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Writing Daily

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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!

Minimalist story telling

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You may have heard of Blaise Pascal famously ending a correspondence to a friend with "I have made this letter longer than usual, only because I have not had time to make it shorter." Many writers identify with this because they understand how much time and effort is needed to convey complex meaning in few words. I'm no designer, but I'd imagine they face similar challenges when conveying meaning with minimal visual elements. At least that's what I thought of when I saw this series of minimalist posters for fairy tales. Scroll slowly and see if you can guess the tale with just he image.

A banana nut muffin

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It happens to the best of us. You sit down to start a project or feature article...or a blog entry for the Communicators Forum and you get stuck. The blank page or screen is the biggest dam for creative juices. How can you get them flowing? 

Just start writing. You could just get out what you want to say and agree to come back later and fix it or you could just start with a stream of consciousness. 

Get up and go somewhere else. Maybe if Charlie had moved his typewriter to a less dismal location, inspiration would have hit!

Exercise! A quick walk around the block or a trip to the gym might give you a bolt of creative energy from just getting your blood circulating to your brain. 

Look at something completely unrelated. Watch a short TED Talk, open book of images, or read an article about a new science discovery. The point is to break out of the subject matter you are dealing with and come back to it with a new perspective. 

What other tips do you have for getting un-stuck? Share them here and help your colleages! 

 

U Relations | Here to Help

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Today I went to the UMCF program, Beginner's Circle: Working with University Relations, and discovered a pocket of resources for us as communicators. I am fairly new (one and half years at the U) and have had veterans tell me that you are not a real U employee until you have been here for ten. It was nice to hear that for some people that were closer to the ten-year mark, this was good information all around. So, whether you are new to the University or have been here for years, there was a little something for everyone.

The panelists were: Ann Aronson, responsible for marketing and branding; Laura Johnson, responsible for creative services; Chuck Tombarge, responsible for the news service; and Jay Weiner, the presidents speechwriter.

Here are some of the resources they provide:

New Service: (www.umn.edu/urelate/public-relations.html) Will work with you on a press release or connecting you to local reporters. Provide media training for faculty and staff. Provide council on social media strategy. Write a column from the president in your department/units newsletter.

There are four staff members, broken into beats that they cover:

  • Julie Christensen covers public affairs, access, engagement, philanthropy and diversity.
  • Steve Henneberry covers liberal arts, humanities, and video.
  • Matt Hodson covers STEM, research, science to industry, business, and agriculture.
  • Patty Mattern covers administration, athletics, crisis, and efficiency.

Creative Services and Marketing Communications: (www.umn.edu/urelate/marketing.html) Provides consulting in collaboration with marketing and branding for marketing strategies, electronic communications, shared media, design, writing, editing, multimedia, and photography. The U Story on the homepage is also handled through creative services and ideas can be submitted to urstory@umn.edu.

The overall focus for University Relations this year is President Kaler's priorities that can be found here: www.umn.edu/president/initiatives-priorities/index.html.

Do you have other resources that would be helpful for navigating communications at the U?

I am also looking forward to the next program, Expert Insights: Dave Pyle, Former bureau chief of the MN/WI Associated Press on December 5.

Inspiration for today...

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keepcalm.jpeg

Go for the Maroon and Gold: Training Tip

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Email marketing. It's a quick and direct way to communicate with your audience. But, when should it be used and what's the messaging like? Integrating email marketing with a broader communications plan (probably including both traditional and new media) is often key to its success. Also, writing engaging and relevant messages is a must for standing out in the flurry of emails.

Check out ten best practices for email marketing.  And, plan to attend the UMCF conference session on email marketing, "Having a Blast: Making Mass Email Work for You," with U of M University Relations' electronic communications specialist Pete Wiringa.

Learn about the conference agenda and session topics. Register by April 23 for the discounted rate.

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.

Fun with Jargon

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OnionSm.jpg
This is my most favorite Onion rail item EVER. Oh, how I wish it were true.

I love doing media training with faculty. I always learn a lot about a new topic. But about half the professors I talk to don't know how to describe their work in terms that the general public typically understands. So I have a practice that I call "Jargon Translator." As they talk about their work I jot down their $5 words, and then together we translate them to something a little more common. At the end of our training I give them a list of "forbidden words."

We all use jargon. (high-res, vector, phoner, embargo, CSS, EPS, etc.) We just have to pay attention to how our audiences are hearing what we're saying.

What are your favorite academic "forbidden words"? Please share in the comments. I'll list a few of mine to get us started:
Relativizing
Concomitant
Heteronormative
Hegemony
Exigencies

Throwing your work into the ether: measuring value

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Everyone likes validation. Validation is tangible evidence that what you do is valuable. For those in a creative field it's essential, if only because for most of us the money isn't validation enough (because it's not enough money). Social media is a shining example of the power of validation. The Facebook "like" button is founded on the principle. Twitter's retweet is the same. Digg is a popularity contest. Everyone wants to go viral on YouTube. Measurement tools, metrics, and analytics are just another way to ask, 'Do people like us (me)?" In a way, it feels very much like an extension of high school. The hormones of it all are quite frankly making me breakout.

Despair
Let's assume for a second that when, for example, I write a story, it's not about me getting any sort of personal feedback--that it's about who or what I'm writing about. Now get rid of that notion. It is about me, dammit. How long would any of us keep doing something without once-in-awhile hearing an "attaboy?" Say what you will about writers having low self-esteem (it's true), but sometimes you gotta hear "good job" to believe it.

