Charles Paget Wade Before Snowshill

My pal Paul Capewell wrote a booklet on the artist, architect and collector Charles Paget Wade. Aside from wanting to read the booklet, I was caught by this paragraph in Paul’s post:

So I took some time off to get the words down. Fortunately, and partly as I was writing in chronological order, it flowed smoothly. It turns out that if you do the slow, painstaking work of collecting quotes, dates, examples and context beforehand, one’s brain actually does a pretty good job of condensing it all into a readable format.

I’m reminded of Rachel Leow’s great 2008 post Only Collect:

Only Collect; that is to say, collect everything, indiscriminately. You’re five years old. Don’t presume too much to know what’s important and what isn’t. Photocopy journal articles, photograph archives; create bibliographies, buy books; make notes on every article or book you read, even if it’s just one line saying “Never read this again”; collect newspaper clippings and email them to yourself; collect quotes; save your ideas for future papers, future projects, future conferences, even if they seem wildly implausible now. Hoarding must become instinctual, it must be an uncontrollable, primal urge. And the higher, civilizing impulse that kicks in after the fact is organization, or librarianship. You must keep tabs on everything you collect, somehow; a system must be had, and the system must be idiot-proof. That is to say, you should be able to look back on it six months for now and not be completely stymied as to why you’ve organized things that way. (The present versions of ourselves are invariably the biggest idiots, and six months will make that clear).

Steven Johnson has written about his writing process several times over the past decade. He’s an indiscriminate collector too, and he uses software (specifically DEVONthink) to organise it and reveal unexpected connections, which help direct his books and articles:

For the past three years, I’ve been using tools comparable to the new ones hitting the market, so I have extensive firsthand experience with the way the software changes the creative process. (I have used a custom-designed application, created by the programmer Maciej Ceglowski at the National Institute for Technology and Liberal Education, and now use an off-the-shelf program called DEVONthink.) The raw material the software relies on is an archive of my writings and notes, plus a few thousand choice quotes from books I have read over the past decade: an archive, in other words, of all my old ideas, and the ideas that have influenced me.

Having all this information available at my fingerprints does more than help me find my notes faster. Yes, when I’m trying to track down an article I wrote many years ago, it’s now much easier to retrieve. But the qualitative change lies elsewhere: in finding documents I’ve forgotten about altogether, documents that I didn’t know I was looking for.

What does this mean in practice? Consider how I used the tool in writing my last book, which revolved around the latest developments in brain science. I would write a paragraph that addressed the human brain’s remarkable facility for interpreting facial expressions. I’d then plug that paragraph into the software, and ask it to find other, similar passages in my archive. Instantly, a list of quotes would be returned: some on the neural architecture that triggers facial expressions, others on the evolutionary history of the smile, still others that dealt with the expressiveness of our near relatives, the chimpanzees. Invariably, one or two of these would trigger a new association in my head — I’d forgotten about the chimpanzee connection — and I’d select that quote, and ask the software to find a new batch of documents similar to it. Before long a larger idea had taken shape in my head, built out of the trail of associations the machine had assembled for me.

Smart quotes for smart people

A cheat sheet for using the right quotation marks in your writing:

“Smart quotes,” the correct quotation marks and apostrophes, are curly or sloped. “Dumb quotes,” or straight quotes, are a vestigial constraint from typewriters when using one key for two different marks helped save space on a keyboard. Unfortunately, many improper marks make their way onto websites because of dumb defaults in applications and CMSs. Luckily, using correct quotation marks and apostrophes today is easier than you think.

Strictly correct plurals of flower names

Geoffrey K. Pullum on Language Log. Click through for his list of ’30 count nouns naming flowers, together with their approved grammatically correct plurals’, then read his pay-off:

Don’t be bullied by prescriptivist or purist nitwits who imagine that status can be achieved by learning the formation of Latin and Greek plurals. Look at ordinary practice in order to decide what is probably correct English, and accept that there may be variation within Standard English morphology. (But do get phenomena right: it’s the plural of phenomenon. One must have some standards. You will not be invited to the right literary lunches if you say It was a strange phenomena.)

