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Issue for June 2014

Keep and Reward Your Reader

Posted on Sunday, June 29, 2014 at 10:42 PM

There are obligations that you must consider.

By Peter P. Jacobi

Here are more lessons from that recent lecture of mine, addressed to attendees at a conference for writers. Last month, I discussed the need for conviction, creativity, and courage; the importance of judiciously using time, so we don't waste our own or that of the reader; and the writer's requirement to win the reader.

To win the reader is but part of our total obligation. We must also keep the reader and reward the reader. Of these, I speak to you now.

The late language maven James Kilpatrick told us: "The first secret of good writing: We must look intently, and hear intently, and taste intently ... we must look at everything very hard. Is it the task at hand to describe a snowfall? Very well. We begin by observing that the snow is white. Is it white as bond paper? White as whipped cream? Is the snow daisy white, or egg-white white, or whitewash white? Let us look very hard. We will see that snow comes in different textures. The light snow that looks like powdered sugar is not the heavy snow that clings like wet cotton. When we write matter-of-factly that Last night it snowed and this morning the fields were white, we have not looked intently. Out of this intensity of observation, we derive two important gains. We learn to write precisely, and we fill our storehouse with the images that one day we will fashion into similes and metaphors."

Second Obligation -- Keep the Reader

A whole lot of MUSTS come into play as we strive to hold our reader.

MUST Number 1

There is structure: how to put your manuscript together, in what method, in what order, in what manner. Have you a plan, a blueprint for what you're about to build? To keep interest, to sustain interest, to engage rather than confuse and estrange the reader, you must most carefully consider the design, the architecture of your written package. The written words must spread into a reasoned whole, one that makes sense, is easy to follow, and a pleasure to traverse. Take time to plan your house of words. In the end, that will save you time.

MUST Number 2

There are editorial givens a reader expects, the writer's A-B-Cs.

A -- Accuracy: the greatest of care that everything you say is without factual or inferential or lingual error, that your copy can be believed and trusted.

B -- Brevity: the acceptance that you don't waste space because a waste of space means weaker copy as well as a waste of the reader's time. Say what needs to be said, and do it efficiently.

C -- Clarity: without it, you are lost; nothing matters more than writing that is written to be understood.

An added C -- Completeness: give the reader what he or she needs to understand the subject or the plot. Don't overload your creation with more than your subject requires or more than the reader would need for grasp or want for satisfaction, but be generous and be careful that you haven't left essential material out. Give the reader the feel of something whole.

MUST Number 3

Flow. Make your words an unbroken, follow-able stream of narrative or informative thrust. At all points, let your readers know where they are, where they've been, where they seem to be going. If you toy with linearity, if for some reason you must move back and forth or zigzag sideways, let your readers in on the game.

MUST Number 4

Substance. What have you to present to the reader besides a verbal skill that merely offers frill? Pretty or clever language alone is not sufficient to gain a reader's loyalty. You need to have gathered and used substance for that reader to engage in, essence, matter. There has to be a "what" and a "who" in your copy. There probably also should be a "why." In total, is there sustenance for the heart and mind, food for the reader's sense, and/or food for the reader's brain?

An ordered structure, accuracy, brevity, clarity, completeness, flow, substance for feeling, and contemplation: these are MUSTS, essentials in your effort: obligation one, to win your reader, and, obligation two, to keep him or her.

Third Obligation -- Reward

Your third obligation as writer, remember, is to reward your reader, to leave the reader, your customer, your client, enriched, feeling vindicated for having chosen to spend time with you.

All that I've already spoken of is required for the reader to be rewarded. But there's something else, too, and that's the ability of an author to connect with the reader, this by expressing his or her own personality through language and content and method. This uniqueness of expression is called style or voice.

Style and Voice

In the best of entertainment and art, we can locate it and relish the experience. I don't know if the words are interchangeable, but veteran authors John Updike and Susan Orlean suggest they are.

Updike prefers STYLE and defines it as "nothing less than the writer's habits of mind. It is not a kind of paint applied afterwards, but the very germ of the thing.... Just as one's handwriting tends to come out the same every time, with certain quirks of emphasis and flow, so does one's writing, with its recurrent pet vocabulary and concerns."

Orlean prefers VOICE, arguing that, "As the word tells us," it's "the way a writer talks. You are speaking to your readers. Sometimes we think we have to come up with something clever, but cleverness for its own sake is rarely powerful.... The way you tell a story over dinner is true to who you are."

I'll avoid the debate and accept interchangeability, proposing that both words can define INDIVIDUALITY, which can and should manifest itself in your manuscript in up to three critical ways:

First, you as writer should strive for a personal voice, what both Updike and Orlean were referring to: gaining the ability to put the YOU in your copy, using the language inimitably, distinctively, personably, recognizably, indeed out of the habits of your mind, as Updike explained, indeed the way you talk, as Orlean did.