I asked a friend in a similar field about this, and, like me, he wasn't afraid to admit his deepest insecurity about self/work-efficacy. He said, "Sure, you're promoting events people might attend, making someone aware of research. They might or might not take action. But that's just too far removed...too hypothetical." His despair is my aggravation. And so, as in every situation, I first ask myself, "who can I blame?"

Assigning blame
First, I blame inadequate metrics. Metrics for online media simply aren't yet where they need to be unless you're selling something (and someone is buying). If your video of an intoxicated squirrel gets 7 million views, what does it really mean (other than being absolutely friggin' hilarious)? Who does it touch? What difference did it make in a life?

For this conversation, I reference a fantastic article on ClickZ about measuring marketing success (related), which says all I might hope to say. Suffice to say, metrics are and will continue to evolve until one day we all have high self-esteem.

Second, I blame you. And I blame me. Because it's not enough anymore to drop your work into the series of tubes (minute 2:12) that make up the internet, hearing only a "whoosh" and then...nothing...into the ether.

Solution: "Good job!"
When is the last time any of us read something wonderful and sent a note to the writer, or photographer? Why doesn't this happen? If someone sat down and told you a story in person, or showed you a slideshow, and you just sat there and didn't say anything afterwards, it would be...a very weird and awkward silence. Direct feedback can't be beat. Most of us, I'd wager, would trade 1,000 "impressions" for a direct comment any day. So next time you read something you like, send a note to say so*.

So, what are some solutions here, and how are you getting your fix? Do comments on Facebook do it for you (certainly more meaningful than "likes")? Is a retweet enough? Should the author always include a byline with an email address? Let us know in the poll.




*The irony here is that most of the time, if someone takes time to send a comment, it's negative. Nothing motivates quite like displeasure. Let's try to change the tone.

P.S. The Comm Forum does a nice job of filling this void with its yearly conference and Maroon & Gold awards program. And members are known to give the occasional shout out. But no one should need to fill out an application in order to receive positive feedback.

Wanted: Guest bloggers

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Welcome to another academic year and the re-ignition of the Comm Forum blog. It has been a shotgun start for many of us, and with a new president, and soon, a new provost, a time of certain change. That means all kinds of things are going to be happening--shiny, new, and otherwise--and we want to hear about them from you.

So first, an invitation: We're looking for guest bloggers. Whether you have some expertise to share or creativity in any of its manifestations, we want to hear from you. Commit to as few as one post. Contact overland@umn.edu and we'll work out the details.

Second, how the blog will proceed: This year, the Forum board will do our best to post on Wednesdays and Fridays, primarily in three categories (and again--we need your help): polls and queries, member profiles, and link round-ups. Send suggestions of people to profile, questions you're curious about, and links to resources you've found valuable, as well as communication success stories from around the U.
 
We want to recognize good people, good work, and share proven ways to help everyone raise their game to the next level.
 
The Forum blog is a volunteer effort, and we've had successes in the past both informational and entertaining, like how the condemnation of new technologies (social media) is nothing new, a poll on how Forum members get to work, where we were before the U, and a philosophical meandering that posits there is too much "me" in social media, concluding with the words of Neil Diamond. Plus, humorous 404 pages.

Enjoy, and please keep the ideas coming.

 
--Adam Overland,

CF blog editor (Fall 2010-present)

Don't skimp on content strategy

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When developing a website, it's tempting to jump right into the fun design phase. But left in its wake is the neglected content strategy.

A website can look pretty, but if the content stinks or it's tough to find--you've lost your audience. If you are driving people to your website, give people a reason to stay and a clear idea of what you want them to do. Do you want people to give? Say so. Do you want them to attend an event? Make that clear--don't hide the info.

A new book out a few months ago, The Elements of Content Strategy, lays the groundwork if you're still having to make the argument of why content strategy matters. Here is a write up about it: Jason Santa Maria.

I plan to pick up this book. Have any of you read it? I'd love to hear what you think--share in the comments field.

Friday (Random) Links Roundup

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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!

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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 http://z.umn.edu/2uv

The Lost Art of the Hand-Written Note

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What to do? What to do? What to do?

"It" happens every year about this time. Well, "it" happens almost every year and I do believe that "it" has been several years now so "it" is particularly time-intensive, thought provoking and messy this time around. I ask myself the same questions every time...

"Why do I keep all of this STUFF and what am I going to do with it?"

I go through the boxes from storage, decide to throw away a few items, rearrange the contents of said boxes, re-label each box with the current date and, invariably, end up with approximately the same number of boxes. The boxes are then returned to their proper places in a somewhat more organized fashion. But why? I think it is as if I need to re-establish a relationship with all of my possessions and reaffirm that they exist.
Yes, toddler outfit from 1969 that my mother saved so that one day you can adorn another child in a different era, I affirm your existence. Now, get back in the box until I reaffirm you next year!
You got it. I not only save my own stuff, I save stuff my mother saved so that one day I can pass along another box to my daughter who can then save the same stuff and go through the same tormenting procedure every year. It is a vicious cycle that no one seems willing to break. Now, don't get me wrong. It is not harmful in any way to me, or the general public for that matter, so why change now? Well, the truth is that now is the time because our 750 square foot condo and two storage lockers cannot retain the amount of stuff we currently own. My sanity is at stake!

Some stuff is easier to part with than others. The Animal Muppet I kept because I thought someday I would be a millionaire by selling it on EBay is now gone. The third set of dishes we acquired when selling our cabin - donated. And, yes, the 1969 toddler outfit is, well, actually back in the box because my sister is pregnant and I think if she has a girl it would look adorable on my niece! I admit here that I am not fully cured of my pack rat syndrome, but ask me again next year if she has a boy.

