Author Archives: Leah Hackleman-Good

Why your online writing should use built-in styles

spacespostA website client of mine created a blog post and manually styled nearly every paragraph differently with formatting like boldface, color, and centering because she wanted her posts to attract attention.

But I cautioned her about using too many different manual formatting techniques and urged  her to use the built-in styles I developed as part of the theme design.

Why use styles?

If you use a WordPress or other blog software, you’ll notice that the menu for the word processing part of your entry screen has styles set up. In mine, the main style is “Paragraph” and there are styles called Heading 1, Heading 2…all the way to Heading 6.

Styles will help you make a post that your readers will comprehend more easily

Why?

From a reader’s perspective all this difference can be a little jarring, even if they don’t consciously notice it.

Their brains wonder, should I pay more attention to the bigger things? And what about the colorful things? And the things that set up in the center of the page?

With consistent styles, readers don’t have to navigate the differences between text pieces. Their familiarity with the web as well as with nonfiction books allows them to comprehend what “headings” are. They understand: biggest headings cover the biggest sections; smaller headings inside of them carve up the different subjects within that big section.

Clear signposts help readers navigate.

Clear signposts draw in readers

Consistent styles also help readers skim. Let’s face it: you have about 7 seconds to persuade a reader to stick around and read your post. Headlines are eminently skimmable because they’re large and (if you’re using styles) really well organized.

A visitor can get a good sense of the article with good, scannable headlines. Even if they don’t read the article word for word (and most don’t), that skim could persuade them to click your Products link or sign up for your mailing list.

They will also reduce your posting time

Let WordPress and your Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) do their jobs. As a database system, WordPress houses your words and images, tagging them appropriately. Your CSS uses the tags to display the post to the reader in a pleasing, consistent manner. Why take time to manually boldface, italicize, upsize, or color each piece of your post when these existing technologies can do it?

Using styles will also save you time later. If you recreate your design or choose a new theme, CSS will apply the new style of Heading 3 to all instances of text you have identified as Heading 3. If you have manually applied color or effects, your posts could clash with the new look of your site or you will spend hours going through all of your old posts to update the text applications to reflect your new theme.

Use styles

In this post, for instance, I use Heading 1 to ask the question and answer it three times using Heading 2. The title is its own style, and in some themes it displays large or smaller than your highest heading, Heading 1. Know this about your design. My post titles are larger than my Heading 1, so I’m okay with using that top level heading in the post.

When you’re investigating a new theme, pay attention to the preview provided. On any theme preview, you’ll see all the headings listed and styled. You’ll also see the styles of things like indented quotations, lists, and tables. Although you can alter these by delving into custom CSS, a good theme for you is one that starts with elements that work for you and your writing.

The value of editors

Writer Ann Handley, a content marketer. Her eighth writing tool is a human editor, about which she writes

I think of a good editor as the best advocate for the reader, which is why companies that don’t use editors end up hurting themselves.

8 Writing Tools I Use Every Day

One of my ongoing struggles is to explain why editing matters. Often I liken it to how carpet just looks better after it’s been vacuumed, but you don’t walk into your friend’s family room and immediately think, “Oh, how nice—they vaccumed for me!”

You don’t normally read an informative report that tells you exactly what you want to know clearly and think, “Oh, how great—they edited this just for me!”
How to Self Promote without Being a Jerk

But I read a small book called How to Self-Promote Without Being a Jerk; author Bruce Kasanoff writes in the chapter that cautions “Be perfect,” that most of the information we receive when we meet other people is composed of

…subtle clues: how the person stands, the tone of their voice, whether they look you in the eye, how they dress, etc.

He adds,

The number and manner of your mistakes is another category of clues.

Four words

If you don’t buy the “impressions” argument, here’s another example of the value of copy editing on the other end of the spectrum, supplied by the New York Times in its article about theAffordable Care and Patient Protection Act challenge in the Supreme Court based on

four words — “established by the State” — buried deep within the 900-page law.

