Wattpad’s Social Reading & Writing Social Network Goes Crowd Funded

wattpad_logo_rounded

Who doesn’t like a good story? Wattpad certainly does. Wattpad is an interesting social network – colloquially billed as the YouTube for ebooks – where readers and writers can find a comfortable home together. And now, it can also be called, the Kickstarter for ebooks.

Wattpad bills itself as the world’s largest community for discovering and sharing stories. Readers, take note – you can find stories in progress and lend a hand in development by posting comments. Writers, check out this  community-based approach to honing your product and finding an audience.  Readers  collect stories into reading lists, and are able to vote for favorites, share stories and comment on them, right alongside their friends and other writers. Writers can submit their work and tap the over 16 million monthly readers. From there, they can win fans, get instant feedback and even publish work serially from their desktop or mobile application.  The site advises that more than 500 writers have published pieces on the site – along with the 16 million monthly visitors, these are numbers that the traditional publishing world has to be noticing. Published and unsigned authors are creating on Wattpad side by side. I love the fact that Wattpad is attempting to break down the artificial barriers between reader and writer that the traditional publishing world has worked to hard to maintain.

The most read stories are featured on a daily what’s hot list. There is also a featured stories list – curated by a Wattpad editorial review board. The site also hosts a number of writing contests, with the largest known as the Watty Awards in the categories of “popular”, “on the rise” and “undiscovered”.  Anyone with an account on the site can enter their work. Margaret Atwood has teamed up with Wattpad to host another contest – the Attys – which is for poetry, in the categories of “enthusiast” or “competitor.”

You can join Wattpad for free and you can sign in with your Facebook credentials or create your own sign-in. The mobile app is available on iOS and Android.  Seems a decent option for voracious digital readers on the go. Interestingly, though, Wattpad’s community demographic is overwhelmingly women.

Wattpad has just announced a new feature which should be even more compelling for authors – a Kickstarter like crowd funding platform called “Fan Funding.” Because Wattpad started as a social network rather than a crowdfunding site, many authors already have a fan base willing to chip in. Fan Funding projects run for 30 days and members pledge towards the goal. The story that is funded will  always be  available for free on the Wattpad platform, while it also may be shopped elsewhere in more traditional markets. Projects can range from fiction, to poetry to even movie scripts.

I am always excited to see new avenues for creators to share their work and get right to the audience without the traditional hurdles. Wattpads social reading and writing platform can now garner users the opportunity to create and share, as well as invest in that creative process. Go Wattpad!

Reduce, Re-Use, Recycle: The Problem of Self-Plagiarism

When people think “plagiarism”, they invariably think of the process of ripping off someone else’s words without attribution to that person. Easy enough to grasp in concept, but not always easy to assess in practice, absent an exact, word-for-word quote. But there is more to the concept of plagiarism than ripping someone else off. How about ripping yourself off? That too would constitute unethical plagiarism  - and the proper term for such repurposing is “self-plagiarism.”

Self-plagiarism, also known as “recycling fraud”, is a problem often found in academic circles. It arises when an author republishes an entire work, or reuses significant portions in a new work, without referencing the earlier work. It is more insidious because most people wouldn’t consider taking from oneself to be stealing. Nonetheless, self-plagiarism is an issue, particularly for publishers with interests in the original work. Additionally, to the extent it is passed off as new material, the self-plagiarism purports to be something it is not – virgin territory.

Traditional concepts of plagiarism do not easily encompass self-plagiarism. For example, the definition of plagiarism from the 1995 Random House Compact Unabridged Dictionary provides:

use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one’s own original work 

My emphasis. And, from the Oxford English Dictionary:

the wrongful appropriation or purloining and publication as one’s own, of the ideas, or the expression of the ideas … of another

Again, my emphasis. Self-plagiarism, however, does not benefit from such solid agreement in definition – misuse of another’s work. Self-plagiarism involves re-use of identical or nearly identical portions of an author’s own writings, without acknowledging that the author is copying from his or her prior work and without citing the prior work. Thus, it differs significantly from the definition of plagiarism tied to the concept of intellectual theft from another, making self-plagiarism susceptible to significant dispute. Unlike plagiarism, there is nothing illegal about self-plagiarism, although it could subject one to civil liability to a copyright holder. And it certainly smacks of unethical behavior.