The dilemma herein emerged when I rediscovered all of the letters, cards and correspondences that I have kept. Until now, these letters and such have been spread out among multiple boxes in various locations. I would only come across them in fleeting moments when I scanned through a handful of boxes every so often. Following the sale of our cabin, all of our possessions have become contained within the previously mentioned limited space. It has been, therefore, much easier to find all of the correspondences and subsequently organize them.

But, now back to my original question, "what to do?" These letters and cards are dated before I was born and continue until today, though decreasing in number exponentially since the advent of Facebook. The communications, conversations and memories that they represent are irreplaceable. The information, though dated, is an important reflection of the times that were.

Who, besides me of course, keeps cards or letters anymore? Who actually receives cards or letters anymore? Even around the holidays the postal carrier is twiddling his thumbs wondering where the cards are. The written - truly hand-written - word is becoming a lost art. Whose penmanship and correspondence skills are up to snuff these days? I suspect the answer to this question is those over the age of "I-remember-when-there-were-dot-matrix-printers-and-when-computer-screens-were-green."

Regardless of when they were written and from whom they were sent, what is their purpose in my life right now? Yes, they take up space in my storage - at least one Rubbermaid box full of space. Is there something more to them? I suppose I could go through and read every one. I could just recycle them. But there seems to be more to these correspondences than just the paper on which they are written.

The letters are these individuals' life experiences at that moment. Birth announcements, thank you cards, wedding invitations, "just because" letters from friends and family members... I did read some of them. I cried a few tears reading thoughtful expressions of sympathy when my dad passed away. I laughed out loud when I found a five-dollar bill in a birthday card from my grandparents. I struggled to figure out who "Barb" was and still don't know! What are these letters but communications from the past?

Based on some serious reflection, I now know what to do. My resolution is this:

 - Correspondence, I acknowledge your existence.
 - I acknowledge your purpose in my life and in the life of the individual
   who sent you.
 - I acknowledge those individuals who are still in my life and even some
   who are not.
 - For those individuals who are still on this earth, you will receive a small
   package from me. It will contain memories that you may or may not
   remember along with a handwritten note from me thanking you for being
   in my life, then and now.

My point in all of this? Send someone a note today... hand-written... thanking him or her for being in your life today. Who knows? This little communication may be saved for several decades only to resurface at the most opportune moment in that person's life.

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

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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
meaningful
things, readers
would read
in another
pattern.
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.

What to publish online and when?

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The subject of this month's Forum program "What to Publish Online-And When" has no doubt been on the minds of any communicator who works with publications.

Creating any type of web presence to go along with a publication presents many challenges. You're dealing with a potentially different audience online, so you need to factor that in. You also need to create something compelling enough to drive print readers to your website--offering them something more to go along with the story.

The best way I've heard this described is as a "companion site." It's not merely a reproduction of the magazine in an online format, but a site that works with the print publication to present online content that enriches each story.

I'd love to see some examples of publications doing this well. If you know of some, please post a link in the comments section of this blog post.

For those of you who haven't registered for the program yet, here is the info:

Thursday, February 17, 2010
Networking and registration: 3 pm
Program: 3:30 - 4:30 pm
1-105 Hanson Hall, West Bank

We will be raffling off another FREE one-year membership to the Communicator's Forum at the end of the program. Don't miss your chance to win.

As always, this program is free to UMCF members; $10 for non-members, $5 for students.

Register at https://umcf.umn.edu/programs/index.php

When you're not on Facebook . . . .

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I have this approach to writing that could be viewed as nonproductive. When I worked in daily newspapers and came back from reporting a story, I would often talk it through with colleagues--telling the story helped me to figure out how to write it. Inevitably, the most interesting and crucial pieces to the story became evident in the verbal recitation. I could then sit down at the keyboard and rattle it out in plenty of time for that day's deadline.

Obviously I couldn't do this all the time, but when I did, I found the writing flowed more easily after having verbalized the key points with someone who often prompted fresh realizations and/or potential approaches. It wasn't unusual to be recounting something I was not really that focused on only to have a colleague say, "Well, there's your lead."

This kind of rehashing isn't feasible in my current environment. So I come back from an event or a meeting with a client, my head full of facts and my notebook filled with quotes, but no fellow writers with whom to bounce the story around.
 
So I:
1) Go through my notes with a highlighter.
2) Stare at the screen.
3) Draft a lead that I immediate erase.
4) Get a cup of coffee.
5) Go through the notes again. Organize collateral material.
6) Try a new lead. Erase it.
7) Play a game of solitaire.
8) Write the first five paragraphs in a burst of inspiration.
9) Stare at the screen some more.
10) Do a forced march through the rest of the story, knowing I will come back to it in the morning and revise, revise, revise.

Fortunately I'm a fast writer and my assignments don't back up due to this round-about approach. But I'm curious what others do to jump-start their writing assignments. Maybe some of you are lucky enough to have other writers/editors with whom to jawbone the story. Others may have certain little tricks to get things moving on the screen that you'd be willing to share.

I just know that when I tell a co-worker who wanders into my office that a game of solitaire is sometimes what I need to loosen my brain for writing, he or she is bound to give me that look that says, "Sure, you slacker."
It still surprises me that soul-singer Barry White died of kidney failure. It seems like, with a voice so smooth--responsible for hits like, "Can't Get Enough Of Your Love, Babe", and "You're The First, The Last, My Everything"--that someone (a lady?) would have just given him a kidney if he'd asked*(if you are offended by this joke, see the asterisk below and calm down. If still offended, see the double "**" asterisk).

Evidently, a great voice isn't the only factor when it comes to persuasive messaging.

