The All New Google Presentations

Google Docs, the cloud suite of productivity tools offered by Google for free, has always been a favorite of mine. I have used Presentations, the slide deck creation tool, to make visuals and collaborate with others. I have always found Presentations to be more than serviceable, and definitely useful.

Google has just made Presentations even more useful with a dramatic feature roll out. The changes focus on improving collaboration by including presence markers to show where collaborators are working, allowing simultaneous editing by team members, showing a use revision history to see who made changes or to revert to an earlier version, and a building in a chat feature to permit dialogue between collaborators while working on the document. There are more than 50 other new features , including better transitions and “spicier” (their word, not mine) 3D effects, new animations, new themes, drawings within presentations, and rich tables.

The new stuff is rolling out slowly but you can help it along – just click on the gear in the document list, select Document Settings, hit the editing tab, check the box to “create new presentations using the latest version of the presentation editor” and voila!, you’re in. But don’t bother if you are running an older browser: the new Presentations is optimized to work with the latest browser editions, so update one of those first before trying this at home, kids. Check this link for what works.

I love shiny new playthings from Google!


Entri – Crowdsource Your Writing

Now here is an interesting idea. A web app that promotes social collaboration on documents in progress. The service is called Entri (link here) and it is essentially an on-line document editor with collaborative features. It’s free and quite simple to use. Log in with your Twitter ID and you will see a text editor box, with basic formatting, image insertion and link creation features. There is a delete button, a lock button, a “get HTML” button and a save changes button. You can scroll through your Entri’s as well. Versions show on the right side of the screen and you can invite your Twitter friends to engage in the process of editing your document.

What’s the purpose? Entri provides a decent, stripped down text editor that you can use in a pinch to write and secure feedback. The suggesetd use offered on the site is roughing out a blog post and then inviting your followers to add their input into the mix before posting in final form on your blog. Entri advises that integration with the mainstream blogging services, such as WordPress, is coming, but for now you can copy and past the HTML generated on Entri right into your blog’s text editor.

Kind of a cool, special-purpose tool.

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.

Automating Your Editing

Editing seems one of those skills better left to a human, at least for the final pass-through stage. But even a human can overlook important grammatical errors, particularly if that human’s bleeding eyes have made too many passes over the work and the caffeine is on its way out of the system.

Can’t hurt to make use of a robot as another failsafe. Enter Paperrater (link here).

Paperraater is a free web service that checks your work for grammatical and spelling errors and plagiarism issues. Simply paste the text into the web editor, specify the type of paper, and receive back a detailed examination of the work, complete with feedback on originality, vocabulary, style, corrections for misspelled words, incorrect grammar, and word choice. Paperrater will also supply tips and examples for improving the masterpiece.

Worried about the source of these suggestions? Apparently, the Paperrater app has been developed by linguistics professionals and graduate students, presumably in relevant areas of study.

Very, very interesting.

Hat tip to MakeUseOf.

CompareMyDocs, Please?

CompareMyDocsWhat attorney hasn’t longed for a simple means of comparing, merging and incorporating changes into documents? It’s what we do!

For the hefty price of FREE, CompareMyDocs offers a web-based service that compares and marks up to seven documents. Differences are displayed in a neat interface. Changes are color-coded and you can hover over text to accept or reject a particular change. After you are done with CompareMyDocs, simply download the final to your own word processor for the finishing touches.

CompareMyDocs works for Rich Text Format and Word formatted documents. The site cautions that it works best for text only documents, as tables and other graphics are not displayed.  It is currently in Beta.

CompareMyDocs is a close cousin of the desktop application TextFlow. TextFlow is not yet widely available and remains closed while tweaking is done. CompareMyDocs, however, is available – it launched today.

Now before you go pegging me with assertions that a web-based document comparison app is no place for client-sensitive information, consider how difficult it is to even edit or compare versions of your firm’s newsletter! I still get agita using the comparable functions in Word 2007. Consider it for what it is worth: a handy free app that offers a simpler view of the life and times of your documents.

Hat Tip to ReadWriteWeb

Suffering the Consequences of Incomprehensibility

1st third of 16th century
Image via Wikipedia

Haven’t posted one of these in the while. The ABA Journal reports here on another lawyer taking a beating from a judge for poor writing. The Dayton, Florida lawyer, David W. Glasser, was the attorney on the receiving end of U.S. District Judge Gregory Presnell’s ire. Apparently, Attorney Glasser filed a Motion to Dismiss with the District Court and Judge Presnell denied the Motion without prejudice. Attached to the Judge’s Denial is a copy of the original Motion complete with red editing marks. The Judge ordered Glasser to copy his client on the criticism.

I read the ABA’s blurb listing the grammatical errors pointed out by the Judge: several examples of excess spacing; typographical errors; incorrect placement of punctuation outside of quotation marks; incorrect capitalization; wrong word use; and, one very long sentence. Procedural errors aside, I thought to myself “sure, these are problems, but the Judge’s actions seem pretty harsh.” And then I read the example quoted by the Journal:

“A review counsel’s file subsequent to the court order indicates that for some reason full which counsel is unaware, the defendant named in the complaint was changed to the current defendant. Counsel believes this was changed by counsel’s prior assistant it was no longer with counsel’s firm.”

Whaaaat? Case closed.

[if you really want to, you can read the Motion here]

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Lawyers As Professional Writers

I really like Wayne Schiess’ Legal Writing Blog. This entry features a guest “blogger” Cheryl Stephens of Building Rapport, a blog about Plain Language.  I really enjoyed her passage: she urges lawyers to view themselves as professional writers, often drafting more pages in a day “than a novelist hones in a week.”

Trumpeting a refrain similar to the tune hummed by Arthur Miller in my prior blog entry, Ms. Stephens laments the poor quality of writing and reasoning exhibited by first year associates. Ms. Stephens presses these new lawyers to see themselves as “publishers” and advises them to adhere to the principles of Plain Language – “good grammar, standard English, no jargon, and well-formed sentences expressing well-formed thoughts.” Check out her new book, Plain Language Legal Writing.

After more than 17 years as a professional writer, I find myself still actively thinking about my writing on a regular basis. I would like to claim that perfect grammar and precise communication flow naturally, reflexively and abundantly for me, but the truth is that even the best writers must tend to their product no matter how skilled they are or believe themselves to be. Take a writing course, read examples of powerful persuasive writing, start a journal, or maybe even a blog. If you wish to improve your writing, take charge of your process, seek opportunities to rise above bad habits and avoid complacency. Your clients, your peers and your tribunals rely on your words.