Saturday, March 2, 2013

A Plea for Sanity this National (US) Grammar Day | Gary McCormick, harm·less drudg·ery

I like this column so much I'm going to feature its conclusion:
There is so much to celebrate about our language. English may be a shifty whore, but she’s our shifty whore. Please, this National Grammar Day, don’t turn her into a bully, too.
National Grammar Day in the United States is this coming Monday, March 4. It's not a day many people observe with any sort of celebration. I doubt if many people have even heard of it. I doubt if it's printed on many calendars--or any calendars. My prediction is that it will never get much public attention. And I'm fine with that. 

Obviously, I care about grammar. I care about clear writing. I care about the power of quality communication. My blog often focuses on the rules of grammar and writing in a consistent, clear and concise editorial style. 

I want professional and novice writers to pay attention to grammar but not for its own sake. Grammar is a tool for helping us communicate. Its rules aid writers in choosing their words and structuring their sentences in a logical, consistent way. 

But at least as important as that purpose, grammar helps readers understand the word choices and sentence structures of writers. When followed, grammar rules are a common knowledge that helps both friends and strangers interact and share information, ideas and feelings. Grammar helps us tell stories that other people can follow. 

The rules of grammar are like the rules of the road--the traffic laws that most of us usually follow and should follow. Those laws help drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists know what to expect when interacting on the road with other drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists. At least they work that way when we respect the laws and respect the lives of other drivers (and their passengers), pedestrians and bicyclists.

When someone doesn't follow those traffic laws, that behavior can confuse other people, at best, and it can kill other people (or the law-breaker), at worst.

The rules of grammar work the same way, though the consequences of disobeying them or not knowing them are not so potentially deadly. (Of course, unclear writing in health and safety statements can certainly be dangerous.)

But celebrating grammar for its own sake is like celebrating stop signs. I'd much prefer celebrating the respect for other people that I believe is the reason for and the consequence of following the rules of grammar ... and the rules of the road. 

As McCormick suggests, we don't need to be bullies about showing that respect. 
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McCormick's column is featured today, March 2, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Style: Write Choices, available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Sen. Rockefeller touts benefits of plain language in health-care law | Paul J. Nyden, The Charleston Gazette, West Virginia

Here's good news about the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, for people who believe clear, concise communication can save money and lives. Nyden writes:
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., wants health insurance providers to give consumers "clear and concise information" to help them decide what health insurance policy they should purchase. ... 
Rockefeller championed a provision in the Affordable Care Act called the "Summary of Benefits and Coverage" provision. ...
Rockefeller made sure the new health-care law contains a "clear labeling" provision, requiring insurance companies to provide their customers with documents "written in clear language and in a font [type size and style] consumers can easily read." 
Rockefeller, chairman of the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee, said during a committee hearing on Wednesday:
Shopping for health insurance has habitually been confusing, exasperating and stressful. ... Prior to this provision in health reform, consumers had no easy way to learn about or compare different policies -- and when they asked for more information about the plans, they usually got bulky documents written in legal jargon and small print -- and sometimes they only got that after they purchased a plan.
Nyden writes:
Under the new law, health-insurance companies are required to offer potential consumers "easy-to-understand" descriptions of what benefits their policies offer, including costs and exactly what health services will be covered.
For more information on plain language, visit Garbl's Plain English Writing GuideIt describes a seven-step approach to writing clearly and concisely to meet the needs of your readers. 
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Nyden's article is featured today in Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs, available at the Plain Language tab above and by free email subscription.

Creating the Genuine Connections We Long For | Leo Babauta, zenhabits

Included in the description of my blog is the statement, "I like making connections." And "making connections" is one of the blog labels I use most often, according to that label "cloud" in the right-hand column.

That statement is meaningful and motivating to me because I think it inspires creativity. Both intentionally and serendipitously, I like making connections between places, things and ideas because doing so helps me see a different point of view, expand my point of view, or figure out a new or different way to write or do something.