Second, your characters -- the ones you make up for fiction or the ones you take from reality for nonfiction -- require personalities; they must become individuals through the way you give them life in looks, action, and speech. Each should be distinguishable from the others in springing from the page.

Third, the context you put your actors in, the recreated world, the aura, the milieu must assume an individuality to ring true. Give style/voice/individuality to where and how things happen. Make the atmosphere and biosphere of your article believable.

As reader, I want your writing to not allow me to forget. I want you, through persuasive copy, to force me to remember.

Peter P. Jacobi is a Professor Emeritus at Indiana University. He is a writing and editing consultant for numerous associations and magazines, speech coach, and workshop leader for various institutions and corporations. He can be reached at 812-334-0063.

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Enliven and Explain with Color, Part II

Posted on Sunday, June 29, 2014 at 10:40 PM

40 practical tips to help in your use of color.

By Jan V. White

Last issue we explored using color to convey your message. Now here are 20 concrete ways it can help and 20 tips for using it cleverly.

20 Services That Color Can Do for You

1. Prioritize and create hierarchy. The more important an item is, the more startling and noticeable it deserves to be.

2. Draw attention to whatever is important, but use it with deliberation. It is special, so less is only more when there is less of it.

3. Pop up variable data of particular interest to recipients. Everyone is flattered to have themselves mentioned.

4. Make the bottom line stand out. Let the expiration date, safety warning, and other such useful items hard to miss.

5. Split off and emphasize parts of the text, such as the summary of positive results or highlights of benefits or advantages.

6. Pinpoint the main feature in text or graphics, such as data that exceed the norm or the profit and loss of the bottom line.

7. Separate specifics from background context, such as an insurance policy or back-ordered items from a parts list.

8. Alert viewers to unexpected data such as bank overdrafts or values that exceed specified tolerances.

9. Compare two or three sets of data. Red ink might mean French and blue might mean English, or this year's softball team results compared to last year's.

10. Distinguish old results from fresh ones, such as changes of procedure or alterations in specifications.

11. Link related things to each other, like the red titles with red key paragraphs, blue name with blue quotes, orange for cause with orange for effect.

12. Categorize and classify ranking, such as shortfalls in red (bad for stop) versus exceeding expectations in green (good for go).

13. Characterize information by color, putting parallel information in one color, or footnotes and sidebars in another.

14. Simplify tabulation with colors to make complexity easier to scan and understand.

15. Evoke an element realistically or an idea symbolically. Naturalistic look-alikes are simple, symbolic more difficult.

16. Indicate statistical or qualitative differences by tonal gradation: heights on maps, areas of temperatures, degrees of intensity.

17. Categorize and simplify intricate technicalities like separating plumbing from wiring in an architectural plan.

18. Separate document-oriented material from editorial substance. Put page numbers, headers, footers, cross-refs, and commands in color to contrast them from text.

19. Develop a color vocabulary to make a series of publications uniquely recognizable: red for signaling warnings, green for positive attributes. Whatever.

20. Identify special elements such as openers, summaries, indexes, self-tests. They'll be easier to recognize and access.

20 Practical Tips to Use Color Cleverly

1. Don't make fruit salad. Control color deliberately. Less is more.

2. Hue (redness, blueness, greenness) is less important than value (darkness/lightness) or saturation (intensity, brightness).

3. Hue makes a color recognizable. Value makes it stand out against the background. Saturation gives brilliance or dullness.

4. Colors that go together are hard to pick. Swipe arrangements you like from color-books.

5. Use brilliant colors in small spots, pale and quiet ones for large areas.

6. Pick pale background colors first, then add brighter accents.

7. Use vivid colors for important points, dull ones for secondary meaning.

8. Familiar colors (blue sky, green land, sand, purple wine) are easily understood.

9. Use only two colors plus black, if they are to be remembered to mean anything throughout a whole publication.

10. Use only four colors to avoid repeating color keys.

11. Strong saturated yellows and oranges play things up. Reds appear closer to you.

12. Shy, pale cool blues are recessive, appear farther away.

13. To make a large area look smaller, color it dark and quiet.

14. To make a small area look larger, color it in a light, pale color.

15. For a coherent look, use consistent pale hue as a unifying material.

16. Duplicate color with shape (e.g., a fat red line in a graph) for impact.

17. Never run a black-and-white picture in color. It looks washed-out.

18. Never run a black-and-white picture with a tint over it. It looks dull.

19. Always match "second" colors with four-color pictures. They increase power.

20. Run type in color with special care:
--Pick a simple sans serif face.
--Avoid condensed, oblique, weird, peculiar faces.
--Increase type size, weight, line spacing, and shorten the lines.
--Avoid too many all-caps.
--Set ragged right to ensure normal word spacing.
--Keep type normal -- let the color itself do the shouting.
--The darker the hue, the better the legibility.
--Never screen type smaller than 18pt.
--Never use a mottled color tone as a background for type.
--Reversing type from a color background seriously decreases legibility.

