat letters! Unfortunately, the limit is different in almost every case.
Besides reading the Q&A for free, you can subscribe for an annual fee to the online version of the Chicago Manual of Style. The AP Stylebook also has a fee-based online version.

Of course, my own online style guide, Garbl's Editorial Style Manual, is free and (I think) easy to use.
An item on the Chicago manual is featured today, Nov. 1, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Style: Write Choices--available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.

Sing it: five ways your nonprofit is like an a cappella group | Elizabeth Ricca, Big Duck

As both a musician and professional communicator for good causes, I like the metaphor used in this article. It works!

Ricca, former musical director of her college a cappella, writes:
I've discovered over the years that a cappella singing and nonprofit communications have quite a lot in common—at least when it comes to the strategies that help you succeed.
Here are key points of Ricca's comparison:
Keep your audience engaged. ... It was my job to look at our repertoire and put together a set list that would get the audience paying attention and tapping their feet to the music ....
Well-crafted nonprofit messages are no different, really. ...
All together now ... [I]t was critical for us to all know the music in advance and be crystal clear on what parts we were expected to sing. ... 
If [people in audience] aren't hearing consistent messages from everyone at your organization at every touch point, they won't be able to tell what song you're singing. ...
Choose songs (content) appropriate to the space (channel). ... Sometimes your favorite song just isn't right for the space in which you're singing. 
Same goes for nonprofits choosing when and how to communicate your message. ...
Every voice matters. ... To build a good group sound, we had to coach people as they learned new music and give them the support they needed to sound their best. 
Everyone in your organization is a communicator, on some level. Make sure they have the tools they need ....
Enjoy yourself—and believe in your message. Our best concerts, hands down, were the ones in which felt most confident and had the most fun. ... 
If you really own the messages you're using and feel proud, impassioned, and clear, it will come across to your supporters. ...
Ricca's article is featured today, Dec. 1, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Good Cause Communications--available at the Nonprofit Communications tab above and by free email subscription.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Contented Plain Language Objective Test: research-based and free — Rachel McAlpine, Contented Blog

So, you've finished the first draft of a document, or you've just drafted the first section of a document. And before you continue, you want to make sure you're on the right track with it--not just in its content but also in its ease of use for your readers, its clarity, its readability.

In this article, Rachel McAlpine of New Zealand describes a useful 10-point objective test for plain language based on research-supported guidelines. She also provides a downloadable version of the test, easy to keep handy at your desk for reviewing and revising your documents.

With permission of McAlpine and, here's the test:
Contented's Plain Language Objective Test (PLOT)
  1. The main message and purpose of the document are obvious at the beginning. (Test this with five outsiders.)
  2. The structure of the document is obvious, for example through an informative title, headlines and table of contents. (Test this with five outsiders.)
  3. Necessity rules. The document contains no unnecessary words, sentences, paragraphs or facts—and all necessary ones.
  4. All paragraphs have one topic, which is obvious from the first sentence. Most paragraphs are shorter than 100 words.
  5. Most sentences are short (21 words maximum) and simple (subjects near verbs). Count a capitalised title as a single word.
  6. Most words are familiar to the intended reader and most nouns are concrete.
  7. Most verbs are active, short, and uncomplicated.
  8. An accessible, easy-to-read template is used correctly. Headings and sub-headings are styled Heading 1 and Heading 2.
  9. The document follows a style guide and uses correct spelling, punctuation and grammar.
  10. The Flesch Reading Ease test gives the document a score of at least 60. This score shows that 60% of adults can easily read and understand the document.
At Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide, you can find and use a longer list of questions to ask when testing your document for clarity.

McAlpine's article is featured today, Nov. 30, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs--available at the Plain Language tab above and by free email subscription.

How to Think Outside the Box with 3 Creativity Exercises |

I especially like No. 2 of the exercises described in this article. It's one to do while waiting for something else to happen--to keep your mind active in those boring, unproductive moments, like sitting in a doctor's waiting room, riding the bus or train, boiling water, even watching TV (commercials).