But as Babauta describes in this thoughtful blog, making connections with people is also essential ... for the reasons I mention and for reasons he discusses. In describing why genuine connections are important, he writes, for example:

It boosts creativity. I find that working in solitude is the best way to create, and having some time for solitude is important for reflecting on ideas … but having a genuine discussion with someone is really important for expanding on those ideas. ...
And he writes:
It creates opportunities. I am not in favor of “networking”, but when you make a connection with someone, new opportunities for collaboration and creation emerge that weren’t there before. ...
Babauta continues by describing how to make genuine connections with people. I like all his suggestions, but these stood out for me. The advice is useful in the creativity process not just for connecting with people but also when applied to connecting with places, things and ideas:
Be open to random connections. ... [W]hen I randomly meet someone, I try not to be closed to them. This means opening up, wondering who they are and setting aside any prejudgements that happen, sharing who I am openly and with a smile. I don’t know if this will be a connection to last a lifetime, but it can be one to brighten a moment. ...
Be open to what happens. Many people go into a meeting with someone else with an agenda, and try to get that done. Like it’s a task that needs to be accomplished. But it’s not — a connection with someone else isn’t about productivity or goals. It’s about connection. ... It could be talking about a project, but it could be random topics and ideas, it could be a discussion of what’s been going on in your lives and what you have in common, it could be helping one or the other of you with a problem that you have, it could be a debate of ideas, and so on. ...
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Babauta's article is featured today, March 1, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Simple Dreams, available at the Simplicity tab above and by free email subscription.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Never-ending Debate: The Oxford--or Serial--Comma | Garbl's Style: Write Choices

And so it continues. Today's edition of my daily online paper, Garbl's Style: Write Choices, spontaneously contained three articles on the topic of the oxford--or serial--comma. I modified the paper to highlight them at the top.

That comma, if you don't already know, goes before the conjunction (and, but, or) in a series of three or more people, places, ideas or things. The debate: Must it always be inserted, or can it be inserted only when needed?

Here are links to the articles in today's paper:

Mignon Fogarty's Grammar Girl column includes the infographic by OnlineSchools but also links to a couple of her past related columns. 

I also have commented before in this blog on this topic, noting my background in journalism and using the Associated Press Stylebook

But for now, here's what I advise in the comma entry of Garbl's Editorial Style Manual. I'll just note that using that comma is never wrong, grammatically, though your boss,  editor, or employer style manual might disagree, stylistically:
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. See lists, semicolon.
lists ...
When listing information in paragraph form, use commas to separate items in the list if the items are brief and have little or no internal punctuation. If the items are complex, separate them with semicolons. To stress sequence, order or chronology of list items, begin each item with a number or letter enclosed in parentheses or followed by a period.
semicolon (;) The semicolon has three main uses, although the first use below is the most common. The semicolon shows a greater separation of thought and information than a comma but less separation than a period.
First, use semicolons to separate parts of a series when at least one item in the series also has a comma. A semicolon also goes before the final and in such a series: Attending were Tina Lopez, 223 Main St.; Ron Larson, 1414 Broadway; and Robert Zimmerman, 1976 E. Pine St. ...
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My Write Choices paper is availabe at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.

Looking back ... and looking forward

Today is a bit of an anniversary for me. Two years ago today, I retired from King County government, serving the Greater Seattle area in Washington state, after more than 30 years of public service. When I decided to retire from King County, I knew I was still too young, energetic and creative to actually quit working, so I had planned a career change. 

I'd continue using my writing, editing, training and other communications skills. But since I could afford less compensation (because of my pension), I'd get a position with a nonprofit organization or agency, a progressive campaign or a socially responsible communications consultant. I wanted to write and edit for a good cause that advocates for the environment, the arts, health, education, civil rights and responsibilities, or human services.

But for various unexpected (but healthy) reasons, life hasn't turned out that way. So now I'm more fully committed to enjoying retirement--doing things like writing this blog, volunteering, getting better on my musical instruments, traveling, taking pictures, and connecting with friends and family.

But I am still available for part-time, contract or freelance opportunities with progressive, socially responsible firms, agencies, individuals, and nonprofit or political organizations. I'm flexible for whatever comes along. I describe and offer my services through Garbl's Pencil & Good Cause Communications and LinkedIn.

Looking back two years, during the retirement ceremony for me on Feb. 24, 2011, I talked about the meaning of public service to me. I described briefly how each of my communications jobs at Metro/King County built on my career goal of helping people learn about, understand, influence and use their government services. That goal of mine continues now in the nonprofit field.

