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Writing Daily

Are you, like me, sometimes overwhelmed with your daily "big picture" tasks, that you lose track of the smaller things that you should be practicing every day? Don't worry, you're not alone. As a copywriter and editor, I try to set aside X amount of minutes each day to just free-write. This is not always related to work, or personal life, or anything. It's just the practice of writing (and no, emails don't count!) that gets those juices flowing.

I recently read this article, "Why You Should Write Daily" by Leo Babuta, which outlines the importance of setting aside writing time, and also gives tips on how to do it. His top five tips?

1.) Commit to writing daily.
2.) Set aside the time.
3.) Start small.
4.) Blog.
5.) Shut down distractions.

Read the full article here, and happy writing!

The Economist and the Oxford Comma

I greatly enjoyed all of the clever grammar oriented memes and messages over social media yesterday, but this really tickled my fancy.  Enjoy!  The Oxford Comma: Is a Comma Grammar

Do You Code?

I ran across Code.orgs latest YouTube entry featuring the likes of Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and (among others) who discuss the importance of coding. Calling it the new human "superpower" - the video states that 90% of schools in the United States do not teach this basic skill. 

It seems as though the industry would go to any length to retain top talent by making "the most awesome environment" for their employees. This includes full service dining centers, rooftop lounges and onsite dry cleaning (leading me to think I've chosen the wrong career path!). 

Were you taught code in school? Do you consider it a basic skill when entering today's work force?

Inspiration for today...


Confessions of a Copyblogger Junkie

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I'll admit right now that I'm a Copyblogger junkie. Writers, if you don't follow this uber helpful copywriting blog, DO IT NOW. Seriously. Someday, after you've been twirling in your swivel chair for 30 minutes singing "la-la-la-la-la" after hitting writer's block, you'll thank me. Whether it's a headline that isn't packing a punch, an uncooperative blog post, or simply a complete lack of focus due to the unseasonably warm March weather, Copyblogger will pop up in your inbox with an incredibly insightful, clear, and concise article to pull you out of your rut. Here are a few recent articles that I've found incredibly valuable:

The 10-Minute Technique to Becoming a More Productive Writer On the importance of having a personal long-term writing vision in order to help you become more efficient with your daily writing tasks.

3 Simple Storytelling Methods That Can Do Your Selling For You On the power of storytelling in sales copy, broken down into the personal story, the historical story, and the "meet the guru" story.

8 Quick Tips for Writing Bullet Points People Actually Want to Read  On the importance of effective, readable bullet points in a digital, "Twitterized" world.

Enjoy, folks.

Link Roundup: Photography

Mastering photography is an elusive art. But, practice makes perfect and building photographic skills is an enjoyable hobby.

Here's an edition of link roundup on getting good at taking pictures.

-- 14 Ways to Improve Your Photography in a Few Days
-- 90+ Online Photography Tools and Resources
-- How to Stay Up Late and Make an HDR Image
-- How To: Master Smartphone Photography 
-- iPhone Photography + Social Networking = Instagram
The Washington Post Wants Your Instagram Photos to Illustrate Health of U.S. Economy

Friday (Random) Links Roundup

Remember Links Roundup? I am reviving it, if only for one post. Here are some of the places I'm getting my ideas and advice of late.

Brief is on Facebook!

FacebookBrieficon.jpgIt was inevitable. After 41 years as the U's internal news digest for faculty and staff U-wide, Brief has dipped a toe into the cool waters of social media via Facebook.

From the salmon colored paper of old delivered in a frenzy of envelope stuffing parties, to today's all electronic variety, Brief continues its evolution. We're just now getting our feet wet, but expect that this supplement to Brief proper will go swimmingly. Our content will very often highlight faculty and staff at the U, with a particular focus on community and culture--the manifestations of our aspirations, expectations, values, systems, and programs as embodied in our people that characterize the U.

So tell us about your people. Come post on our wall.

Befriend us at

Writing for the web: When an "F" pattern = Fail

Something within me wants to believe that writing for the web is really no different from writing for any other medium. The key to all writing, in the end, has to be quality. The key to all everything, in the end, has to be quality. And so very often I tell myself,
that if people
are reading
things on the
web in an "F"
pattern, then
perhaps what
we're reading isn't worth the time that it took to read. Perhaps
what we're reading isn't worth the time that it took to create.
Maybe, we're wasting our minds away with quantity and meaning-
less drivel to
satisfy some
some compul-
sion external to...
what we'd
write about
if we cared.
Maybe if we
wrote about
things, readers
would read
in another
Maybe they'd
read an "O"...
maybe "F"
equals FAIL
More on this
in a later post.

In the meantime,
here's some interesting
thought on the matter.

Eisenhower's Farewell Address

Happy new year, Forum members! Since it's University Winter Closure, and technically we aren't here, I thought it would be fun to share a little holiday trifle.

U of M Publications

Have you ever wanted a list of U of M publications all in one place? This list is (kind of) getting there. The list is a developing resource of publications ranging from administrative, to college, institutes, and others. Primarily, it was developed as an internal resource. It's a work-in-progress, both in content and organization, but it's handy for cruising through U news.

