Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Writing Tip : Does appearance really matter?

Does appearance really matter?


The way we present our writing is as important as what we say.
It's not just what you say, it's also how you present your writing that will determine how effective your message is. A professional appearance gives your writing credibility.
You might have written the best memo or report of your career, but if it contains spelling errors, punctuation mistakes and a poor layout, it's just not going to be as effective as it otherwise might.
After you're satisfied that the content of your document is top notch, run through the following checklist to ensure that its appearance is just as good. Check that you've used:
  • correct spelling and grammar;
  • correct punctuation;
  • a readable font;
  • readable line spacing and paragraph spacing; and
  • neatly formatted tables and figures.
The first thing that people will notice about your writing is the way it looks. After all, they have no choice; they have to look at it, even briefly, before they can start reading it. You'll know from your own life, that it's a lot easier to start out with a good impression than to have to try to recover from a poor one.
First impressions count, so make a good one.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Writing Tip : Copyright confusion clarified!

Copyright confusion clarified! 


This article provides links to practical, easy-to-read information about copyright.
With the ease of copying information from the Internet, there is a lot of confusion (and misinformation) surrounding the notion of copyright. The following links provide easy-to-understand discussions of the subject.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Writing Tip : Character spacing for fun and profit

Character spacing for fun and profit


This article explains how and why to use the character-spacing feature in Microsoft Word.
In this tip, we'll see how to adjust the spacing between the individual characters.
Why would you bother with this, though? Well look at the following text:
Normal spacing
This paragraph has normal character spacing.
Notice the single word dangling alone on the last line? This looks unsightly and can be an inconvenience if you're trying to fit your text into a restricted space. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just squash the words together a bit so that the text fit onto four lines instead of five?
Well in Microsoft Word we can do just this. Select the entire paragraph then select the Font... command from the Format menu. Press the Character Spacing tab, and you'll see this dialog:
Character Spacing dialog
From the Spacing pop-up menu select Condensed then use the arrows in the box to the right to enter a value of (say) 0.2. This will tighten up the spacing just enough to push that dangling word up onto the previous line, like so:
Tightened spacing
This paragraph has tightened character spacing.
Of course, you don’t have to tighten the spacing. You can loosen it up, instead, by selecting Expanded from the Spacing menu.

Adjusting the spacing between character in this way is sometimes called adjusting the tracking.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Writing Tip : Avoid excessive punctuation!!!

Avoid excessive punctuation!!! 


This article provides alternatives to the use of excessive punctuation.
Multiple exclamation marks or question marks are a clear sign of amateurish writing.
The following sentence seems unprofessional, and the triple punctuation is simply redundant:
That was really great!!!
Excessive use of exclamation marks and question marks also dilutes their effectiveness. Consider the following over-punctuated examples:
  • "Oh, my God!!!", he exclaimed.
  • Ring now for great bargains!!!
  • "Are you sure???"
Restrict yourself to a single exclamation mark or question mark at a time. In the unlikely event that you need more emphasis, try adding initial capitals, italics or bold face. For example:
"Oh, my God!", he exclaimed.

Keep in mind that most business documents can (and should) be written without any exclamation marks.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Writing Tip : Are we losing the desire to write well?

Are we losing the desire to write well? 


We're all judged on the way we write, so it's important to write well.
British polling company ICM Research recently conducted a survey on behalf of MSN. They found that around two-thirds of the two thousand 18–24 year olds surveyed cared not at all about punctuation, spelling and grammar when composing e-mail.
This overly casual attitude to e-mail seems to be quite widespread — and not just among 18–24 year olds. Much of the e-mail I receive (from both friends and business colleagues) is poorly written. Now this may be defensible in personal correspondence, but sloppy writing has no place in business.
Remember, you're judged on the way you write.
In a face-to-face meeting, you'll be judged on your looks, height, clothing, perceived wealth, accent, social class and a whole host of other features. While we tell our children not to judge a book by its cover, the reality is that we do exactly that every day of our lives.
When reading a piece of correspondence from someone you haven't met face-to-face, though, none of these factors are present. You have only one thing with which to form an impression of them — their writing.
So, in this twenty-first century world of increasingly faceless communication, your writing is more important than ever. I'll say it again: you're judged on the way you write, so write well.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Writing Tip: "A historic" or "an historic"?

