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Saturday, March 9, 2013

Here's one that someone else thought of earlier | On developing an editorial style

A confession: I am planning to steal from the Telegraph style guide
That's the subhead for this Mind Your Language blog article by David Marsh of The Guardian.

He writes:
Style guides are the one area of journalism, I think, where plagiarism is not frowned on. I am more than happy for others to copy from or adapt the Guardian's guidelines and I imagine most style guide editors feel the same: we are all in the business of trying to persuade others to write and edit the way we do, so we can hardly complain if other publications do just that. In fact it's a compliment.
Though I partially question his statement that "plagiarism is not frowned on," I'd say he's correct that style manual editors study, value, use and adapt the preferences of other style manuals. After all, with notable exceptions, the editorial styles of various manuals and publications don't differ all that much. 

How many ways are there to list the uses of the comma, for example, or describe the difference between it's and its?

I know that in development of Garbl's Editorial Style and Usage Manual--and its predecessors in my workplace--the Associated Press Stylebook was (and still is) a major source of inspiration. I name it on the home page of my manual. 

But I also review and consider the advice in other references--especially when AP is unclear, doesn't cover a topic, or is alone in its preferences. I also value the advice of Chicago Manual of Style, the Gregg Reference Gude, and Garner's Modern  American Usage.

I questioned Marsh's approval of plagiarism because I don't think it's a best practice--or legitimate--to copy from other style manuals all the entries and especially their examples. Style manual developers must choose, adapt and create entries and examples that meet the needs and interests of their particular publication or organization. (Actually, I don't think Marsh supports total plagiarism; he's "happy for others to copy or adapt" (emphasis added) his publication's guidelines.)

Marsh's article is featured today, March 9, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Style: Write Choices, available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.

Friday, March 8, 2013

What is plain language? Putting it all together in a process

This article is the conclusion of a four-part series by Kim Sydow
Campbell at Pros Write. She explains that plain language can be considered a process that integrates the three aspects she discussed earlier to create successful workplace documents. 

As Campbell described them earlier, those aspects are
(1) textual elements like style and organization,
(2) reader outcomes like comprehension and usability, and
(3) writer outcomes like organizational costs and benefits.
Her description of the plain-language process--generally, writing and editing a document-- is excellent. It includes graphics and links to other articles for more information. As Campbell summarizes the process:
Minimally, creating a document requires drafting: putting words on paper (literally or figuratively). Sadly, amateurs operate as if this single step or activity = writing. To enhance the quality of documents and move amateurs toward expert status, writing teachers regularly add two additional steps to the process: intentional planning before you draft and revising after you have drafted. The wisest of these folks also promote some form of document testing in order to determine what and how to revise.
For more information and my advice on plain language, visit Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide. I describe the principles and process in 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.
Campbell's article is featured today, March 8, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs, available at the Plain Language tab above and by free emails subscription.

Entry on 'mental illness' added to Associated Press Stylebook

I got an email message March 7 from the Associated Press announcing its newest entry in the AP Stylebook: mental illness.

Kathleen Carroll, AP senior vice president and executive editor, says in a news release:

It is the right time to address how journalists handle questions of mental illness in coverage. This isn’t only a question of which words one uses to describe a person’s illness. There are important journalistic questions, too.
When is such information relevant to a story? Who is an authoritative source for a person’s illness, diagnosis and treatment? These are very delicate issues and this Stylebook entry is intended to help journalists work through them thoughtfully, accurately and fairly.
(I get messages about AP's additions and revisions as a paid subscriber to the online version of the manual.)

Here's some advice from the new entry, including use of related terms:
Do not describe an individual as mentally ill unless it is clearly pertinent to a story and the diagnosis is properly sourced. 
When used, identify the source for the diagnosis. Seek firsthand knowledge; ask how the source knows. Don’t rely on hearsay or speculate on a diagnosis. Specify the time frame for the diagnosis and ask about treatment. ... Provide examples of symptoms.   
Mental illness is a general condition. Specific disorders are types of mental illness and should be used whenever possible: He was diagnosed with schizophrenia, according to court documents. She was diagnosed with anorexia, according to her parents. He was treated for depression. ...
Do not use derogatory terms, such as insane, crazy/crazed, nuts or deranged, unless they are part of a quotation that is essential to the story. ...
Avoid descriptions that connote pity, such as afflicted with, suffers from or victim of. Rather, he has obsessive-compulsive disorder. ...
Use the term mental or psychiatric hospital, not asylum. ...   
The entry describes some common mental disorders, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, and gives the institute's Web address for use as a reference. AP notes:
[M]ental illnesses or disorders are lowercase, except when known by the name of a person, such as Asperger’s syndrome ....   
The new entry describes how to refer to mental illness in a violent crime--and if it should be mentioned at all.

