Showing posts with label story telling. Show all posts
Showing posts with label story telling. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Cursing: An Editorial Style Guide | I Miss You When I Blink

I was laughing out loud while reading this blog post from I Miss You When I Blink

I can't do the column justice by excerpting from its 10 tips, even their titles. Read it instead. But here's Mary Laura's Philpott's concluding bit of advice:
10. Use your manners.
If you follow none of the other guidelines, observe this one: respect basic rules of civility. If you're in a setting where you know the people don't like cursing, don't do it. Unless you're in a setting where you know the people don't like it, but you also know the people hate you and are just pretending to like you, and they think you're so stupid that you don’t know that they hate you, like you can't read body language or are completely lacking in social intelligence. In that case, play along nicely and with extreme restraint until it’s time to leave, then casually toss this over your shoulder as you walk out the door:
“Later, bitches.”
And wink.
Philpott's blog post, from April 2012, is featured today, July 2, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Style: Write Choices, available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

When Should Lawyers Use Big Words? | And How Should Writers Use Big Words?

As an advocate for the use of clear, concise plain language by writers in every profession, including the law, I was intrigued when I saw the headline above about lawyers. It was on an article in The Jury Expert by Adam Alter, an assistant professor of marketing and psychology at New York University.

[Don't get sidetracked by the italicized Editor's Note at the beginning of Alter's article. Read it later.]

Alter first explains what he means by the "big words" of legal discourse, or "legalese." He writes:
People esteem lawyers for their intellects and the lawyer’s unique command of legalese and its vocabulary can perpetuate that image. But there’s no inherent reason why lawyers absolutely must use bigger words when smaller ones will do.
When I'm writing, editing, and advising people about writing, I try to follow that important plain-language guideline: Don't use bigger words when smaller ones will do. But plain language has two related, significant principles (and others) that apply here. 

First, writers must be clear about the purpose(s) of their documents--not just for writing and publishing them but also for other people to read them. And writers must be clear, in their own minds at least, about the people they want to reach and influence with their document. In other words, their documents must meet the needs of both the writer and the reader.

So: The writer must consider those purposes and needs when choosing words for a document, be they small, familiar words or big, complex words.

Referring to cited research findings that conflict with other cited research findings, Alter explains that "humans are mentally quite lazy" and don't want "to expend extra mental effort" to read something. He writes: 
If, on the other hand, the information is innately complex, that extra effort is justified[,] and oversimplification might even suggest [to the reader] that the communicator is missing some of the nuances.
Further, Alter notes research that suggests there are times when it may be appropriate "to inject artificial bursts of complexity into a statement":
Longer words slow people down and force them to think just slightly harder than they had to think beforehand. They may not enjoy the experience ... but their mental systems kick into gear, processing what comes next with a greater degree of care and effort.
Referring to complex words as cues that tell readers to pay more attention, Alter writes:
The answer to the question I posed earlier is that you should use long words when they're appropriate. Don't avoid them altogether just because they'll make you look stodgy—but never use a long word when a shorter word will do (this is the same advice that grammarians have been giving for years).
As I interpret Alter's advice using plain-language principles, it's OK for an attorney or other writer to choose some big or precise words if there's a clear purpose in using them that benefits both the writer and the reader. Alter concludes:
More surprising, perhaps, is the importance of peppering simpler words with complex words at critical junctures: before a key argument, or before a message that you want the jury (or other listeners) to process more carefully. In that case, the benefit of encouraging people to pay closer attention outweighs the cost of forcing them to think harder in the first place.
I'll conclude by stressing it's the responsibility of the writer, speaker or editor to help the reader or listener through that thinking process. That's possible by providing a clarifying context when using complex words (through anecdotes and metaphors, for example), by including nearby definitions of the complex words, or by enabling easy reader access to a glossary or linked reference with an explanation. 

Here are a couple of my resources on this topic:

Alter's column is featured today, April 28, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Plain English Paragraphs, available at the Plain Language tab above and by free email subscription.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Seattle boom an inconvenient truth for Republicans

While I was a newspaper reporter years ago, a colleague questioned my use of a made-up story to describe how a student's training in CPR saved the life of a heart-attack victim. I didn't reveal until the end of the article that the story was a description of what could happen, based on what I observed during the high school class.

I thought the article was effective, even accurate, and clear, eventually, about its "characters." I later wrote a similar story while working in PR. But I've wondered. ...