"A historic" or "an historic"?


A historic is more common in online writing, but both usages are sufficiently common to be considered correct.
A well known grammar rule says that we should use an before vowel sounds; for example, an accident, an item, an hour. We use a otherwise: a book, a hotel, a university.
Notice that we say an hour, not a hour. The choice of a or an is based upon the sound of the word, not the spelling. Hour sounds as if it starts with a vowel sound (ow); hence, we use an.
Following this rule, we would say a historic, not an historic because (for most speakers) historic doesn't start with a vowel sound.
Words of three or more syllables that start with h are treated differently by some speakers, though. (This may be because of the tendency of some regional accents to drop initial Hs.)
Here's another example. Which of these pairs of sentences sounds better to you?
  • We can't agree on a hypothesis.
  • We can't agree on an hypothesis.
A quick bit of Googling reveals that — as of December 2008 — the phrase a hypothesis is used on 2.22 million pages (80%), and an hypothesis on 538,000 pages (20%). Similarly, a historic gets 70% of the popular vote, and an historic only 30%.
There is a clear preference on the web in favour of a hypothesis and a historic. Even so, a significant minority uses the other form. This supports the view that both forms are widespread. Which form you use seems to be little more than a personal preference and perhaps a matter of accent.

In summary: A historic is more common in online writing, but both usages are sufficiently common to be considered correct.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Writing Tip : All about ellipsis (...)

All about ellipsis (...) 


This article explains the use of the elipsis punctuation mark.
The ellipsis is a series of three — and only three — full stops used to mark missing words, an uncertain pause or an abrupt interruption. For example:
        The review said, "It's wonderful ... a complete triumph".
        Niles:   But Miss Fine's age is only ...
        Fran:   Young! Miss Fine's age is only young!
Most editors precede the ellipsis by a space, even at the end of a sentence.

Note: Within Microsoft Word the ellipsis can be typed as a single character, rather than three separate periods, by typing Alt-Ctrl-period.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Writing Tip : All about dashes

This article explains the difference between hyphens, en dashes and em dashes.

It is one of the little-known secrets of good writing that dashes come in different sizes. The table below compares a hyphen with en and em dashes and shows how to obtain them from within Microsoft Word. (Other programs might not support dashes.)

Keys within MS Word (PC)
minus or numeric-minus*
en dash
Ctrl + numeric-minus
em dash
Ctrl + Alt + numeric-minus
(* The numeric minus key is the minus key at the top-right corner of your keyboard’s numeric keypad.)

The en dash is the width of a letter n — about half-again the width of a hyphen. The em dash is the width of a letter m — about twice the width of a hyphen.

When to use hyphens
Hyphens are used within some names (e.g. Crichton-Browne), to separate some prefixes from a root word (e.g. pre-empt), and in compound adjectives (e.g. role-playing game).

When to use en dashes
The most common use of the en dash is to indicate a span. For example:

  • See lines 24–29
  • Open Monday–Friday

Another use of the en dash is to act as a minus sign. (A hyphen is too narrow.) For example:

  • 10 – 3 = 7

Note: When used to indicate a span the en dash is generally not surrounded with spaces. When used as a minus sign it is.

When to use em dashes

The most common use of em dashes is instead of commas when setting off a parenthetical comment. For example:

  • Item 12, the broken CPU, is to be repaired today.
  • Item 12 — the broken CPU — is to be repaired today.

Note: Some editors surround em dashes with spaces, others do not. There is no clear convention, so you are free to choose whichever you prefer. Be consistent, though.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Writing Tip : All about ampersands

All about ampersands


This article explains when (and when not) to use ampersands (&).

The ampersand (&) is an often over-used abbreviation for the word and. Its use should be limited to a few situations.

We use an ampersand:
• in certain company names; e.g. Smith & Jones Consulting;
• if space is very limited; e.g. in a table with a lot of text;
• when artistic considerations dictate; e.g. a logo; and
• in some academic references; e.g. (Grant & Smith, 1998).
Do not use an ampersand in general writing simply to abbreviate the word and. For example, we write:
• We need to reorder toner cartridges and paper.
• We need to reorder toner cartridges & paper.