AP also provides advice similar to recommendations I've been reading in another new reference, Sick English, that I'll be reviewing soon. AP says 
Avoid using mental health terms to describe non-health issues. Don’t say that an awards show, for example, was schizophrenic. ...
I also appreciated this related AP advice:
Avoid interpreting behavior common to many people as symptoms of mental illness. Sadness, anger, exuberance and the occasional desire to be alone are normal emotions experienced by people who have mental illness as well as those who don’t. 
Wherever possible, rely on people with mental illness to talk about their own diagnoses. 
The only related reference in my online writing guide, Garbl's Editorial Style and Usage Manual, is in the disabled entry. I must follow AP's direction and add some advice about mental illness.
The AP news release is featured today, March 8, in my daily online papers, Garbl's Style: Write Choices and Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs. They're available at the Editorial Style and Plain Language tabs above and by free email subscription.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Guidelines for creating plain language materials | Center for Plain Language

These guidelines are posted on the website of the Center for Plain Language. I recommend reading and following these guidelines for clear, concise documents that meet the needs of your readers. 

The center is a nonprofit organization near Washington, D.C., that wants government and business documents to be clear and understandable. The About the Center page describes its goals and activities:
We support those who use plain language, train those who should use plain language, and urge people to demand plain language in all the documents they receive, read, and use.
  • Advocate for people to use, learn, and teach plain language in government, business, non-profits, and universities.
  • Give people information and tools they need to achieve their plain language goals.
  • Do and share research that identifies best practices for using, learning, and teaching plain language.
  • Coordinate activities, such as workshops and presentations, that help people know more about and use plain language.
The plain language guidelines originally appeared on the website of the Plain Language Action & Information Network (or PLAIN). PLAIN is a volunteer group of federal employees from many different agencies and specialties who support the use of clear communication in government writing.

You also can get information about plain language at my site, Garbl's Plain Engligh Writing  Guide.

The guidelines article is featured today, March 7, at my online daily paper, Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs, available the Plain Language tab above and by free email subscription.

Write E-Mails That People Won't Ignore | Bryan A. Garner, Harvard Business Review

I posted links earlier to the first two articles in this series on business writing by Bryan A. Garner, author of the excellent, authoritative Garner's Modern American Usage. The series draws on advice in Garner's latest excellent book, the HBR Guide to Better Business Writing.

Here are several excerpts from this third article by Garner:

  • Stick to standard capitalization and punctuation. ... Rushed e-mails that violate the basic norms of written language bespeak carelessness. And their abbreviated style can be confusing. ...
  • Get straight to the point (politely, of course). Be direct when making a request. ...
  • Be brief — but not too brief. ... [R]arely compose more than a single screen of reading. Focus your content, and tighten your language. ... But as you're trimming the fat from your message, keep the meat intact. ...
Here are the first two articles in Garner's series:
Garner's article is featured today, March 7, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Style: Write Choices, available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.

Why we have our best ideas in the shower: The science of creativity

This blog article, by Leo Widrich at Buffer, doesn't answer the question about creative showering until it first briefly discusses brain activity during the creative process. Free-style rap is his example. 

That was fascinating, as he says, but I moved on quickly to read Widrich's comments on a phenomenon I experience. And that discussion concludes with some helpful suggestions for action: "3 most successful ways to capture your creative spirit."

Summarizing his introduction, Widrich writes (note his boldfaced words):
So, the areas in our brain, that we use to make decisions is largely inactive. The “medial prefrontal cortex” area, which is responsible to learn association, context, events and emotional responses however was extremely active on the other hand.
He then jumps into the shower and lathers on about the effect of the chemical dopamine, with a helpful graphic. Widrich scrubs and rinses the dopamine by describing the showering effects on creativity of distraction and a relaxed state of mind.

