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Saturday, January 19, 2013

8 Keys To Better Business Writing | Susan Adams, Forbes

Update, Jan 20, 2012: I downloaded Garner's new book to my Kindle today. And I was delighted to discover that it's even better than the impression I got about it from the column by Susan Adams.

Bryan A. Garner, author of the widely respected Garner's Modern American Usage, has published a new book with the Harvard Business Review Press: HBR Guide to Better Business Writing. Garner's book on usage is the only contemporary equivalent of the usage guides first published long ago by Fowler and Follett.

And because of Garner's excellent advice in that reference book and others, I plan to check out his new book. Meanwhile, I liked what I read about it in Adams' column.

She writes:
[T]his concise, fluidly presented new book ... offers help for those who have fallen into the trap of turgid, jargon-filled business writing. The book gives direct, clear instruction on how to hone your business writing and help purge your prose of the cliched jargon on display in the paragraph above. The book is lean at 200 pages.
She continues by summarizing the book into eight points, under these headings:
  1. Know why you’re writing.
  2. Understand your readers.
  3. Write your first draft quickly.
  4. Revise and edit.
  5. Be relentlessly clear.
  6. Don’t waste words.
  7. Never use business-speak.
  8. Relax and find the right tone.
Adams' column is featured today, Jan. 19, in my daily online papers, Garbl's Style: Write Choices and Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs, available at the Editorial Style and Plain Language tabs above and by free email subscription.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Grammar: Singular “they”: everyone has their own opinion | The Economist

And the debate continues. Should the English language continue to transform itself as the use of words changes through the centuries to meet current and coming needs? 

In this article, the blogger argues that they should be considered both a singular and plural pronoun. This issue arises when choosing a singular verb or a plural verb to go with they. I agree with the blogger.

Responding to one common argument against that change, the blogger writes:
Yes, they is normally plural, and everyone takes a singular verb. But this is a case for saying, simply, "they is both singular and plural." After all, you is both singular and plural, after going down a long and winding etymological road. And singular they is no more absurd than sexless he. The conservative-traditional "Every student must buy his own books" is silly in countries (like Britain and America) where more university students are female than male. And we go beyond inaccurate to offensive in the case of the New York lawmaker who said "Everyone will be able to decide for himself whether or not to have an abortion."
Mignon Fogarty, the well-known Grammar Girl, commented on this issue a couple of years ago. Her column goes into more detail--and advises more alternatives--than The Economist blog. But in answer to the question "Is 'They' the Future of Generic Pronouns," she writes:
I will state for the record that I am a firm believer that someday "they" will be the acceptable choice for this situation. English currently lacks a word that fits the bill, and many people are already either mistakenly or purposely using "they" as a singular generic personal pronoun; so it seems logical that rules will eventually move in that direction.
Here's my advice for they and its related pronouns in Garbl's Editorial Style Manual:
their, them, they The day may come--and should--when these plural pronouns are accepted as singular pronouns that don't note a person's sex. Some respected writing authorities now suggest this change in language as we eliminate the outdated use of he, him and his as references to both men and women. This updated usage would be similar to use of the pronouns you and your for both one person and more than person, taking a plural verb even when mentioning one person.
Still, for now, consider the potential reaction of your audience--and the reaction you would prefer as the writer or editor--before applying this use. Meanwhile, try other acceptable uses, especially using the plural pronouns to refer to plural nouns.
Both The Economist and the Grammar Girl articles are featured today, Jan. 18, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Style: Write Choices. It's available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Gun Imagery Fills Language of Debate | Peter Baker, New York Times

You can't miss it, even if you don't focus on it. Huh?

I mean the language of gun use--even when gun use isn't the topic, as discussed in this article. Consider these terms:

