Saturday, January 12, 2013

The 5 Most Persuasive Words in the English Language | Gregory Ciotti, Copyblogger

I've seen lists of persuasive words before, words that, when used effectively, can help persuade people to think or feel or act in certain ways. But usually, those lists don't provide much explanation about why those particular words are persuasive.

The short list in this article does that. It also includes links to studies related to the power of each word.

Ciotti writes:
I can’t stress enough — just as in the application of writing headlines that work — you must understand why these words are persuasive, and you must use them in the contexts that make sense for your audience and your business. If you just start slapping them on every piece of content you create for no apparent reason, you’ll quickly see just how unpersuasive they can be.
Now, I'm going to do what I see too often, simply list the words. But please understand why these words are effective and how to use them effectively by reading Ciotti's column:
  1. you
  2. free
  3. because
  4. instantly
  5. new
My online editorial style manual provides advice on using four of the words:
you By using the pronoun you, you suggest immediacy and directness between you and your reader. But make sure you and the reader know who you is. And avoid using you if it sounds accusatory or insulting. Also, always use a plural verb with you, even when you is singular, referring to only one person: Nate, I know you are sick. You alone have understood. You both are busy
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.
because The "rule" against beginning sentences with because is a myth. Use because to introduce dependent clauses; that is, the clause beginning with because could be dropped from the sentence, and a complete sentence would remain. 
A comma is not always needed before because. Negative wording, however, often need the comma to clarify which part of the sentence because modifies, as in these examples: He didn't go to the workshop, because it conflicted with his work schedule. He didn't go to the workshop because he had to; he went to it because it met his needs. In the first example, you can drop the clause, and the sentence is still true. In the second example, the sentence's meaning depends on the clause. 
because, since Both words can be used to mean "for the reason that." Because is the stronger conjunction for pointing out a direct cause-effect relationship: They went to the concert because they had been given ticketsSince is milder in suggesting a cause-effect relationship: Since I love folk music, I went to the concert. When readers might confuse since with its meaning "from the time that," use because
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Ciotti's article is featured today in my daily online paper, Garbl's Good Cause Communications, available at the Nonprofit Communications tab above and by free email subscription.

Friday, January 11, 2013

12 Most Supercilious Corpspeak Terms | Paula Kiger, 12Most.com

I like these words!

Well, no, not really. Actually, I don't like most of these words. Instead, I like the way these words are described in the headline ("Supercilious Corpspeak") and in the article.


Kiger writes:

What leads speakers to force themselves to use more syllables than are necessary to get their point across? To use another corpspeak term, perhaps they see themselves as “Thought Leaders” and think this type of language bolsters that identity.
Kiger then describes 12 of the worst offenders. During my 30+ years in local government communications, I heard a couple of them used a lot: mitigate and seamless. Three of Kiger's offenders are in my online editorial style manual:
synergy "I don't know what it means, and I don't have time to look it up." If your readers might respond like that, don't use synergy--or at least explain it.
 leverage Business jargon used by financial consultants to increase their return on the time they're investing in you by making you feel indebted to them for their understanding of the jargon they're using. For everyday, clear use, influence is a powerful word.
mitigate, militate Often confused or misused. To mitigate is "to moderate, lessen, or make something milder, less severe, less unpleasant, less painful, less intense, less harsh or less hostile." If possible, consider using a simpler word for mitigate, such as lessen, moderate, ease, soften, relieve or reduce -- or define the word: The department will mitigate, or reduce, the environmental impacts. To militate is "to exert influence, usually against but sometimes for something." Correct terms include militate against, militate for and militate in favor of. Don't use mitigate in those terms.
Here are the other eight terms Kiger discusses:
  • pedagogy
  • deep drive
  • scalable
  • pink
  • actionable
  • granularity
  • in the weeds
  • robust
For more alternatives to overstated, pompous words; wordy, bureaucratic phrases; and verbose, sometimes amusing redundant phrases, visit Garbl's Concise Writing Guide. The Using Suitable Words section in Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide also provides advice and alternatives on using words your readers are likely to understand. 

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Kiger's article is featured today, Jan. 11, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs, available at the Plain Language tab above and by free email subscription.

