The slides from Carolyn’s talk at Beyond Tellerrand. The presentation is ostensibly about writing documentation, but I think it’s packed with good advice for writing in general.
Wednesday, May 15th, 2019
Thursday, February 28th, 2019
Onboarding. Reaching out. In terms of. Synergy. Bandwidth. Headcount. Forward planning. Multichannel. Going forward. We are constantly bombarded and polluted with nonsense speak. These words and phrases snag and attach themselves to our vocabulary like sticky weeds.
Words become walls.
I love this post from Ben on the value of plain language!
We’re not dumbing things down by using simple terms. We’re being smarter.
Read on for the story of the one exception that Ben makes—it’s a good one.
Tuesday, October 2nd, 2018
When you’re struggling to write something that sounds clear and sounds human (two of the essential basics of a good blog post, I’d argue), just use the words normal people would use.
If we use jargon, we reveal our insecurity. If we use pretentious language, we expose our arrogance. But if we use language that anyone can understand, people are much more likely to value what we do.
Tuesday, March 6th, 2018
It’s really heartwarming to see this idea resonating.
Wednesday, November 1st, 2017
Good advice on writing code that is understandable to your fellow humans (and your future self).
Monday, July 10th, 2017
I like words. I like the way they can be tethered together to produce a satisfying sentence.
Jessica likes words even more than I do (that’s why her website is called “wordridden”). She studied linguistics and she’s a translator by trade—German into English. Have a read of her post about translating Victor Klemperer to get an inkling of how much thought and care she puts into it.
Given the depth of enquiry required for a good translation, I was particularly pleased to read this remark by John Le Carré:
No wonder then that the most conscientious editors of my novels are not those for whom English is their first language, but the foreign translators who bring their relentless eye to the tautological phrase or factual inaccuracy – of which there are far too many. My German translator is particularly infuriating.
That’s from an article called Why we should learn German, but it’s really about why we should strive for clarity in our use of language:
Clear language — lucid, rational language — to a man at war with both truth and reason, is an existential threat. Clear language to such a man is a direct assault on his obfuscations, contradictions and lies. To him, it is the voice of the enemy. To him, it is fake news. Because he knows, if only intuitively, what we know to our cost: that without clear language, there is no standard of truth.
It reminds me of one of my favourite Orwell essays, Politics and the English Language:
Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.
But however much I agree with Le Carré’s reprise of Orwell’s call for clarity, I was brought up short by this:
Every time I hear a British politician utter the fatal words, “Let me be very clear”, these days I reach for my revolver.
Le Carré’s text was part of a speech given in Berlin, where everyone would get the reference to the infamous Nazi quote—
Wenn ich Kultur höre … entsichere ich meinen Browning—and I’m sure it was meant with a sly wink. But words matter.
Words are powerful. Words can be love and comfort — and words can be weapons.
Thursday, June 22nd, 2017
Breaking down programming tasks into smaller chunks …and naming things.
I’ll take a piece of paper and write the function names I’m going to implement. Or I’ll do it directly in my code editor, with real functions or comments.
It allows you to focus on one problem at a time. When you’re writing those function names, you are thinking about what the code should be doing. When you’re implementing the functions, you are thinking about how the code should do it.
Tuesday, August 23rd, 2016
Why do pull quotes exist on the web?
There you are reading an article when suddenly it’s interrupted by a big piece of text that’s repeating something you just read in the previous paragraph. Or it’s interrupted by a big piece of text that’s spoiling a sentence that you are about to read in subsequent paragraphs.
There you are reading an article when suddenly it’s interrupted by a big piece of text that’s repeating something you just read in the previous paragraph.
To be honest, I find pull quotes pretty annoying in printed magazines too, but I can at least see the justification for them there: if you’re flipping through a magazine, they act as eye-catching inducements to stop and read (in much the same way that good photography does or illustration does). But once you’re actually reading an article, they’re incredibly frustrating.
You either end up learning to blot them out completely, or you end up reading the same sentence twice.
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.
Are pull quotes online an example of a skeuomorph? “An object or feature which imitates the design of a similar artefact made from another material.”
I think they might simply be an example of unexamined assumptions. The default assumption is that pull quotes on the web are fine, because everyone else is doing pull quotes on the web. But has anybody ever stopped to ask why? It was this same spiral of unexamined assumptions that led to the web drowning in a sea of splash pages in the early 2000s.
I think they might simply be an example of unexamined assumptions.
I’m genuinely curious to hear the design justification for pull quotes on the web (particularly on mobile), because as a reader, I can give plenty of reasons for their removal.
Friday, April 15th, 2016
As well as compèring the event, Chris took the time to make notes at the Clarity conference, dedicated to all things patterny.
Tuesday, April 5th, 2016
Wednesday, August 12th, 2015
When you’re struggling to write something that sounds clear and sounds human (two of the essential basics of a good blog post, I’d argue), just use the words normal people would use. The best way to find out what those words are is to try talking the thing through to someone who doesn’t know anything about it. Remember what you just said, then write that.
Sunday, March 30th, 2014
A useful text editor that analyses your writing for excess verbiage and sloppy construction. It helps you process your words, as it were.
Tuesday, January 10th, 2006
Am I buzzword or not?