Writing for radio
Take radio storytelling as an example, and in an example totally opposite ladies man Barry White, listen to this radio spot a friend of mine wrote: Instant Birth Control (it has three variations, and it's worth listening to all three).

My friend, a successful copywriter with a Minneapolis ad-agency, had this to say about the process:

"Radio writing is one of the hardest in advertising. It requires a knack for writing believable dialogue and good voiceover talent to deliver it...It's theater of the mind--your script has to get the listeners there, has to build a scene in their heads."

Filling in details
The U's Ryan Maus, who with voice talent and U writer Rick Moore does the weekly U of M Moment, echoes the sentiment. For the Moment, Maus sometimes repurposes audio from a U video, but in some cases they'll lose the supplementary visual context and have to rewrite the script so Rick's smooth voice can fill in the details. Listen to "Researcher brings mind control into 3D" as an example. I mean, how does radio compete with 3D! (Err...imagination?).

Writing for time
I've been thinking a bit about writing for radio lately, getting some tips from an MPR higher-up. His critique of my first submission included "think about out loud delivery/read out loud--your sentences are too long," and "the whole piece should be 2-3 minutes, and each sentence should be able to be read in 5 to 6 seconds."

Radio is simple, direct, and brief, and that's not always the case with writing for the eye. Sentences on a page have the luxury of time...they can run their fingers through your hair all day if you like, just like Barry White. You can go back and read, and read, and read some more until you're satisfied and understand. With radio (radio proper, not online fidget-with-the-controls-radio), you hear it once, probably in your car. It needs to be clear and crisp and you can't (or likely won't) go back again.

In any case, it's another adventure in writing, and one that I'm just beginning. I think it's going to help my writing to really stop and think about whether I need this word or that; whether "excessive use of verbal ornamentation" can't be trimmed down to mean "too many words."

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to read this post out loud.

---------------------------------
*I fully realize kidney failure is not a laughing matter. More than 4,000 people died along with Barry White in 2003 (U.S.) because of the lack of available donors, and that number approaches 5,000 per year now, with more than 80,000 waiting for a donation. It is important to talk about these things in the ways we best communicate. Be an organ donor. Further, a U study has shown there are no adverse long-term consequences of kidney donation.

**My mother has one functioning kidney and another that is functioning at something like 20 percent. I love my mom, and should it come down to it, I'm prepared to go to bat for her, and convince my brother to donate one of his kidneys.


More information:

Writing For Radio: Journalism 2.0

How Writing a Radio Ad will Improve your Copywriting

Every tear, on every face, tastes the same

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I was listening to a Mavis Staples song the other day, (accompanied by Jeff Tweedy of Wilco on the album, "You are not alone," which he produced), when I heard that lyric. I thought to myself, "Damn, that is a beautiful line." In so few words it says so much about shared human experience and emotion, and in this case, pain and sadness. It's poetry, and it got me stuck in time for just a second.

Do all tears taste the same?
But then I thought, "Wait, do all tears really taste the same?" I'd be lying if I hadn't tasted my own, and maybe a couple others'...but I haven't done the necessary research. So I read through some studies performed by trained researchers.

It turns out, most tears consist of electrolytes, proteins, albumin, lipids, mucins, and other small molecules, all in varying degrees, but particularly affected should the crier be beset by disease. So, Jeff Tweedy, all tears do not taste the same, especially to the refined palate.

This is sometimes what happens when you look too deeply into something; you can forget where you started from, and what it meant. But don't confuse this with the cliché, ignorance is bliss; it's not quite that. The beauty I knew and the emotion I felt for a moment from hearing that phrase wasn't ignorance. Quite the contrary.

The value of a good communicator
It turns out Jeff Tweedy is a good communicator. Mavis and Jeff probably wouldn't have gotten very far with "You are not alone," singing about albumin and mucins in varying degrees.

Often, this is what being a communicator means--finding meaning in something which is frankly uninteresting to very many people, and making it understandable, interesting, and even inspiring. If you've done any science writing, you may know this.

Deane Morrison just had a piece the other day, a perfect example of taking the mundane to many and making music from it. Read "From sunlight to synfuels," to see what I mean. Think of the difference if the researchers had simply published 100 pages of their findings. Maybe being a good communicator is about staring into the abyss and coming right back out again, only to say, "it's not that deep; I found a way out."

Don't get me wrong, though. I'm not saying that there isn't beauty in an atom, a quark, or even dark matter. They're beautiful to someone--namely, most likely, the brilliant scientists and researchers many of us work with. The parts, the whole: the atom, the universe. The tear, the pain, the sadness, the disease, and the mucin. We need everybody at every level to understand this world and make it better, but that understanding always comes from communication, and the best of it from those capable of staring into the abyss unscathed.

Eisenhower's Farewell Address

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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.
Last week we announced our 2011 conference keynote speaker: John Moe, host of Marketplace Tech Report. He's a wonderful journalist and the writer of Conservatize Me: How I Tried to Become a Righty with the Help of Richard Nixon, Sean Hannity, Toby Keith, and Beef Jerky.

Coming from San Francisco, I'm more familiar with his work with McSweeney's. For my fellow editors, I'll leave you this Friday with Moe's Pop-Song Correspondences, Notes on "Sweet Child O' Mine," as Delivered to Axl Rose by His Editor.

See more here: http://www.mcsweeneys.net/links/popsong/

JOHN MOE'S POP-SONG
CORRESPONDENCES,
VOLUME XIII.
BY JOHN MOE

- - - -
Notes on
"Sweet Child O' Mine,"
as Delivered to Axl Rose
by His Editor.