Quoting a Harvard researcher:
In other words, a distraction may provide the break you need to disengage from a fixation on the ineffective solution.
And then, quoting someone named Bhattacharya within a quotation by recently published writer on creativity Jonah Lehrer:
‘That’s why so many insights happen during warm showers,’ Bhattacharya says. ‘For many people, it’s the most relaxing part of the day.’ It’s not until we’re being massaged by warm water, unable to check our e-mail, that we’re finally able to hear the quiet voices in the backs of our heads telling us about the insight. The answers have been their all along–we just weren’t listening.
About capturing that creative spirit, Widrich writes (his boldfacing):
From all the research I have read, this is the most important thing to take away I found: Every day, everyone of us is extremely creative. The trick is not to optimize for how to spark your creative spirit. The trick is to make sure you capture it, whenever it happens.
Keep a notebook with you at all times, he writes, in the car, in the gym, while running, while grocery shopping, and even in the shower:
These are some of the most typical activities where our creative moments happen, capturing them then and there is absolutely crucial.
Widrich then shows a photo and links to a site that sells a waterproof notepad for capturing ideas in the shower. I might get one!

Update: While in the shower, I was thinking about my blog and the Widrich article. To capture my thoughts outside the shower, I thought, I need to get a voice recorder to be my "notebook." But then I thought: There must be an app for that ... for my smartphone. I need to get one. 

Also, I'd add working out on aerobics and weight machines to Widrich's list of places where we should carry and use a notebook. I don't run, but ideas are always running through my head on those machines. 

Widrich's article is featured today, March 7, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Creativity Connections, available the Creativity tab above and by free email subscription.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Cut the fluff and duck the cliches as our language drifts away from plain speaking into mindless nonsense | Sue Wighton, The Courier-Mail

To be honest, I'm working toward doing more original writing in this blog--not just linking to, summarizing and commenting on other articles, blogs or websites I visit and read.

But even as I'm doing that, I'm sure I'll come across the writing of other folks who make their points so well or provide such useful advice and information that I must share them. 

This commentary by an Australian freelance writer is one amusing but pointed example. The caption for the photo at the top of the page gives a clue to Hamilton's point of view:
A flood is a flood so why do we have to call it a weather event?
I make similar advice in Garbl's Editorial Style and Usage Manual:

  • storm event Wordy. Redundant. Simplify. Drop event.
  • weather conditions It'll be pleasant, hot, stormy or pouring buckets whether called weather or weather conditions. Simplify. Drop conditions or try climate.
Here are two other sites of mine that give advice on clear, concise writing:
Hamilton's article is featured today in my daily online paper, Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs, available at the Plain Language tab above and by free email subscription.

Creativity Pays in Work and Life |

I haven't read the new book by Bruce Nussbaum, Creative Intelligence, but here are excerpts from Anita Hamilton's interview with him that stir my interest. Note his advice about making connections:
How can we be more creative?
Creativity is all about making connections and seeing patterns. It’s not a light bulb that goes off in your head. Before that light bulb goes off, lots of things are happening. Lots of ideas. We need time to step back and make connections between those things. ...
People often associate creativity with solo artists, but you argue that collaboration fosters creativity more often than working alone. How so?
Creativity is social. When you read books about creativity today, the narrative of creativity is that it is a brain function or it’s a genius thing. It is rare and comes out of the individual. But when you look at almost all the innovations that are meaningful in our lives today, like Facebook and Google, they’re all done by two or three people. All the innovators have a buddy. ...
What’s the best way to get out of a creative rut?
Find a creative friend to play with either at work or outside work. Read my book. Travel. See something that’s dramatically different and think about it. Disconnect every day for 20 minutes and think about what you’re doing and how you can do it better. Think about your creativity and then go back in.
The Time article is featured today, March 6, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Creativity Connections, available at the Creativity tab above and by free email subscription.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Garbl's Style: Write Choices | Following up on National Grammar Day

Monday, March 4, was National Grammar Day in the United States. I commented on it in advance by building on a blog post by Gary McCormick: "A Plea for Sanity this National (US) Grammar Day."