The strange shape of the ampersand

It is interesting to observe that the shape of the ampersand character varies from font to font. In some fonts, it looks like this:

With a bit of imagination, you can see the letters e and t. This is because the ampersand character is a stylised form of the Latin word et, which means and. Clever, yes?

Incidentally, if you’d like to be able to use this old-style ampersand in your writing set a regular ampersand in italics. In a few fonts (e.g. Garamond) this produces an old-style ampersand like that shown above.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Writing Tip : Acronyms and initialisms

This article defines the terms "acronym" and "initialism" and gives examples of each.

You may know the definition that says that an acronym is a word formed from the initial letters of other words; for example, NASA and RAM. There is some debate, though, whether words like USA and HTML should also be called acronyms. The issue is whether or not you feel that acronyms must be pronounceable as a word.

One camp in this debate argues that words like USA and HTML are acronyms. The other camp argues that they're not because they aren't pronounced as a word but are sounded out one letter at a time. That is, yoo-ess-ay and aitch-tee-em-ell.

This leads us to two different definitions of acronym:
1. An acronym is a word that is formed from the initial letters of other words; for example, NASA and HTML.
2. An acronym is a word that is formed from the initial letters of other words and is pronounced as a word, not spelled out one letter at a time; e.g. NASA.

Here are some examples that everyone should agree are acronyms:

ASCII: American standard code for information interchange
NASA: National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Qantas: Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services
RAM: random-access memory
ROM: read-only memory

If you prefer the first of the definitions cited above, you will also think of these words as acronyms:

HTML: hypertext markup language
IBM: International Business Machines
USA: United States of America
WA: Western Australia

What if you prefer the second definition — the one that says that acronyms must be pronounceable as words? What can you call these latter examples if not acronyms?

One term that fits the bill nicely is initialism. The American Heritage Dictionary provides the following definition of this term:

Initialism: An abbreviation consisting of the first letter or letters of words in a phrase (for example, IRS for Internal Revenue Service), syllables or components of a word (TNT for trinitrotoluene), or a combination of words and syllables (ESP for extrasensory perception) and pronounced by spelling out the letters one by one rather than as a solid word.

Distinguishing between acronyms and initialisms in this way is by no means universal. If you like new words, though, this seems like a good one.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Writing Tip : Think with your senses as well as your brain.

Think with your senses as well as your brain. While writing ensure that while you are focussed on the idea behind your writing you are also concentrating on the style of your writing. And vice versa. There has to be feeling in your writing which has to be strikingly phrased so as to leave a lasting impression on the minds of your reader.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Writing Tip : Four Questions to ask yourself

What am I trying to say? 

Constantly ask yourself this question while in the process of writing. Unless you have a clear idea of what you would like to say how are you going to write it? Once you have formulated what you wish to convey to your writers your thought process will automatically get attuned to that idea and words & sentences will flow together to put your idea into action.

What words best express my idea?

Once you are clear of what you want to say, choose the post appropriate words so that the meaning behind your idea is conveyed most effectively. Vague words will leave your readers feeling left out and confused. Precise words will make them feel involved and interested.

What image or idiom will make it clearer?

Here you have to make sure that your description of your idea is accurate. Look for phrases that are apt and closely follow your idea.

Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?

You may have described your idea beautifully, but are you sure that has not be done before? Try using new and innovative ideas/images/phrases/idioms to convey your thoughts. Think outside the box.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Writing Tip : Choose the time to write

Decide when in the day (or night) it best suits you to write, and organise your life accordingly. It is always wise to set aside a certain time to do your writing. Once it becomes a routine writing will be just another pleasure to look forward to. Your thoughts will automatically start to flow as you fall into this habit.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Writing Tip : Increase your word power

Increase your word power. Words are the raw material of our craft. The greater your vocabulary the more effective your writing. Enhance your writing by using words with more effective expression. Use words that would grasp your readers attention more thoroughly. We who write in English are fortunate to have the richest and most versatile language in the world. Respect it.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Writing Tip : Do not persist in writing stuff that people might find boring

It is essential to understand that what you might consider interesting and essential maybe considered boring by your readers. Too long descriptions or monologue only tend to draw away the attention of your readers. Stick to the facts and use words/language to make them interesting.