I noted in 2011 that I had been an editor, public information officer, lobbyist, and service information chief for the public transit, wastewater treatment, and road services functions of Metro/King County:
I’ve had a lot of pride in all the publications I’ve produced or helped produce during the past 30 years. I’ve saved at least one copy of most of them—partially to preserve my good memories and partially to have examples of my work to display if other opportunities come my way.
I’ve been going through those publications during the past month --- at home and at work. ... And reviewing those publications stimulated my pride in the efforts of everyone I’ve worked with.
I then said: 
We’re hearing a lot lately from some people who have a political agenda that includes attacking public employees. But based on my experience, I know that their comments are mostly based on ignorance of the good work done by public employees like us—or deliberate misrepresentations of our work for political purposes. ... 
And I concluded: 
Thank you to every one here and not here for being part of our beautiful symphony of public service. We’ve made beautiful music together. Without our fine-tuned work, the people we serve every day would have less harmony in their lives—even if they don’t hear about the good work we do!
My sons, wife and me during the retirement ceremony.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Uncluttering My Message. Change is Good

You may have noticed that my blog has a new title. I revised its name by adding a couple of letters. I've gone from presenting Garbl'd Thoughts in this blog to presenting UnGarbl'd Thoughts

I decided to make the change after thinking about this comment from one of my connections who's skilled and knowledgeable in brand identity:
If one has the motivation (already a seed planted) to move toward De-clutter, would one jump toward the lead: Cluttered Thoughts?
I agreed that the answer to that question could be "no," especially to potential readers unfamiliar with me, my expertise, my work, my other websites, and my blog.

The irony of my acronym--a writer, editor and plain-language trainer known as Garbl--not only gets lost in that blog title. It also contradicts what I’m trying to do with My Garblog.

So adding a couple of letters to the original blog title continues use of my acronym of Garbl's Writing Center and Garbl’s Pencil. But it flips it on its head—thus potentially raising the curiosity of readers: “What’s this all about?”

Before making the change, I played around with using versions of another acronym, Garblog. But they seemed wordy, complicated and still unclear. 


BTW, making this change reminds me of another blog post I wrote today--about perfectionism, procrastination and making mistakes:
Vulnerability and the Myth of the Picture Perfect Anything


If I had delayed launching my blog last year until I figured out a "perfect" name for it, I may never have launched it. I may never have learned what I've learned about blogging--and communicating--in the past year. I may never have helped people who find value in what I write here.

Thank you, Barb.

Comments anyone?


Vulnerability and the Myth of the Picture Perfect Anything | Courtney Carver, Be More with Less

The headline for this article got me thinking again about perfectionism--or striving to be perfect in what we do. But my thinking took me in a different direction than Carver's thoughtful comments.

I think striving for perfectionism can have the opposite consequences of what we're trying to accomplish. Oh the irony.

For one thing, we can achieve creativity by making mistakes. When trying to create something that will inspire, motivate or simply inform other people, we can be more productive if we try out or test new ways of doing things. And they certainly won't all be good ideas. Some may even be embarrassing or silly.

For example, we may not have all the information, skills, knowledge, time, materials or other resources to create a finished product. But the mistakes we make in using what we have to create it will help us learn what we really need to complete it successfully.

And repeating an example I use for my websites about writing and my writing/editing service, a pencil is a "perfect" symbol of creativity. Why do pencils have erasers? So we can try things out using the other end of the pencil and then erase the mistakes and fix them or try something else. That's creativity! If we're not willing to make those mistakes we may never come up with a creative, effective, workable solution.


And that brings me to my second concern about perfectionism. It can be an excuse for procrastination--intended or not. If we strive for an effective, workable solution that has no flaws, one that works under all circumstances, including unforeseen circumstances, we may never finish the task or project. That fear of failure can lead to procrastination.


Of course, in considering the mistakes we're likely to make and then dealing with the consequences of them, protecting the health and safety of other people must be a first priority. And other priorities could be financial or the reputation of an organization, individual or idea.

Given all the potential consequences, the mistake-making is best done as part of the creative process, as an important step toward the solution. But if a mistake is made later, it's usually best to acknowledge the error, fix things harmed by the error, and take steps to prevent the error from happening again.


I realize legal, financial, political, insurance and public relations folks, all concerned about the liability and consequences of mistakes, may insert strong, influential words under some circumstances. But I still think it's smart for development and creative staff to stand their ground and express their significance on the bottom line and reputation, at least in the imagination and planning stages.