- - - -

Hi, Axl,

Just got your manuscript and demo for the song "Sweet Child O' (sic) Mine." I think we need to talk. As your editor, I am responsible for making your songs as cogent as possible, for helping them reach the high editorial standards your public has come to expect. With this one, I am certainly earning my keep. After several attempts to reach you by phone, I am sending along my notes. Please make appropriate fixes as soon as possible, at which point I can send them to copyediting and proofreading in time for your upcoming studio session.

She's got a smile that, it seems to me--Why equivocate? You weaken your point by framing this as a mere personal observation instead of a fact.

Reminds me of childhood memories--Redundant. You either have a memory or you're reminded of something. You're not reminded of a memory. Heavy-metal fans won't stand for such writing, my friend.

Where everything was as fresh as a bright blue sky--I asked around the office and no one is sure a blue sky is "fresh." You could have a blue sky at the end of a long, sweaty day and there would be nothing fresh about it. And she reminds you of a time when things were fresh? Fond reminiscences of freshness are no foundation for love. Fix.

Now and then when I see her face it takes me away to that special place--Again, you're weakening your own argument. Why does the sight of her face transport you only periodically? And is it just her smile or her entire face that does this to you? Because you've already said both. Consistency, Axl!

And if I stared too long, I'd probably break down and cry--Why would you do that? Because you miss the freshness you described earlier? I think the whole "fresh" thing is really tripping you up. Also, crying? Wimpy.

OK, on to the second verse.

She's got eyes of the bluest skies--See, this is just getting worse. Now her eyes are made of sky? Nice imagery, but you just got done saying her smile reminded you of memories of sky. Is this verse actually supposed to be a second draft of the first verse? Am I just confused on formatting? Help!

As if they thought of rain--Axl, eyes can't think of rain. And even if they could, which they can't, why would bluest skies think of rain? Perhaps less imagery of thinking eyes made of sky and more direct exploration of your feelings?

I hate to look into those eyes and see an ounce of pain--Well, hell. I guess in your special Axl World anything is possible. Eyes can be made of sky, ponder the weather, and exhibit pain in amounts that can be weighed.

Her hair reminds me of a warm safe place where as a child I'd hide--Delete. Fix. Do something. You'd hide in a place that reminded you of hair? Never show me such phrases again.

And pray for the thunder and the rain to quietly pass me by--Whew. OK, listen to me now: Thunder can't quietly do anything. It's thunder. And, more importantly, do you really want to come across as a wuss who's constantly on the verge of weeping and skittering into hair caves to escape from rain? Is this a song about love or climatic anxiety? You need to work these things out.

Finally, Axl, I think we might have had a misunderstanding regarding my previous notes. When I wrote in colored pencil "Where do we go now?" I wasn't offering that as a lyric. I was simply observing that, in narrative terms, the song needed to progress in some way. You love the girl, she's helping you work through some issues, whatever. So where do we go now? But instead of providing a satisfactory conclusion, you simply took my note and repeated it over and over again before ultimately just stating the title of the song. This is unacceptable. Don't ask us, the listeners, where we go. That's up to you as the writer! Tell us where we go now!

Again, let's try to fix these things soon and get "Sweet Child of Mine" ("My Sweet Child"?) into your fans' hands as quickly as possible. Because, frankly, if it should ever hit the street in its current form, the song would be a colossal failure.

Talk soon!

Your Editor 

U of M Publications

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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.

Dating stories

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This post will likely be nowhere near as exciting as the title suggests, although in doing a bit of research, I did come across some interesting dating stories that lead me to believe my own dating life may not be as disastrous as it could be. For example, I have yet to compare firearms on a first date. Still, I have stories. I invite readers to any of the monthly Campus Club Thursday happy hours to (potentially) hear them.

Point being, it turns out using "dating stories" as your search term when looking for information on the philosophy and guidelines of including a date when publishing a story online does not get one the information most relevant to the topic. It did however, provide about a ten minute, very entertaining detour. The Internet is full of detours.

I may be in the minority here, but whenever I see a story online without an accompanying date, I'll usually immediately backtrack and look for one with a chronological anchor--there's almost always a second source, and usually many more. Of course, the relevancy of a date varies with the content--whether it's topical, for example (news stories and releases always include a date), or in the case of academics, whether it's inclusive of the latest research.
 
Lately, I've noticed that, more and more, dates are being left out of stories published online. The thinking behind not including a date, presumably, is that you want to get as much life out of a story as you can before people think it's obsolete--therefore, if people aren't sure when it was published, they can't be sure when it becomes obsolete. And we all know that what you don't know won't hurt you.
 
But in this case, it's hurting the content producer when I don't read what they'd like me to see. The plan to give it more life backfires and gives it less. Again, I could be in the minority here, so do let me know your thoughts.
 
Write timeless classics
T
he simple way around all of this is, of course, to write something that is absolutely timeless. The poem "Ozymandias" comes to mind.

The temporal truth is that certain stories require a date, and certain stories may not, but to me, as in dating, there's no sense hiding your age. If you're looking to extend the life of a story, use other means, like referencing the story in later stories, repositioning it in another publication, or ideally, by making it really interesting so that people want to read it again and again--not by leaving it floundering in the land of unsureity*, which isn't even a word so far as I know, which makes it even less sure of itself, so now I'm really not reading it.
 
Maybe dropping the date is just a part of web culture. Blogs, for the most part, want to be the first and the fastest, and people want what's new, right now. Online, you navigate quickly through a near infinite variety of content, and as such, maybe it's the very nature of the online world that's led to the dismissal of dates--we have so many options, after all--maybe we just don't care from whence or when it came. It's here, now, and available, so what the hell. There's plenty of blogs in the sea.
 