Here's Creative Exercise Two:
Pick up a book, close your eyes, open it to a random page, and stab your finger at the page. Look and see which word your finger landed on. If you don't like the word, you get one do-over. Now get a paper and pen or pencil, or type at your computer, and come up with 25 ways that word relates to your life. If that's too easy, make it 50.
The blogger describes the point of this exercise:
When you do this exercise, you will come up with a few items right away. ... Think outside the box. When you get through that wall, those new ideas will come easier. You'll come up with things you never thought of before.
This item is featured today, Nov. 30, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Creativity Connections--available at the Creativity tab above and by free email subscription.

The 7-Step Method to Find Focus for Writing | Leo Babauta, zenhabits

Blogger Babauta says he's figured out a few things that help prevent him from procrastinating on his writing. He writes in this blog:
It’s my writer’s rehabilitation program, and I offer it here to all of you in hopes that it will help.
Here's a summary of his seven steps:
  1. Set a writing block. ... You have to set a block of time. ...
  2. Create accountability. Tell someone else you’re going to start writing ...
  3. Clear distractions. Just before your writing block, turn off the Internet. ...
  4. Notice your resistance to starting. Let it go, and focus on just getting started. ...
  5. Imagine you’re talking to a specific friend when you start writing ...
  6. Notice the tightness you feel as you start. ... Let it go, relax, enjoy the writing.
  7. Watch the urge to go do something else. ...
Babauta's blog is featured today, Nov. 30, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Simple Dreams--available at the Simplicity tab above and by free email subscription.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Practical Online Writing Tips for Personal Branding Success | Roger Parker, Personal Branding Blog

This article is a review of the second edition of a book by Ginny Redish, Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content that Works.

Parker writes:
Letting Go of the Words offers a clear, concise presentation of proven principles for writing and web usability, ideas backed-up by reams of research data and endorsed by today’s leading web usability experts.
Parker recommends the book to recent graduates, career-builders, and job-hunters. He says its online writing tips will help build "successful personal brands." I have a hunch its advice will also benefit people in other stages of their career, including experienced writers, editors, and website managers. 

I haven't read either the first or second edition of Redish's book. But I have a lot of respect for her. She's been a leader in the plain-language movement advocating for the use of clear, concise writing (and design) to meet the needs of readers. Much of her work has focused on government communicators, but the principles of plain language--and her efforts--benefit people in all fields. 

For other information on plain language, visit Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide. It provides advice in 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.
Parker's article is featured today, Nov. 29, in my online daily paper, Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs--available at the Plain Language tab above and by free email subscription.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

7 ways to get more comments on your articles | Jacob Klein,

Consider commenting systems, rewards & removing barriers

I've been hoping more people would comment on my posts in this blog--responding to it in some way, expressing their reactions and beliefs, adding to what I write, asking questions, and so on. But there have been just a few.

So this article caught my attention. Klein writes (emphasis added):
The benefits of user generated content are compelling: Not only are you generating original, topical content for your pages, comments may even contribute to your article’s freshness score. While it’s debatable whether the number of comments on a page is directly correlated with higher rankings, we all understand the value of having more fresh, relevant content on a page to say nothing of user engagement and community building.
He goes on to share a few tricks he's learned for attracting article comments. I already use a few of them, within the limits of The Blogger website and its formatting tools. But I'll keep trying!

Here are the headings to Klein's tips:
  1. Make it as easy as possible to leave a comment
  2. Placement of the comments area
  3. Social log-ins for authenticating users
  4. Profiles, awards and rankings
  5. Join the conversation
  6. Email notification on reply
  7. Tracking your progress.
Klein's article is featured today (Nov. 28) in my online daily paper, Garbl's Good Cause Communications--available at the Nonprofit Communications tab above and by free email subscription.

How to be creative in a busy world | Robin Lindley,

Northwest authors Brenda Miller and Holly Hughes talk about how to engage in writing, art or other creative pursuits in the middle of modern culture.

This article caught my attention because it spoke to two of my big interests: writing and creativity. Lindley provides a Q&A of his email interview with the co-authors of a new book, The Pen and the Bell: Mindful Writing in a Busy World.