This article by columnist Danny Westneat in the Seattle Times takes that idea to another level, I think, by providing ironic quotations and attributing them to real people. It also reveals at the end that it's an imagined story. The subhead on the column subtly suggests its not true by concluding with the word "Not." I missed it when first reading the column.

Instead, I was astounded and overjoyed while reading the article until I reached its conclusion. There Westneat reveals that he had only imagined the story, except for this: 

The part about how Seattle with all its taxes and rules and supposedly socialistic groupthink is also one of the hottest spots for capitalism and jobs in the nation?
That’s true. Inconvenient to the politics of the day. But true.
Though I appreciate the point of irony Westneat was making, I question the method. I know I occasionally make up quotations now in Facebook posts to "paraphrase" politicians and pundits I don't like. But I'm not a reporter or a newspaper columnist. 

Am I hypocrite, wrong, or right in the concern I'm expressing?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Why the Rich Don't Give to Charity

The study described in this article by Ken Stern in The Atlantic provides some eye-opening insights about the differences in altruism among wealthy people,  the poor, and the middle class in the United States. As the article's subhead says:
The wealthiest Americans donate 1.3 percent of their income; the poorest, 3.2 percent. What's up with that?
I think one finding in particular is especially significant to people who communicate about the social needs in our country and ways to deal with them.

The article highlights that finding:
Last year, not one of the top 50 individual charitable gifts went to a social-service organization or to a charity that principally serves the poor and the dispossessed.
Referring to researcher Paul Piff, a psychologist at UC Berkeley, Stern writes:
Notably, though, when both groups were exposed to a sympathy-eliciting video on child poverty, the compassion of the wealthier group began to rise, and the groups’ willingness to help others became almost identical.
If Piff’s research suggests that exposure to need drives generous behavior, could it be that the isolation of wealthy Americans from those in need is a cause of their relative stinginess?
Patrick Rooney, the associate dean at the Indiana University School of Philanthropy, told me that greater exposure to and identification with the challenges of meeting basic needs may create “higher empathy” among lower-income donors.
Stern continues by describing the a recent study by The Chronicle of Philanthropy. Researchers analyzed the giving habits across U.S. ZIP codes:
Consistent with previous studies, they found that less affluent ZIP codes gave relatively more. ... But the researchers also found something else: differences in behavior among wealthy households, depending on the type of neighborhood they lived in. Wealthy people who lived in homogeneously affluent areas—areas where more than 40 percent of households earned at least $200,000 a year—were less generous than comparably wealthy people who lived in more socioeconomically diverse surroundings.
Either Stern or the study summarized that finding in this way:
It seems that insulation from people in need may dampen the charitable impulse.
Ken Stern’s book, With Charity for All: Why Charities Are Failing and a Better Way to Give, was published in February.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Seven Deadly Sins of Creativity

Here's a provocative look at being creative that I haven't seen before. It works!

Blog writer Old Nick (Mark McGuinness?) discusses how to apply creativity to each of these "sins"--actually, how to achieve creativity by experiencing each sin in a creative way: 

  1. lust
  2. gluttony
  3. greed
  4. sloth
  5. wrath
  6. envy
  7. pride. 
For each sin, Old Nick also describes a "takeaway"--or what acting on each sin might mean for you in real life. So, for example, his Takeaway for the sin of lust:
Essentially, I am giving you a licence to indulge in pleasure. Your work should be fun! It MUST be fun!
So don’t waste your time on anything boring or difficult. If you don’t find yourself in the creative zone within five minutes, it’s a sure sign that you should stop and do something else.
Go for a walk. Relax. Stretch. Check out Twitter or Facebook. Have a coffee, or better yet, a glass of wine. Call your friends, go out for a drink. The weekend starts here…
Never forget: your talent is your ticket to pleasure.
Old Nick's blog post is featured today in my daily online paper, Garbl's Creativity Connections, available at the Creativity tab above and by free email subscription.

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. 
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

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. ...
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.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

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.
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.

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 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 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).

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Why it's time for galleries to dump the jargon | Christina Patterson, The Independent

The art world uses words everyone else has dropped, writes blogger Christina Patterson.

When writing a blog post about an article I'm linking to, I often summarize key points of the article and include excerpts from it in my post. But I'm not doing that with this article. The language of the article is provocative and fun to read. I can't do it justice by summarizing it or taking excerpts from it. I encourage you to read it.