To the extent you are interested in learning more about self-plagiarism and its pitfalls, the fine folks at Paradigms LLC, the makers of iThenticate Software, have prepared a white paper explaining its intricacies. You can download the white paper here.

Practicing attorneys are encouraged to “self plagiarize” in creating legal documents – why reinvent the wheel when you already filed a brief on the same legal points last month or draft a contract without reference to language you employed in the standard terms in your prior contracts?  However, lawyers who moonlight as authors of legal treatises, periodicals, handbooks or other more commercially viable publications should at least confront the concept and understand the consequences. If you really find yourself troubled by the possibilities, you can always look into the iThenticate  software product – it compares manuscripts against more than 14 billion web pages, more than 30 million published research articles from 150 leading science, technical and medical publishers, and over 80,000 major newspapers, magazines and scholarly journals.

So, next time you want to use that gem you previously employed in a prior work, make sure you cite the source – you. Remember the four R’s: reduce; re-use; recycle; and, re-attribute.

 

Legal Opinion Letter as Poetry. Really.

Hard to believe but maybe, in fact, true. I happened on this link over at the Legal Writing Profs Blog and followed it to the New York Times Opinion pages to find an analysis of literary devices inconspicuously hanging out in our everyday writing. David Brooks considers our extensive of metaphors in our communications, noting that we communicators drop a metaphor every 10 to 25 words.

Equally interesting are the types of metaphors we use for different subject matter. Brooks reveals the pairings described by researchers George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, e.g.: food metaphors for ideas; health metaphors for relationships; war metaphors for arguments; money metaphors for time; and, liquid metaphors for money (hit the jump above for the examples).

Brooks opines that metaphorical thinking obscures our perception and  understanding of reality by fitting our communication with lenses that alter the view. Pop quiz: how many metaphors did I bury in that sentence? (Answer: at least four and maybe five if you are being generous). In essence, Brooks equates metaphorical thinking with lazy thinking.

I am not convinced this “pedestrian poetry” is all wrong. As a writer, I seek to invoke visuals as well as impart concepts. Metaphors are an effective means of doing so. For creative writing, I consciously use  unusual metaphors to force a new concept or pairing. For business writing, I am more conservative but still use them to encourage a visceral response to my attempted persuasion. Go back and read a brief you crafted or an opinion letter you drafted and count how many metaphors you used. Then ask yourself: did those metaphors promote or obscure my intentions? Was the net result my design or wide of the mark? As long as you understand your message and feel your words convey that message, then all is well.

Metaphors are an important communications tool and even tie our present thinking to historical understandings, as explained by Brooks in his piece. Even unintended metaphors may subconsciously serve to italicize your point. As long as you are aware of their import, what is the harm in lighting your pen on fire with a few poetic devices? Metaphorically speaking, of course. :)

Instant Outline? Topicmarks Summarizes Complex Articles

Ho ho, now here is a COOL tool. A cool SEMANTIC tool. Particularly if you are lazy or reading comprehension isn’t your strong suit. MakeUseOf has a thorough review of Topicmarks, a web-based application that automates a summary of key terms and text in electronic form, or a “smart, interactive synopsis” of your electronic documents.

Open a free account, or sign in using Google or Yahoo. Topicmarks invites you to “open” your “personal knowledge space.” Then, upload a document (in a variety of formats, including Word, PDF, html, or plain text) to the Topicmarks site. Or use their bookmarklet to summarize any web page you happen to be visiting. Or email your document to the special email address provided by Topicmarks under the “profile” button.

Topicmarks’ engine then goes to work, and you will be notified by email when the process is complete. Under the button for “text knodes”, you will find your document summaries. Via tabs, you can get the overview, facts, summary, keywords, index, and properties. These tabs offer different ways to digest your information – either by quick facts, general overview, a deeper dive into particular keywords, or an index of all keywords. The information is linked across tabs – click on a keyword in the index and pull up the “facts” associated with that keword in the facts tab.

Your texts are stored forever, and it is currently free, although heavy users might see a cost for the service in the future.  Keep in mind that texts are public by default, and you can share your knodes with Facebook and Twitter, but you can make them private in the settings.

