Garblog's Pages

Friday, February 1, 2013

Searchable Online Stylebooks Website | Dawn McIlvain Stahl ,

The website described in this article could be a handy resource if you're trying to figure out the most common preference for any particular editorial style. Say you're wondering about punctuating abbreviations or using semicolons. You can search the Web-based style manuals listed at the site and probably find some common--or conflicting--advice. 

Stahl writes:
At last count, included 86 online style guides, covering a variety of fields and organizations that range from Adobe to Yahoo with NASA in between. You can follow the links in the list of stylebooks to see individual guides, or you can search all of the stylebooks at once.
The alphabetical list of style manuals notes that the content of three of them is available by subscription only. Those sites are published by three of the style manuals I consult most often: the Associated Press Stylebook, Chicago Manual of Style, and Gregg Reference Guide. Garner's Modern American Usage is also one of my most-checked manuals, but it doesn't have an online version.

I've subscribed to the online versions of AP, Chicago and Gregg, though I now subscribe to only the AP guide. Of course, all three (and Garner's excellent manual) are within easy reach on my desk.

I also frequently check one other site listed at, my own: Garbl's Editorial Style Manual. That was a pleasant surprise!

Stahl's article is featured today, Feb. 1, in my online daily paper, Garbl's Style  Write Choices, available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Index of Banned Words (The Continually Updated Edition) | Carl Zimmer, National Geographic

[A]nyone who wants to learn how to write about science–and to be read by people who aren't being paid to read–should work hard to learn how to explain science in plain yet elegant English–not by relying on scientific jargon, code-words, deadening euphemisms, or meaningless cliches.
Science writer and instructor Carl Zimmer provides that advice in this article while stressing he is not saying no one should ever use the words he lists. "I am not teaching people how to write scientific papers," he writes. 

Zimmer came up with his original list while teaching a class several summers ago, and he's added to it since then, with the help of his readers. 

When posting the original list, Zimmer wrote:
Time and again, as I reviewed the assignments from the students, I came across words would fit comfortably in a textbook or a scientific paper, but, like an invasive insect, wreaked havoc when they were introduced into a piece of writing intended for the wide world. This is a problem I've observed across the scientific board, from professors I've edited in magazines to the science majors who made up the majority of students in my class. If you talk to them face-to-face, they will never say, “I utilized my spear gun.” But somehow they can’t avoid using utilize when they are writing, when use will do just fine.
Zimmer also links to a follow-up article he wrote that goes into more depth about why words matter--along with sentences, paragraphs, and so on. 

Zimmer's "Index of Banned Words" is featured today, Jan. 31, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs--available at the Plain Language tab above and by free email subscription.

Cut the Bull**** - Straight Talking & Sustainability | Gareth Kane, Terra Infirma

This short article reminded me of a question posed to me when I was public information officer for the wastewater treatment utility serving the Seattle/King County area in Washington.

The question: What's a better word than sustainability, one that we can use without having to explain it, one that doesn't sound like technical jargon?

Sadly, I couldn't come up with an alternative--not because I think sustainability is a clearly usable word but because I couldn't think of a simpler synonym.

It's been awhile since I thought about that question. Perhaps this website about sustainability provides some clear insights  Of course, I'd like to hear from folks who have some clear, concise responses to the question above.

Anyway, Kane's article provides good reasons for using plain language when discussing sustainability:
  • It starts us off in an honest frame of mind;
  • It forces us to be absolutely clear about what we are trying to do;
  • It makes our commitments and efforts more credible - stripping away any whiff of greenwash;
  • It encourages transparency and openness;
  • It helps colleagues, suppliers and customers buy into the sustainability and understand what the organisation is really trying to do;
  • It allows all stakeholders to understand the commitments - and hold us to them.
Unfortunately, you'll need to check elsewhere on Kane's website if you need an explanation of sustainability itself. It's probably there; I just haven't looked for it yet.

For more information on writing in clear, concise language, check out Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide. It describes seven steps for improving your writing skills:
  • 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
Kane's article is featured today, Jan. 31, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs--available at the Plain Language tab above and by free email subscription.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

How to Deal with Crushing Feedback on Your Creative Work | Mark Mr

This article begins with a familiar story, one I've experienced. Blogger McGuinness describes what happened to Sarah, a Web designer whose confidence has been shaken by a client's criticism of her work. McGuinness writes:
Chances are you've been in Sarah's shoes: you produce work you're really proud of, then someone with none of your professional skill, knowledge, or expertise judges it in an instant - often based on vague or subjective criteria. They don't know much about art but they know what they don't like.
And as long as they are your client (or your boss) you have to work with them, to help them articulate their response to your work, and find a way to move the project forward.
He continues, describing three actions a creative person can take when dealing with crushing feedback. Here's a summary of his steps:
  1. Take a deep breath - and focus on getting what you want. ... Don't react defensively - or aggressively - no matter how hurt, disappointed, or annoyed you feel. ...
  2. Clarify the feedback. Before you explain, defend or offer to fix your work, it's essential that you understand exactly what the other person doesn't like about it. ...
  3. Ask solution-focused questions. ... To ask a solution-focused question, describe a potential solution and ask whether it would be acceptable to the other person. ...
McGuinness' article is featured today, Jan. 30, 2013, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Creativity Connections. It's available at the Creativity tab above and by free email subscription.