I'll just say that I agree with her point--not just about text on walls in art galleries but also about the language used in any field to explain itself or things it does. If you're not writing it so your readers will understand easily what you're thinking or trying to accomplish or want them to do, you'll likely to be perceived as self-centered or selfish.

I suppose in some fields and among some people, that's the point. But I don't buy it, figuratively, and your customers might not buy it either, literally. 

(I should acknowledge that in creative writing like fiction or poetry, the joy of reading it--and deciphering the unique language it uses--might be the purpose or goal of the writer and the reader. Quick understanding of such writing might not be the intent. I can buy that to some degree, figuratively, but depending on the story, I still might not buy it, literally.) 

That said, do you need some help connecting with your readers and trying to meet their needs? Check out Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide. It describes seven steps to help you do that:
  • 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.
Patterson's article is featured today, Feb. 14, 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.

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.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Bryan Garner | Interview by Jesse Pearson, VICE

As a writer and editor, I have great respect for the person interviewed for this article. Bryan A. Garner is the author of Garner’s Modern American Usage, editor in chief of Black’s Law Dictionary, and  contributor of the Grammar and Usage chapter in The Chicago Manual of Style. His Modern American Usage is the contemporary equivalent of the earlier Follett and Fowler books. It's one of the few writing references that sit on my desk.

Pearson writes: 
Garner recently spoke with Vice, taking a little time from his busy schedule of lecturing, researching, writing a book with Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia, and generally fighting the good fight of preserving the grace of American English while also tracking its evolution.
(I'm no fan of conservative Scalia and haven't read their book. But I don't hold that against Garner.)

Here's a taste of the Q&A's in this interview:
Vice: To start, I’m interested in how English grammar and usage morph over time.
Bryan Garner: Well, grammar is constantly changing. It was changing fairly rapidly from the period before Chaucer wrote in the 1200s through probably the late 1500s, when Shakespeare began writing his plays. ... And most of the speakers were not literate. In those kinds of conditions, when you have a largely oral culture, things can change quickly. ... It’s very interesting that a grammarian like Lindley Murray, who in 1795 wrote his English Grammar, became the best-selling author of the first half of the 19th century. He sold more than 10 million copies of that book.
Nobody else was close, and grammar was something that Americans seemed to care about a lot. Murray was an American lawyer who ended up sort of defecting to England after opposing the revolution and moving to York. But he became very influential as an English grammarian. He outsold Stephen King or J.K. Rowling—and to a smaller population. It really is quite extraordinary.
I’d say that the general decline of proper grammar today has to do with the fact that it’s not really put into practical use by as many people as it once was.
Well, we have lost serious readership in modern culture. It is astounding how few lawyers whom I deal with subscribe to any serious journalism at all.
How do you see the quality of writing and communication on the internet affecting grammar today?
I can’t really tell. Some of it is quite bad and quite sloppy, and some of it is quite good. I just don’t know what most people are reading on the internet. I have the idea that it’s mostly a few middlebrow vehicles that give quick news dispatches.
Here are some other provocative questions that had provocative answers:
  • Do you keep up with the state of grammar as it’s taught in public schools nowadays?
  • And if public schools don’t teach grammar as well as private schools do, it would follow that grammar helps to maintain class differences in culture.
  • Going back to these points of grammar that you refer to as “superstitions,” such as not ending a sentence with a preposition or not beginning a sentence with and or but… these things were taught as gospel in my high school, and they’re just wrong.
  • A lot of people—when they come across somebody who uses abstruse words or a larger than usual vocabulary, or who speaks with noticeably proper grammar—will perceive that person as arrogant or snooty. Do you come across that much?
  • In your work on legal writing, there’s a lot of support for plain and simple—a kind of directness that is lacking in a lot of legalese.
  • How about giving us a layman’s definition of descriptivism and prescriptivism?
  • Will you tell me the names of a couple contemporary fiction writers of whom you’re a fan?
  • And when you are reading fiction for pleasure, is it difficult to be so attuned to grammar and usage?
  • What advice would you give to people who are in their mid-20s and might feel like they’re lacking in proper education regarding these things? Where can one educate oneself regarding grammar?
The VICE article is featured today, Dec. 31, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Style: Write Choices, available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.

