Typography in the news

Check out today’s US Navy ends dependence on capitalised communications from BBC News.  Michael Clarke, director of the Royal United Services Institute think tank in London, told the BBC,

The US Navy has made up its mind that not everything is a crisis and some messages are just normal.

The change appears to mean the organization has recognized the aggressive tone created by the typographic choice of all caps is inappropriate for many of the official messages in today’s military. Hurray for readability!

Photo Credit: Dunechaser via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Dunechaser via Compfight cc

So you’re learning to write like a professional researcher?

Photo Credit: lomokev via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: lomokev via Compfight cc

Although I don’t have much time today, I promised the doctoral students I met with at LSU last Friday that I would share an interesting phrasebank from the folks at the University of Manchester for those learning to write like a researcher in English. Here are some examples for use in the Introduction section of a research article:

  • So far, however, there has been little discussion about ……
  • However, far too little attention has been paid to ……
  • Most studies in X have only been carried out in a small number of areas.
  • The research to date has tended to focus on X rather than Y.
  • In addition, no research has been found that surveyed …….
  • So far this method has only been applied to ……
  • Several studies have produced estimates of X (Smith, 2002; Jones, 2003), but there is still insufficient data for …..
  • However, there have been no controlled studies which compare differences in ……
  • The experimental data are rather controversial, and there is no general agreement about ……
  • However, there is no reliable evidence that ……
  • X’s analysis does not take account of ….. nor does he examine ……

Any of these phrases could be adapted when you want to “establish a niche” (Move 2). Follow the links below for more on writing research articles.

Stay tuned for more on other sections of the research article.

Is your vision clear — or blurry?

Photo Credit: jenny downing via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: jenny downing via Compfight cc

I’m working on a post about research articles, but it’s not ready for the world yet. So I wanted to share a terrific piece on vision statements from Gavin over at Make A POWERful Point.

He contrasts this vision statement attributed to Albertsons:

Guided by relentless focus on our five imperatives, we will constantly strive to implement the critical initiatives required to achieve our vision. In doing this, we will deliver operational excellence in every corner of the Company and meet or exceed our commitments to the many constituencies we serve. All of our long-term strategies and short-term actions will be molded by a set of core values that are shared by each and every associate.

with this one he jokingly attributes to JetBlue:

To bring humanity back to air travel.

How can you NOT prefer the second one? It’s a plain language mission statement.

Gavin’s post caught my attention because I’ve been involved in strategic planning, which includes developing a mission/vision statement, for my college over the past six months. It’s been painful. In order to get every stakeholder’s buy-in, we’re going to include everything and end up with a pretty long-winded version. I don’t see any way around this unless you’ve got a very small number of people (I think that means a maverick leader) doing the writing.

Anyone else work in higher education? Maverick leaders don’t last long herding cats. Ha!

A nice lesson on usage, language change, dialects, and more!

Stroppy Editor

If you don’t like words being moved from one grammatical category to another, then you’ll hate ‘impact’.

In the 17th and 18th centuries it was a verb – yes, originally it was a verb – meaning to press or pack in tightly. By the late 18th, there was a noun form too, meaning an impinging or a collision. The verb form seems to have pretty much died out by the 19th century, during which a figurative noun sense appeared, meaning an effect.

The literal and figurative nouns gradually picked up steam and are still going strong, but in the first half of the 20th century new verb forms appeared too: a literal sense meaning to come forcibly into contact and then a figurative one meaning to affect.

It’s this last usage, which has only really taken off since the 1960s, that draws the most ire these days.

Let’s have some…

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I can’t believe I just remembered it’s National Grammar Day!

Motivated Grammar

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. Unfortunately, I’ve been so busy with dissertation work lately that I’m a bit worn out on discussion and haven’t been adequately keeping up with everyone’s blogs. So I hope you’ll forgive my breach of etiquette in making this year’s NGD post all Motivated Grammar posts.

Well, not entirely. Everyone in our little community gets in on National Grammar Day, so let me mention a few good posts I’ve seen so far. Kory Stamper discusses her mixed feelings on the day, as well as on correcting people’s language in general. Dennis Baron looks at…

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This is a great reminder that all of us need an editor!

101 Books

What you’re looking at below is President Obama’s marks on a draft of his inauguration speech written by, presumably, his speechwriter.

A couple of thoughts on this image: It’s a hard copy. I can’t remember the last time I edited on paper or received edits on paper. The track changes feature on Word is my best friend. Also, look at how neat these edits are. I can’t write on a clean sheet of paper that neatly, much less in the narrow margins of a written document.