I'll tell you what though...I still like a good date. Just like I prefer a book where I can get the copyright right up front, before we (the book and I) get too involved. After all, I'm going to be taking that book to bed sooner or later, and I want to know whether or not it's obsolete. With any luck, it'll be timeless.
 
*The land that time forgot was taken as a metaphor, and so I created my own--the land of unsureity--soon to be a major motion picture.

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 About.com: 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?

Who wrote this?

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A well-intentioned department wants its own newsletter/email/(insert random project here), but there's no one in-house to create it. What is a communicator to do? In the days of tiny budgets and shrinking staff, a solution to meeting your organization's needs is not easy to come by.

Some organizations and nonprofits have turned to using a content provider to fill in the gaps. In some cases the content provider just supplies generic text on a predetermined topic. In other cases, they provide copy and design services for client newsletters and webpages.

The choice to use these companies can help ease the load on existing staff, while still meeting the organization's communication needs. However, this set up also creates a host of other issues.

Who will manage the relationship with the company? Who will ensure your brand and style is represented appropriately? Will the generic content be compelling or suitable to your specific audience?

I wanted to see what Forum members think about this. Does anyone have an experience to share? Any tips on working with a content provider?

Watching my fingers dance across the keyboard

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I'm editing my department's newsletter today, and going through the spell-check. I'm constantly surprised at how often I mis-type certain words.

This is not the same as mis-spelling certain words. Like many people, I have to remind myself of the "i before e except after c" rule when I spell words like "receive." In another case this week, I was writing a story and, for the life of me, I could not remember how to spell "drought." Was it "draught?" Nope, that's British. It couldn't be "drout," that just looked wrong. I had to look it up and then slap my forehead afterward, trying to get my brain back on track.

Mis-typed words are another case. I can't tell you how often I review an email and find a "teh" for "the." Or how about those sneaky snafus that the spell check doesn't get, like typing "form" for "from?" Personally, I am consistently amazed that, after two years of working at a university, I type "univeristy" almost every time. Grrr.

Well, what about you? Which words trip you up when you type? 

Zombie art, hip-hop, health care reform, oh my!

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I'm going to use today's post for a little crossover promotion of the U-wide publication I edit, Brief. Almost a year ago now, I began a column in Brief called Preview/Review (appearing every 2 weeks), which, as you might surmise from the title, offers a review (usually just 1, maybe 2) and many previews (up to 10) of events happening on the Twin Cities campuses over the coming two weeks or so.

My thought in starting the column was to highlight the incredible variety (see title of post) of events happening every day at UMTC. I also wanted to engage readers, and so the column offers an open invitation to faculty and staff to contribute; so far, I've had a few takers, but I'd love to get more.

I've also established a few (flexible) guidelines to get the most out of the column, foremost of which is to have fun with the writing.

Other guidelines:
Events must be on the TC campus
Events should not have previously appeared in Brief.
Events should help to make the U more accessible to, and encourage connections among, faculty and staff.
Reviews of events that offer a link to more information from the event, such as a live recording or materials from the presentation, will be favored over those without more information.
Free events will be favored over pay events.
Events should have interesting and snappy descriptions, and be a little offbeat (according to the editor's admittedly subjective idea of offbeat). For example, the "27th annual..." anything will likely not be included.
Events should be sponsored by or directly involve faculty/staff and appeal to faculty/staff.

If you have a TC event you want to rave about, let me know.

I'll think about it tomorrow

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As interim editor of a publication this fall, I've been raking in content from contributors I don't know and haven't worked with before. I am amazed, amazed I tell you, with how many of them have not submitted their articles to me until I have sent numerous emails, threatening voice mails, and sicced other authority figures on them. In two cases, the scofflaws needed to write 200 words--that's it--just 200 words each--and they didn't do it until I threatened to send the magazine to press without their words of wisdom. And before you ask, no, not one miscreant was a faculty member.

I may be a bit more on edge about this than normal, in part because I am working in unfamiliar surroundings with contributors I don't know, but also because I just read a fascinating article on procrastination by James Surowiecki at the New Yorker. Please read it now--don't put it off!

Does your website wear its underwear on the outside?

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In a recent article by Meghan Casey from Brain Traffic, 4 Web projects content management can solve, she outlines common Web disasters and helpful solutions. But one problem in particular...um, stuck out: the issue of underpants on the outside.

What does this mean? Casey defines it as:

1. When a website is organized the way the company is organized, but not the way users might navigate the content.

2. When it's evident that departments/leadership are fighting for prime space on the homepage, without considering users' needs or what will drive results.

Whether your "underwear" takes the form of a lengthy letter from the department head that no one will read or a crowded homepage no one can navigate--most likely, we've all encountered these paralyzing issues at some point.

Casey suggests content strategy as a way to combat this. How have you overcome this problem?

National Day on Writing, Oct. 20!

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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 in...you 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.

Email: No Pony Express

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Every year on my birthday, my mom sends me a handwritten card. It usually has a bunch of heart stickers stuck all over the envelope, inside and out. There is also often a crisp $5 bill inside, but that's beside the point. I'm sure the post office guy thinks I'm a big wuss, but I don't care. I love these letters from my mom. Plus, my dad worked at the US Post Office for over 30 years, so if the guy has a beef with me, I'll find out where he lives, too. Two can play the game of "I know where you live."

Anyway, what I want to talk about is email, both about how it crushes your soul and clutters your work life. Of course, it also has the potential to do much good, but only if you use it right.

Prof Arthur Hill at the Carlson School of Management has more than 30 years of research, teaching, and consulting in operations management and (quite efficiently) can talk about managing time and work effectively. He says he once spoke with a dean who admitted to having more than 6,000 unopened emails.

