Another year has flown by. To tell the truth, the years fly by faster every year. Two weeks ago, I said goodbye to my fall semester students (what a good bunch!) and in about four weeks I’ll be meeting my new students. While I still have some time, I wanted to jot down ideas for the workplace writing I’ll do in the coming year.
1. Organize: the filing cabinet, the desktop, the email inbox, the files, the photos…it seems to be a never-ending struggle. One baby-step I can take now is to start using file-naming conventions the right way.
2. Learn something new: I’m a firm believer that learning never ends. In 2014, I am planning on finishing my graduate certificate in Interactive Media Studies. Two more courses, and I’ll have it!
3. Update professional profiles, such as LinkedIn and Slideshare: As you do learn and achieve new things, update the places that matter to you professionally. Some of us keep an up-to-date vita. Most of what I do is online, so it’s time to revisit the about.me page and all the other places that could contain outdated info.
4. Use technology to automate tasks: Anything that I can outsource to a computer is fair game! I recently bought my very first smartphone, and I’m learning about how to get Siri to find things (although she’s not as smart as I had hoped.) I’m also beginning to store things like coupons & boarding passes on my phone. For my teaching, I’ve used services such as IFTTT and Remind 101 to trigger events or send reminders. I need all the help I can get!
That’s my list, and I’m sure I’ll add more as the year goes on. Add your list in the comments! And Happy New Year!
Photo credit: user Donnawetta, http://pixabay.com/en/elephant-parade-trier-elephant-art-179076/
I like to think I’m a pretty good proofreader. Assuming I can clearly see the screen or printout–which is more of a challenge as I’ve gotten older–I often find the mistakes that others gloss over. (See the billboard at left; I think I would have caught that one.)
But even with perfect vision, most of us can’t proof our own writing very well. It’s incredibly easy to overlook mistakes if you’re “too close” to the writing. And if you are a good writer, you should get close to your writing!
(Case in point: according to the company responsible for the billboard, the sign passed muster with no less than four other readers. I guess they were having an off day.)
Assuming you have the time and resources to work with a proofreader, that’s your path to error-free writing. Professional proofreaders are worth their weight in gold.
But what’s a conscientious but cash-poor writer to do? Here are some tricks I’ve collected over the years. Some might work better for copy-editing than for proofreading, but hey, it’s all iterative when it comes to writing.
- Turn on the hidden formatting characters of your word processor. These characters show things like paragraph breaks and spaces. You may find them annoying onscreen, but they won’t print on paper or PDF–try it and see. They are there only to help you find those extra spaces or mismatched font sizes.
- Manually double-check the spelling of all proper nouns: people, places and things. Spell-Check tools can learn new words, but sometimes my writing contains words that aren’t in its dictionary yet. If you’re writing something important, such as a job application letter, you’d better know how to spell the employer’s name. If your résumé boasts of your mad PowerPoint expertise, don’t spell it as power point.
- Run readability tests to tone up your copy. I cringe at the idea of a standard algorithm that rewards word or syllable count–completely antithetical to concise business or technical communication. But if you are looking for some independent verification of the complexity of your writing–and you understand the limitations–a readability test can be useful. An interesting one is The Writer’s Diet. It tells you whether your writing is “flabby or fit” in relation to vocabulary, sentence structure, and more. If you’re interested in the old Flesch or Gunning Fog-type tests, try Joe’s Web Tools or Juicy Studio for starters.
- Print your paper & read it one line at a time. Time-consuming? You bet. But sometimes the old ways are the best ways. Taking the time to carefully read your writing can help uncover typos and even problems with tone.
- Read your paper aloud, one line at a time. Why this works I don’t know, but reading my writing aloud always brings problems to the surface.
- Run your paper through an assistive technology product. This one may sound unusual, but don’t knock it until you try it. Assuming you don’t already use assistive technology, check out the built-in screen readers that exist in Word, Acrobat, Apple OS and other products. When my eyes (or brain) tire, I sometimes turn these on. The computerized voices don’t always give you an accurate pronunciation, but they can alert you to obvious errors by reading EXACTLY what is onscreen. In fact, any way to shake up the standard view of your screen can be useful. Browser extensions on Chrome & Firefox provide not only screen readers, but also the ability to switch to reverse type (black background and white text).
- Run Spell-Check any time you make changes (but understand & verify its suggestions). Technology is wonderful, but Spell-Check would not have flagged that billboard’s text as an error. All of the words are standard English. On the other hand, my WordPress spell checker doesn’t like résumé or assistive, which are both in a standard English dictionary as well. Use Spell-Check, but be cautious. Understand the reason it wants to change something, and decide whether or not you agree.
Any other ideas? Please add them in the Comments below.
To me, speech recognition is nothing short of a miracle. A piece of software can take the words I speak (in my nasally-southwestern Ohio twang, no less), work its magic, and translate that messy sound into relatively coherent text. If you’ve ever transcribed spoken conversation using a tape recorder and your own fortitude, you can appreciate the enormity of this accomplishment.
My first experience with speech recognition came about five years ago when I purchased a copy of Dragon Naturally Speaking. The product was marketed mostly for people with disabilities at that time, but I wanted to use it to record comments on student papers during a particularly grueling online summer course.
The idea was that you could skip the keyboard and “train” the computer to learn your voice. You could even teach it common acronyms or jargon.
Once you got the hang of it, the thing was pretty accurate, although it sure generated some amusing errors from time to time. (Here’s an entire blog devoted to that sort of thing.) So in the end, using it for student comments caused some issues, and didn’t really save me any time at all.
Fast forward to VoiceOver, Siri, Google Voice and all the rest. The technology is undeniably getting better, but there is still a missing piece. Much like a trained parrot, speech recognition software is really just a means of processing speech patterns and looking for distinct differences (“yes” versus “no,” for example.) Right now, natural language processing (understanding the semantics and syntax of those sounds) is still a ways off.
Finally, for an interesting exploration of the differences between speech recognition and natural language processing, check out Geoffrey Pullum’s excellent article: Speech Recognition vs. Language Processing – Lingua Franca – The Chronicle of Higher Education.
At this time of year, university folks get very busy. VERY VERY busy. Even bloggers with good intentions can fall behind.
So in order to give you something worthy, I’m turning this entry entirely over to David Pogue’s time-savers for tech. I didn’t know about most of them myself! Enjoy!