Book Yourself In to My New Website

This is my last post on this blog. Shed no tears; the “Word Power” blog lives on! It has moved to a new website to support the launch, later this year, of my book: Word Up! How to Write Powerful Sentences and Paragraphs (and Everything You Can Build From Them).

From now on, you can find the “Word Power” blog—and more (for example, a complete glossary of the writing-related terms defined in the book)—here:

How To Write Everything

I can’t take you with me, so, if you’re interested, you must re-up. Please do!

The new “Word Power” blog includes news on the book’s progress. I aim to have books ready to preorder this December and ready to order (through Powell’s, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.) in January 2013.

To all who have been following this blog, thank you, thank you, thank you. If you have commented, you have taught me things that I’m happy to know, and you have encouraged me. If you haven’t commented, your shared enthusiasm for words has brightened my days.

Here’s a teaser from my latest blog post, which you can finish reading on the new site. I hope to see you there.

New post:

A Modern Take (Is “Take” a Noun?) on Parts of Speech

What is a part of speech? You might not believe how much disagreement and nuanced analysis surrounds that question.

This essay ventures into some philosophical questions—What does it mean to classify a word, and how and why have those classifications changed?—before emerging with a bit of writerly advice. I find this excursion invigorating, like a deep‑sea search for treasure. Come along, and we’ll share the spoils.

According to one modern school of linguistic thought, only four word types—nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs—now qualify as parts of speech. Four. The nerve! …  Read on –>

Recipe Contest: The XMLonball Splash–We Have a Winner!

Scott Abel

Scott Abel, The Content Wrangler

A few posts ago (see What Brand R U?), I invited all XML-inclined readers to take a break from their hard slogging and have a little fun by concocting recipes for a drink I call the XMLonball Splash. My one taker—Scott Abel, THE Content Wrangler—submitted such a witty, creative recipe that no one else dared to even attempt to compete. Made the judging easy.

I’ve tried a variation on this delicious recipe (with who-knows-what substituted for the cactus juice liqueur), and I have to warn you: don’t drink this and drive.

Below are two versions of the recipe, one with and one without XML tags. According to Scott, any code abuse you might notice—that is, any shenanigans within the brackets—is intentional.

Thanks for playing along, Scott. You make the wranglin’ world go ’round.

The XMLonball Splash—With a Twist of Code  Read more…

“Managing Enterprise Content” 2nd Ed.: A Book Review

book coverFor all you professional writers who struggle with managing mountains of information at work—whether you write technical manuals, marketing literature, training materials, service guides, online help, or what have you—the new edition of Ann Rockley’s classic book, Managing Enterprise Content: A Unified Content Strategy, coauthored with Charles Cooper, calls to you.

The illustrations alone make this second edition worth picking up (especially if your boss springs for it). For example, one glance at the beer-can-chicken recipe as it appears in a printed book, on an eReader display, on a nice big monitor, and on a smartphone—and suddenly the abstract discussions of “information modeling” make sense.

The case studies sprinkled throughout this edition also bring the realities of content management to life, most tellingly the last study: the “lesson in failure” due to “lack of ongoing oversight.” Short-term budgeters, beware! (In this case, three years is a short term.)

Rockley and Cooper, along with the many folks who contributed to this book, did an impressively thorough job  covering all aspects of content management. Some sentences leave me wishing that the book had gone through another round of editing. (“Structured writing is the way elements in a component are written.” Huh?) But the book’s overall value compensates for its occasional lack of clarity. This book represents a bright light of encouragement and insight for anyone with the courage to follow its authors into content management’s daunting new world.

Your Words Come Alive With a Hint of Music

Updated May 10

Let’s leave the essay form behind
For just a beat or two.
(Go easy, please. The Bard I’m not!
But only a poem will do.)

Form must follow function,
And this form, although demanding,
Gives us access to a different
Kind of understanding.

Things that are worth saying need
To say more than they say.
By this I mean that sound and rhythm
Have a role to play. Read more…

To Hyphenate or Not To Hyphenate After a Noun: That is the Wrong Question

This job is long-term.

Do you need the hyphen here? Most authorities, rightly, say no. Don’t hyphenate a compound modifier when it follows a noun. Before a noun, yes (This is a long-term job), but after, no (This job is long term).

Most authorities also point out exceptions. They say, again rightly, that some compounds (blue-green, razor-sharp, risk-averse, time-sensitive, etc.) need a hyphen every time. When in doubt, they say, consult a dictionary or style guide.

Fine advice as far as it goes.

But most authorities don’t tell you what you most need to know. They don’t tell you that if you ask “Do I need a hyphen here?” after a noun, you’re almost always asking the wrong question. Read more…

A Definition Is Where You Don’t Say “Is Where”

A definition is where you say what something means. Or is it?

Is where. What an unuseful, unsatisfying phrase. I’m talking about definitions like these:

  • A gravy train is where someone makes lots of money without doing much for it.
  • A retweet is where you forward a tweet.
  • Horticulture is where people grow plants.

If you wanted to understand gravy trains, retweets, and horticulture, these half-clarifications would leave you wondering what types of things these things are. Surely a gravy train has nothing to do with gravy or trains, does it? What exactly is a retweet before it gets forwarded? If horticulture is where people grow plants, does that make it a plot of ground? You might reread the definitions, suspecting that you missed something. You might feel vaguely cheated, left behind with the most basic of questions unanswered.

Is where. What a great big abandoner.

Read more…

Make a Hash(tag) of Your Tweets

HashtagKeith Kmett, a user-experience enthusiast whom I met through the social-media magic of Google+, responded to my last post (What Brand RU) with this comment: “I would add that social media can also help your personal brand.” Keith’s note prompted me to add a new section to that post. Below is the new section in standalone form—with all-new images.

A hashtag—a # symbol plus a text string, like #ThisIsAHashtag—is a powerful symbol for getting your words seen. Even if you’ve never sent a tweet (a brief message on Twitter) in your life and think you never will, you ought to know what hashtags can do. If you tweet without hashtags, you limit your visibility. Add a hashtag to any tweet, and you instantly reach many more people.

Read more…

What Brand R U?

(updated April 4)

If you write for a living—if you make a penny from your writing, or hope to—you have a brand.  Maybe you have a logo, maybe you don’t. Either way, you can’t help but have a brand: a “name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature [my italics] that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers.”[1]

You have a brand because no one else writes the way you do.

Read more…

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Coming Soon to the Small Screen (revisited)

Updated May 11, 2012

Are you reading this on a Droid? On an iPhone? On some other diminutive device being introduced even as I write this? Knowing that you could be gives me pause. The smartphone has become a primary reading device.[1] So, unless you write nothing but lost-cat posters destined for telephone poles, or other print pieces that no one will ever upload to the Web, you have little choice but to join me in grappling with this question: what must writers do differently to accommodate the small screen?

The answer, I believe, is … nothing.

Read more…

You Don’t Know From Prepositions

Quick! What kind of word is from?

Bet you said, “Ha! Must be a trap. Better not say preposition.”

We all learned it in grade school: from is a preposition. When I sat down to draft this post, I never intended to overturn this teaching. I set out to write a brief notice that, yes, sentences can end with prepositions. I ended up unlearning some “facts”—laboriously, by way of confusion and resistance—and expanding my perspective. I came to see that prepositions are not necessarily prepositions, that easy labels—who knew?—can obscure deeper truths.

Read more…

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