Avoiding clichés | OxfordWords blog

Cliches. Well, my online editorial style manual frowns on them. But all it says is this:
cliche William Safire, Fumblerules, 1990: "Last but not least, avoid cliches like the plague." And if you must use a cliche, don't put quotation marks around it.
It should provide more advice than that. Until then, though, Oxford's Web advice is useful.

First, it answers the question, What is a cliche? Briefly:
Cliches are words and phrases that have been used so often that they’re no longer very interesting or effective.
It then asks, What is wrong with using cliches? And it answers:

They tend to annoy people, especially if they’re overused, and they may even create an impression of laziness or a lack of careful thought. Some people just tune out when they hear a cliche and so they may miss the point that you’re trying to make.
Finally, it provides three Action points for avoiding cliches. Here are headings for each point:
  1. Think about what the cliche actually means
  2. Decide whether you actually need the expression at all
  3. Rewrite your sentence.
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Oxford's article is featured today, Jan. 11, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Style: Write Choices, available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

How the Creative Response of Artists and Activists Can Transform the World | Antonio D'Ambrosio, The Nation

Here's a wonderful, hopeful article for musicians, artists, writers, designers, photographers, activists and other innovative, creative people. It's also an inspiring article for everyone who appreciates and values creativity, creative people and creative thinking.

Writes Antonio D'Ambrosio (emphasis added):
For me, creative response is the antidote to the individualism, consumerism and cynicism that now define our culture. ...

[C]reative response can shift how we think, how we see; it leads us to feel something different about our experience and the world. It advances the odd, the idiosyncratic, the impossible; its elusiveness is both anti-ideological and universal as it rallies us around our common humanity. It compels us to take an active participation in the world by challenging the destructive ideologies—corporate hegemony, mass media dominance, jingoism and cultural chauvinism—that corrupt our society. ...
His concluding paragraph:
Ultimately, creative response insists that each of us maintain the courage of our convictions to meet the extraordinary challenges that confront our world. It’s this spirit that answers the question "Who owns the future?" The new, emerging "we" own the future: because our rejection of cynicism and apathy free us from the trap of history’s bad ideologies; because embracing compassion as a cornerstone of democracy allows us to imagine ourselves in the position of another; because transforming the narrow thinking of the past and problems of the present opens up possibilities for the future; and because the moment we see ourselves as citizens of the world, the future is ours.

New Law Forces Health Insurance Companies to Use Plain Language to Explain Policies | AllGov

Good news about Obamacare! As reported in this article (emphasis added):
Making sense of health insurance policies should become easier for consumers, due to one provision of the federal healthcare reform law that kicked in on January 1.
Insurers must now explain to policyholders the “what” and “how” of their coverage using simple language, instead of the jargon-laden descriptions companies used to rely on (presumably to confuse people).
The mandate in the Obamacare law says insurance companies must provide details in no more than four pages that utilize plain English, and include easy-to understand formats that allow for “apples-to-apples comparisons among health plans,” according to Wendell Potter [a former insurance company executive].
For more information about plain English--what it is, how to do it, and what to expect from it--visit Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide. It covers 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.
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The article on the new law is featured today, Jan. 10, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs--available at the Plain Language tab above and by free email subscription.

Overcoming Procrastination, Money Problems, Self-Doubt & Other Creative Distractions | Jocelyn K. Glei, 99U

In reverse order, Glei writes early in this article:
As you contemplate your 2013 goals, we've rounded up some of the top challenges and distractions creatives regularly face -- e.g. procrastination, self-doubt, money problems, bad habits, etc -- and pointed you to some of our best tips on conquering them. ...
Sure, it’s sounds a little ominous, but it’s worth thinking about. What if we really did clear out the clutter this year, so that we could face the incredible unknown of doing our greatest work? It's a heady prospect. ...
She provides informative, useful advice under these headings through links to other articles:
  • Creative Projects: Overcoming Procrastination and FINISHING!
  • Critics & Haters: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Self-Doubt
  • Self-Marketing: Creating a Better Bio, Resume, or Portfolio
  • Money: Budgeting Better & Making More
  • Decisions: Being More Decisive, With Less Regret
  • Habits: Exercising More, Eating Smarter, Working Better
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Glei's article is featured today, Jan. 10, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Creativity Connections--available at the Creativity tab above and by free email subscription.

