Get Your Writing Style On!

style
Image by delgrosso via Flickr

One search. Forty-nine Style Guides! OnlineStylebooks (link here) is a one-stop micro search engine for writing style guides. Created by Mary Beth Protomastro, who describes:

OnlineStylebooks.com is owned and operated by Mary Beth Protomastro, who has been reading stylebooks since high school. The founder of Copyediting newsletter, she is the copy chief of More magazine and was editor of the Time magazine stylebook. OnlineStylebooks.com is not affiliated with any of those publications.

Mary Beth created OnlineStylebooks.com to help copy editors (including herself) quickly consult a variety of style guides. If you know of a manual that’s on the Internet but not on OnlineStylebooks.com, please tell Mary Beth!

You can enter a search query, or browse style books alphabetically or by subject. The home page also displays a featured style rule – today’s rule is the difference between “repertoire” and “repertory.” Do you know the difference? Check out the link here.

Hat tip to Ray Ward at the (new) legal writer (link here), who hat tips John McIntyre at Language Log (link here).

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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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You’re a Writer? Then Use The Internet!

Rusty Writer
Image by Steve Wampler via Flickr

Nice post by author Mary Warner at the WooWooTeaCup Journal listing many of the ways in which writers can use the internet to support their writing habit. While these suggestions apply generically to writers of all persuasions, there are jewels for business and legal writers to be found in her list. From getting reference help to clipping research information, from finding quotes to communing with other writers and even learning a bit about copyright, Mary has quite a few bases covered. Hit the jump and learn how other writers employ the vast array of tools the internet has to offer!

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You're a Writer? Then Use The Internet!

Rusty Writer
Image by Steve Wampler via Flickr

Nice post by author Mary Warner at the WooWooTeaCup Journal listing many of the ways in which writers can use the internet to support their writing habit. While these suggestions apply generically to writers of all persuasions, there are jewels for business and legal writers to be found in her list. From getting reference help to clipping research information, from finding quotes to communing with other writers and even learning a bit about copyright, Mary has quite a few bases covered. Hit the jump and learn how other writers employ the vast array of tools the internet has to offer!

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I’m Not Editing – I’m Building My Prototype!

What a wonderful analogy for the writing process offered by Ken Davis at Manage Your Writing: drafts are like prototypes serving a similar purpose in creating a final written product! Ken explains how he was able to get his writing trainees to resist the urge to painstakingly edit their first draft by likening that draft to the construction of the initial prototype of a physical product. A prototype devoid of the spit and polish of the final retail version. As taken from his post:

A draft is a prototype. It’s not the final product. It’s not written for the reader. It’s written for the writer. It’s “quick and dirty.” It’s written to test. It’s written to see if it does what it was designed to do.

Editing while drafting that first version of your work hinders the creative flow. The initial phase should be about invention and creativity and not about final brush strokes. How damaging it is to that flow to stop a thought mid-stream in order to insert the proper punctuation!

While I admit that some of my blog posts retain their prototypical feel ;), I myself have difficulty resisting the urge to tighten while drafting my work product. Use Ken’s analogy to remind yourself that you don’t need to put your name on it until you are ready to sell it to the public!

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I'm Not Editing – I'm Building My Prototype!

What a wonderful analogy for the writing process offered by Ken Davis at Manage Your Writing: drafts are like prototypes serving a similar purpose in creating a final written product! Ken explains how he was able to get his writing trainees to resist the urge to painstakingly edit their first draft by likening that draft to the construction of the initial prototype of a physical product. A prototype devoid of the spit and polish of the final retail version. As taken from his post:

A draft is a prototype. It’s not the final product. It’s not written for the reader. It’s written for the writer. It’s “quick and dirty.” It’s written to test. It’s written to see if it does what it was designed to do.

Editing while drafting that first version of your work hinders the creative flow. The initial phase should be about invention and creativity and not about final brush strokes. How damaging it is to that flow to stop a thought mid-stream in order to insert the proper punctuation!

While I admit that some of my blog posts retain their prototypical feel ;), I myself have difficulty resisting the urge to tighten while drafting my work product. Use Ken’s analogy to remind yourself that you don’t need to put your name on it until you are ready to sell it to the public!