 

Stop adding pull quotes

Jeremy Keith:

You either end up learning to blot them out completely, or you end up reading the same sentence twice. Blotting them out is easier said than done on a small-screen device. At least on a large screen, pull quotes can be shunted off to the side, but on handheld devices, pull quotes really make no sense at all.

I’ve never really understood their use. Or rather, why they are employed so freely.

On many CMS I have used, they are merely styled blockquotes. You end up with the content repetition Keith describes.

Better to use blockquotes for their proper purpose—quote passages of text—and use headings, lists, figures and images if you want to help users scan your content.

The Diversity Style Guide

The Diversity Style Guide is a project of the Center for Integration and Improvement of Journalism, based at the Journalism Department at San Francisco State University. The center’s mission is to make journalism more inclusive from the classroom to the newsroom. An earlier version of The Diversity Style Guide was produced in the 1990s by CIIJ’s News Watch Program with help from many journalism organizations.

In recent years there’s been much talk about “political correctness.” This is not a guide to being politically correct. Rather, it offers guidance, context and nuance for media professionals struggling to write about people who are different from themselves and communities different from their own. No one person can determine the correct usage of a word; this guide takes wisdom and advice from leaders in the field who have researched and considered the cultural, political and linguistic meanings of words. Most of the terms are taken directly from style guides prepared by other organizations. In those cases the terms link back to the original guides.

Better interface copy

John Saito, on Medium, has 7 tips for designing words. The best is the final one:

7. Write in mocks, not docs

Have you ever written something that looked good on paper, but ended up looking too long when it went live? That’s what happens when you do your writing in Google Docs, Dropbox Paper, or any other writing app.

When you write words for an interface, seeing the full context is so crucial. You need to know how your words are going to look next to everything else around it.

That’s why I prefer to write in Sketch mocks, not in docs. I find that writing in mocks helps inform my writing decisions, because I can see how my words will look in context.

Screenshot of an iOS interface

Gawker’s 2007 style guide

Nicholas Carlson has posted the entirety of Gawker’s 2007 style guide on a post for Insider. It’s still almost completely relevant, with evergreen tips for clear communication filed alongside prescient comment on things like SEO and what has become the dominant bloggy tone: irreverent, humorous, sharp.

See also:

The art of writing microcopy

Christine Hawthorne has a great post about microcopy on the GatherContent blog.

User experience design aims to make things feel intuitive for the person using your app or platform. Microcopy needs to act in the same way.

Just a few, carefully chosen words can go a long way in apps and can stop users struggling or dropping out of the process altogether.

Microcopy shouldn’t explain the design. It should enhance the user experience, working within context and to answer the question a user might have. For example, the copy on a button shouldn’t tell users to click it. It should say where they will go next, or what will happen when they press it, i.e, it saves the information.

Title case and sentence case

John Saito on the relative merits of title case and sentence case in UX:

Much like the word “gravitas,” title case gives your words a feeling of formality and importance. Sites like The New York Times and USA.gov primarily use title case. It’s Professional. Serious. Established.

Using title case is like dressing your words up in a suit. For certain brands, you might want your words to look like they mean business. If you’re in the business of security, for example, title case is more likely to feel professional and trustworthy compared to sentence case.

[…]

Just as title case looks more formal and serious, sentence case looks more casual and friendly. I’m a writer at Dropbox, and we intentionally write in sentence case because we want our brand to feel natural and approachable. We think our product’s voice sets us apart from our competitors, and using sentence case is one way for us to maintain that voice.

I greatly prefer sentence case, for the reasons John outlines and more. I get irrationally bothered when people unnecessarily (in my eyes) capitalise words—particularly long strings of them—in an attempt to make things sound more ‘important’.

However, the title case example he presents does make some sense. His final thoughts are sensible advice for all writers and interface designers:

Title case and sentence case both have their advantages. Whichever direction you decide to go, just make sure you make an informed decision that makes sense for your brand. The worst thing you can do is to not have any standards at all, which eventually leads to inconsistencies that’ll be a pain to fix later.