6 reasons your nonprofit should be a Big Listener ecialbrite

Whatever you and others might think, high-quality communication is not all about writing, talking, blogging, publishing, and tweeting. Any individual or organization trying to communicate with only those methods will fail at some point, no matter how well-written the document or speech may be.

High-quality communication--actually, all communication--is a two-way interaction. By definition, "communication" without listening is not communication.

That's why the advice in this article is so important and useful--not just for nonprofit organizations but also for all organizations and all individuals. 

Weidinger signals the importance of listening by giving it a proper name, Big Listening. Big Listening is not just listening to what people say on the phone, at parties, in meetings or on street corners. Big Listening is not just reading what people say in tweets, emails, letters or op-ed articles.

Big Listening is an assertive effort to find out what people think and how they feel. It involves asking for comment, encouraging feedback, making it easy for people to express themselves. It involves reducing or eliminating interference and noise in the two-way interaction of communication. 

But it doesn't stop there. Big Listening involves doing something with those comments and that feedback--recording it, evaluating it, considering it and, later, responding to the people who spoke and wrote about actions taken. 

Of course, Big Listening also involves doing surveys and polls, providing comment cards and feedback forms at accessible locations, and using other methods that can be more impersonal.

Weidinger's article describes the benefits of Big Listening and highlights the value of using certain social media tools. 

And building on her comments, I'll conclude this way: Because of social media, organizations and individuals no longer have any excuse to not listen, to not Big Listen. They deserve ridicule, at least, if they don't listen. 

Please note: This article and all articles in my blog include a form for you to comment on what I write. I want you to tell me what you think, and I will respond. 
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Weidinger's articles is featured today, Jan. 10, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Good Cause Communications, available at the Nonprofit Communication tab above and by free email subscription.


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

4 Copy Editors Killed In Ongoing AP Style, Chicago Manual Gang Violence | The Onion

This satirical (aka untrue) article in The Onion has gone viral, at least among people I connect with on the Web.

The amusing article concludes by noting the issue that seems to raise the most contention among adherents to various style manuals (emphasis added):
Officials also stated that an innocent 35-year-old passerby who found himself caught up in a long-winded dispute over use of the serial, or Oxford, comma had died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
I've been an adherent to the Associated Press (AP) Stylebook since my early studies and career in journalism. But I also respect and use the much more comprehensive Chicago Manual of Style (and other style guides) when I need advice not provided or unclear in the AP book and website.

On the topic of the serial comma, though, I think the debate among style adherents is based on misreading--or not reading--the AP Stylebook.

Here's what AP says (emphasis added):
IN A SERIES: Use commas to separate elements in a series, but do not put a comma before the conjunction in a simple series: The flag is red, white and blue. He would nominate Tom, Dick or Harry.
Put a comma before the concluding conjunction in a series, however, if an integral element of the series requires a conjunction: I had orange juice, toast, and ham and eggs for breakfast.
Use a comma also before the concluding conjunction in a complex series of phrases: The main points to consider are whether the athletes are skillful enough to compete, whether they have the stamina to endure the training, and whether they have the proper mental attitude.
AP makes clear that dropping the serial comma should be done only in "a simple series." In other uses, AP wants reporters and editors to use the serial comma. I realize that the words "simple" and "complex" are open to interpretation. But AP's examples of a simple series are really simple. I interpret AP to mean that any series with items of more than one word--or phrases--should take the serial comma.

Granted, Chicago recommends use of the serial comma (or semicolon) in all types of series, including simple series. Chicago's somewhat flexible guideline advises use of the serial comma with phrases like "are normally separated," "strongly recommends," and "should appear."

Two other references I consult often, the Gregg Reference Manual and Garner's Modern American Usage, also recommend using the serial comma in all uses. They note, however, that newspapers and magazines often drop the serial comma.

With my background in journalism, I usually follow and recommend AP's preferences. But I also believe this: Use of the serial comma in all series is never wrong (unless your editor or boss does not want you to use it). And clarity for readers should trump optional style guidelines. 