For most of us, the barrage of emails is not quite that extreme, but the problem of too much to do contributes to stress, worry, and guilt, says Hill.

Hill says it's important to remember a few simple rules, and some of them, I admit, seem downright foreign. For example, "Never check email in the morning," is one of his most important rules. He says instead that we should start the day with goals and bigger projects--email should not be on a "to-do" list.

Other email advice from Hill:

  • Abide by the two-minute rule--if it takes less than two minutes, do it now.
  • Write short emails with very concise and meaningful subject lines and do not cc unless absolutely necessary--very often, the cc is not necessary and is a waste of many people's time.
  • Reduce the number of emails you write to reduce the number you receive. Do not write a "thank you" email every time you receive a correspondence.
  •  Never have more than one screen of emails open at a time.
  •   Open an email once, and process it right away.
Finally, says Hill, remember that interruptions occur about every 2.5 minutes, and it usually takes about 10 minutes to recover from each interruption. The main source of the interruption? You.

There's also a somewhat academic analysis of email online... Email's Dark Side

A few things it notes:

You check more often than you think: Participants in a study by Renaud et al. (2006) claimed to check their email, on average, once an hour. However when the researchers spied on them, it turned out they checked their email every five minutes.
Email eats a quarter (23%) of the working day
It takes 64 seconds to recover from an email
Email kills sarcasm (and emotional communication)
People feel less co-operative
Email negotiations often feel difficult, especially with people we don't know well.
There's little argument that personal, handwritten letters mean more than an email...some visceral component a computer just hasn't captured yet still tugs at our "aww, mom" heartstrings. But if you use it sparingly and supplement it with face-to-face and the occasional phone call (texting doesn't count), you'll have a more meaningful--and productive--work life. And your mom doesn't want an email anyway.


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?


Do we need FAQs?

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In a recent post, E-WRITE's Before listing FAQs on your website, there are some helpful points here to think about.

It's spring!

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And our thoughts are turning to the Forum conference next Thursday--what a great break from all the hectic madness of spring semester.
And for another little break, here are some links to sites that have NOTHING to do with work:

http://mrs-o.org/
This is for anyone who loves fashion and how Michelle Obama has elevated it to height not seen in the White House since another Mrs. O who was then Mrs. K. (follow that?) A great site that I check in with about once a week or so.

http://www.illdoctrine.com/
A great video blog by Jay Smooth, host of the longest running hiphop radio program in New York, WBAI's Underground Railroad. Even if you don't like hiphop, this guy has a LOT to say and an incredibly self-effacing but sure-tongued way of saying it. Especially funny when you can watch his cat wandering around on the unmade bed behind him.

http://www.sbjf.org/sbjco/schmaltz/yiddish_phrases.htm
Because you never know when a Yiddish phrase might provide the perfect bon mot.

http://www.priorfatgirl.com/
If you've ever struggled with weight loss, but especially if you haven't, read this blog. Great writing.

Monday link roundup: 3.29.10

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404 pageThese are some articles that caught my eye lately. What links do you recommend to fellow Forum members?

Clients say the darnedest things: How to deal with bad feedback :: "Negative refers to how the client perceives your work. Bad refers to how the client expresses their perception (negative or positive) of your work."

QA on Higher Education Web sites. How to do it and what to look for. :: "Tools and people will come and go, quality on the other hand is the one thing in a web office that is a constant."

The i, b, em, & strong elements :: "While many HTML4 elements have been brought into HTML5 essentially unchanged, several historically presentational ones have been given semantic meanings."

The 100 most funny and unusual 404 error pages :: I have a strong preference for the ones that don't blame the user or use the word oops.

Which leads me to... Avoid this common error :: "I'll be the first to admit planning for and writing error messages is not the sexiest of web writing tasks. But it can be one of the most important."

What's your word today?

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What do potlatch, baksheesh, goulash, laager and cabal have in common?

There are many ways to learn a word a day, and my current favorite is A.Word.A.Day. Each week has a theme, and every day I get an email with my new word. Last week's theme? Words that came to English from other languages (see potlatch, baksheesh, etc.).

And since we're on the subject of words, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the U's own Anatoly Liberman, professor of German philology and author of Word Origins...And How We Know Them. He is also known as the Oxford Etymologist where he answers your questions about word origins. He's in the midst of a series entitled "Unpleasant People."

Link roundup, 3.5.10

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030510.jpgI've been putting a lot of miles on my to_read tag on delicious, but have managed to read some good articles lately. What have you been reading, listening to, or watching? Let us know in the comments.

Ten rules for writing fiction (part two) :: I know several of you Forum members are also fiction writers. Here's a refreshingly insightful collection of writing tips from established authors.

Iconic TV :: "Created out of a love for posters, modernism and television, there wasn't a client out there to commission such a job so Austrian designer Albert Exergian wrote his own brief and created this self initiated series of posters throwing all of the above inspirations into the creative melting pot."

6 Ways to Optimize Your SEO for Misspellings - And Why It Pays to be a Bad Speller :: "it turns out that a significant percentage of web users are sloppy with their language - particularly when using search engines like Google. There are around 10 million misspelled search queries every single day."

How Much Should I Charge? [PDF] :: Suggested rates for freelance writers based on a survey.

A Little Less Conversation :: "Have you ever invited employees to a meeting just so they wouldn't feel left out? If so, you may be an overcommunicator."

The Brand Quiz :: Two colors, a visual hint, and a cryptic clue.

What Type Are You? :: A video quiz created by the always-innovative Pentagram. Happy Friday, fellow typography nerds.

Finally, who was at Ignite Minneapolis last night?