  • point blank
  • shooting for Tuesday
  • no silver bullet
  • with a gun at the head
  • target, missed the target
  • stick to their guns
  • take aim, fresh aim
  • under fire
  • a misfire
  • shooting for more
  • going ballistic.
I've used some of those terms in my writing and speaking. I even have an entry in Garbl's Editorial Style Manual on using target:
Before using this word, visualize aiming an arrow at it. If you can't hit the target or miss it, avoid mixing metaphors and choose another word. Besides using hit and miss when mentioning a target, consider using verbs like concentrate on, focus on, single out or aim at. If you prefer verbs such as achieve, attain or pursue, substitute nouns such as objective, goal or result for target.
Baker writes:
No wonder it is hard to get rid of gun violence when Washington cannot even get rid of gun vocabulary. The vernacular of guns suffuses the political and media conversation in ways that politicians and journalists are often not even conscious of, underscoring the historical power of guns in the American experience. Candidates “target” their opponents, lawmakers “stick to their guns,” advocacy groups “take aim” at hostile legislation and reporters write about a White House “under fire.”
The ubiquitous nature of such language has caused people on both sides of the emotional debate in recent weeks to take back, or at least think twice about the phrases they use, lest they inadvertently cause offense in a moment of heightened sensitivity.
Besides the value of removing the jargon of violence from our language when it's not relevant to the point we're making, creating other metaphors with other words can be invigorating. It means we're giving more thought to what we're saying and how we're saying it.

People might actually read carefully what we've written or listen more intently to what we're saying--instead of thinking, "Oh, I've heard all this before."

Related to this discussion, my online editorial style manual notes the use--and misuse--of the words nuclear/nukewar, and weapons of mass destruction (WMD):
nuclear, nuke Potentially misused. ... 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.
war "War is hell," said Civil War General William T. Sherman, no matter what it's called. Avoid euphemisms like armed conflict, armed intervention, a military solution, police action, uprising, use of force. ... Also, avoid diluting the meaning and realities of war by using that word in terms like war on drugs, war on women, and war on religion. Instead, reserve war for referring to battles of one country's military against another country or countries--and against its own people.
weapons of mass destruction Potentially misused. ... Avoid using the abbreviation WMD; it minimizes the death and destruction that would come after use of these deadly weapons. Instead, shorten the phrase using nuclear weaponschemical weapons or biological weapons

Baker's article is featured today, Jan. 17, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Style: Write Choices, available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.

Capital offenders: the case against uppercase | David Marsh, Mind your language,

This article rang a bell with me. In my last position with the transit agency serving Seattle/King County, I supervised a group responsible for producing customer information, including signs at bus stops, on buses and at other transit facilities.

Without trying to be a tyrant about it, I encouraged my staff to use a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters in signs (and in print and Web documents). My preference for all printed materials is for capitalizing the first letter of proper names and the first letter of the first word in sentences and headlines--and to do so consistently. Capitalizing the first letter of key words is sometimes acceptable, especially in document titles.

But capitalizing all the letters of all words can hinder readability and comprehension. And it can dissuade people from even reading a document--or a sign--if more than two or three words, or a single line, is all-caps.

Or, as this article begins:

At least, that's what the US federal highway administration believes. According to the New York Post:
"Studies have shown that it is harder to read all-caps signs, and those extra milliseconds spent staring away from the road have been shown to increase the likelihood of accidents, particularly among older drivers."
Here's some of my related advice on capitalization in Garbl's Editorial Style Manual:
Rule No. 1: Use capital letters to begin proper nouns, sentences, headings, some abbreviations and acronyms, and the important words in composition titles. Proper nouns are the particular names of people, places and things. Rule No. 2: Do not capitalize the first letter of a word (or words in a phrase) simply to highlight it or because you or someone else think it's an important word. Excessive, arbitrary capitalization distracts the reader and hinders reading.
Check this or another style manual for capitalization of a particular word or type of word. If not listed there, check your dictionary. And if still in doubt, lowercase.
Except for acronyms and some abbreviations, avoid capitalizing all the letters in a word, sentence, heading, headline or phrase--including brand names, logos and trademarks. For emphasis, try other typographical uses instead, such as boldfacing, italics, colortype size and different but complementary typefaces. 
Marsh's  article is featured today, Jan. 17, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Style: Write Choices, available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.

7 Ways to Refresh Your Social Good Vocabulary in 2013 | Charles Bentley, Impatient Optimists

As a longtime political activist and communications specialist for public and nonprofit agencies, I'm familiar with most of the words in this column. I've even used a couple of them at times.

They're mostly useful, unique and even attention-getting, but as with any type of terminology, they can become cliches through overuse.

