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Posts tagged ‘communication’

How to Write Copy People Will Actually Read

You’ve found your way to this article, but you probably won’t read it start to finish.

You’ve read the stats. According to Copyblogger, 80% of people will read a headline, but only 20% read the body. 38% of people who click on a site will leave before engaging with the content at all. People will share copy, effectively vouching for its quality, when they’ve only read 25% of it.

Does this mean no one reads anymore? Has the Internet killed literacy? Not quite, but it has given birth to a generation of scanners. [Tweeters!] That is, people who scan articles and landing pages to get the “gist” or find a section they’re especially interested in.

Why Does Scanning Matter?

People don’t read the way they used to. Why? There are a few different reasons…

  1. Attention spans are shorter than ever. In 2000, the average attention span for a human was 12 seconds. Today? A recent study found that our attention span is a mere 8 seconds. To compare, a goldfish has a 9 second attention span.
  2. We’re busier than ever. The amount of time Americans spend at work, on average, is actually declining, but the convergence of work life and personal life leaves us with an “always on” mentality. As a result, we feel “busier than ever”. Far too busy to read an entire landing page or email or article.
  3. Content overload is real. 41% of people surveyed claim to feel overwhelmed by the many choices online. Instead, they turn to friends for content and product recommendations.

So, how do people read now?

“In today’s world people are suffering from content overload. People rarely read, they scan/skim through content and dive in areas they find interesting.”

If you want people to actually read, every line of copy should pass a cost-benefit test…

  • Cost – How much time will this take? How difficult will it be to read?
  • Benefit – What’s in it for me? What will I learn or gain from reading this?

Do the Old Copy Rules Still Apply?

So, do any of the old school copy rules still apply? Of course. This is an evolution of how copy is consumed, not how it is crafted.

Two core rules still apply: (1) you must secure interest and (2) you must do so as quickly as possible.

The bottomline is that people read copy they’re interested in. If your copy is compelling and intriguing, your visitors are going to read it.

Of course, securing that interest as quickly as possible is key. People make snap decisions, so if you don’t have them hooked in the first 8 seconds, you’ve likely already lost them.

However, they likely aren’t interested in all of your copy. Instead, they will scan your copy and read only the sections they’re interested in.

For example, let’s say you found Evergage because you’re interested in targeting certain visitors for personalization.

From: Shanelle Mullin

 

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Writing Nonfiction

Eight preparatory steps necessary to successfully write a nonfiction book:

  1. Choose your topic.

The first thing you want to do as you prepare to write a nonfiction book is choose a topic for your project carefully. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it really isn’t.

  1. Create a Content Plan

Create an outline or a table of contents for you book. This ends up looking like a table of contents—actually a rather detailed table of contents with chapter titles and subheading titles. You might prefer to just create a simple outline or a bulleted list.

Whatever your method of choice, create something that looks like the structure of a book—a table of contents. And know what content will fill that structure as you create your manuscript. That’s your map.

Then, when you sit down to write each day, you know exactly what to write. In fact, the more detailed you make this plan, the more quickly and easily you will write your book. You will spend little time staring at your computer screen wondering what to write or what comes next. You will know. It will be right there in your writing plan. You’ll just follow the map—your table of contents—to your destination.

  1. Determine What Research You Need

You might think you can write your book “off the top of your head” because you are the expert on the topic. Inevitably, though, you will discover a need to search for something—a URL, a quote, the title of a book. These things can slow down your process. This is where preparation can help keep your fingers on the keyboard typing rather than perusing the Internet.

For each item in your plan—or your detailed table of contents, brainstorm the possible research you need and make note of it.

As you write, if you discover you need more research or interviews, don’t stop writing. Instead, create brackets in your manuscript that say [research here] and highlight them in yellow. Later, do a search for the term “research,” and fill in the gaps.

  1. Create a To-Do List

Look over your content plan. Take all the research items you listed and put them on a to-do list.

Make a list of URLs, books and articles to find. Look for anything you need to do. For instance, does your research require that you visit a certain location? If so, put “Visit XX” on the to do list.

Don’t forget to put interviews on this list. You want to conduct your interviews now.

  1. Gather and Organize Your Materials

Gather as much of your research and other necessary material as you can prior to the end of October. Purchase the books, copy the articles into Evernote.com, copy and past the URLs into a Word doc, or drag them into Scrivener’s research folder, for instance. Get your interviews transcribed as well—and read through them with a highlighter, marking the quotes you think you want to use.