We must be willing to ask ourselves, what's worse: Not accomplishing anything or accomplishing something that's not perfect?

The failure to accomplish something could very well be a worse consequence than not achieving perfection.

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Carver's article is featured today, Feb. 27, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Simple Dreams, available at the Simplicity tab above and by free email subscription.


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Vancouver, B.C., hosts plain language conference Oct. 10-13, 2013

Plain language conference graphic


As an advocate for clear, concise writing and design, I am excited about this conference and plan to attend. Here's the conference news release:
The Plain Language Association InterNational will hold its 9th biennial conference in 2013. The theme of the international conference is Plain Language Advances: New skills, knowledge, research, and best practices.
"Since 2013 marks PLAIN's 20th anniversary, it is fitting that we will be back in Canada, in the city where it all began,” said PLAIN President Deborah Bosley. “We are co-hosting with Community Plain Language Services Corp., a Vancouver-based non-profit created by PLAIN's founder Cheryl Stephens."
"We are excited to recognize our advances over the last two decades, yet focus on the future of plain language," said Cheryl Stephens, Managing Director of Community Plain Language Services Corporation, a conference host. "The program includes international experts and workshops by leaders in the field, who will challenge our thinking and help plan a path for the coming years."
Plenary speakers from around the globe will cover topics like the future avenues for plain language, recent research findings, the design of an international training program, ethical issues, and the affects of recent brain research on our work. Plain language proponents and the main sponsors are the Canadian Union of Public Employees and the Writing and Communications Program in the Department of Lifelong Learning at Simon Fraser University.
"Technology is having a huge influence on communication, comprehension and creativity," said Kate Harrison Whiteside, PLAIN co-founder and Principal at Key Advice. "We will use the conference to explore technology and plain language. After the success of our International Plain Language Day (IPLDay) virtual conference last October 13, we will be taking IPLDay 2013 to the next level."
Visit the PLAIN2013.org website for more program news as we confirm details. Watch for the call for participation and online registration in January 2013.
Here's more information about the Plain Language Association InterNational, or PLAIN. It is the leading voluntary organization of plain language advocates and professionals with members in Canada, the United States, Australia, England, Sweden, South Africa, New Zealand and other countries.

And here's my website on plain language: Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide. It describes a seven-step approach to writing clearly and concisely to meet the needs of your readers. Covers reader and purpose, organization, paragraphs, sentences, words, design and testing.


Writing for the Web [and using plain language] — National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities

This article provides useful writing tips for most type of documents, not just websites, to help engage and motivate readers. It discusses each of these tips:

  • Understand how people read on the web
  • Help readers skim and scan
  • Put the essential message first
  • Chunk your information
  • Use headings and subheadings.
And it concludes with this short tip:
Write in plain language
It’s always a good idea to write in plain, understandable language, but never more than on the web. Plain language is friendly and easy-going, avoids jargon (or explains it), and is characterized by shorter sentences written in an active, engaging voice. It’s especially helpful to readers with limited reading skills or English skills.
For more information on plain language, visit my website, Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide. It provides advice on 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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This National Dissemination Center article is featured today, Feb. 26, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs, available at the Plain Language tab above and by free email subscription.


How to Write Articles That Go Viral | Daniel Zeevi, Social Media Today

I can't say I want everything I write in my Garblog--or any of it--to go "viral." To me, that would mean people with all kinds of interests and needs read an article of mine and then share it--and that process happens over and over again, endlessly. 

I just don't feel that need ... because I don't want just anyone--or everyone--to read what I write here. I want people to read my blog items, share them AND comment on them because they meet a particular need or interest of theirs. And the need or interest I usually focus on is communication and doing that communicating creatively and clearly--usually in writing. I want to help my blog readers do that. 

And readers with those needs and interests ... sure, may my posts go viral!

Anyway, based on what blogger Zeevi advises in this article, I think he would agree with that narrower objective.

