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In praise of the ebullient worker

1985-ozzie-smith

Ozzie Smith doing his thing at the 1985 World Series (source: Sports Illustrated)

Have you ever worked with someone like Ozzie Smith?

Before really big games, the Hall of Fame shortstop delighted his fans and teammates by doing backflips on the field. In every game he played, his gestures and body language made it clear that he was enjoying himself. His joy spread to everyone who watched him — except, maybe, fans of the opposing team.

Have you ever worked with someone who delights in their work and spreads joy through the workplace? If so, you’re lucky. There are far too few people like that. I call them the ebullient workers.

Just to be clear, I’m not talking about:

  • The clowns, who love jokes and pranks but never take anything seriously and can’t be counted on to pull their weight. A clown’s act might be appealing at first, but before long it becomes stale — no matter how good the jokes are.
  • The showoffs, who take delight in their work but at the expense of rival workers or even teammates. The showoff’s delight isn’t really in their work — it’s in proving that they’re better than everyone else. Instead of sowing unity, showoffs sow division.

If you’re an ebullient worker

Good for you. Keep it up. You might ask “Keep what up?” because your ebullience just comes naturally. You have a rare gift of bringing light and life to the workplace. Don’t let anybody or anything — frowning colleagues, disapproving bosses, a stifling corporate culture — extinguish it.

Sometimes, unfortunately, that means that you’ll need to find another place to work. That’s a steep price to pay, but it beats losing the passion you bring to your job every day. Continue reading

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On Limerick Day

I just learned that today is Limerick Day. (Not National Limerick Day, apparently. Good. I like it when the whole universe can join in.)

As a serious writer of nonfiction I struggle with this particular form. It’s like, well….I ‘ll just let these speak for themselves.

Quill penIt’s Limerick Day – y’all have a ball
Writing doggerel sure to enthrall
Me, I’m gonna go fishing
(Beats sitting here wishing
I had any talent at all)

A technical writer in Philly
Penned limericks bawdy and silly
He had a grand time
Crafting meter and rhyme
Til his editor made him rewrite them all to conform to corporate style

Sorry – je ne suis pas circumflex

What’s going on in France?

I’m talking about the way some people are reacting to the modest spelling reforms put forth by the Académie Française. According to a New York Times report, no sooner had the Académie proposed removing the circumflex from some words (only in cases where there would be no ambiguity), than Je suis circumflex became a thing on Twitter. It’s a nod, of course, to last year’s Je suis Charlie [Hebdo] meme.

academie

We don’t need an Academy of English. But if we ever get one I hope it has a classy building like the Académie Française. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

You might think that I, a lover of language, would join the movement. But I won’t. Here’s why.

I grew up in an orderly home. There were rules. There were right ways and wrong ways to do things. As a result, life was pretty predictable. I liked that.

At school I learned the rules of grammar. I didn’t just learn them — I soaked them up. There was a right way and a wrong way to speak and write. I liked that.

Those rules became ingrained. Never split an infinitive. Never end a sentence with a preposition. Never use a plural pronoun (they) when talking about just one person.

Then a funny thing happened. As I grew older, I watched the English language evolve. I had a ringside seat, in fact, because I made my career in writing.

English evolved, because that’s what languages do. They evolve. Continue reading

Living and Learning

I firmly believe that if you’re not learning, you’re not living. With that in mind, let’s look at some things I learned in 2015:

Robot reading a book

That new technologies can tell stories — and what that might imply for the future

How not to enhance a brand — whether it’s your company’s or your personal brand

Sound advice on the art of estimating projects for technical communication (I especially recommend the two articles that are linked in the postscript)

The importance of connotations: of using words in the way your reader understands them, not in the way you think your reader should understand them (or as Mark Baker might phrase it, writing in a way that makes use of the stories you share in common with your reader)Advertisement in Swedish, with the English expression "No way!" prominently displayed

An amusing example of how languages evolve and interact with each other

The need for patience, and resisting the impulse to jump in and do it now

Pluto as seen by New HorizonsTwo essential skills for every nonfiction writer: knowing what to take out, and letting readers experience the story for themselves

Making mistakes, and learning from them

 

My most-read article this year, by far, posed the question What should a Technical Communication course teach? The responses to that article proved the need for a profession-wide conversation on this topic, but (alas) I don’t think the conversation has gotten off the ground. Yet.

Perhaps that’ll change in 2016 — a year in which I look forward to lots more living and lots more learning.