I agreed with McCormick and later concluded my post:

[C]elebrating 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.
Today's issue of my daily online paper, Garbl's Style: Write Choices, includes a couple of other articles that mention National Grammar Day:
Good Grammar Should Be Everyone's Business
Today is National Grammar Day, a reminder that good grammar is instrumental in conveying ideas with clarity, professionalism, and precision. Even so, the informality of e-mail, texting, and tweeting has crept deep into company communications. ... In an effort to add evidence to the commenters' anecdotes, my company, Grammarly, reviewed 100 LinkedIn profiles of native English-speakers in the consumer packaged goods industry. ... Here's what we found ....
National Grammar Day 2013: Ten More Grammar Myths, Debunked
It’s National Grammar Day 2013, which has really snuck up on me. If you’ve been here in previous years, you know that I like to do three things on March 4th: have a rambling speculative discussion about the nature of grammar and/or linguistics, link to some people’s posts I’ve liked, and link to some of my posts. ... Below you’ll find this year’s collection of debunked myths. As usual, the statements below are the reality, not the myth, and you can click through for the original post and the rest of the story. ...
My Garbl's Style paper is available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.

Chicago Style Q&A: New Questions and Answers, March 2013

The Chicago Manual of Style has posted its March selection of questions and answers about writing. I have an email subscription to get monthly notifications about the Q&A.

Here's a summary of the latest questions (I've excerpted the response from Chicago for one question because I like what it says about dictionaries):
Q. I have a question about using a comma with the word and.

Q. We are in a quandary over the surname Humphries. Should the plural forms be Humphries and Humphries’, or Humphrieses and Humphrieses’?

Q. I have a question about serial commas before ampersands when it concerns dates. Which one of the below is correct?

Q. I have always changed cf. to see since CMOS states that it means “to confer; compare.” Someone tells me Oxford English Dictionary says that now it is often used to mean “see also.” How can OED change its actual meaning?
A. Dictionaries are not in the business of changing meanings: rather, lexicographers collect evidence on how people use words, and when a word is used pervasively and persistently to mean something, they list that meaning in the dictionary. After all, if you don’t know the meaning of a word, what good is it if the dictionary lists only the original, perhaps outdated meanings? You need to know what it means now.
That a meaning is listed in a dictionary doesn’t mean that the editors of the dictionary have put some stamp of approval or acceptance on it. Rather, they are stating a fact: this is one meaning of this word, a meaning documented by research and observation. Readers must decide whether that use is appropriate.
Q. Do I need to put a comma here: fresh, local produce?

Q. Is it acceptable to split a word between pages?

Q. Can you assume that a bulleted or numbered list will format correctly in a published book?

Q. I am having trouble understanding the structure of the following example (CMOS 13.53): “Everyone knows that the Declaration of Independence begins with the sentence ‘When, in the course of human events . . .’”

Q. I can’t seem to find any definitive answer on how to cite occasional papers.

Q. In my journalism days, I was taught that the following type of sentence is a non sequitur. “A software developer with fifteen years of experience, Sally’s passion is creating quality products.”

FYI, in Submit A Question to the Style Q&A, Chicago says this:
Although the manuscript editing department at the University of Chicago Press is naturally well versed in all matters, we can respond only to questions related to The Chicago Manual of Style.
Because of the volume of mail received, we are not able to answer all questions individually and not all questions can be used. Preference will be given to questions that are not answered here or in the Manual and that cannot be answered with a dictionary. Please check the Q&A monthly to see whether your question has been selected to be featured—and answered—on the site. ...
Also, the latest Chicago message noted that it's posted a Shop Talk with Mignon Fogarty, author of the Grammar Girl blog and books.

Chicago introduced the interview with Fogarty:
Every day, Mignon Fogarty takes on questions ranging from where to properly place commas, to what is a gerund, to whether Pig Latin is considered a language. In this month's Shop Talk, she talks about how she creates her Grammar Girl posts and podcasts and weighs in on changes to The Chicago Manual of Style.
The Chicago articles are also featured today, March 5, 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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