If you are writing memoir, you might want to gather photos, journals and other memorabilia. If you are re-purposing blog posts, or reusing any other previously published or written material, you want to put all of this in one place—an online folder, a Scrivener file or a Word file.

Generally, get as much of what you need to write your book in an easily accessible format and location so you aren’t searching for it when you should be writing. Use piles, boxes, hanging folders, computer folders, cloud storage…whatever works best for you.

  1. Determine How Much Time You Need

Each nonfiction book is different and requires a different amount of time to write. A research based book takes longer to write, for example, because you have to study, evaluate and determine your opinion of the studies. You have to read the interviews you conducted, choose appropriate quotes and then work those quotes into your manuscript.

If, on the other hand, you write from your own experiences, this take less time. With the exception of drawing on anecdotes, an occasional quote or bit of information from a book, the material all comes from your head. You need only sit down and write about a process you created, your own life story or your area of expertise.

  1. Create a Writing Schedule

Last, create a writing schedule. You now know how much time you need to write your book. Now find those hours in your calendar and block them off. Make those hours sacred.

  1. Put a Back-Up System in Place.

Yes…this is my last tip, because you just never know what happens. Your computer crashes or dies. You accidentally delete your whole manuscript. Your child dumps milk all over your keyboard.

You want a back up of your project. Always save it to your computer’s drive and onto a thumb drive or, better yet, into the cloud, for safe keeping! Make these plans in advance as well. You can use Evernote.com, Dropbox.com or Google Drive, for example.

The Oxford Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science

 

The Simonyi Professorship Chair for the Public Understanding of Science was founded in 1995, by a donation from Dr Charles Simonyi. It is currently held by Professor Marcus du Sautoy, and based at Oxford University’s Mathematical Institute and Department for Continuing Education.

Aims

The aim of the Simonyi Professorship is to contribute to the understanding of science by the public. The chair is intended to be filled by a scientist of distinction in their field of expertise, and the Simonyi Professor may hold the post while also pursuing their scientific work. Just as important as scientific accolade is that he or she has a talent and interest in communicating science to a wide audience.

Primary goals

The task of communicating science to the layman is not a simple one. In particular it is imperative for the post holder to avoid oversimplifying ideas, and presenting exaggerated claims. The limits of current scientific knowledge should always be made clear to the public. Once done so, however, there is also a role for presenting speculative ideas, which can convey to non-scientists some of the excitement of doing true science.

From Charles Simonyi’s Manifesto

“The chair is for ‘Public Understanding of Science’, that the holder will be expected to make important contributions to the public understanding of some scientific field rather than study the public’s perception of the same. By ‘public’ we mean the largest possible audience, provided, however, that people who have the power and ability to propagate or oppose the ideas (especially scholars in other sciences and in humanities, engineers, journalists, politicians, professionals, and artists) are not lost in the process. Here it is useful to distinguish between the roles of scholars and popularisers. The university chair is intended for accomplished scholars who have made original contributions to their field, and who are able to grasp the subject, when necessary, at the highest levels of abstraction. A populariser, on the other hand, focuses mainly on the size of the audience and frequently gets separated from the world of scholarship. Popularisers often write on immediate concerns or even fads. In some cases they seduce less educated audiences by offering a patronizingly oversimplified or exaggerated view of the state of the art or the scientific process itself. This is best seen in hindsight, as we remember the ‘giant brains’ computer books of yesteryear but I suspect many current science books will in time be recognized as having fallen into this category. While the role of populariser may still be valuable, nevertheless it is not one supported by this chair. The public’s expectation of scholars is high, and it is only fitting that we have a high expectation of the public.:

Hyphenating Prefixes

 

A reader who works with legal transcription has the following question:

There seems to be a trend towards having the prefixes and suffixes separate from the modified noun instead of being attached or hyphenated. What is proper?  Some examples are non negotiable, post surgery, post doctorate, age wise.

The examples given present a variety of forms, not all of which represent a prefix+noun combination.

The prefix non- is added to nouns of action, condition, or quality with the sense of “absence, lack of,” or simply “not.” for example, non-Catholic.

Non- is affixed to adjectives to make them negative. Whether to add a hyphen depends upon whether American or British usage is being observed. The OED hyphenates many words that M-W shows written as one word. For example, M-W gives nonnegotiable, but OED has non-negotiable.

