Some kind of legacy

Some kind of legacy

I met some of my old work colleagues for a drink the other evening and it was lovely to catch up. They’re all super-focussed on their work and full of office gossip, some of which I can’t really follow because I don’t know who everyone is anymore. It still feels weird not being at work, even though it’s been more than a year since I left, but I’m mostly able to fill my days doing something useful, even if it’s just weeding the garden. I sometimes feel like I’m on holiday and one day I’ll wake up and find that I’ve been ordered to return to the office. That would be terrible!

Although I miss the sense of purpose that goes with having a job, I don’t actually miss the work (except for strategic planning meetings which I love). I think choosing your own projects is a lot more fun than having other people decide how you will spend your days, but I’m not very good with deadlines. When no-one is relying on you to finish a task, it’s very easy to put it off until another day. This is especially true when the task is something boring, but I also find it quite easy to procrastinate about doing things I enjoy, such as writing. It’s inexplicable really.

I’m assured by my work friends that they still mention me at the office (which was gratifying because no-one likes to be forgotten), but I was really interested to know what they remembered. They said it usually starts with, “as Marg would say…” and ends with one of the things I’ve been banging on about for years. It’s nice to think that someone was actually listening! It’s a bit like when your kids say something back to you that makes you realise that despite them pretending they were on another planet, or had cotton wool stuffed in their ears, they were taking it in all the time.

It just goes to prove that key messages do actually stick in people’s minds if you keep them short and repeat them often enough!

So here (in no particular order) are the sayings of Marg…

  1. White space is good Give your words room to breathe. White space makes complicated ideas more approachable and easier to comprehend.
  2. Slides are free, use as many as you like Don’t squash all your information on to one slide (see above).
  3. Simple is not the same as simplistic There’s a vast difference between making something clear and understandable and reducing a concept to a meaningless motherhood statement. The most beautifully designed products are incredibly complicated, but easy to use.
  4. What are you are trying to say? Once you know, you can write it down. Say it as simply as possible. Your readers will thank you.

There’s nothing really new of inspiring here, but I guess it could be worse. I reminded them of my favourite saying from the Best Marigold Hotel.

“Everything will be alright in the end. And if it’s not alright, it’s not the end”.

John Lennon

Do you have any favourite sayings that you’d like to be remembered for?

Using a web editor to improve your writing

Using a web editor to improve your writing

Yesterday I had to get some spelling advice from my sister. I’d already spent an hour trying to find the answer on the internet, but everything I read just made me more confused, so I gave up and emailed my sister (ex-teacher and librarian), and she replied quick-smart with a definitive answer. Yay for sisters.

I still miss being the go-to grammar and spelling person at work, but to be honest I didn’t always know the answers and often had to look things up on the internet or in one of my trusty books, my favourite being Writing at Work by Neil James, Executive Director of the Plain English Foundation. If you are ever going to buy a writing book, I recommend this one.

Like most people, I have several words which I commonly misspell. (It amuses me that misspelt is a word that nearly everyone misspells). I spent many years with a yellow sticky note stuck on my monitor with “separate” written on it because I had a mental blank about how to spell it, despite having my spellchecker turned on. Other people tell me they struggle with broccoli, cemetery and when to use stationery/stationary, although that one is easy to remember. A pen is stationery, and we spell both with an e.

Today I read an article where the writer had used pneumonic instead of mnemonic, and it made me laugh. She can blame spellcheck, I guess.

Writing is hard, and everyone makes mistakes, including me.

I recently started using a tool called ProWritingAid, an online editing tool. It’s not as good as a real editor, (by which I mean a person), but pretty useful. I have the free version which allows you to upload a small quantity of text and it will check it for grammar, spelling and style errors. I also use their Chrome add-on which highlights mistakes when I’m doing any online writing, for example commenting on other people’s blogs. It makes helpful suggestions which you can easily ignore if you don’t like them or don’t agree.

It’s interesting to observe the mistakes I commonly make and try to correct them. Most of them are poor writing habits such as using passive voice and unnecessary words. Best of all, you get a brief report at the end of the week telling you how many improvements you’ve made.