Or as Paul Krugman puts it, an “obvious typo” that may have serious repurcussions for hundreds of thousands of Americans.

Most typos aren’t that serious.

 This just in: How a Typo May Have Turned a Drum of Radioactive Waste into a Bomb

 A big tip

Give your resume, executive report, or research paper a word-by-word read. Better yet, have someone else do it. Spending $5 a page for a solid copy edit for your master’s thesis makes more sense than spending your research time looking for grammatical errrors, especially if you’re not an English major.

Why copy edit

Shooting your business thru the foot

A few weeks ago, I received an email from a local research organization whose subject line and title was something akin to

“Understanding Your Community Thru Historical Data.”

I know my grammar and usage; I do a lot of copy editing for a variety of academic and research organizations. So I’m a stickler about being correct. Mostly. But I’m not such a hardass all the time because I know that in some situations, using slang, misused words, and improper grammar gets the message to your audience.

But using “thru” isn’t appropriate in this context. So I quickly played with an online tool I’ve been wanting to try, Piktochart, which makes infographics online that you can download as image files.

Thru

 

(Updated the Piktochart so that it included better images and so I could post it on LinkedIn.)

 

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Cover image of Mini Habits bookI recently read the book Mini Habits by Stephen Guise, and during the past couple of weeks I’ve put into practice the principles I learned there.*

The premise of this book is that mini habits—small, daily activities that should not take more than 5 minutes at a time each—are the steps to getting toward some of our bigger goals. Stephen Guise calls these “too small to fail.” His argument is that consistent success in meeting these mini habits energizes us and  supports the larger changes we want to make. Science backs him up on this (see this Huffington Post article).

One of Guise’s examples is his mini habit of one push-up a day. Instead of making, say, an ambitious New Year’s resolution like “I’m going to run a 5K every week” or “I’m going to work out at the gym three times a week,” Guise made his goal one push-up a day. His point is that although 1 pushup a day is not going to bulk up some muscle, it paved the way for him eventually to get to the gym three times a week.

The key, he says, is not to rely on motivation. Guise writes on his website

When I decided to start exercising consistently 10 years ago, this is what actually happened:

  1. I tried “getting motivated.” It worked sometimes.
  2. I tried setting audacious big goals. I almost always failed them.
  3. I tried to make changes last. They didn’t.

Like most people who try to change and fail, I assumed that I was the problem.

Then one afternoon—after another failed attempt to get motivated to exercise—I (accidentally) started my first mini habit. I initially committed to do one push-up, and it turned into a full workout. I was shocked. This “stupid idea” wasn’t supposed to work. I was shocked again when my success with this strategy continued for months (and to this day). I had to consider that maybe I wasn’t the problem in those 10 years of mediocre results. Maybe it was my prior strategies that were ineffective, despite being oft-repeated as “the way to change” in countless books and blogs.

My mini habitsScreen shot of my Android phone with Habit Bull mini habits

To start slow, I set four daily mini habits:

  1. Walk through one 80s song
  2. Meditate 5 minutes
  3. Do one situp
  4. Write 50 words

Guise recommends writing these mini habits on a large wall calendar. But because my phone houses pretty much everything I need, I investigated his resources list and found Habit Bull. It’s very simple: I typed in my four mini goals, identified the days of the week I wanted to accomplish them, and then chose the widget to display them on my screen (shown at right is my actual Moto X screen; I used the app Easy Screenshot). Voilà.

I have a 95% success rate so far at completing these daily habits.

I also realized in the midst of this experiment that my strategy for copy-editing really long, practically unreadable academic journal articles—using the Pomodoro technique (again using an Android app for a timer, ClearFocus) of 25-minute chunks of solid, concentrated effort followed by 5-minute breaks—basically strings together work-based mini habits to complete a specific project. So I already had some mini habit mindset going; now I am applying it to other parts of life.