About the book, Lindley writes:
In addition to the thought-provoking and stimulating exchanges between the authors, each chapter of the book contains exercises to jumpstart writing and awaken the creative soul. Topics range from noticing details and contemplation at work to gratitude, mortality, balancing contemplation and action, spiritual traditions, befriending grief, and even animal companions.
Responding to Lindley's question about a description of the book, Miller writes:
We consider The Pen and the Bell a companion to keep at your side, a friendly guide to remind you to pay attention as you move through the world. We include stories, readings, and prompts that describe how to be more present in the midst of busyness and therefore create more time, space, and material for creativity.
The questions and answers continue, providing insights into the authors' thoughts on "contemplative writing," "mindfulness" as an approach to writing, and "writing practice."

Author Hughes concludes with this message to potential readers of her book:
I've been encouraged to hear feedback from friends who aren't necessarily aspiring writers that The Pen & the Bell is useful in reminding them how to create space for any form of creativity and just how helpful it is to be reminded to carve out contemplative/reflective time in our too busy, too distracted lives. This means a lot to us, that our book is doing what we’d hoped it might do: Be a good companion for all us struggling with achieving this balance. ...
Here's a website about the book; it's much more than a sales pitch. It includes "Resources for Writing and and Mindfulness," with links.

I just added this book to my Kindle collection.

Monday, November 26, 2012

AP updates styles for ethnic cleansing, Indians, man-made, phobia, other terms

I subscribe to the online version of the Associated Press Stylebook and got an email today announcing some recent changes and new entries.

One of the entries is ethnic cleansing. AP says:
Euphemism for a campaign to force a population from a region by expulsions and other violence often including killings and rapes. The term came to prominence in former Yugoslavia during the 1990s to whitewash atrocities of warring ethnic groups, then usage spread to other conflicts. AP does not use "ethnic cleansing" on its own. It must be enclosed in quotes, attributed and explained. ...
My online editorial style manual notes that ethnic cleansing and genocide are sometimes confused.
The broader term, ethnic cleansing is a euphemism for a campaign to force an unwanted ethnic or religious group from a region by expulsions, forced migration, intimidation or other violence, often including rapes or killings (genocide). ... Genocide is the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, religious, political, or cultural group.
 The AP manual also has a revised entry for Indians:
American Indian or Native American is acceptable for those in the U.S. Follow the person's preference. Where possible, be precise and use the name of the tribe: He is a Navajo commissioner. In stories about American Indians, such words as wampum, warpath, powwow, teepee, brave, squaw, etc., can be disparaging and offensive. In Alaska, the indigenous groups include Aleuts, Eskimos and Indians, collectively known as Alaska Natives.
My online style manual--under the American Indian, Eskimo entry--provides similar advice but includes other suggestions:
American Indian and Native American are synonymous. Preferences differ among indigenous people in the United States and Western Hemisphere. When in doubt about how to refer to a person's race or cultural or ethnic identity, ask the person in question what is preferred. But beware that Indians also refers to people who live in India. 
When possible, use national (or tribal) affiliation rather than generic American Indian or Native AmericanNavajo, Hopi, MuckleshootFor Eskimos and Aleuts in Alaska, Alaska Native is preferred to American Indian. Don't use such disparaging words as wampum, warpath, powwow and squaw
To specify someone was born in the United States but isn't Native American, use native-born. Lowercase native when it stands alone. 
The AP guide also lists, simply: man-made. I assume AP is noting that the word includes a hyphen. My style manual includes the hyphenated form, but it adds this advice:
Outdated term. Use artificial, handmade, synthetic or manufactured instead.
AP also added phobia, with this advice:
An irrational, uncontrollable fear, often a form of mental illness. Examples: acrophobia, a fear of heights, and claustrophobia, a fear of being in small, enclosed spaces. Do not use in political or social contexts: homophobia, Islamophobia.
My style guide doesn't have a similar entry. AP apparently thinks adding phobia to politically charged words shows bias. I'm still thinking about that. Using the shorthand references to homophobiaIslamophobia and similar terms is a quick way to name an irrational "fear." But doing that also simplifies, perhaps too much, various complex attitudes.  

AP also added froufrou (with a definition),  landline (one word, no hyphen), mahjong (preferred spelling, with no hyphen), and wildfires (with advice on describing the size of fires).