When it comes to another word in the reader’s list, however, both the OED and M-W agree with postdoctorate, although both prefer postdoctoral.

The prefix post- means, “after” or “behind.” It is added to adjectives without a hyphen: postcolonial, postsurgical. Post can be used on its own as a preposition meaning, “after”: “Your mouth will be extremely dry post surgery.” In this context post is a separate word. Added to a noun to create a descriptor, however, post would require a hyphen: “Post-surgery care is vitally important.”

The suffix -wise means, “in the manner of” or “as regards,” as in clockwise, lengthwise, foodwise, etc. This combining form is never separated from the word it’s added to, either by a hyphen or by a space. It can have other meanings, of course. For example, a person is said to be “pound wise, but penny foolish.” In this context wise is a word that means “possessing wisdom”; it is not a suffix.

Hyphenation is not an exact science. Authorities differ regarding the necessity of a hyphen, but I’m reasonably sure that all agree that suffixes aren’t free agents that can stand apart from the words they belong to.

The Top 5 Mistakes I Find as an Editor

A lot of writers won’t hire an editor. This isn’t a pitch to get your business (although, of course, I am always open to that). So since you probably won’t hire me or any of my editor cohorts, I’m going to share with you a list of the five biggest mistakes I see in manuscripts, so you can watch for them, and fix them, yourself.

Mistake #1: Writers don’t place a comma between independent clauses separated with a conjunction. Independent clauses are clauses that can stand on their own as sentences, e.g., “He took the 405 freeway to work, and he exited at the Getty Museum.” Because both “He took the 405 freeway to work” and “he exited at the Getty Museum” are independent clauses—meaning they can stand alone as sentences, you must, must, place a comma before the conjunction, “and.” This is probably the biggest, most common mistake I find in manuscripts and books. Don’t make it. It’s a very easy punctuation rule to remember.

Mistake #2: Writers place commas between independent clauses and dependent clauses. This is probably the second most common mistake I see. A dependent clause is one that cannot stand on its own as a sentence. Let’s take the above example, and change it just a little: “He took the 405 freeway to work and exited at the Getty Museum.” I took the second “he” out. That makes the clause after “and” a dependent clause, because “exited at the Getty Museum” cannot stand alone as a sentence. It is dependent upon the first clause to be understood; thus, no comma should precede the “and.”

Of course, there are other places you need—and don’t need—commas, but this isn’t meant to be a comprehensive study of the comma. If in doubt, look up comma placement in The Chicago Manual of Style or other style manual.

Mistake #3: Writers don’t know their homonyms. In just the last few weeks alone, I’ve seen characters who were unphased, waiving to people, and peaking out windows. The writer’s spellchecker should have alerted her to the fact that “unphased” isn’t even a word. She meant “unfazed.” To waive means to relinquish, to set aside. The word this author wanted was “waving.” And a peak is the highest point of something; one peeks, not peaks, out a window.

Please, unless you are 100 percent sure you are using the right homonym, look it up. The wrong choice could have your characters doing some pretty strange things!

Mistake #4: Writers rely on their spellcheckers. This is a big no-no. If ewe think you’re spellchecker will fined awl yore miss steaks, your wrong. That sentence went through my spellchecker just fine, and there are no less than eight errors in it (“ewe” should be “you”; “you’re” should be “your”; “fined” should be “find”; “awl” should be “all”; “yore” should be “your”; “miss” and “steaks” should be “mistakes”: and finally, “your” should be “you’re”). Homonym spelling errors are the most common type of spelling error I find. Do not rely on your spellchecker. It will let you down every time.

Mistake #5: Writers who make errors in syntax. For example, look at this sentence: “I saw a deer driving to work today.” Uh, no—you didn’t, unless there are some very talented deer in your neighborhood! The correct sentence structure is, “I saw a deer while driving to work today,” or, “While driving to work today, I saw a deer.” Please, don’t put the deer in the driver’s seat!

Here’s another example: “If your toddler won’t drink milk, warm it in the microwave for a few moments.” Warm what in the microwave? You’ve got a choice of antecedents here. Heaven help the toddler if you make the wrong choice! The correct structure would read, “If your toddler won’t drink milk, warm the milk in the microwave for a few moments.”