I have learnt that my main issue is using modifiers that weaken my writing.

Examples are “just”, as in I just wanted to say; “somewhat”, as in I was somewhat discouraged; and “a bit” as in I was a bit sad. We commonly use these words in academic writing, which encourages tentative language. Sentences often start with the words, “the research shows”, or “it would seem that…” You can’t be too confident just in case you can’t back up your claim with evidence.

But I’m not writing academic essays anymore, so I’ve started removing these words. As a result, I think my writing is much stronger and clearer. And as you know, I’m a big fan of clarity and brevity.

Why don’t you try it and see what you think?

Instructions for life

 

Like many people, I am a bit of a sucker for reading ‘Instructions for life’. You know the kind of thing I am talking about. They usually include things like being kind to yourself, trying new things and being kind to others. The other day I read a list which included having some lemony water every morning before breakfast. I’m not sure exactly what that does to your body, but I’m guessing it wakes up your mouth.

 

Instructions are very appealing. Just being called ‘instructions’ gives them a level of importance and authority. They are much more impressive than mere suggestions . The underlying message is that you just need to do exactly as you are told and all will be well.

 

So I was quite puzzled by the instructions printed on a new garment I purchased today, which read “Think climate cold wash and line dry”.  I misinterpreted this to mean that in a cold climate, one should wash and line dry the item, when of course it was actually an instruction to use cold water and a washing line instead of using hot water and a dryer.

 

I know that not many people would have misread this instruction, but it did make me laugh when I realised my mistake. I also know that a simple hyphen would probably have helped.

 

 

 

Enhanced by Zemanta

Simple versus simplistic

The other day I was surprised to hear a radio journalist use the word simplistic (meaning childish or oversimplified), when they meant simple (straightforward and easy to understand). It made me wonder if other people are confused about these two words and whether this results in simplicity having a bad name?

I have a sign on my desk that says SIMPLICITY IS THE ULTIMATE SOPHISTICATION (courtesy of Leonado da Vinci) and it serves as a reminder to me as well as people around me. I am constantly exhorting people to keep things simple, but I’m not talking about reducing ideas or concepts to the point where they become meaningless. Quite the contrary, reducing the complexity of information should increase the impact of your message and make it stronger, not weaker. Simplicity is about focus, order and clarity. It’s about making it easier for people to understand what you are saying, so that it will be memorable.

Do you face this challenge at your workplace? Do you have any suggestions about how to encourage people to make things simple, rather than more complicated?

Related articles

Enhanced by Zemanta

Finding focus

I’m guessing that most of us have spent at least a little bit of time recently deciding what we will focus on, and what skills or interests we want to develop in 2013.

I don’t know about you, but one of my biggest problems is that I am interested in way too many things, to the point where I flit from topic to topic always hungry for new and interesting ideas but not really digesting or absorbing very much. And while this is very entertaining, it results in knowing a little bit about a lot of subjects, but not being an expert on anything in particular. This is not a good thing in the world of business (so they say), which favours those with marketable expertise.

So this year I am going to focus on being more focussed.

This means finishing one book before starting another. (Well maybe I can have one fiction and one non-fiction on the go, but not five at once).

Attention
Attention (Photo credit: aforgrave)

It also means spending more time writing about practical ways that you can craft your material so that your messages are clear.

This doesn’t mean that I’ll only talk about one thing. As far as I am concerned, there are many elements to clarity. Regardless of whether you are writing a report, creating a presentation or designing a website the principles and elements are the same.

You need:

  • Clear concise writing that makes sense to the reader
  • Consistent and logical ordering of your content
  • Plenty of white space so that your text is legible and doesn’t overwhelm people
  • Graphs, charts and illustrations that help people to understand your message
  • An understanding of how people learn and how they make sense of information

But above all, you need to KNOW what it is you are trying to say. Working this out is by far the most important thing you need to do and is the place where you should start.

So my plan for the coming year is to focus on writing helpful, inspiring and practical blog posts. What are you going to focus on? Are there skills that you want to develop and can I help you?

 

 

Enhanced by Zemanta