Once your users start noticing inconsistencies, that’s when they start losing trust in your brand.

On what street did you lose your childlike sense of wonder

1: Karaoke ebooks

This is terrific. As you might guess from the ebooks part of the name, it creates Markov chains from your tweets, but it forms rhyming couplets and sets them to MIDI music. Brilliant.

2: Stop your team using technical terms and jargon – disambiguity

Most weeks I am ridiculed by someone for insisting on plain language – avoiding acronyms and technical language / jargon in particular. People tell me that I’m slowing the team down by making them use proper words, and that their end users or stakeholders expect them to use technical language.

These things are both true. You should still use plain language.

3: Across the USA by train for just $213

Traveling coast-to-coast across the United States by train is one of the world’s greatest travel experiences. Amazingly, it’s also one of the world’s greatest travel bargains — the 3,400-mile trip can cost as little as $213.

4: Scenes from our unproduced screenplay: ‘Strunk & White: Grammar Police’

BEAT COP
It’s over here, detectives. The body was found about an hour ago.

STRUNK
Use the active voice, rookie.

5: As the Guardian Berliner format turns ten, we look back at a decade of design change

Ten years ago this month the Guardian launched its Berliner format. We talk to its creative team about a decade of rapid change at the paper, and examine how design is now more important than ever in helping us navigate an increasingly complicated media landscape…

6: How to Have 106 babies (and counting)

Ed Houben is Europe’s most virile man. And after years of donating sperm the “normal” way (sterile room, cup, cash), he and some women looking to get pregnant for free began cutting out the middlemen and getting it done as nature prefers it (sex!). Today, Houben has over a hundred children—and Ed the Babymaker is in greater demand than ever. We imagine you have some questions

7: How Spotify’s Discover Weekly cracked human curation at internet scale

The algorithms behind Discover Weekly finds users who have built playlists featuring the songs and artists you love. It then goes through songs that a number of your kindred spirits have added to playlists but you haven’t heard, knowing there is a good chance you might like them, too. Finally, it uses your taste profile to filter those findings by your areas of affinity and exploration. Because the playlist, that explicit act of curation, is both the source of the signal and the final output, the technique can achieve results far more interesting than run of the mill collaborative filtering.

8: Me Inc.

The paradoxical, pressure-filled quest to build a “personal brand.”

9: P.G. Wodehouse On The Dangers Of Literature

It was one of the dullest speeches I ever heard. The Agee woman told us for three quarters of an hour how she came to write her beastly book, when a simple apology was all that was required.

And:

Freddie experienced the sort of abysmal soul-sadness which afflicts one of Tolstoy’s Russian peasants when, after putting in a heavy day’s work strangling his father, beating his wife, and dropping the baby into the city’s reservoir, he turns to the cupboards, only to find the vodka bottle empty.

10: Apologies To The Queen Mary turns 10

A truly terrific album gets a good anniversary review.

Apologies To The Queen Mary is far more approachable, an album that spins universal reverie out of family trauma, relational struggle, and spiritual crisis. It’s music that renders the horror and delight of life on Earth as an epic struggle we all share. “I’ll believe in anything!” Krug sings at the album’s peak, desperately reaching for a fresh start and the freedom of some anti-Cheers: “where nobody knows you and nobody gives a damn.” Apologies To The Queen Mary itself can function as that kind of common ground, a set of inspiring songs many kinds of people can rally around, if only for a few fleeting moments. A decade into its history, it remains music worth believing in.

11: Future reading

I’m not entirely swayed by this piece—straw men abound—but it seems to have gotten a lot of people talking about books and reading and formats and focus, and that can only be a good thing.

From 2009 to 2013, every book I read, I read on a screen. And then I stopped. You could call my four years of devout screen‑reading an experiment. I felt a duty – not to anyone or anything specifically, but more vaguely to the idea of ‘books’. I wanted to understand how their boundaries were changing and being affected by technology. Committing myself to the screen felt like the best way to do it.

11: Nihilistic password security questions

On what street did you lose your childlike sense of wonder?

12: WEIRD SIMPSONS VHS