Of course, if you and I were having a conversation, we’d probably understand each other if we made these syntax errors. But you can’t count on that when people are reading your words. Make sure you have them in the correct order so your meaning cannot be misconstrued.

I cannot list every error I run across while editing manuscripts. To do so would fill a book. But if you watch for these top five mistakes in your writing, your manuscript will be a lot more polished, and you can be more confident about submitting it to your publisher.

Five Steps to Completing Your First Draft

Follow these stages of preparation and production to assemble a first draft of written (or spoken) content.

  1. Identify Your Purpose
    What is the reason for writing the content? Are you objectively presenting information? If so, is it for educational purposes, or for entertainment — or both? Are you writing to help someone make a decision, or encouraging someone to take action? Identifying your goal for the content will help you shape the piece.
  2. Identify Your Readership
    Who are your intended readers (and your unintended ones)? What is their level of literacy, and what is their degree of prior knowledge of the topic?

Imagining who your readers are will help you decide what voice and tone to adopt, how formal or informal your language will be — though that factor also depends on your approach (see below) — and how much detail or background information you provide.

  1. Identify Your Approach

Should your content be authoritative, or is it the work of someone informally communicating with peers? Are you offering friendly advice, or is your tone cautionary? Are you selling something, or are you skeptical? Should the content be serious, or is some levity appropriate? Determining your strategy, in combination with identifying your readership, will help you decide how the piece will feel to the reader.

  1. Identify Your Ideas
    Brainstorm before and during the drafting process, and again when you revise. If appropriate, talk or write to intended readers about what they hope to learn from the content. Imagine that you are an expert on the topic, and pretend that you are being interviewed about it. Write down the questions and your answers to help you structure the content. Alternatively, present a mock speech or lecture on the topic and transcribe your talk.

Draft an executive summary or an abstract of the content, or think about how you would describe it to someone in a few sentences. Or draw a diagram or a map of the content.

Using one or more of these strategies will help you populate your content with the information your readers want or need.

  1. Identify Your Structure
    Craft a title that clearly summarizes the topic in a few words. Explain the main idea in the first paragraph. Organize the content by one of several schemes: chronology or sequence, relative importance, or differing viewpoints. Use section headings or transitional language to signal new subtopics. Integrate sidebars, graphics, and/or links as appropriate.

Incorporating these building blocks will help you produce a coherent, well-organized piece.

From: Daily Writing Tips

 

Five Types of Specialized Dictionaries

by Mark Nichol From Daily Writing Tips

Dictionaries aren’t just for looking up spellings and meanings of a broad selection of terms; you’ll find biographical, geographical, and medical dictionaries, among other specialized volumes. Here are five other categories of repositories of words, with a link to one online example of each.

  1. Reverse Dictionaries
    A reverse dictionary enables you to type in a phrase that describes a word or phrase you’re trying to think of. The matching technology is imperfect, of course, but a reverse dictionary is your best chance for coming up with that elusive term. Try this reverse dictionary at the dictionary portal OneLook.com, or, if you prefer a print resource, check out the Illustrated Reverse Dictionary, by John Ellison Kahn.
  2. Visual Dictionaries
    Visual dictionaries like this one provide visitors with illustrations of animate and inanimate things labeled with parts and components. Merriam-Webster’s publishes a print visual dictionary, but many others are available, including multilingual ones and those produced especially for children.
  3. Beginners’/Learners’ Dictionaries
    The Cambridge University Press has, among its family of online dictionaries, one with simplified definitions; for American English specifically, Merriam-Webster offers Word Central, an online children’s dictionary that is helpful for learners of all ages without being juvenile in presentation. For a print version, use a dictionary for young students (like the Scholastic Children’s Dictionary) — though the child-oriented design of these books may put off older learners — or one for English-language learners.
  4. Translation Dictionaries
    Online dictionaries that enable visitors to type in a word and receive its equivalent in another language (or obtain an English word by entering a foreign one) abound; many websites, such as Dictionary.com’s Translator site, include search engines for multiple languages. Of course, print translation dictionaries are also easy to find on the Internet and in bookstores. (Recently published ones available at used-book stores are a good bargain.)

5. Unusual-Words Dictionaries
Numerous Web-savvy language aficionados have created online repositories of seldom-used and/or offbeat words; go, for example, to the Phrontistery. You’ll also find many similar print dictionaries.

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