Random apostrophization strikes again! | Catherine Soanes, OxfordWords blog

men's pant's ...

See the problem there? One apostrophe used correctly ... and one apostrophe used where it doesn't belong?

Soanes begins her blog post with that example and continues by describing how to resist the "plague of 'apostroflies.'"

She writes:
Belief in the correct use of apostrophes is not just the pedantic stance of grammatical ‘sticklers’: apart from producing meaningless words like pant’s in the first example above, the placement of the apostrophe can actually change the meaning of a word or sentence.
Soanes explains that misuse of the apostrophe, especially when it's inserted before the final ‘s’ of an ordinary plural form, is often called a greengrocer’s (or a grocer’s) apostrophe--in England, I presume; I haven't heard it used in the United States. 

She writes:
This description stems from the fact that greengrocers were regarded as being particularly prone to this error when pricing their produce – we've probably all winced at signs that say ‘apple’s 80p per pound’. However, it’s unfair to single out one type of retailer, or even retailers in general, for such mistakes – unfortunately they crop up wherever writing is to be found.
Soanes provides several Web links with more advice on using apostrophes. You also can get my advice about apostrophes at Garbl's Editorial Style Manual.

Soanes' blog is featured today, Jan. 30, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Style  Write Choices, available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.

Don't Anesthetize Your Colleagues with Bad Writing | Bryan A. Garner, Harvard Business Review

When you write e-mails, reports, letters, and other documents, here's how to keep your readers alert and responsive ....
And so widely respected writing authority Bryan A. Garner begins a blog series with advice drawn from his excellent new book, the HBR Guide to Better Business Writing

He writes: 
The most engaging communicators avoid trite expressions, whether in conversation or in writing. They use strong, simple words.
Garner's blog post continues, providing clear, concise advice under these subheads:
  • Use personal pronouns skillfully.
  • Use contractions.
  • Avoid passive voice.
  • Vary the length and structure of your sentences.
  • Avoid alphabet soup.
The advice in Garner's book is valuable for all types of writing, for nonprofits and public agencies as well, from websites and news releases to PowerPoint presentations and marketing brochures.

On my desk for easy reference is another valuable book, Garner's Modern American Usage. It's the contemporary equivalent of the classic writing guides by Follett and Fowler. 

Garner's article is featured today, Jan. 30, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Style: Write Choices, available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Happy birthday to me today! | The Rules We Live By

The advice in this column by Ryan Nicodemus seems valuable to me today. My profession and my life sometimes seem so filled with rules that aren't mine.

He writes in The Rules We Live By:

It’s time to make some new rules. Today. Empowering rules. Rules that will help us grow in the long run.
New rules: If I wake up today, then I’m allowed to by happy. If I exercise today, then I’ll feel more confident. If I spend focused time with loved ones today, then I’m contributing in a meaningful way. If I step outside my comfort zone today, then I will grow.
This column is featured today, Jan. 28, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Simple Dreams--available at the Simplicity link above and by free email subscription.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

How to Write with Style: Kurt Vonnegut's 8 Keys to the Power of the Written Word | Brain Pickings

The message that inspired me the most in these excerpts from Vonnegut's essay about writing is that he cares about his readers. And he's encouraging other writers to care about their readers in the writing style they use, the words they use, the information they provide.

After all, if people don't, won't or can't read what we write--and we want them to--then we writers are wasting our time, energy and perhaps our money.

Here are some of Vonnegut's points that I especially appreciate:

3. Keep It Simple ...
Simplicity of language is not only reputable, but perhaps even sacred. The Bible opens with a sentence well within the writing skills of a lively fourteen-year-old: ‘In the beginning God created the heaven and earth.’
4. Have the Guts to Cut ...
[Y]our eloquence should be the servant of the ideas in your head. Your rule might be this: If a sentence, no matter how excellent, does not illuminate your subject in some new and useful way, scratch it out.
6. Say What You Mean to Say ...
So you, too, had better avoid Picasso-style or jazz-style writing if you have something worth saying and wish to be understood.
Readers want our pages to look very much like pages they have seen before. Why? This is because they themselves have a tough job to do, and they need all the help they can get from us.
7. Pity the Readers ...
Readers have to identify thousands of little marks on paper, and make sense of them immediately. ...
Our audience requires us to be sympathetic and patient teachers, ever willing to simplify and clarify, whereas we would rather soar high above the crowd, singing like nightingales.

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