Here are some excerpts and comments on his advice:

1. Understand Market Trends in Social Media
You should always check out what topics are hot on social media. You might be writing an article about a product, service, fiction or nonfiction. Regardless of what it is, it will need to be relevant today, or on the verge of being important tomorrow. ...
To me, that advice makes the point I was making above but from a different angle. It requires us as writers to find out the particular topics (about communication, writing and creatively, in my case) that our regular or potential readers want to read about now ... or tomorrow. 
2. Write Longer In-depth Content
In a study of the New York Times' most emailed list, data showed that longer content is more likely to get shared. This doesn't mean you need to stuff your content with filler, but obviously the more context provided by you, the more valuable the piece becomes to others. 
I was pleasantly surprised to read this that advice. I've read some other advice about blogging that that says articles should be short, that Web content in general should be short. While I am an advocate for clear, concise writing (or plain language) that carefully drops needless words, phrases and information, writers must make those decisions with their readers' needs in mind. 

The writer must provide enough information so the targeted readers learn or understand they purpose and key points of an article--and where to go if they want more information or want to react to the information they just read. 

As my blog has developed in the past year, for example, I don't often simply provide a short statement about an article that I'm sharing in this blog--and then link to it. It's more useful to my readers--and to me, to be honest--to study an article or website enough so I can highlight, summarize and comment on key points that mean something to me and, I hope, my readers. Or I provide additional information, advice and resources. 
6. Allow Your Content to be Easily Skimmed ...
Use a thumb image at the top of your articles to make the opening passage easier to digest and encouraging your readers to continue reading further. 
I'm not sure what Zeevi means by a thumb image or how it encourages readers besides providing some aesthetic appeal. I need to look into that. But that said, I agree with the heading. Subheads, bullet points and highlighted words help readers skim articles--and read them carefully, as well. Charts and tables also help!
8. Under Promise and Over Deliver on What You're Writing About ...
Let your audience know what you're going to write about and then give them 10 times the information they planned on receiving. Make your first point as strong as your last. Under promise and over deliver and your articles will go viral on social media. People crave interesting and useful content. 
I agree totally that you should highlight or summarize the main point of your article at the beginning, in the headline and first few paragraphs. Grab the attention of readers right away with information that aids readers in deciding if they want to read the rest of the article. Don't waste their time--and irritate them--by writing a mystery novel, at least if you're writing nonfiction. 

But as I wrote in response to Zeevi's point No. 2 above, don't burden readers with redundant, excessive facts, stories, information and details. Make sure that "10 times the information" Zeevi writes about is fresh within the article--and not just 10 ways of saying the same thing. 
9. Share That @#amp;
Unless it's actually a typographical error, Zeevi's heading here doesn't relate to his comments. That heading implies (to me, anyway) that you should cuss and swear--or write something that will offend your readers. Not usually a good idea. But that's not what his following text says. 
10. Ask For Feedback
Lastly, you'll want to test your article to make sure it is worthy content. You can do this by sending your article to several individuals that you trust for a little constructive criticism. ... One of the greatest ways to build traction and engagement with your content is to get your audience involved. ...
Yes! As Zeevi requests at the end of his article, please respond to mine!

Also, my website about clear, concise writing, Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide, provides advice and information that can help you follow some of Zeevi's suggestions. It describes a seven-step process:

  • 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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Zeevi's article is featured today, Feb. 26, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Good Cause Communications, available at the Nonprofit Communications tab above and by free email subscription.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Format Your Content for Easy Sharing—Just 4 Doable Steps | Nancy Schwartz, Getting Attention

Many of my posts in this blog are built on comments and information in other websites, online articles, and blogs. I've developed a method for myself for excerpting sections of those sources when I want to refer to them in my blog (besides linking to them).

But Schwartz provides useful advice in her blog for making that step as easy as possible--whether you're working for nonprofit, public or private organizations.

She writes:

[C]opying and pasting leads the way as THE most common way your people share information too. So make it easy for your people to remember and share your messages.
I need to make sure *I* also format my blog posts to help other people easily cut and paste from them.

Of course, for anyone who's copying and pasting text from one site to another--or to a printed document--proper attribution and use of quotation marks or other formatting technique is essential. Plagiarizing is easy on the Web, but it's still a bad idea, to say the least.

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The Schwartz article is featured today, Feb. 25, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Good Cause Communications, available at the Nonprofit Communications tab above and by free email subscription.

Strunk & White on Qualifiers (like 'very' and 'pretty') | The Plain Language Programme

If the gunshot death of a 9-year-old student is tragic, is it any more terrible if it's called very tragic?

The writing advice in this short excerpt from Strunk & White's The Elements of Style is almost poetic. It advises us to avoid vague adjectives and adverbs like little, pretty, rather, and very because they can weaken the power of other words we're using. And ironically, that loss of strength may be opposite of what we're trying to accomplish by using those modifiers.