So, you research your topic (or you collect materials sent to you by others). Send them through Topicmarks. Read the synopsis. Check out some key terms. Does it look interesting? Check out the whole article? Does it look like dreck? Move on.

Now, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist, but it might take a lawyer, to see how Topicmarks might be of value to the legal profession. The fine folk at Topicmarks are mindful of this, including lawyers and paralegals on their list of who might benefit from their service. They also suggest the following uses for their awesome service:

  • Analyzing your own writings
  • Being up-to-date with the latest financial research
  • Building a knowledge base for a graduate thesis
  • Building a knowledge base for a master’s thesis
  • Checking current facts against past press releases
  • Checking doctoral theses
  • Discovering emerging patterns
  • Evaluating student papers quickly
  • Finding back quotes they remember having read somewhere
  • Finding inconsistencies in long reports
  • Getting the gist of subordinates’ presentations
  • Preparing a school project
  • Reading up quickly on industry analyses
  • Researching a first student paper
  • Sifting through annual reports
  • Sifting through legal cases
  • Staying abreast of white papers
  • Storing relevant legal precedents
  • Writing fiction abstracts y analyses
  • Researching a first student paper
  • Sifting through annual reports
  • Sifting through legal cases
  • Staying abreast of white papers
  • Storing relevant legal precedents
  • Writing fiction abstracts

Why do I love this? Well, it’s free (for now), it’s effective, its a serious efficiency tool, it’s web-based with social sharing, it’s research-and-writing-oriented, it’s uber-cool Semantic-powered. A clear winner on all counts. My mind is already coming up with new ways to play with it – I am thinking about finding the most complex securities case I can find in Google Scholar and running it through Topicmarks to see what I get. Check it out and turbo-charge your own electronic research and reading experience!

Grammarly: Your Robotic Writing Assistant

There are those out there claiming that good grammar is outdated. And then there are those out there looking to turn a buck helping you fix your grammar and proofread your opus (opuses? opera?). Should you choose to pay attention to your grammar, you can turn to the online service Grammarly to afford you that second set of eyes. Grammarly doesn’t beat around the bush: the site proudly proclaims it to be “The World’s Most Accurate Grammar Checker.” Grammarly offers both online checking and integration with your local software – Microsoft Office Word, PowerPoint, Outlook, etc.  Grammarly checks for spelling, punctuation, and simple grammar checking, as well as highlights potential plagiaristic moments in your missive.  Grammatical errors are indicated in red and clicking on the error will reveal a pop up card explaining the wrong and the “write” of it. You can choose to “see less” of the explanation in the cards, and there are up and down buttons to give feedback on the feedback that is given to you in the card.

Word from reviewers is that Grammarly is near the top of the class when it comes to online grammar support, but that it falls a bit short as a local add-on, with much better options out there in WhiteSmoke or Writer’s Workbench. The other downside for me was a monthly subscription cost. For on-line, I would prefer a one-off option for the occasional support, rather than be required to pump in $20 or so bucks a month for a slightly better editor and checker than my word processor provides.

That said, those who make their living writing, or students whose grades depend upon quality written product, might find the money well spent. It’s always nice to have another tool to fit in you writer’s tool belt.

Apparently, Good Grammar Is Outdated And Optional

DISCLAIMER: I did not run this post through the AP Style Book’s Grammar Editor and my blog editor doesn’t have spell-check. I still read it a second time to make sure I crossed my t’s and dotted my i’s. I’m old-fashioned like that.

My spouse, who often goes by the self-annointed nickname “Conan the Grammarian”, forwarded this little gem to me this morning - Good Grammar Is Old Fashioned, Unecessary and Bad For Your Career. Leaving aside omission of the serial comma, I have a few nits to pick with this statement.

First, let’s talk about the author. Penelope Trunk’s bio reads as follows:

Penelope Trunk is the founder of three startups, most recently Brazen Careerist, a professional social network for young people. Previously she worked in marketing at Fortune 500 companies including Mattel and Hyundai. Her blog about career advice, blog.penelopetrunk.com, receives half a million visits a month and is syndicated in more than 200 newspapers. She frequently appears as a workplace commentator on CNN, 20/20 and FOX News. She’s also the author of Brazen Careerist: The New Rules for Success, a bestselling career advice book for Generation Y.

