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Ellen Cline, writer
Creative communication that markets, informs, and entertains

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Is Chicago style better online?

Author: ; Published: Mar 11, 2013; Category: Business Writing, Communications Tools, Editing and Proofing; Tags: , , , ; No Comments

Chicago Manual of Style book cover

If you’ve read my previous blog post about style guides, you know I prefer The Chicago Manual of Style to the Associated Press Stylebook.

I finally signed up for an online subscription to Chicago and am really finding it useful. Rather than buy a new hardcover version of Chicago to get the 16th edition, I chose to purchase an online subscription instead. 

Although I still do love using paper books, I spend most of my time working at the computer, as I have for years. So searching the online version for reference, is quick and convenient.  And there are some added features. 

Using the online version, you can search the 15th or 16th edition. Select which you want before entering words into the search bar. As an alternative, you can use the table of contents, drilling down through each chapter to see more detail. If you’ve always liked searching the paper manual through its index, you can still do that online as well.

In addition to the book, you can also search the Q&A section of the website. Although Chicago is pretty thorough, there are situations that come up that may not be covered in the manual, and peoples’ questions and the experts’ answers can be applicable to a similar situation you’re facing.

Another nice feature: You can create a style sheet for a particular client or project. Yes, it’s just a little text editor that pops up, but at least all the exceptions to Chicago you’re using will be in one place, right there with the manual.

I also like the bookmark feature. Of course you can bookmark a paper book, as I do, but after there are a million little sticky notes and scraps of paper hanging out, it gets a bit unwieldy. To bookmark the online Chicago, you just click the flag icon.

The online  subscription version also lets you create your own annotations on any item. Say you want to note on 6.45, commas with dates, that you want to follow the ISO style for dates (9.37). You can do that with the little pop up text editor by clicking on the pencil icon.

I haven’t been using the online Chicago for very long yet, but so far I’m happy with it. Is anyone else using this handy tool? If so, what do you think about it?

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Word Woes—Misspelling Mishaps

Author: ; Published: Jan 6, 2012; Category: Editing and Proofing; Tags: , , , ; No Comments

Mr. Smiley

I’ve been stumbling upon mistakes in places where I have rarely noticed them in the past: The New York Times Book Review, The Visual Thesaurus Word of the Day, even the J. Peterman catalog, which used to be known as the best example of catalog writing out there.

These are not all homonym problems, but a variety of typos, misspellings, misuses, and missing words.You’re not the only one making mistakes. Everyone needs an editor, even the editor. But let’s try to learn something from these mishaps.

First, two examples from the Visual Thesaurus Word of the Day, a daily email I really enjoy receiving and which usually is very well written and edited.

  • Border Crossing Word of the Day: limbo
    Theologians get credit for introducing this Latin word (meaning "border") that originally denoted a place where your not-quite-pure soul might cool its heals, whilst awaiting a possibly better final destination.

(Your soul, if it had feet, would be more likely to be “cooling its heels,” I imagine than “cooling its heals.”)

  • Say What You Will Word of the Day: bequeath
    The wish to assert a controlling hand after you’ve cashed in your chips is surely as hold as humanity, for bequeath — give by will after your death -is among the first words to appear in English.

(Here a simple typo, “hold” for “old” gives the phrase an interesting alliterative twist, but warps the meaning.)

In a review of the book, “The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris,” by David McCullough, written by Stacy Schiff, in a section talking about the Franco-Prussian War, I found this:

  • A reliable topic of conversation in Paris, food was the principal one during the German siege, when cat meat revealed itself be a delicacy and Paris solved its rat problem.

(Just a tiny word, “to,” is missing, but it makes the whole sentence wrong.)

In the J. Peterman catalog, in a description for the Tie-Shoulder-Dress, the generally witty copy was marred by this example of a misused word:

  • Let’s not even mention the fact there’s a cocktail with your namesake at the Polo Lounge. Yes, yes, your capriciousness always keeps them guessing.

(The cocktail cannot be “with your namesake.” It can be a cocktail with your name or named after you. For namesake to work in this sentence, it would need to say the cocktail is your namesake.)

And last but not least, I found this in a local magazine, in the letter from the editor:

  • Jacob McGee is called a high-rise technician. That might not mean much for most of us. But he’s the guy who straps himself into a harness and repels down high-rise buildings to clean their windows. Well, weather permitting, of course.

(I guess he hopes he repels from instead of attracts to the building as it might hurt when he smashes into it. It would probably be safer if he rappelled.)

 

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“I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.”

Author: ; Published: May 11, 2011; Category: Business Writing, Communications Tools, Editing and Proofing, Message Simplicity; Tags: , , , , , ; No Comments

Blaise Pascal

Often time is limited and something needs to go out now. As Blaise Pascal stated, "I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time." In other words, writing fast and writing concisely are often at odds.

I do a profile each week for the Church of Beethoven. I have 140 words and maybe 15 minutes to do it.

For tweets from Working Like Dogs and National Assistance Dog Week (@WLDogs and @NADWeek) which I started doing recently, I have 140 characters and no time.

What do I get out of it? For the 140-word Church of Beethoven profiles, I interview an audience member or volunteer before or after the show. The profile appears in the weekly e-news that goes out on Wednesdays. I learn a lot of amazing things about the people, their interests, their background, and their work, so that’s fun.

For the 140-character tweets, which I actually almost always do through Facebook (trying to save time by posting once), I have to skim news items and figure out what the main point is, then make it short. So like the profiles, I learn a lot, but am always in a hurry, struggling to be efficient, accurate, yet hopefully interesting.

But what about the readers? What do they get out of it? Are these items reaching and teaching or motivating them?

Now that we have less time and space than ever, are we getting better at focusing our messages? Or just creating large quantities of short and not very meaningful messages?

There have always been limitations for marketing professionals: the ¼ page print ad, the billboard, the :15 second spot, the text link on the web page. And of course there’s editing to fit the space:  I just had to cut someone’s op-ed down from 1200 words to 600.

But do extremely short messages, like tweets, push us even further?  And do they really help us communicate effectively?

It’s not just brevity, but speed. When we have to get something out before it is no longer news, that makes it a rush. When we have to make it short, and do it fast, have we gone beyond what is possible? 

Going back to that quote from Pascal—everyone seems to understand that writing short takes more time. But in the current zeitgeist we are expected to do both, fast and short, each and every time. Is this really working?

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