Those "qualifiers" can draw the reader's attention away from the important nouns or verbs they're modifying. And if a clear, powerful meaning is built in to those words, why precede them with a redundant, uninformative modifier?

Here's my related advice in Garbl's Editorial Style Manual; I don't mention little, but the Strunk & White advice is good:

pretty Vague and overused. Use it to describe women, girls, sights and sounds. But delete it, be more specific, or try words like almost, fairly or very in other uses. See fairly, very.
rather Vague adverb. Usually adds little. Omit, or be more precise: The train was rather late. The train was 15 minutes late. See unique.
very Use very only when its emphasis isn't already suggested in the word(s) it's modifying. Using it may be redundant, if not silly: Her death was very tragic. Where emphasis is necessary, use stronger, more descriptive words or be more precise: Her death at age 17 was tragic. See real, really.
fairly Vague adverb meaning "more than a little but much less than very." Huh? Eliminate that word, be more precise, or rethink what you're writing about: Change fairly hot to hot or warm--or be specific: 78 degrees.
real, really Sometimes confused. Both refer to truth, fact or reality, but real is an adjective for modifying nouns: a real illness, a real friend, real diamonds. And really is an adverb for modifying verbs, adjectives and other adverbs: really sorry, a really hot day, it really rained today. A vague word, use really sparingly, substitute very or be more precise. Instead of The assignment was really difficult, write The assignment took two days longer than expected.
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.
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The Strunk & White excerpt is featured today, Feb. 25, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs, available at the Plain Language tab above and by free email subscription.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The economics of news | Digital subscriptions needed to support quality journalism | Seattle Times

In mid-March, The Seattle Times will launch a new digital-subscription plan for users of Seattletimes.com. Print subscribers will continue to have unrestricted access.
I support the change announced in this Seattle Times column. It's unfortunate, but it's a practical, essential thing for this daily newspaper to do and other newspapers to consider doing. Some already are doing it. Like the noise from a tree falling in a forest, important things happen around us every day. But it costs money for newspapers to write and report the news about them. 

Writes Executive Editor David Boardman:
For those who don’t subscribe and who still want full access to our digital content, you’ll have the choice to either start a print subscription and receive full digital access (even a Sunday-only subscription will work) or to sign up for a new digital subscription. Both options will offer full access both to the website and to all Times digital offerings.
Those without a print or digital subscription will still be able to access Seattletimes.com on a limited basis. But if you visit the site repeatedly, you will ultimately encounter a barrier requiring enrollment.
Of course, we realize that nobody likes having to pay for something they’ve been receiving for free. But we believe that if you stop for just a moment to contemplate how important The Times is to the vitality and civility of the Puget Sound region, you might even feel good about your contribution to sustaining the content you value.
After posting those comments on my Facebook page today, I got some responses from Seattle-area friends questioning the quality of the Seattle Times. Rather than respond directly to them, I posted related thoughts I've had for quite awhile about news media trends.

Here are those thoughts:

As a former newspaper reporter and editor and as a former public information officer in local government, I know from experience that our news media--including the Seattle Times--do not always provide the most complete, most accurate, most fair and objective news coverage. Many built-in, new or changing factors contribute to that, some of them understandable if you thoroughly examine their cause, and some of them even repugnant.

News coverage in all mainstream media has gotten worse in the past couple of decades as scandal and celebrity have earned more ink and air-time, replacing continuing, in-depth reporting on the how and why--not just the who, what, where and when--of things happening in the institutions that affect us all. 

As important as the Watergate coverage was for unveiling the illegal, unethical actions of a presidential administration, it led partially to replacing a healthy skepticism of our government (by both the media and we the people) with a dysfunctional cynicism. I worked in the news biz during that time, and my idealism toward both government and the media was battered much. I eventually left it and moved into nonprofit and public-sector PR.

News coverage has also worsened because of the economics of the media: the loss or merger of independent, competing media; reduced local ownership of media outlets; reduction in advertising revenue as the news media lose audience to free Internet news; and increased consumer apathy and antipathy about any news coverage. Also, as corporate news empires have grown--and with them more interest in profits and less dedication to quality journalism--the media have become less of a watchdog on government and business, too often becoming a lapdog--despite the occasional investigative reports.