My Pet Peeves: From the U Entry in Garbl's Editorial Style Manual

Here's the 19th in my alphabetical series of pet peeves--from entries in the U 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 and L peeves | M peeves | N peeves | O peeves | P peeves | Q and R peeves | S peeves | T peeves

ultimate, ultimately Overstated. Simplify. Try most, final, last, best, crowning, perfect, supreme or eventual for ultimate and at last, in the end, finally, lastly, or eventually for ultimately.

unanimous Everyone agrees or votes the same way in a unanimous decision. Completely unanimous and entirely unanimous are redundant.

under fire Cliche. Save this phrase for writing about brave police officers and soldiers in battle. When politicians, business leaders, athletes and celebrities are being attacked, censured, criticized, scolded or reprimanded, say they're being attacked, censured, criticized, scolded, reprimanded or other similar terms.

undergraduate student Redundant. Simplify. Drop student or be more specific: first-year student, sophomore, junior, senior.

underlining When possible, use italic type instead of underlining for certain types of compositions. Also, avoid underlining text in publications and on the Web to stress words and phrases. Instead, use other options, including italicsboldfacecolor and size. Underlining cuts through the tails of several letters and punctuation marks--the comma, semicolon and letters g j p q y--making them harder to read. Also, on the Web people expect underlined text to be a hyperlink.

under the provisions of Wordy. Simplify. Replace entire phrase with under or by. Or use simpler rules or terms instead of provisions.

under way, underway Both are correct. But under way is commonly listed first in dictionaries and preferred in style manuals--for no logical reason: Construction is under way. Construction is underway. Choose one way or the other and use it consistently.

undoubtably Not a word. Use undoubtedly instead.

unique By definition, unique must be used sparingly. It means "one of a kind, without like or equal." It does not mean "unusual" or "uncommon." There can be no degrees of uniqueness. Nothing can be more, less, sort of, rather, quite, very, slightly or most unique. If you're describing more than one person, place or thing, none of them are unique. Remember: Uni- means one--and only one.

United Kingdom It's Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Ireland is not part of the United Kingdom. Great Britain (or Britain) consists of England, Scotland and Wales. If naming the location of specific places in any of those entities, be specific: London, England, not London, Great BritainEdinburgh, Scotland, not Edinburgh, BritainBelfast, Northern Ireland, not Belfast, United Kingdom.

unless or until Wordy. Simplify with either unless or until.

until such time (point) as Wordy. Simply. Replace with until.

up Idiom sometimes dictates use of up: We look up a word in the dictionary. Hard workers hope to move up in their careers. But don't use up when it's not necessary: We plan to tighten up the style guidelines. She ate up all the apple pie. Avoid those uses and others, such as buoy up, loosen up, ring up, use up, phone up and climb up. Also, if using an up term, avoid separating up from the base word with other words. 

up until (till) Wordy. Simplify. Drop up

usage, use, utilize, utilization Use is the preferred all-purpose word as a noun and verb. Usage means "habitual or preferred practice in certain fields, such as grammar, law and diplomacy." Utilize means "putting something to practical, effective use," but use is usually less pretentious and formal. Simplify. Try using useHe used the dishwasher. Not: He utilized the dishwasher. Need there be an explanation for using use instead of utilization?

used to Correct spelling when you mean "did at one time" or "formerly did": He used to watch silly TV shows. But it's use to in a question or a negative statement: Did Bernie use to watch silly TV shows? Bernie didn't use to avoid silly TV showsDid use is another way of saying used.

user friendly Vague jargon. Be more descriptive. For example: The instructions are easy to follow, not the instructions are user friendly.

us, we Sometimes confused. We and other "nominative" pronouns--including he, I, they and who--typically go before a verb as the subject of a sentence or clause (a group of words with a subject and a verb). Us and other "objective" pronouns--including her, him, me, them and whom--typically come after a verb or preposition. 

Also follow those rules when joining pronouns and other nouns with conjunctions like and and or. Examples: We contacted them. They responded to us. He cooperated with Tish and us. Federal officials will explain the new policy to state agencies, including us in the Department of Ecology.

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