Here's the related item in the comma entry of Garbl's Editorial Style Manual:
First, in a series of three or more terms with a single conjunction, use a comma after each term: She opened the closet, grabbed a coat, and picked up an umbrella. In a complex series of phrases, the serial comma before the final conjunction aids readability. In a simple series, the comma is optional before the conjunction: The van is economical, roomy and dependable. Also, put a comma before the final conjunction in a series if an integral element of the series needs a conjunction: He likes folk, rock, and rhythm and blues. Don't put a comma before the first item in a series or after the and in a series.
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The Onion articles is featured today, Jan. 8, in my weekly online paper, Garbl's Style: Write Choices, available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.

Monday, January 7, 2013

January Q&A at The Chicago Manual of Style Online

The Chicago Manual of Style has just published its January Q&A about grammar, editorial style and other writing matters.

I get free email alerts about the monthly Q&As. You can get them too at FREE Q&A alerts.

Here are some sample questions and answers from the latest alert:

Q. If I cannot avoid splitting the word biology at the end of a line, do I really split it between syllables as all the online dictionaries suggest, biol-ogy, and not according to its etymology, bio-logy?

A. That’s right. Words are divided by pronunciation, not etymology. To learn about word division, please see CMOS 7.31–43.

Q. I’m working on a document that has a glossary of terms, and for the first instance of each glossary term in the text there is a footnote saying that the word is defined in the glossary. I find this awkward, especially when there are three glossary terms in one small paragraph—it’s cluttered and distracting. I’d rather drop the footnotes and instead mention in the foreword or overview that the document has a glossary.

A. As you suggest, this method is not only awkward—it’s irritating. Even just the presence of “Glossary” in the table of contents can suffice, although a mention in the foreword is also a good idea.

Q. My boss likes to dictate letters using what I refer to as declarative or emphatic speech: “She did go to the store and she did buy that hat. I did tell her that it was a lovely hat.” I have never seen text typed in this manner and generally edit it to “She went to the store and bought that hat. I told her that it was a lovely hat.” Which is correct?

A. There’s nothing incorrect about your boss’s construction, but even perfect grammar can be distracting and annoying. I've noticed this usage particularly in flight-attendant speech. (“We do expect to be landing shortly.” “We do ask you to return your seat to its upright position.”) You should feel confident editing out the extraneous emphasis.

Q. An editor for a journal using the CMOS 15th edition has changed all of my plural possessives (patients’ suffering, positivists’ project) to, e.g., patients’s suffering, positivists’s project. This is incorrect. The former, not the latter, is correct. Yes?

A. The former is correct—and let’s hope this was just one of those momentary brain misfires that even the best editors occasionally suffer. Please see CMOS 7.15 (7.17 in the 15th edition).

Sunday, January 6, 2013

How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes: The Value of Creativity and Imagination | Maria Konnikova,Scientific American

One of the most remarkable characteristics of Sherlock Holmes was his power of throwing his brain out of action and switching all his thoughts on to lighter things whenever he had convinced himself that he could no longer work to advantage. ...
So writes Maria Konnikova, in an excerpt from her recent book, Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes.

The book excerpt continues, under the subhead "Keep Your Distance":
Forcing your mind to take a step back is a tough thing to do. It seems counterintuitive to walk away from a problem that you want to solve. But in reality, the characteristic is not so remarkable either for Holmes or for individuals who are deep thinkers. ...
That assumption affirms Konnikova's definition of imagination earlier in the excerpt:
Imagination takes the stuff of observation and experience and recombines them into something new.
 The excerpt concludes:
In essence, psychological distance accomplishes one major thing: it engages System Holmes. It forces quiet reflection. Distancing has been shown to improve cognitive performance, from actual problem solving to the ability to exercise self-control. ... Adults who are told to take a step back and imagine a situation from a more general perspective make better judgments and evaluations, and have better self-assessments and lower emotional reactivity. Individuals who employ distancing in typical problem-solving scenarios emerge ahead of their more immersed counterparts.
As a (progressive) political junkie and activist, I was especially intrigued by Konnikova's  final statement in this excerpt:
And those who take a distanced view of political questions tend to emerge with evaluations that are better able to stand the test of time.
I haven't read much of Sherlock Holmes, but I plan to soon! 
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Konnikova's book excerpt is featured today in my daily online paper, Garbl's Creativity Connections, available at the Creativity tab above and by free email subscription.

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