I noticed some of these changes when I returned to a government PIO position in the early 2000s after leaving one in the '80s; PIOs are typically the first contact between reporters and agency officials and staff. The local news media had shrunk in numbers and size. Fewer media and fewer reporters were covering government planning and actions regularly. Fewer beat reporters knew and understood the history, operations and issues of government. The decision-making of our elected and appointed government leaders and representatives was no longer reported consistently. Occasional "Woodward-Bernstein" investigative articles are not equal to or as valuable as regular, knowledgeable news coverage in helping readers know and understand what's happening in their local, state or national institutions.

Also, I learned through the years that the journalistic principles of "fair, balanced and objective" reporting are too often poorly taught or poorly understood and practiced by reporters and their editors. And, admittedly, I probably can fault myself as both a past journalist and journalism instructor in understanding those principles.

Equally important as those principles--if not more important--is the journalistic principle of accuracy. Our news media are obligated to achieve as much accuracy as possible--given the built-in limitations of time, space, and access to reliable information. But that principle also should require reporters and their editors to examine, evaluate and balance the accuracy of the statements and information provided by news sources. News sources too often tell lies or make misleading statements or don't provide all the key details. And the news media should report that behavior honestly as part of their news stories.

It is simply not true to say or believe that reporting two or more sides of a story, without reporting the accuracy of all statements, is being fair, balanced and objective.

All that said, I can't and won't condemn the work of all individual reporters and editors. Sure, there are incompetent or inexperienced journalists--and journalists for the mainstream media with hidden, unethical biases. PIOs aren't all perfect either. As with all of us in all of our work, journalists have limitations on the work they do. Those limits include the circumstances of their particular assignments or stories and the practice of journalism itself based on meeting deadlines, filling only so much air-time and newspaper space, and selecting only the information that's most interesting or most important to readers, viewers and listeners.

And that's why it's important for we the people--the consumers of news--to fulfill our responsibility to get our information from as many sources as possible. Unfortunately, that's harder to do these days as the mainstream media shrink. But we can find more and more information on the Internet, though I think we should be willing to pay for it (and I don't just mean paying Comcast or other Internet service providers).

What are the Happiest Words in the English Language? | Ian Hill, KQED Pop

If you want to get a positive response from your readers, one step could be using words ranking from 1 to 598 in this list of 10,220 words.Those words rated a happiness score of 7 to 8.5 (with 9 being the highest) in a 2011 study of the "happiest" words by Peter Dodds of the University of Vermont.

Hill writes in this article:

Dodds authored a study that in part ranked more than 10,000 words for “happiness;” and the top three were “laughter, happiness, love.” Dodds and other researchers then measured the frequency of those words in 10 million Tweets that were posted in 2011 and tagged to 373 U.S. urban areas.
Dodds explains how the researchers determined the "mood" of each word:
For the evaluations, we asked users on (the Amazon website) Mechanical Turk to rate how a given word made them feel on a nine point integer scale, obtaining 50 independent evaluations per word. We broke the overall assignment into 100 smaller tasks of rating approximately 100 randomly assigned words at a time. We emphasized the scores 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9 by stylized faces, representing a sad to happy spectrum.
Here are the top 26 words, all getting a score of at least 8:
  1. laughter 8.5
  2. happiness 8.44
  3. love 8.42
  4. happy 8.3
  5. laughed 8.26
  6. laugh 8.22
  7. laughing 8.2
  8. excellent 8.18
  9. laughs 8.18
  10. joy 8.16
  11. successful 8.16
  12. win 8.12
  13. rainbow 8.1
  14. smile 8.1
  15. won 8.1
  16. pleasure 8.08
  17. smiled 8.08
  18. rainbows 8.06
  19. winning 8.04
  20. celebration 8.02
  21. enjoyed 8.02
  22. healthy 8.02
  23. music 8.02
  24. celebrating 8
  25. congratulations 8
  26. weekend 8.
And here are the bottom 11, all getting scores less than 1.6:
  • torture 1.58
  • died 1.56
  • kill 1.56
  • killed 1.56
  • cancer 1.54
  • death 1.54
  • murder 1.48
  • terrorism 1.48
  • rape 1.44
  • suicide 1.3
  • terrorist 1.3.
______
Hill's article is featured today, Feb. 24, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Style: Write Choices, available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.

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