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Tip 29: Capturing Enigmas

The 6-year-old you’re trying to explain your research to is looking puzzled. Beyond using plain language, just how do you convey what you can’t see, hear, touch, or otherwise experience? Read more »

Tip 28: The Complex Process of Simplification

Explain your research in a way that a 6-year-old could understand. And contextualize it to fit in their world—so they can relate and retain interest. If you think this is “dumbing down,” consider the benefit: you’ll actually get through to an audience that can use the information you’ve worked so diligently to communicate in response to an identified need. And this is definitely not dumb. Especially in the impact-driven world of research and outreach funding where the land grant university system is firmly planted. Read more »

Tip 27: The Not-so-incredible Shrinking Paragraph

Have you noticed how short paragraphs have gotten lately? Have you struggled to figure out the point of a news story or blog because different ideas or factoids kept being tossed out with no development? Chances are the authors were afraid of losing their readers’ attention, and assumed that limiting the text to snippets would solve the ever-looming boredom problem. But similar to excessive exclamation marks and random formatting to add emphasis, this approach tends to yield the unintended results of confusion and frustration. Read more »

Tip 26: Word Conundrum Solutions

As a word nerd, I’m a big proponent of dictionaries and their awkwardly-named cousins, thesauri. If you check out an online dictionary, a thesaurus is usually just one tab click away. The two are a nice complement when you’re searching for the most appropriate word to convey what you want to say. In contrast to definitions that help you understand the meaning(s) of a word, a thesaurus will provide you with potential substitutes for a term that may be overused in a document. Searching for alternative words—including their opposites—can also lead to other possibilities for expressing your ideas.  Read more »

Tip 25: More on Redundancy

Beyond the senses implied in Tips 9, 22, and 24 (which remain painfully relevant), redundancy[*] can be comical. With a twist of seasonal oxymoronic juxtaposition, I offer you frivolity with a purpose. Cheers.

You’ve probably heard a few examples of redundancy during your holiday shopping. Some favorites within the advertising sector seem to be “very unique,” “added bonus,” and “free gift.” Some classics within Extension literature are “eradicate completely,” “local residents,” and “end result.” The lists are long because the practice is common; check out to see if you can find a few in your repertoire. If what you perused was uncomfortably familiar, becoming more intimate with a dictionary would behoove you. I keep an online version open all the time and consult it often when I edit and write for my own and others’ benefit. Read more »

Tip 24: This is IMPORTANT!

 I get it: being misunderstood is frustrating. And you’re especially vulnerable when you need to convince people to change, which is the case for a large percentage of Extension publications. As I mentioned in Tip 7 and again in Tip 19, one of the biggest hurdles that writing presents is the inability to directly respond to any signs from the recipients (i.e., readers) that indicate a problem (e.g., a puzzled expression or blank stare).

I suspect these are the types of scenarios that Extension authors are hoping to avoid when I encounter a manuscript that includes a substantial proportion of text with italics, bold, underlining, and/or all capital letters, often punctuated with exclamation points. The other common sign an author gives when they want to make sure their readers understand a key point is repetition of said concept. Both strategies are red flags to an editor because the effect is usually the opposite of what the author intends. Read more »

Tip 23: Pickiness

The following is my take on how to apply what I’ve learned—after two sessions—from the CAHNRS Community Building Workshop Series “Enhancing Our Workplace by Improving Our Life Skills.”

selective: tending to choose carefully or characterized by careful choice; highly specific in activity or effect.

nitpick: to be excessively concerned with or critical of inconsequential details; nit-picking: minute and usually unjustified criticism.

When you reflect on how human interaction works, it soon becomes obvious you need to deal with personality differences. One factor that often provides insights into an individual is their profession. Hence, editors tend to be described as selective. This, of course, is the kind and polite version. The more common (or perhaps applied, real-world) assessment is nitpicky. See definitions above. Read more »

Tip 22: Information Literacy

If you’ve taken the time to do a thorough CRAAP test, as I encouraged in the last Write Side installment, you know that despite the wonders of the World Wide Web, finding useful information is not that easy. Similarly, it can also be difficult to find information you haven’t seen before in at least a half dozen virtual incarnations. So when it comes to producing useful information, consider the need. If you’ve got something to contribute beyond what is currently available, great. If not, guide your clients by linking to the original and/or most credible update. Otherwise, your contribution realistically has negative value in the context of information overload because you are requiring people to weed out yet another information clone. Read more »

Tip 21: CRAAP

For many of us within academia, the Internet has become the primary information receptacle for all our research needs. Physical library buildings reassure us that bound paper books still exist in some kind of orderly arrangement that librarians can explain, but we don’t go to such places much anymore because it’s just so much easier to sit down in front of our computer and do a Google search. With only a few key strokes, we’re assured of more results than we will ever be able to use. The problem is, a large percentage of those results are of questionable value for public education purposes. And since we’re supposed to be producing information that laypeople can rely on (that’s why they call us experts), the sources we use need to be reliable. Read more »

Tip 20: Teamwork

You may be familiar with the phenomenon of being thanked for the services you provide, but in my field, it’s relatively rare. So when I recently met with a couple of very pleased customers who took the time to detail why they were happy with the work my fellow editor, Therese Harris, and I had done for them, it made an impression. Since I‘ve elaborated extensively in The Write Side (formerly “Writing Tips” published in PD Notes) on writer-editor clashes, I thought this would be a good opportunity to change it up a little. Read more »

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