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Wednesday, May 8, 2013

‘Vigilante Copy Editor’ | Correcting errors in signs: Good or bad?

The New York Times has published a mildly provocative video on its website about some copy-editing corrections on information placards for sculptures at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. The corrections I saw in the video are indeed correct, and they're done simply without using hideous colors or huge strokes of the permanent maker. 

I called the video "mildly provocative" because it first notes that the editing marks are a form of vandalism. Yet the narrator expresses approval of the vandalism, even saying it improves the artworks. 

The video includes a short interview with the park curator, who explains why the placards include "typos." And by what he does not say, the curator apparently approves of the editing. 

I have mixed feelings. First, I'm disappointed--appalled, actually--that the curator (or his colleagues) allowed production and posting of the placards without any apparent copy editing in advance. He seems so nonchalant about it in the video. Would he feel the same way about "errors" (if there are any) in creation of the sculptures? 

But, second, I appreciate that the after-the-fact editing is done subtly. It doesn't try to draw attention to itself, unlike the "artistic" vandalism we see often on the sides of buildings. The video includes examples.

But besides correcting the English, the copy edits don't enhance the artwork itself; it stands alone and apart from the placards ... and looks good.

I'm curious about publication of this video by the New York Times. A short article accompanies the video, but it doesn't repeat the narration in the video or descriptions of the video images. So I wonder how the printed newspaper dealt with the key information of the video. Did it just provide a link for more information? Or did it even appear in the printed edition?

The New York Times article is featured today, May 8, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Style: Write Choices, available at the Editorial style tab above and by free email subscription.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

New Questions and Answers, May 2013 | Chicago Manual of Style

The Chicago Manual of Style has announced its Questions and Answers for May 2013. The renowned manual invites questions from users. Chicago prefers responding to questions that are not answered in past Q&As or in its manual and that can't be answered with a dictionary. People can register for monthly alerts about the Q&As, as I do.

Here are summaries of the new questions, some with the CMOS answer [and my comment]:
Q. My friend Ed says that there is a problem with the sentence “An error occurred while processing your request.” Is this a legitimate criticism?
Q. Under what circumstances should “per annum” be used preferentially to “per year”? A. They have the same meaning, but “per annum” is fancier. [I have a hunch CMOS prefers "per year."]
Q. In alphabetizing a list of donors, the foundation would typically be ordered by the first word, but names by the last word. What do you do when they are combined in the same list?
Q. How would I cite from a curator’s statement of an art exhibit and specifically note that the curator’s statement is included in the exhibit, and is not simply a statement made in an article or interview?
Q. I work for a company that insists when we address an email to one of our own clients whom we know well that we put a comma in hi, hello, or good morning, Joe. I have been told that this is a very formal way of addressing someone. Help!
Q. I have read section 14.29 on how to use the term ibid. in footnotes, but I would appreciate some clarification on the following: is it required to use ibid. rather than the shortened citation? A. If your professor says you have to use ibid., then, yes, it is required. Otherwise, it’s optional, and you can use the shortened style. [In other words, follow the direction of your professor ... or your editor or other person who evaluates your performance and OKs your paycheck.]
Q. CMOS recommends spelling out terms on first mention in each chapter. I’m considering spelling out my commission’s name on first mention in each section and subsection. Do you think that’s overkill?
Q. One of my professors insists on using the Chicago style when writing papers. The problem is that what he says often sounds like a CMOS truth from an edition that has not been in use for years. Any helpful suggestions on handling something like this?
Q. What do you say (or do) to an author who makes extensive revisions (without tracking) to his original manuscript after you have sent him the copyedited version? A. Please use your imagination; we would rather not say. [I like the CMOS sense of humor.]
CMOS also offers an online version of its entire manual, by subscription  For free, you can use my online writing guide, Garbl's Editorial Style and Usage Manual.
The latest CMOS Q&A is featured today, May 7, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Style: Write Choices, available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Use easy-to-read, simple and plain language when writing about health, science, how-to-do-it

Certainly, everyone who's read about health care for themselves and their loved ones knows the value of concise, clearly written, and simply designed information. If it's easy to read, we're more likely to get the benefits we seek, even if those "benefits" include getting bad news or learning actions we must take to improve and protect our health.

Written information about science doesn't pertain immediately or obviously to most of us. But concise, clearly written and designed documents about science can be valuable when we want to learn more about the influences of scientific findings and theory on our lives--from our health to our environment, to our work, to our play.

I'm focusing on writing about health and science in this post because I read two articles today, May 5, in my online daily paper, Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs, that discuss those topics. A third article discusses a topic often related: writing easy-to-read instructions.

Medline Plus has an excellent Web page called How to Write Easy-to-Read Health Materials. Introducing its information, the site says:

Medical concepts and language are very complex. People need easily understandable health information regardless of age, background or reading level.
The site then describes a four-step process:
  • Plan and Research
  • Organize and Write
  • Evaluate and Improve
  • Inform Us and Stay Informed.
The article about science writing is in a recent issue of the Huffington Post:
Alan Alda Urges Scientists To Cut Jargon, Use Simple Language
Reminding readers that Alda was the actor who played Army surgeon Hawkeye Pierce on the TV show "M.A.S.H.," the article notes:
Today, the award-winning film and television star is on a mission to teach physicians, physicists and scientists of all types to ditch the jargon and get their points across in clear, simple language.
Alda told the Associated Press:
There's no reason for the jargon when you're trying to communicate the essence of the science to the public because you're talking what amounts to gibberish to them.
Referring to physicians, consumers and lawmakers, Alda said:
They're not going to ask the right questions if science doesn't explain to them what's going on in the most honest and objective way. You can't blame them for not knowing the jargon – it's not their job. Why would anybody put up money for something they don't understand?
The third article, about writing instructions, is on an Oxford Dictionaries Web page titled, of course:
Plain English in practice: writing instructions.
The article begins:
In a previous piece, I looked at some guidelines for writing plain Engl­­­ish: that is, the kind of English that will get your intended meaning across most clearly.
It then uses writing instructions as an example of using plain English (aka plain language):
There are times when clear writing can make the difference between life and death, such as when you’re writing safety instructions.
I encourage readers to check the link noted above: some guidelines for writing plain Engl­­­ishFor more information on improving the clarity of your documents in health care, science, training, or other fields, visit my website: Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide.

My daily paper, Plain English Paragraphs, is available above at the Plain Language tab and by free email subscription.

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