The suggestion for the tool came from an Internal Communications monthly story meeting, one of the Internal Communications Network's (ICN) interest groups.

Feel free to provide feedback.

Consider the Lobster: U style guides

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In case you missed it, yesterday's spirited debate about the U's style guide (or, rather, the recent suspension and current lack thereof) was about the best thing I've seen come through the esteemed Forum listserv. For others, it was probably boring and totally irrelevant.

We heard such gems and various arguments as

"Why maintain a separate manual if publishers produce industry-standard ones like Chicago or AP?" And,

"I would think that if we all use the same PMS for our maroons and golds, we should certainly be united in whether or not we serial comma and at what point we switch to numbers instead of text." Or,

"To abandon a standard is, to me, tantamount to saying we can spell words any way we want."
It's a debate that's been had by the finest minds of the millennium, and really, since the beginning of language.

No one captures that debate in totality better than David Foster Wallace, in his 2001 essay for Harper's Magazine, "Democracy, English, and the Wars over Usage." This later appeared in his book of essays, Consider the lobster--hence the title of this post. It's 50+ pages of mind-blowing philosophy on language, and it's totally interesting and readable. The genius who wrote Infinite Jest could probably tell tales of melting butter in a way that would leave your mouth watering and mind numb, but this essay is apropos to the listserv tug-o-war.

Wallace begins, "Did you know that probing the seamy underbelly of U.S. lexicography reveals ideological strife and controversy and intrigue and nastiness and fervor on a nearly hanging-chad scale? For instance, did you know that some modern dictionaries are notoriously liberal and others notoriously conservative, and that certain conservative dictionaries were actually conceived and designed as corrective responses to the "corruption" and "permissiveness" of certain liberal dictionaries?"

Wallace goes on to divide the groups, as is our American way, into two competitive factions: the Prescriptivists vs. the Descriptivists. He defines Descriptivists using the colloquial term, SNOOT (and not derogatorily, for in the end he is more a SNOOT than not), defined by Wallace as "somebody who knows what dysphemism means and doesn't mind letting you know it."

Officially, the definitions are thus:
1. Descriptive grammar: the systematic study and description of a language. Descriptive grammar refers to the structure of a language as it is actually used by speakers and writers.
2. Prescriptive grammar: a set of rules and examples dealing with the syntax and word structures of a language, usually intended as an aid to the learning of that language. Prescriptive grammar refers to the structure of a language as certain people think it should be used.

From Both kinds of grammar are concerned with rules--but in different ways. Specialists in descriptive grammar (linguists) study the rules or patterns that underlie our use of words, phrases, clauses, and sentences. On the other hand, prescriptive grammarians (such as most editors and teachers) lay out rules about what they believe to be the "correct" or "incorrect" use of language.

Officially, there is no longer any particular writing style that is required use for University communications. These are the only requirements specific to the U. Colleges and units are free to choose a style (AP/Chicago) that is appropriate for their project.

So, where do you fall on the battleground, amidst the blood of words and the screams of lobsters?

National Day on Writing, Oct. 20!

With all the gridlock in Congress these days, it's hard to believe politicians can agree on anything at all. Apparently, though, they've found common ground in agreeing that writing is a good and necessary activity. In September, Congress unanimously-approved a U S. Senate resolution establishing Oct. 20 as "National Day on Writing."

In case you didn't know it, the U of M has a Center for Writing, which supports the work of all U students, faculty, and staff engaged in the practice, teaching, and study of writing. And on Oct. 20, the Center is hosting a variety of writing events, including some quirky ones, like "Stalled Writing," an event that will take place in the Nicholson Hall bathrooms, where you can be "inspired by the porcelain muse," and perhaps move beyond "for a good time" to "Once upon a time."

If the bathroom isn't your style, they'll have "InTentsive Writing," which will take place guessed it--a tent. Those looking to get outside any physical boundaries might have luck with "Artful Writing: Writing With, Through and About Art with the Weisman Art Museum," which will practice building perception skills and respond to works of art verbally and through a variety of writing activities. For more course offerings and more information, see the Center for Writing, National Day on Writing.

In case you hadn't heard, a new online accessibility resource has been created by the U's Computer Accommodations Program--a partnership of Disability Services and the Office of Information Technology.

The site has been designed with the goal of sustaining and improving access and services to students, faculty, staff, and visitors--including those with disabilities. It's all about making the U-wide-web available to the widest possible audience -- including users of old, adaptive, alternate, or emerging technologies.

The site content includes the following seven categories, each represented by an icon used to identify category membership:

Documents -- includes information on accessibility barriers, best practices, and how to create accessible Microsoft Word, PDF, and Microsoft Excel documents.

Presentation -- includes information on accessibility barriers, best practices, and how to create accessible PowerPoint, Adobe Presenter, Apple Keynote and S5 online presentations.

Multimedia -- includes information on captioning, accessibility barriers, best practices, and how to create accessible Flash, QuickTime, Camtasia and Podcast media.