At this point, I’ve never walked through only one song. Once I’ve got my shoes on and my music playing, I tend to walk for 1-2 miles each day (about 6 to 10 80s New Wave/punk songs). And I’ve rarely written only 50 words; that’s a short paragraph, and I’m more verbose than that! And while I’m on the floor doing one sit-up, I may as well do five. Getting started when I know my goal is “walk 2 miles”? Sometimes pretty hard in the midst of a busy day. But getting started when I know I can stop after “Blitzkreig Bop” and still count it as success?—much easier.

But Guise’s point is that even if I did not overachieve these habits, it’s okay: checking off these small wins boost my confidence as well as my motivation. This pattern of action and reward is part of what will keep these habits going and growing.


*I don’t do any affiliate marketing, so I don’t make money off the book or your clicking the link.

 

Mini Habits

Professional Learning Portfolios…and questions

I recently enrolled in Jane Hart’s online workshop on Professional Learning Portfolios. What I was thinking about when I enrolled was that I wanted some ideas about an e-portfolio system to put in my website so that I could show samples to potential clients—i.e., a portfolio in the traditional sense of an outward-facing body of evidence that I can do what I say I can do.

There’s still a lot of value for me in doing this aspect of a portfolio, of course, but I’ve found even in the first few days of the PLP workshop discussions and suggested activity that my thinking has gone beyond that. The first thing I did was download the suggested WordPress theme for the portfolio and play around a bit with it , but then I got stuck. So instead of continuing to work with a tool, I took a step backward and reread our workshop introduction and documents…and realized I needed to do some thinking and planning first. I can get too caught up in cool tools, so I went back to what helps me think best, mapping out ideas on paper with different color pens.

And I realized while doing this that probably the most important thing for me, before trying to organize materials, is to determine my goals. My learning goals will be tied to the new areas I want to do work in. But I have to figure those out first!

I know that they have something to do with helping people learn what’s “out there” in terms of online resources and tools and, more importantly, convincing them that they won’t break the internet if they try to participate in it. I guess a term for marketing would be digital literacy; although I’m not crazy about that term, it may be a useful way to communicate what I want to do. I wrote in this blog for the Connectivism course about Ohio Computer Tutor, a goofy name for a serious idea. It’s morphed a bit into ways to help businesses support staff learning and development.

My biggest roadblock is that I have to “sell” this. If I take time to work on a new business area, then I am literally taking time away from earning income with the things I already do. I can’t tell you how scary that is for a freelancer—I just cannot say “no” to work! And I already take time away from my personal life to do business stuff, so it seems unfair to take even more time away from real-live relationships. Perhaps the biggest roadblock—as it always, always is—is simply fear.

Final Personal Learning Environment

I really like the CMap tool, which I’ve used before. I like the fact that the links can be labeled and thus clarify the relationships between the concepts (usually via verbs). In addition, it’s easily used to convey information but also to organize it because each concept is a kind of container. You can add links, images, and other types of files.

I learned doing this that for communicating and adequately capturing something like a personal learning environment (PLE), what I long for is a moving concept map that shows change over time and thus could identify things that fade in and out of importance (sort of à la Hans Rosling). Ideally, this PLE should also use layers to make three dimensional connections between concepts. When I started, I realized that what’s interesting to me is how the “past” stuff forms a clear link to something I do now: for example, the connection I have to database publishing using FileMaker databases (circa 1995 or so) means that HTML and XML make sense to me. Looking further backward, HyperCard was my first introduction to databases, so it set the stage for my 17-year use of FileMaker. It would be great to show clearly that kind of “ancestral” link because it shows what I keep thinking of as networked-learning curves.

(Clicking on this brings up a larger version that’s easier to read.)