Ms. Trunk “advertises” her blog post with the blurb:

The cost of perfect grammar — even spelling — is just too high. Learn to live with sloppiness. It just might help your career.

Next, I moved on to the post :

Why do so many people care about grammar and spelling? Seriously. There is very little in this world that warrants text-based perfection. Are you writing the copy for a billboard in Times Square that is only three words? Don’t have a typo.

Otherwise….

Let’s see. The second sentence is incomplete. In fact, it is an adverb. An adverb that means in a serious manner, to an alarmingly grave extent, or with genuine, earnest intent. But what in a serious manner, to an alarmingly grave extent or with genuine earnest intent? Adverbs are modifiers and I cannot tell from this single adverb sentence exactly what seriously is modifying here. When someone asks me to take something seriously, then I really need to know to what I am supposed to accord the weight. Is it the question that precedes the statement? Is it the sentence that follows? I can’t tell, so I think I will skip right over the seriously. It is seriously lacking in the action and object vital to conveying the point.

Not content to impress upon us that brevity is our friend with the single adverb sentence, Ms. Trunk then uses an even more nuclear tool, the single adverb paragraph. It is a complete sentence in that it is followed by a period and an ellipses. Lawyers are very familiar with the ellipses: we regularly quote from cases, statutes, and authorities, while attempting to fit within space constraints. In formal writing, ellipses are used to show places where words have been omitted from a quote. Where the omission is within a sentence, the reader will see three dots. Where the omission is at the end of a sentence, the reader will see a period in the normal place, followed by three dots. So, according to general understanding, “Otherwise….” is a complete sentence and, in this case, a complete paragraph.  

For the record, otherwise means under other circumstances, in another manner, in other respects. The implication is that, when you use “otherwise”, you will then find out what should happen in those other circumstances, manners, or respects.

In informal text, ellipses, which should be used sparingly, also can be employed to show uncertainty or a trailing off of the writer’s train of thought. I am guessing that is what Trunk is trying to do here. Functionally, she is making a point in her first paragraph about how outdated grammar is, but then suggests that she is faltering in her resolve with her uncertain “devil’s advocate” “otherwise….” standing alone in its own, tiny paragraph. Her point would have been much sharper if she made the “Times Square” statement the first sentence of the next paragraph, started the next sentence with “otherwise,” and then finished that sentence, explaining that “in other contexts, good grammar and punctuation is unecessary and potentially harmful.”

What is she trying to say here? I don’t know with certainty.  There is too much ambiguity arising out of her use of these terms and placement of the paragraph breaks for me to fully fathom her message. Presumably, in her first “two” paragraphs, Ms. Trunk believes that grammer is important for the three-word billboard in Times Square, but nowhere else. Especially not in blog posts attempting to make a point about the futility of grammar.

Is this true, lawyers? What about in drafting legislation? What about in writing a brief to be filed with a court? How about in a legally-binding agreement?

I clicked on a few links in her post to glean a greater understanding of her message. I believe her underlying point is that writing with rhythm and cadence is far more important than writing with clarity. And, by clarity, I mean following certain basic rules regarding grammar and usage so that the import of the message is not lost in creative innovation. How about in venues that depend heavily on that clarity.

She also seems to be saying that our limited energy should be spent writing, and not worrying about grammar. But that really does depend upon the audience and your purpose, doesn’t it? If you can attend to both your content and your structure, why wouldn’t you?

Ms. Trunk also believes that the real reason that people note grammar is to help them separate the well-educated from the riff-raff. She seems to believe that grammar rules are a snob’s best friend. Where has Ms. Trunk been hanging out?

Here is my take on grammar and usage. Examine your purpose and know your audience. Tailor your “perfectionism” to the setting. I concede that word choice and the grammar rules themselves are not black and white – take a look on the internet to see the disputes that abound concerning use of contractions and splitting infinitives. Nonetheless. whether Ms. Trunk likes it or not, bad grammar in almost any context muddies up the message and can even actively distract from it. There are many fora in which creative “rule-breaking” is permitted and even encouraged, but business writing is not one of them. In law, a mispelled word or misplaced punctuation mark can mean the difference between yes and no.