What was the coolest thing you learned in 2015? The most surprising thing?

Black Friday, Green Friday: Count me out

I’m opting out of Black Friday. Passing up all of the offers that cluttered my email inbox this morning — even the one from the Sierra Club, an organization I thought was better than that.

Black Friday needs a new name. While I understand that the “Black” refers to black ink in a ledger, the irony of using that word after what’s happened in Ferguson, Missouri, is too great to ignore.

Black Friday ad with red slash superimposedFor Black Friday takes place in big department stores and suburban malls, not in the low-income sections of town. It’s for the haves, not the have-nots. And in this country, in 2014, the have-not group is disproportionately filled with black and Hispanic people.

In Black Friday I see the social divide that leaves some people desperate enough to protest in the streets while the rest shrug and say “what’s their problem?” Or are too busy jockeying for bargains to notice at all.

So let’s call it Green Friday. Green, the color of money. And green the color of envy, as in “My neighbor got an 80-inch flat-screen, and I have to have one too.”

Better still, let’s opt out.

What’s Lurking in Your Content?

Fellow technical writers, admit it. You’ve all done it. You’re writing along, and you come to a spot where you need to insert place-holder text. Your creative juices are flowing, and a simple lorem ipsum just won’t do.

So you insert something clever. Lyrics from your favorite Stones song. Lines from the Dead Parrot sketch. Maybe even a rant about what a dopey product you’re describing.

Then you delete it forthwith. Because if you don’t, those little place-holders have a way of lurking unnoticed until one day they find their way into print.

Cover for the Hello Kitty Dictionary

Image source: mirror.co.uk

Don’t believe me? Check out this horrifying story of what a mother recently found in, of all things, the Hello Kitty Dictionary. At the entry for necklace were two definitions: a piece of jewelry, and a brutal method for killing people.

Improbable as it sounds, the story appears to be true: it was cited by a number of different online sources. Even if it’s a fake, it’s a good object lesson for all of us who publish content.

Reportedly the publisher, Harper Collins, reacted promptly by pulling all copies from the shelves and destroying them.

But I have to wonder: how did that ever make it to print in the first place?

About the author: Larry Kunz lives in an apartment on the ninety-ninth floor of his block. If you hadn’t nailed him to the perch he’d be pushing up daisies.

Are you ready for the future of content?

Guess what’s become a hot topic in the content strategy blogs? Good writing.

Brittany Huber laments that there’s so much bad writing out there, and offers some keys for finding the “really good stuff.” For Brittany, the good stuff is clear, scannable, accurate, and inventive.

Meanwhile Kathy Wagner sounds a call for well-written content, saying that good content engages, persuades, and just plain feels good. Kathy points out that “[a]udiences are typically affected in a positive way by one of two things: a truly compelling story, or well-crafted writing.”

quill penAs a writer I’m thrilled. This is right in my sweet spot. Despite what I’ve said about “good enough” being the new measure of quality, I’m delighted to hear content professionals reassure me that craftsmanship still has value.

So if everyone’s in favor of good writing, why aren’t there oceans and oceans of good content out there?

Continue reading

An appeal for liberty

Recently I wrote that all efforts at censorship are doomed eventually to fail. In fact, I believe that all efforts of any kind to suppress people’s liberties are doomed eventually to fail.

That belief was reinforced recently as I read No Enemies, No Hatred, the anthology of essays and poems by Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese dissident and 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner who wasn’t allowed to accept his award. Continue reading

A season of significance (World Series special)

The Red Sox have met the Cardinals in the World Series twice during my lifetime.

  • 1967: The impossible dream. A young team, with a rookie manager (Dick Williams) reverses years of losing and wins a thrilling four-team pennant race.
  • 2004: The end of the curse. The Sox take down the Yankees after losing the first three Championship Series games, then win the Series for their first championship since World War I.

In other words, the two most significant seasons in Red Sox history.
2013 World Series logo
Is 2013 any less significant? Continue reading

She didn’t win the Nobel Peace Prize. Let’s honor her anyway.

Photo of Malala Yousafzai

Last week saw a buzz around Malala Yousafzai, the 16-year old Pakistani who was shot by the Taliban for believing that everyone is entitled to an education. On the eve of the anniversary of that shooting, word got out that she’d been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. She even appeared on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, where she gave this amazing interview.

In the end, she didn’t win the prize. The buzz died down. I hope and pray that it never dies away. Continue reading