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Honor Among Bloggers

A Soap Box.
Image by MonsieurLui via Flickr

Yesterday, I read something that riled me up. A tech blog post with an inflammatory title designed to ensure click-through and “opinionated” content marginally “based” on “facts” with an equally inflammatory bent. On a well-respected and highly viewed tech blog.  The post was dressed up like a “tech” review, but in reality served as a “hot poker” to get readers to hit it and come back repeatedly to check the comments for more outrageousness. The blog author kept the craziness going by answering challenges in the comments with additional “facts” he failed to mention in the original post.

This post reminded me of a similar post that I read last fall – another in which the writing was clearly designed to encourage readers to enter the fray and even post comments in outrage because of the over-the-top nature of the post and its equally poor writing.

I am not going to link to the post here, because I am not interested in encouraging more “hits” on it and in rewarding the writer for a job poorly done. One reason that bloggers engage in such tactics is to inflate hits and statistics, measures which affect revenues for a blog that relies on hits and clicks to increase its income.

I surely don’t begrudge anyone their income opportunities, as long as they are not hurting anyone in the process. Are these manipulaters hurting anyone here? Umm, yes!  Whether they choose to be or not, bloggers populate the new wave of journalism. The advent of blogging has dramatically changed the way in which people receive their “news.” Blogging has changed the face of traditional news outlets. More and more readers have shifted reliance on traditional news outlets to bloggers for cutting-edge information, particularly on cutting-edge topics.When readers believe they are receiving quality and are instead fed drivel, it breaches reasonable expectations of validity, bringing our profession down in the process.

Journalists adhere to a code of ethics, through the Society of Professional Journalists. I thought I might quote some of it here:

Seek Truth and Report It
Journalists should be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.

*   *   *

— Make certain that headlines, news teases and promotional material, photos, video, audio, graphics, sound bites and quotations do not misrepresent. They should not oversimplify or highlight incidents out of context.

*   *   *

— Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.
— Distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two.

There are reasons for ethical codes. When people perceive that a practice has the power to harm, they rightly craft a set of “rules” to ensure protection of those who could be subject to the foul play that misuse of power can wreak. Lawyers have a code of ethics. Journalists have a code of ethics. Cyber Journalist has proposed a blogger code of ethics as well. The admonitions make sense. Here is the proposed Code in its entireity:

Be Honest and Fair
Bloggers should be honest and fair in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.
Bloggers should:
• Never plagiarize.
• Identify and link to sources whenever feasible. The public is entitled to as much information as possible on sources’ reliability.
• Make certain that Weblog entries, quotations, headlines, photos and all other content do not misrepresent. They should not oversimplify or highlight incidents out of context.
• Never distort the content of photos without disclosing what has been changed. Image enhancement is only acceptable for for technical clarity. Label montages and photo illustrations.
• Never publish information they know is inaccurate — and if publishing questionable information, make it clear it’s in doubt.
• Distinguish between advocacy, commentary and factual information. Even advocacy writing and commentary should not misrepresent fact or context.
• Distinguish factual information and commentary from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two.

Minimize Harm
Ethical bloggers treat sources and subjects as human beings deserving of respect.
Bloggers should:
• Show compassion for those who may be affected adversely by Weblog content. Use special sensitivity when dealing with children and inexperienced sources or subjects.
• Be sensitive when seeking or using interviews or photographs of those affected by tragedy or grief.
• Recognize that gathering and reporting information may cause harm or discomfort. Pursuit of information is not a license for arrogance.
• Recognize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than do public officials and others who seek power, influence or attention. Only an overriding public need can justify intrusion into anyone’s privacy.
• Show good taste. Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.
Be cautious about identifying juvenile suspects, victims of sex crimes and criminal suspects before the formal filing of charges.

Legal bloggers may already be sensitive to many of these concerns. Their reasons for blogging differ from those bloggers who make their money from hits and click-throughs. Legal bloggers undertake blogging to showcase their expertise, make connections and earn trust and respect from peers and clients. I would imagine  (and hope) that the incidence of “sensational” headlines and outrageous assertions would be either zero or none on law blogs. I only wish that such irresponsible conduct could be limited to blogs that pander to the National Enquirer crowd – far away from blogs that profess to provide valid news and reviews on tech matters or other professional subjects.

Reserve wild assertions and crazy opinions for the cocktail party or Twitter, Friendfeed or any of the social media outlets where they clearly will be viewed as opinion. Remember your footprint when you blog and, hopefully, your content will add to the blogosphere, rather than detract from it.

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