At its very core, language is a communication tool. We speak and write to ensure our message is heard. The grammar rules are meant to give us a framework upon which to lay our word choices, to encourage a foundation enabling us to reduce the guesswork that would prevail if there were no rules.

Do you remember that famous scene in the movie Airplane, when Barbara Billingsly steps forward to tell the flight attendent, I mean stewardess (see, I can accept change): “Oh Stewardess, I speak Jive”? Have you ever tried to “understand” the lyrics in a rap song?  Don’t get me wrong here, people. I love rap music. But I believe that the deviations in the language used in rap music or within other groups often may be intentionally difficult to parse chiefly due to the singer’s or speaker’s desire to target his message to that particular audience, and not to the larger group. What if you need to reach the larger group? Does rap work in that context? While there are those few examples of judges taking liberties with the language in their decisions, I know that I would not risk a client’s cause with taking those same liberties in a brief or contract.

I believe that, in order to use language to best effect, the writer should be mindful of both the rules of grammar and the meanings of words. Without a working understanding of both, the writer may be incapable of communicating his message to his audience. The code is there to help reduce misunderstandings. You can certainly break those rules, but you risk losing the message in the murk. Your gamble, I suppose.

I think it is easy for someone like Ms. Trunk to flaunt the rules of grammar with wild abandon: she is well-educated and knows the rules well enough to break them. But what about someone who is unwittingly or unknowingly breaking those rules? If language and grammar are not important, then why would Ms. Trunk suggest that it is a good idea to hire someone to help you write your resume?

Good Advice – For (M)ad Men & Lawyers

Persuasive writing. It’s what we do. Whether selling a product or service or an argument to the court or opposing counsel, writers need to choose their words carefully. To make a proper pitch, writers must address the rational and emotional needs of their intended audience.

Laura Connell over at Bad Language has published some words to use and words to avoid in this regard, identified by veteran ad-man David Ogilvy. According to Oglivy, the twenty most persuasive words that you can use in your writing are:

  1. suddenly
  2. now
  3. announcing
  4. introducing
  5. improvement
  6. amazing
  7. sensational
  8. remarkable
  9. revolutionary
  10. startling
  11. miracle
  12. magic
  13. offer
  14. quick
  15. easy
  16. wanted
  17. challenge
  18. compare
  19. bargain
  20. hurry

Ogilvy also identifies a few (13) “powerless” words that fail to convey the proper persuasive sentiment, and recommends that they be avoided:

  1. But
  2. Try
  3. Don’t
  4. Should
  5. Need to
  6. Have to
  7. Could
  8. Maybe
  9. Perhaps
  10. Might
  11. Possibly
  12. Potentially
  13. Think

While working “revolutionary,” “miracle,” and “magic” into your next brief might be a bit of a stretch, consider the tone embodied in these lists – people respond more positively to a positive sentiment, and less positively to an ambivalent or negative sentiment. Rather than cut down the opposite viewpoint, consider emphasizing the positive, and you too might be able to sell like Don Draper.

Writing For The Web, Yahoo!-Style

Yahoo! is here to help you write for the Web with its very own Style Guide (link). Yahoo! and the Guide promise to help you “write and edit for a global audiences through best practices from Yahoo!” Quite a promise. Yahoo! cautions that it is different writing for Web than for print (all references to proper grammar, spelling and traditional style aside), and that Yahoo!”s version will power your style up for the digital age.

While the book itself costs (link here to pre-order from Amazon at discount from list price of $21.99), there are a few articles at the link at the top that can be had for free. The headings include “Write for the Web”, “Identify Your Audience”, “Define Your Voice”, “Construct Clear, Compelling Copy”, “Be Inclusive, Write for the World”, “Make Your Site Accessible to Everyone”, “Write Clear User-Interface Text” (which sounds like an oxymoron to me), and “Streamline Text for Mobile Devices.” There are best practices for editing online material, including punctuation, grammar, organization, and number styles. There is also a sample from the book’s “word list,” covering terms related to communications, technology, branding, and other topics that Yahoo!’s U.S. editors have encountered frequently. The site includes some outside resources (link here) on Basic Web Page coding, SEO, research tools, and a Web Editor’s tool box.