The Best of Brain Pickings 2012 | Maria Popova, Brain Pickings

Brain Pickings is the brain child of Maria Popova, who writes:
Brain Pickings is a human-powered discovery engine for interestingness, culling and curating cross-disciplinary curiosity-quenchers, and separating the signal from the noise to bring you things you didn't know you were interested in until you are.
For this article, Popova writes:
On this last day of the year, what better way to send 2012 off than with a look back at the its most stimulating reads? Gathered here are the most read and shared articles published on Brain Pickings this year, to complement the recent omnibus of the year’s best books. Enjoy, and may 2013 be inspired in every possible way.
Here are headlines for six articles that focus on writing:
  •  "The Daily Routines of Famous Writers"
  • "10 Tips on Writing from David Ogilvy"
  • "Henry Miller’s 11 Commandments of Writing & Daily "Creative Routine"
  • "Why Emotional Excess is Essential to Writing and Creativity"
  • "Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 Tips on How to Write a Great Story"
  • "New Year’s Resolution Reading List: How To Read More and Write Better."
"Why Emotional Excess is Essential to Writing and Creativity" is featured today, Dec. 31, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Creativity Connections--available at the Creativity tab above and by free email subscription.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

What makes Christmas merry? A brief history of yuletide adjectives | OxfordWords blog

Here's an article appropriate for this time of year!

It begins by describing how "Merry Christmas" came first as a holiday greeting, followed by "Happy Christmas." The article notes that "Happy Christmas" never really caught on in the United States, as it did in England.

As an American, I first recall hearing "Happy Christmas" in the great song by Britisher John Lennon, "Happy Christmas (War is Over)." I even was expecting a reference to that song in this article; it never appeared.

But I was surprised to read that "Happy Christmas" was actually
the original phrase used in the famous poem by Clement C. Moore, “A Visit from St. Nicholas." It closes with this line:
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight—"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night."
The articles notes that in the U.S., "Merry" is often substituted for "Happy" in that poem.

Of course, the article also describes changes in references to Christmas (emphasis added):
It is probably no coincidence that use of Happy Holidays and Season’s Greetings started picking up steam around the same time Merry Christmas peaked, gaining popularity as an appeal to greater cultural sensitivity in a society becoming more conscious of religious and ethnic diversity.
The article notes silly uses of "Happy Holidays" or versions of the phrase. It concludes, however:
[I]n phrases like “holiday recipes”, it usefully encompasses latkes as well as gingerbread, and when used as a seasonal greeting, “Happy Holidays” is an apt acknowledgement of what is in the United States a full two months of overindulgent celebration, beginning with Thanksgiving, spanning December’s multitudinous offerings, and ending arguably not with the New Year, but with the Super Bowl in early February. ...
The Oxford article is featured today, Dec. 19, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Style: Write Choices, available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Using Humor: 6 Reasons Why It Works | Kerri Karvetski, Company K Media

I'm a big fan of word play, making plays on words ... punning. At some of my most creative moments talking with other people, I think, I can spout puns rapidly, responding to the things people are saying. And that word play can improve when other people join me--not just in laughing (or moaning, with a smile) but also in responding to my puns with their own creativity.

I've heard that puns are the lowest form of humor, but I disagree. Sure, puns don't always work: some are a real stretch that people don't get; some double entendres can be inappropriate for the setting; some are timed inappropriately; some are too obvious or just plain silly; some detract from a serious discussion; some can affect the authority of the punster if overdone.

Admittedly, I've experienced all those reactions at times. But mostly and usually, my impression is that my word play is appreciated and aids the conversation. It can stimulate creativity among the listeners.

For me, awaiting the possibility for a play on words also increases my attentiveness to things people are saying, not just in what they're saying but also in how they're saying it, the words they use.

Heck, I've heard quite a few times that I oughta write a book of my puns!

My pun-ishment, though, doesn't appear much in my writing. One reason for that, I think, is my puns are usually spontaneous reactions to the words I'm hearing from someone else. That doesn't happen when I'm writing ... unless I'm talking to myself.

When I make a play on words in my writing, it's usually for a headline on an article.

Karvetski's article got me thinking about other opportunities for using humor--one-liners, humorous stories, funny photos ... and puns too. But writing this blog article also reminded me of opportunities for making inappropriate jokes.

I don't want to take the fun out of it, but I think it's important to consider the potential consequences of using humor in writing--negative as well as positive. Go ahead and try it, but do so thoughtfully, even seriously ... and not too often.
Karvetski's article appears today, Dec. 8, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Good Cause Communications--available that the Nonprofit Communications tab above and by free email subscription.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Defeating Rigid Habits to Spark Creativity | Ben Weinlick, The Creativity Post

Once it gets past the introductory comments, this article describes the main points of a presentation Weinlick and a colleague made at a conference on creativity. The event was for "hackers, creatives and designers," but the advice is useful for anyone trying to stimulate creativity.