LeahGoodPLE

 

Video Communication with Screenr

Below is my midterm presentation for Introduction to Emerging Technologies (98908) at the University of Manitoba. Please be aware that this presentation should run itself once you click the arrow, and it does have audio attached. There’s a bit of a pause before it gets going, too. Any feedback or comments are welcome!

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Personal Learning Environment

One of our tasks in the Introduction to Emerging Technologies course at the University of Manitoba is to create a diagram of our personal learning environment (PLE). My problem with the many PLE examples I’ve found in the last couple of years is that they

  1. do not show how PLEs change over time
  2. are static diagrams rather than active, flowing animations

I’ve tried to address my first concern by playing with a timeline-based PLE map using the online (and free) tool MyHistro.   

What I like about this is the timeline approach as well as the ability to add pictures, maps, and other multimedia. I’ve set this example to “play” automatically, so it’s sort of non-static as well. What I don’t like about it is that I cannot (or haven’t figured out yet how to) make connections between the timeline events. For instance, in this small sample, I would want to connect HyperCard to the beginnings of the Web (jumping over several years, but having stuff in between such as email, FTP, gopher, etc.). The “story” one creates with this tool is quite linear, as timelines are wont to be.

Last year I started with a Prezi-based PLE diagram, and I think I may go back to that for my course project. However, I’m happy to have learned a little bit about MyHistro (although it doesn’t work as well as I might expect; for instance, no matter what, I can’t seem to get the timeline events to “play” in order).

For University of Manitoba ETL program course 98908
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Self-publishing OERs: Absolutely the right choice

Third-party hosting services (like WordPress!), as our readings point out, have several disadvantages, including their potential instability (i.e., they can disappear at any time, taking your content with them) as well as the lack of control you have over what else happens in that space (our reading’s example was YouTube advertising; I would also add commenting, because this is the reason many schools in my area block access to YouTube).

For my final project, I chose to set up a wiki because I wanted to learn how to use a new tool. But the wiki-hosting sites do not allow a lot of customization; in my case, I want to be able to control formatting, colors, and so on. In addition, free wiki-hosting sites also have some potential for putting ads on your wiki. (For instance, one OER I visited in my quest had advertisements from the Koch brothers—right-wing owners of the second largest private company in the United States—ads that were a complete contradiction to the stated purpose of the site itself.

So instead of choosing a third-party site, I decided to self-publish my wiki using a new site for my business. I am moving my files, etc., from Yahoo Small Business hosting (which charges $35 a month to host my website) to Bluehost.com, which charges only $6 a month. When I first started my freelance business, I knew nothing about Web publishing and those were also the days of raw HTML. Yahoo offered a service to help build the site, and so I chose that option. Fast forward to now, in which not only have I learned a lot about Web publishing but also I have access to mountains of free tools to help me build a site. Bluehost is wonderful, too, because it has scripts that will set up a WordPress or wiki engine for you. So my hosted account Editorial Partners LLC is the host of my Professional Writing wiki, the final project for my course and an ongoing project for me.

For only $6 a month, an amount many people spend daily on a latte or chai tea from Starbucks, I have a space on the Web that is entirely mine: I control what’s there (and what’s not), there are no unwanted advertisements, very few schools have blocked the site from their students (none, actually), and it will never disappear unless I make it. I can change colors, change my whole theme, create subdirectories for different projects or clients, and so on. In addition, I researched different types of wikis and chose Dokuwiki as my engine because it creates text files rather than database entries, which means they are accessible on any device, easily printed, and require relatively low bandwidth and memory. And because they are text files, they play well with audio devices for people with sight disabilities and can be saved as a document that can easily be modified (e.g., scaling up the font size).

The only “down side” that I see (aside from the programming bits I need to learn—and for me, learning new tools never has a down side) is that these resources are less easily found on the Web. For instance, if I google “professional writing resources,” my little wiki does not appear in the search results. Perhaps that is something to add to the course resources, in the area of publishing: the basics of metadata, how search engines can find you, how you could submit to OER respositories, etc.