Last but not least, you an even submit a question to a Yahoo! editor (link here). Simply sign on with your Yahoo! user id and submit. Nice resource for refining your Web content.

Curing Writer's Pain

Writing samples: Parker 75
Image by churl via Flickr

I didn’t know there was such an affliction. Not only is such compositional agony out there, it is the subject of college coursework. Stephanie Allen at idealawg (link here) posts on the subject from her experience in a workshop course presented by Dr. Donna Strickland. I urge you to hit the link to her post; it is detailed and definitely worth a read.

There are a few points I would like to highlight here. First, Dr. Strickland mentions the positive impact of a book she read, How Writers Journey to Comfort and Fluency: A Psychological Adventure by Robert Boice. In it, the author cites several causes for suffering:

  • Work aversion
  • Procrastination
  • Writing apprehension (this was the only cause on the list that Strickland did not experience)
  • Dysphoria/depression
  • Impatience
  • Perfectionism
  • Rigid rules (e.g., “If I don’t have three hours to write than what is the point?” or “I have to have a good first line before I write”)

These “causes” actually look like symptoms of pain to me. Why do these behaviors arise in the first place?

Dr. Strickland does set about crafting some cures for these conditions, which include letting go of the “mindfullness” that drives the above-cited “causes.” Dr. Strickland’s steps include incorporation of Boice’s steps and appear centered on the idea of dropping blocks that our intellect can put in place. Patience, yoga, beginning before “ready”, all have a place in aiding writing and curing pain.

Attorneys faced with writing a brief or motion may find themselves in pain as well. But we don’t often have the luxury of losing the “mindfulness”  aspect of our experience. Case in point, it makes little sense to start writing before you are prepared with the proper research, particularly if a deadline is looming. Writing twice and cutting once isn’t always an option.

But, we can practice our writing whenever possible to work through some of the issues implicated in the writing pain process. One of the real benefits of blog writing for lawyers is that it gets them to engage in a different form of writing than is usually before them and may even help to loosen up tight writing muscles that even Ben-Gay can’t touch.

In any event, Allen’s article includes links that may be of interest. If you have thoughts on the writing process and how to get past your own personal hurdles, I would love to hear about them in the comments.

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Don't Tell Them, Show Them – Writing Rules

This list has been floating around for years. Nonetheless, I thought I would share it since it popped up again in my reader this morning and it always gives me a chuckle. Sometimes, the best way to make a point is to “show, don’t tell” (was that a cliche?) so here goes nothing:

Twenty-six “Golden” Rules for Writing Well

  1. Don’t abbrev.
     
  2. Check to see if you any words out.
     
  3. Be carefully to use adjectives and adverbs correct.
     
  4. About sentence fragments.
     
  5. When dangling, don’t use participles.
     
  6. Don’t use no double negatives.
     
  7. Each pronoun agrees with their antecedent.
     
  8. Just between you and I, case is important.
     
  9. Join clauses good, like a conjunction should.
     
  10. Don’t use commas, that aren’t necessary.
     
  11. Its important to use apostrophe’s right.
     
  12. It’s better not to unnecessarily split an infinitive.
     
  13. Never leave a transitive verb just lay there without an object.
     
  14. Only Proper Nouns should be capitalized. also a sentence should begin with a capital letter and end with a full stop
     
  15. Use hyphens in compound-words, not just in any two-word phrase.
     
  16. In letters compositions reports and things like that we use commas to keep a string of items apart.
     
  17. Watch out for irregular verbs that have creeped into our language.
     
  18. Verbs has to agree with their subjects.
     
  19. Avoid unnecessary redundancy.
     
  20. A writer mustn’t shift your point of view.
     
  21. Don’t write a run-on sentence you’ve got to punctuate it.
     
  22. A preposition isn’t a good thing to end a sentence with.
     
  23. Avoid cliches like the plague.
     
  24. 1 final thing is to never start a sentence with a number.
     
  25. Always check your work for accuracy and completeness.

Get it?

Hat tip to far too many people to list here.