Weinlick writes:
Shaun and I wanted to present something a bit different than what might be expected at an event like Wordcamp and so we gave a session called Fostering Creativity by Looking in Unlikely Places.
The synopsis of their presentation is a quotation by George Lois:
The Creative Act: The defeat of habit by originality overcomes everything. 
(Lois is an American art director, designer and author, perhaps best known for 92 covers he designed for Esquire magazine from 1962-72, according to Wikipedia.)

The formatting of Weinlick's article is distracting; it blends the bullet points of their presentation with quotations, videos and graphics. It's all useful, but if you want to scan it first, look for the orange dots.

Weinlick's article is one of a number of stimulating articles today, Dec. 7, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Creativity Connections--available at the Creativity tab above and by free email subscription.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

How to be creative in a busy world | Robin Lindley,

Northwest authors Brenda Miller and Holly Hughes talk about how to engage in writing, art or other creative pursuits in the middle of modern culture.

This article caught my attention because it spoke to two of my big interests: writing and creativity. Lindley provides a Q&A of his email interview with the co-authors of a new book, The Pen and the Bell: Mindful Writing in a Busy World.

About the book, Lindley writes:
In addition to the thought-provoking and stimulating exchanges between the authors, each chapter of the book contains exercises to jumpstart writing and awaken the creative soul. Topics range from noticing details and contemplation at work to gratitude, mortality, balancing contemplation and action, spiritual traditions, befriending grief, and even animal companions.
Responding to Lindley's question about a description of the book, Miller writes:
We consider The Pen and the Bell a companion to keep at your side, a friendly guide to remind you to pay attention as you move through the world. We include stories, readings, and prompts that describe how to be more present in the midst of busyness and therefore create more time, space, and material for creativity.
The questions and answers continue, providing insights into the authors' thoughts on "contemplative writing," "mindfulness" as an approach to writing, and "writing practice."

Author Hughes concludes with this message to potential readers of her book:
I've been encouraged to hear feedback from friends who aren't necessarily aspiring writers that The Pen & the Bell is useful in reminding them how to create space for any form of creativity and just how helpful it is to be reminded to carve out contemplative/reflective time in our too busy, too distracted lives. This means a lot to us, that our book is doing what we’d hoped it might do: Be a good companion for all us struggling with achieving this balance. ...
Here's a website about the book; it's much more than a sales pitch. It includes "Resources for Writing and and Mindfulness," with links.

I just added this book to my Kindle collection.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Helpful Guide to Simple Christmas Links [and Communicating Simply] | Joshua Becker, Becoming Minimalist

Giving is a form of communication. But like communication, the purpose of any particular act of giving, the method of giving, the circumstances, the consequences, and the response to giving can be either positive or negative or both.

And we sure experience all those things during the holiday season at year's end. It's often the only time we communicate with some, even many, people--by communicating through Christmas cards and letters. And it's a time when we likely put in more time and effort than usual to communicate with particular people--in what we share with them, what we give to them, what we spend on them.

Having spent decades as a professional communicator--in journalism, education, public relations and marketing--I know communication isn't free. It has its intended expenses and unexpected costs.

But one thing I've been learning and relearning in the past decade or so is that we can complicate communication so much that the people we're trying to reach don't get it. They don't understand our messages and thus don't respond as we hoped they would. Or our messages are so unclear that they get lost in the always-present interference between us and our audience.

In writing, for one thing, I've been trying to practice and promote the principles and methods of plain language. It's an international effort to write and design documents so clearly, so concisely, that readers will understand them the first time they read (or view) them. They're documents that meet the needs of readers while meeting the needs of the writers.

And that brings me to this article by Joshua Becker. Becker's article is a useful annotated list of links to other thoughtful articles about giving (and communicating) simply during the Christmas season.