Finally, if the president’s speechwriter gets edited–and, in turn, the president himself gets edited on his own edits–then we can safely assume that no one is above the need for editing. If you’re a writer, you better have someone edit your work. Period.

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A little fun related to the Oxford comma

the onionI’m feeling a little punch-drunk after a 36-hour mock accreditation marathon so thought I’d share something that fits my mood. The Onion recently published a great little piece about gang violence and the Oxford comma.

Enjoy!

This is too good not to pass along!

Facts & Other Fairy Tales

The brain trust at CNBC just published this little fluff piece about the least stressful jobs for 2013 and of course the least stressful job was being a university professor. Their rationale? There are no physical demands, no deadlines, no environmental condition hazards, we don’t put our lives on the line, nor are we responsible for other peoples’ lives. I will grant that we’re not crab fishing on the Bering Sea nor making command and control decisions on the front lines of a military conflict; however, this feeds the myth that being a professor in the US is like living in a plush ivory tower disconnected from the world — holding class like we’ve all seen in the movies. It’s also easier to dismiss us in a whole lot of different ways when this myth is perpetuated.

Let’s cut through the BS — being a professor in the US for…

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If you’re entertained by invented languages, you’ll enjoy this podcast from The World in Words. It lists both old and new novels which include an invented language. Plus a weather report in Elvish for Tolkien fans. Enjoy!

the world in words

Forget Klingon, Na’vi and Dothraki—languages created for the screen. These are languages paid for by producers, created by linguists.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s book The Hobbit is getting the three-part Hollywood treatment. The return of the Elvish languages to the big screen is a reminder of just how inventive fiction writers have been over the years in dreaming up new tongues. Think of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, with its thuggish Russian-inflected slang called Nadsat (a girl is a devochka, a friend a droog).

This urge to create new words starts at a young age. Children often make up words before they have a proper command of their native tongues.

“We enjoy exercising the way we produce sounds,” says Indiana University’s Michael Adams, editor of From Elvish to Klingon: Exploring Invented Languages.

Adams says he likes to play with the sounds of language, ”in the car or the…

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There’s no substitute for observing your readers

usability testing from wupI like to highlight best practices in writing for the workplace when I see them. Here’s a terrific example. This morning, Judy Knighton posted Listen to your readers! at Write, “a professional services firm that helps government and business organisations create clear, reader-friendly communications” located in New Zealand. I’ve written about audience analysis and posted a video tutorial on the topic here before. I’ve also highlighted how the usability process can be successfully used to develop written materials. In that post, I noted that some version of reader observation can be used by anyone writing in the workplace.

Here’s part of what Judy wrote about her recent reader observations:

I’m doing a series of user tests on an investment statement for a KiwiSaver scheme. I’m using a couple of test methodologies. In the first part of the test, the reader goes through a section of the investment statement and talks about what they’re thinking as they read. In the second part, they answer some specific questions about the content so that I can see whether the information was easy to find and understand.It’s fascinating watching different reading strategies at work. Yesterday, I conducted three tests and saw three completely different strategies.

Read everything

Reader one started at the beginning of the Key Information section, and read every line and every word. At each cross reference to more detailed information, she turned to that page and read the detail before going back to continue with the Key Information section.

Read summary in order, and skim the rest

Reader two started at the beginning of the Key Information section and read it through. She skipped a few paragraphs when the headings indicated that the content wouldn’t interest her. She then started on the detailed information and skimmed through the headings, stopping to read detailed content that discussed questions she had in her mind from the Key Information section.

Read what looks interesting, and then find a real person to question

Reader three flipped through the document from the back. He then opened the Key Information section, skipped past the first page because he thought from the headings that it would tell him stuff he already knew, read a paragraph or two, skipped some more sections because he decided they didn’t apply to him, and finished the Key Information section in record time. He then turned back to read in detail some of the information he skipped, this time turning for more detailed information at the cross references. Deciding that the detailed information was too detailed, he returned to the Key Information section and read most of it, coming up with a short list of questions that he said he’d phone in.

Write for your readers

To me, this demonstrates the power of headings in writing for your readers – and the power of user testing to find out whether you’ve succeeded.

I couldn’t agree more with Judy’s conclusions. There’s no substitute for actually observing your readers deal with a document — despite how humbling the experience is (if you’re the writer).

And, when I get time, I’ll create a short video tutorial on reader testing. It is one of the cornerstones of the undergraduate business communication course I taught for decades! Here are two short explanations of various document testing methods: usability testing from the Center for Plain Language and protocol tests and focus groups from the US Air Force. Stay tuned . . .