Learning Technologies at the U -- includes information on accessibility barriers and best practices for Moodle, Google Apps, MyU Portal, UMConnect Meeting, Clickers, UThink, and Wimba Voice Tools.

Web Content -- includes information on making Web pages and applications accessible. Includes a self-assessment tool.

Laws, Policies and Guidelines -- includes information on university policies, federal and state laws, and World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) guidelines regarding accessibility.

Adaptive Technologies -- includes information on a variety of technologies available for making information accessible to individuals with disabilities.

weasel.jpgRon Gardenhire, manager of the Minnesota Twins, is not a professor of baseball, but last night after the Twins game he had a teaching moment, at least for one reporter. "He learned him good," you might say.

Gardenhire is an angry man, and has been ejected from a higher-percentage of games (per games coached) than any other baseball manager. When a player asked him something to the effect of how do you see the Twins "moving forward" into the playoffs, Gardenhire replied (paraphrasing, as I can't find the actual press conference footage, "Moving forward? What the hell does that mean, moving forward? Do you want to move forward into the next room and ask me the same question? Because if you do, I'll give you the same answer." He is an angry man.

But "moving forward" is a weasel word, there's no doubt. It says and asks nothing specific, and as far as providing an actual vision for anything, it is a word in dire need of an optometrist.

We're guilty of weasel words at the U, too. I have a friend who used to play a game called "Bu** Sh** Bingo," which is probably explanation enough.

So how do we avoid language like this? How do we talk and communicate like normal people? It might help to first look at causes, and then maybe we can find the corrective lenses.

Self-consciousness is surely a cause, perhaps especially in academia. Trying to sound flashy and smart in a sea of PhD's is a natural inclination, but if it's not a natural you, people will see through it, and whatever you're trying to convey will be lost. Word obesity is often the phrase used to describe the outcomes, like when I tell people that I work in "Universitas Relatus." If you say what you mean, you're much more likely to mean what you say, and those who hear you are more likely to see what you say and believe.

Check out some examples from this great blog, and feel free to add your own or comment at will.

  • If you want ice in your drink, do you think about it as "adding value"?
  • Do you "request the status of the deliverable" when you're wondering if lunch is ready?
  • We don't help set something up, we "coordinate to facilitate it".

Here's some more on talking normal from our British friends.

Lastly, can anyone suggest a faculty member who might be willing to give a tutorial on the subject, perhaps even sharing insights about communications at the U?

Poll: Web site or website?

I've been slow getting this poll up, so by now I'm sure you've all heard about the AP Stylebook's decision to change Web site to website.

AP twitter announcement

Do you think they made the right decision? Please vote in the poll below!

*"Televisionshow" comment hat tip to @nprmonkeysee.

Happy National Grammar Day

Today is National Grammar Day. To celebrate, follow the #grammarday hashtag on Twitter (and @GrammarGirl, if you aren't already).

Are you doing anything especially grammatical today?

Monday link roundup, 1.11.10

011110b.gifIt's a quick one this week, so help me out: What have you been reading, listening to, and watching? Add a comment or suggest a link for next week.

Celebrities and Grammar

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We editors try to conceal it but we are always noticing your grammar flaws! We stop short of correcting your emails using the "track changes" function and then sending them back, but we do it in our heads nevertheless - we can't help ourselves. However, as in the rest of life, celebrities are fair game for open scrutiny, especially when particularly well paid, secretive, or powerful.

The king of the celebrity gaffe was of course George Bush. How we miss him! See a top-20 list.

President Obama's speaking abilities are of course very good but his sentences are not always perfect. Here's one diagrammed for us in the Huffington Post:

Even those of us who following closely the recent trouble in Tiger Woods' family may not have caught this praise for his (or his publicist's) excellent command of grammar under pressure.

Do you have any examples of humorously bad or startlingly good grammar? Dish -- please!


Communicating for good

102209.jpgSaturday is Make a Difference Day, one of several events throughout the year aimed at getting more people to volunteer. It got me thinking about the ways we as communicators can use our talents for good.

Finding a way to volunteer your skills can be as easy as contacting non-profits you support and asking if they could use your assistance. Or, maybe you'll find like-minded people in these networks:

Proofread for good:
I've been volunteer proofing for Distributed Proofreaders for a while and found it to be a well-run and supportive network. Volunteers go through scanned-in text of public domain works to help convert them to e-books for sites like Project Gutenberg.

Account plan for good: Planning for Good is a network of account planners who volunteer to solve problems for causes and non-profits.

Design for good: There are many volunteer design opportunities posted on sites like VolunteerMatch and HandsOn Twin Cities.

What volunteering have you done? Are there other sites or networks you recommend?


Grammar refresher: compose, comprise; continual, continuous

Compose, comprise. From the University's Style Manual: "The whole comprises the parts; the whole is composed of its parts. The parts compose the whole and are comprised in it."

Continual, continuous. Also from the Style Manual: "Use continual when you mean action that is intermittent or repeated at intervals (the continual reminder of gunfire in the distance). Use continuous when you mean uninterrupted action in time or unbroken extent in space (a continuous stream of marchers)."

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