He writes:
I am not the first to write about enjoying a simpler Christmas. In fact, as I mentioned earlier, there are countless posts/articles/guides on experiencing a simple, stress-free Christmas. And in an effort to create a valuable resource for myself and others, here is a comprehensive list of the best links in one handy, thorough, shareable guide.
The links are listed under several headings (followed by some sample headlines):
Rethinking Christmas."35 Gifts Your Children Will Never Forget"
Gift-Giving Guides."The Ultimate Clutter-Free Gift Guide"
Simple, Practical Guides."Three Steps to a Simplified Holiday"
Holiday Printable Guides."Christmas Budget Worksheet"
Emotional Needs."This Christmas, Give Peace"
For more information on communicating simply, visit the Plain Language tab above and Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide. It covers 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.
Becker's article is featured today, Nov. 24, in my online daily paper, Garbl's Simple Dreams--available at the Simplicity tab above and by free email subscription.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

What are we grateful for? Commas. | Grammarly Blog

My response to the poll described in this article was the period. But Grammarly fans had other ideas:
With Thanksgiving just around the corner, the Grammarly team polled more than 1,700 Facebook fans on what piece of punctuation they are most “thankful” for in their writing.

The semi-colon, em-dash, and period, were top contenders; yet, overwhelmingly we learned that English writers are most thankful for the comma.
The period (aka full stop) came in fourth. I like the period because if we use enough of them, reasonably, our sentences will be shorter and easier to read. Too many commas in one sentence can make it harder to comprehend.

But in the spirit of giving, here's advice from Garbl's Editorial Style Manual on use of the comma--to prevent errors in using them:
comma (,) The following guidelines treat frequent questions about eight essential uses of the comma.
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. 
Second, use a comma to join two independent clauses with a conjunction. An independent clause is a group of words that could stand on its own as a complete sentence; it begins with its own subject. The most common conjunctions are but, and, for, nor, or, so and yetThe council's Water Resources Committee will go over the resolution Jan. 12, and the full council is scheduled to act Feb. 11. 
Don't create run-on sentences by combining two or more independent clauses with only commas. Either insert conjunctions after the commas or break the clauses into separate sentences. 
Third, use a comma to separate an introductory phrase or clause from the rest of the sentence: After graduating from college, he joined AmeriCorps. It may be omitted after short introductory phrases (less than three words) if no ambiguity would result: On Thursday the Kennewick City Council will decide the issue. When in doubt, use the comma, especially when it separates two capitalized words.
Fourth, enclose parenthetic expressions between commas. Parenthetic expressions are word groups that are not essential to the meaning of a sentence. If a parenthetic expression is removed, the sentence would still make sense: The social services manager, who toured the Snoqualmie Valley last week, will make her recommendations today. They took one of their sons, Leif, to the concert. His wife, Donna, is a middle school teacher. 
As shown in the examples, commas always go both before and after a parenthetic expression within a sentence. If you'd prefer to stress a parenthetic phrase, put it between dashes; you can play down such a phrase by placing it between parentheses. 
Also use commas to set off a person's hometown when it follows the name: Rachel Solomon, Danbury, opened a new restaurant. If using a person's age, set it off by commas: Tom O'Rourke, 69, opened a new restaurant.
Do not use commas to set off an essential word or phrase from the rest of a sentence. Essential words and phrases are important to the meaning of a sentence: They took their daughter Jennifer to school. Their son Nils works at Ticketmaster. (They have more than one daughter and more than one son.)
Fifth, use commas to set off words and phrases such as however, meanwhile, in fact, in addition, moreover, nevertheless, as a result, thus, therefore, for example, finally and in other words. Usually, place a comma after such expressions when they begin a sentence, and place commas before and after the expressions when they are within a sentence. 
Sixth, use commas to separate a series of adjectives equal in rank. If the adjectives could be rearranged without changing the meaning of a sentence or if the word and could replace the commas without changing the sense, the adjectives are equal: A sleek, new car. A thick, black cloud. 
Use no comma when the last adjective before a noun outranks its predecessors because it is an integral element of a noun phrase: a silver articulated bus.
Seventh, use a comma to set off a direct one-sentence quotation within a paragraph: Theodore Roosevelt said, "It's not the critic who counts." Use a comma before the second quotation mark in a quotation followed by attribution: "No comment," said Jerry Carson. 
And eighth, use a comma to separate the parts of numbers, dates and addresses. Use a comma for figures higher than 999: More than 5,000 people attended the event.
Use commas to set off the year in complete dates: The department released its report Nov. 16, 2002, for public review. But don't separate the month from the year when not using a date. They held their first retreat in January 1994.
Use commas to set off cities from names of states or nations: She went to Vancouver, Wash., to tour the bridge retrofit program. He traveled to Paris, France, on vacation. 
The Grammarly article is featured today, Nov. 22, 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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