The one word that seems too creative for its own good is slackitivism. Here's Bentley's definition of that term:

A “feel-good” measure, in support of an issue or social cause, that have little or no practical effect other than to make the person doing it feel satisfaction. In today’s digital age, we are in no shortage of e-advocacy campaigns soliciting users to sign online petitions to advocate for a cause. ... Many critics have dubbed it “slacktivism,” a means for thousands to proclaim their support or criticism of a campaign with just a click of a mouse. “Slacktivists” don’t actually have to break a sweat, and thus can often be recognized as individuals not fully engaged in making change.
It's too "insider" and too negative. I understand the point of the word and the concerns that prompted it. But I think its use by "real" activists denies the positive feelings, the potential for further action, and the real (if limited) value of actions taken by so-called "slacktivists." Instead of belittling that group of activists, critics should be building on their interest and efforts. Find ways to enhance their impact by increasing their involvement. 

When I first heard crowd-sourcing several years ago, it sounded like jargon to me, for use by people within a field. I still think that way; I don't expect it to take on popular use--or, more importantly, popular understanding. People using that word need to be aware that it's not a familiar term to many people. 

Here are the other words:
  • cause marketing
  • corporate responsibility 
  • shared value
  • social good
  • armchair advocate.
Bentley's article is featured today, Jan. 17, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Good Cause Communication, available at the Nonprofit Communications tab above and by free email subscription.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Headlines, Jan. 16, 2013 | Garbl's Creativity Connections

My daily online paper for today, Jan. 16, features a bunch of tantalizing headlines. I haven't read them all yet but wanted to highlight them right away.

Some sample headlines:

Creativity: How to live the best creative life possible

Sex and Creativity in Midlife

Top 15 Creative Photos Inspiration

Favorite TED stories on creativity.

The Seven Deadly Sins of Creativity

Are You Killing Your Capacity for Creativity?

Does creativity spark more creativity?

Criticism Comes More Naturally Than Creativity, But it Doesn’t Have To

Garbl's Creativity Connections is available at the Creativity tab above and by free email subscription.

Front-load important information in your communication | PJ Doland, Unclutterer

Have you ever been really excited when you start reading a job-opening announcement (or any kind of announcement), and it sounds perfect to you? And then you near the end and discover a significant requirement you can't meet?

This article describes just that, where fluency in Spanish came near the end of a job description.

Doland provides a rewritten announcement that won't waste the time and emotions of job-seekers.

The article concludes (emphasis added):

By front-loading important information — whatever it may be — you show respect for other people’s time by giving them the ability to make an early exit. Unless you’re M. Night Shyamalan, this principle can probably be applied to all your writing. It can also be applied to voice mails  where if the person didn't get your telephone number upon first listen he can go back and only listen to the first few seconds of it again to retrieve what he needs.
This principle is especially notable in news writing--the "lead" paragraph in an "inverted pyramid." But like Doland, I believe it's effective for all writing, especially writing for the Web and persuasive writing. It's also a key principle in plain language.

Doland's article is featured today, Jan. 16, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Simple Dreams, available at the Simplicity tab above and by free email superscription.

Split Infinitives | Mignon Fogarty, Grammar Girl, Quick and Dirty Tips ™

Forget what you may have learned in school. Splitting infinitives is OK to do in your writing.

As well-known author Mignon Fogarty says at the beginning of her Web article:
You may have heard there's a rule that you shouldn't split infinitives, but I'm here to tell you it's not a real rule, and the idea itself is based on a shaky foundation.
In her Top Ten Grammar Myths, it's No. 2:
You shouldn't split infinitives. Wrong! Nearly all grammarians want to boldly tell you it's OK to split infinitives. An infinitive is a two-word form of a verb. An example is "to tell." In a split infinitive, another word separates the two parts of the verb. "To boldly tell" is a split infinitive because “boldly” separates “to” from “tell.”
Mignon's article gives a lot of information about split infinitives, and I recommend reading it. Here's my brief advice in Garbl's Editorial Style Manual:
split infinitives Avoid awkward sentence constructions that split the infinitive forms of a verb, such as to leave or to help, as in this sentence: Try to not awkwardly or incorrectly split infinitives. But splitting infinitives is grammatically correct--and even useful if it helps strengthen the meaning of a sentence by placing the modifier before the word it's modifying: He wanted to really impress the council. Unfortunately, split infinitives can distract some readers who think they're incorrect.
I list it first at Garbl's Myths and Superstitions of Writing, citing many writing authorities through the decades.

Mignon's article is featured today, Jan. 16, in my online daily paper, Garbl's Style: Write Choices, available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.

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