Happy National Grammar Day

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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?

Writing contest: Can you make this office e-mail better?

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The folks at Writing Matters are offering a copy of their Clear, Correct, Concise E-Mail workbook to the person who submits the best improvements to this bad office e-mail. If you enter, let us know!

What have I done to deserve this?

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Today's menu: Tomato with Sponge Shaft and Green Paste. Have you read the World's Best Airline Complaint Letter? Quite effective.
food1.jpg
Maybe you too have had a less than favorable experience with a service provider. Before you write that complaint letter, get some tips in The Fine Art of Persuasion via Email from WebWorkerDaily.



Link roundup

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Every week we post a roundup of interesting articles, links, etc..., relating to communications-focused topics. What have you been reading, listening to, and watching? Add a comment or suggest a link for next week.

 

Here are a few ideas:

E-mail sign-up done right

Brain Traffic's blog talks a lot about content and the Web.

Check out slides from a Mima social media presentation: http://ow.ly/Bd8D.

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!

--Ann

Monday Link Roundup, 10-26-09

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I feel lucky that my work in the College of Liberal Arts allows me to dig into current issues in the arts, humanities and social sciences. In particular, I get to interact with faculty working in ethnic studies, human rights and global cultural literacy, among many others. Therefore, I try to keep up on higher ed issues that intersect with the lives and work of our faculty. Some picks:

The Academy Speaks: Current Affairs and Issues in Higher Education and its partner Web site, Diverse Issues in Higher Education

I also like to follow blogs that connect me to media and public relations practitioners, with an eye to both best and worst practices. Being a typical snarky Gen Xer, I especially enjoy Bad Pitch.

And writing! It's true when they say in order to get better you just have to keep doing it. I think these are great:

You better be reading Writing Matters! We've had Leslie O'Flahavan of E-Write here for our conference, and we loved her!

Copyblogger: Copywriting tips for online marketing success

10,000 Words: Where Journalism and Technology Meet

Today: The U celebrates National Day on Writing

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102009.jpgNow here is a mid-October holiday I can get behind! National Day on Writing, founded by the intrepid National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), celebrates writing of all ilks and advocates for us all to be better writers.

The University's Center for Writing has some sweet stuff planned, including an opportunity to celebrate this oft-private activity in front of webcams in... the Writing Pod [see photo on right for how I am picturing this...]. If any of you Forum members go into the pod, please take pictures to share!

Also, any UThink entries tagged dayonwriting will be pulled into a special Day on Writing blog set up by the good (and patient...hi Shane!) people at UThink.

Links to more info:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/brostad/ / CC BY 2.0

Update: I HAVE BEEN TO THE POD!
102009a.jpg
102009b.jpg

Monday link roundup 10-19-09

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Every Monday we post a roundup of interesting communications news and articles from the past week. Here are a few I was intrigued by.

  • This is an interesting article about e-mail usage: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203803904574431151489408372.html  
  • A friend posted a link to slides from an MIMA presentation on Web content: http://www.slideshare.net/rlovinger/content-gone-wild
  • Check out this article on social networking and gender. Interesting stats: http://www.fastcompany.com/blog/stephanie-schomer/write/more-women-use-social-networking-sites 
  • Need a break -- check out music news, etc... at: http://pitchfork.com/
  •  

    What have you been reading, listening to, and watching? Add a comment or suggest a link for next week.

    Monday link roundup, 10.12.09

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    From board member Tricia Conway:

    Every Monday we'll post a roundup of interesting communications news and articles from the past week. What have you been reading, listening to, and watching? Add a comment or suggest a link for next week. This week, I'm escaping reality through writing and though I'd share some sites I've found. Happy writing!

    Writing links

    What are you reading?

    Helpful link

    Member recommendation

    • Forum member Jake LaSota recommends Prezi, saying "It's like powerpoint...on crack." Thanks Jake!

    Grammar refresher: compose, comprise; continual, continuous

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    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)."

    Writer's block? 3 quick tips to get back in the flow

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    091609.jpgWhen stuck on a writing project, you may have been advised something along the lines of "don't force it" or "let the words come to you." If you do get inspired like that, I envy you. Most of the writing I do requires a good amount of force and simply wouldn't get done otherwise. If you've stalled out on a piece, maybe these methods can help:

    Go off-brief. Way off-brief. Say you're writing an article on new genetics research for your alumni magazine. You know the copy tone of your publication, and you know your audience. Good. Set that aside for a second. Write a paragraph of the article for a completely new audience, using a different tone. How would you tell the story of this research to readers of a literature magazine? A Web site for teens? An overseas press release? A couple things may happen: you may stumble on an idea you can use for the real article, or you may just succeed in shaking out the sillies. Either way--progress.

    Kneesocks, parlay, cucumber. Grab the nearest book, open it and blindly point to a word. Take a sentence you're struggling with and rewrite it using that word. Do this twice more. Now throw these out and tackle the sentence with fresh eyes.

    Walk it out.
    I knew a writer who would swim laps, keeping a notebook at each end of the pool to scribble ideas on after each lap. Sadly, you're probably stuck at the office. If you can, grab a notebook and pen and get out of there, if only for 15 minutes. Write as you walk. A brisk walk outside or even a few times up and down the staircase will make you more alert and, most importantly, get you away from your computer. If anyone looks at you funny, just send them to me.

    Query: What jargon bothers you the most?

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    09102009c.jpgNext week is national Plain English Week...well, in New Zealand. To celebrate, take a moment to vent about your least favorite corporatese, academese or other convoluted speak.

    For me, low hanging fruit is like nails on a chalkboard.

    What about you? What jargon drives you crazy?


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