PS 1: Basic insight: Color is paler than black. Therefore, heads in color don't stand out as strongly as black ones, which is the unthinking assumption. Instead of the usual cliché practice, allow the key words to shout in black, while the surrounding words are colorful.

PS 2: Basic insight: For type in color on a colored background, ensure visibility by having a 30% difference in the tone values of the two colors. This sounds a bit esoteric. Simpler: make sure that the type-in-color is dark enough to stand out against the background color.

Jan V. White is author of the classic Editing by Design, Third Edition (Allworth Press, available on Amazon). Eight of his other books are now in the public domain and available for free at http://openlibrary.org/books. He may be reached at janvw2@aol.com.

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The Fog Index

Posted on Sunday, June 29, 2014 at 10:36 PM

Calculating the Fog Index of a Wired.com excerpt.

This month, we'll test a passage from a June 27 Wired.com article ("The Troubling Truth of Why It's Still So Hard to Share Files Directly" by Parker Higgins). Here's the excerpt:

"This conundrum has no easy resolution. The qualities that the copyright lobby dislike about peer-to-peer are precisely the ones that make it a powerful choice for defenders of press freedom and personal privacy. Namely, peer-to-peer offers no convenient mechanism for centralized surveillance or censorship. By design, there's usually no middleman that can easily record metadata about transfers -- who uploaded and downloaded what, when, and from where -- or block those transfers. With some peer-to-peer implementations (though not Lee's) that information may be publicly accessible. But recording all of it would require a dragnet effort, not a simple request for a log file from a centralized service provider."

--Word count: 106 words
--Average sentence length: 18 words (6, 27, 11, 26, 13, 23)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 21 percent (22/106 words)
--Fog Index: (18+21)*.4 = 15 (no rounding)

The average sentence length is pretty modest here at 18 words. We can certainly work to trim this. However, the biggest culprit appears to be longer words. Let's see if some rephrasing can reduce our Fog score.

"This problem has no easy solution. The copyright lobby dislikes the same qualities of peer-to-peer that press freedom and personal privacy defenders find powerful. Namely, peer-to-peer offers no convenient mode of centralized surveillance or censorship. By design, there's often no middleman that can easily record transfer metadata -- who uploaded and downloaded what, when, and from where -- or block those transfers. With some peer-to-peer programs (though not Lee's), the public may be able to access that data. But recording it all would entail a dragnet effort, not a simple request for a log file from a central service provider."

--Word count: 98 words
--Average sentence length: 16 words (6, 18, 11, 25, 16, 22)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 12 percent (12/98 words)
--Fog Index: (16+13)*.4 = 11 (no rounding)

Our edits didn't affect total word count much, but they did bring down sentence length by 2 points. More important, we reduced the percentage of longer words by 9 points. Thus, we ended up cutting the overall Fog by 4 points.

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The Mark of a Great Editor

Posted on Sunday, June 29, 2014 at 10:35 PM

In the news: What makes a great magazine editor?

During the week of June 16, the New York Times ran a three-part series, "What Makes a Great Editor?" Times Insider staffers asked reporters, columnists, and photographers to discuss some of the traits behind the best editors.

In part 3, reporter Amy Chozick says, "A strong editor can read 3,000 words and immediately home in on the one salacious detail buried in paragraph 17 that readers will remember and talk about months after the story runs." According to reporter John Schwartz, "A great editor is smarter than me ... A great editor remembers that every reporter is deeply insecure, but doesn't abuse that knowledge." Click for part 1, part 2, and part 3.

Also Notable

Digital Magazine Watermarks

More and more magazines are enhancing their print and digital content with digital watermarks. According to Digimarc.com, "A Digimarc ID is a unique signal (or pattern) that is added into print, audio, video or packaging to trigger branded experiences on customers' mobile devices. These digital identities can't be seen or heard by people but mobile devices and POS image scanners can detect them." See which magazines are already using this technology here.

Making It as a Fashion Editor

This week, Alicia Adamczyk of Forbes.com shared advice from top fashion magazine editors from the Fashionista.com conference in New York. The editors advise potential editorial job applicants to keep cover letters short, study the brand extensively before an interview (and be able to answer questions about it), and network with fellow magazine professionals. Read more here.

Print Magazines as B2B Marketing Tools

When the Alliance for Audited Media releases its annual circulation data, it's often free brand magazines at the top of the list. In a recent Business2Community.com piece, Angela Everitt examines the concept of magazines as "non-traditional" marketing tools. Read the discussion here.

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