Category Archives: Articles

The Shape of Information

All of the written content we create must have some sort of structure. Whether it’s straightforward data like population or crop production statistics, or more semantically rich information such as a corporate handbook or a biography, selecting an appropriate framework … Continue reading

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Document Testing: The Missing Step

You can’t be confident that a document will meet it’s goals until you take one final step: testing. Here are some methods you can use. (PDF format.)

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Practical creativity boosters

Everyone needs a creativity boost now and then. This free ebook will give you a shove in the right direction.

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10 Tips for Effective E-mail

Since its inception as a tool used by a few computer users in the mid-60, e-mail has risen to be a dominant business communications medium. Surveys show that workers spend anywhere from 30 minutes to four hours a day writing, … Continue reading

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Bah, Humbug! Business Jargon Needn’t Be a Done Deal

Editor’s Note – I’m trying something different with this article: It’s a downloadable Adobe Acrobat file. It’s licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License, which means you are free to distribute copies of the work. … Continue reading

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The Persistence of the Subjunctive

If it were a human being, you couldn’t help but pity the poor subjunctive mood. Few people know what it is, and of those who do, many are convinced that it is dying.

Well, if the subjunctive is dying, it is enjoying one of the longest death scenes in history. As early as 1851, grammarian Goold Brown opined, “It would, perhaps, be better to abolish the use of the subjunctive entirely. Its use is a continual source of dispute among grammarians, and of perplexity to scholars.” Merriam-Webster’s Concise Dictionary of English Usage cites other early authorities who were convinced that “the subjunctive, as a separate mode, is almost lost and out of mind in our language.” An 1896 grammar textbook proclaimed, “The subjunctive as a form of the verb is fading out of the language.”

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Scholar Champions Clearer Legal Writing

Legalese is ubiquitous. It’s the fine print on the back of credit card statements, the license agreements for software, the warranties (and warnings and disclaimers) for new products. It often requires a magnifying glass and is considered to be convoluted, impenetrable, jargon-laden writing that is reviled by hapless readers.

But it doesn’t have to be that way, says Joseph Kimble, a Thomas Cooley Law School professor and editor-in-chief of The Scribes Journal of Legal Writing, as well as the author of Lifting the Fog of Legalese: Essays on Plain Language (Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press, 2006). Kimble spoke to the Eye about his advocacy of plain language writing.

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Plain Language in the Federal Government

Government communicators are public servants. So it’s a sad irony that their writing style has long been known as bureaucratese, “characterized by buried verbs, passive voice, overlong sentences, and loose grammar. Add to that an overlay of doublespeak and officialese, and you end up with bureaucratese at its finest” (from Garner’s Modern American Usage). No way of speaking and writing could be less suited to the putative goal of service to the public.

Fortunately, an intrepid band of public servants is determined to stamp out bureaucratese. Marching under the banner of plain language, these revolutionary word warriors have been fighting for regulations, forms, brochures, and letters that the majority of us can understand on a first reading.

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Writers, Safeguard Those Precious Words

Here’s a roundup of tools that can make your writing life a little less stressful.
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What’s the Deal with E-Books?

When e-books (digital versions of printed books, read on computer screens, handheld devices like PDAs, or dedicated e-book readers) were first introduced in the late 1990s, boosters and industry pundits issued cheerful prognostications about their prospects. Publishers would embrace them because many of the costs of printing, storing, and distributing paper books would be eliminated. Consumers would adopt them because the latest bestseller by John Grisham could immediately be purchased, downloaded, and added to a compact library of e-titles small enough literally to slip into a pocket.

But those glowing predictions have never materialized. Is the e-book story a tragedy, or perhaps a farce? Or has the death of the e-book been announced too soon?

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