Plain English is radical

typewriterThis echoes what I tell people: Use plain English. Avoid jargon as much as possible because it excludes people.

Sometimes I rant about it, see Jargon doesn’t make you look smarter.

In technology it is all about the commercial case: companies who overdo the jargon lose sales to companies who can articulate ideas in plain English.

And often, the numbskulls who insist on jargon are the ones who are talking with forked tongues. It’s just the same with politics. Plain English is radical.


E-books harder to read, hard to comprehend

Five years ago I wrote why people read less online than with print:

People spend less time reading online news than reading printed newspapers because reading a screen is more mentally and physically taxing.

I’ve no hard and fast evidence to offer. This is just my observation. It would make a great research project for someone.

Last week The Guardian reported on similar research in Readers absorb less on Kindles than on paper.

The story says researchers at Norway’s Stavanger University asked people to read the same short story on a Kindle and on paper. Those who read on paper did a better job of remembering the events than those who read on the e-books.

A similar study looked at a school student comprehension test which shows those who read the paper document performed better than those who read digitally on screens or e-books.

Tired eyes when reading e-books

None of this surprises me, it mirrors my experience. I’ve noticed I get more from reading print than digitally. Also my eyes tire much slower with print.

If I have a serious editing or sub-editing job to do, I’ve learnt that proofreading a printed document is more accurate than working directly onscreen.

I doubt knowing readers absorb less with digital books will change anything. Nothing is likely to stop the world moving from print to pixels. But with e-books there’s a danger we’ll know more and understand less.


Word processor software still geared to print

Word processors need to get out of the 1990s.

It’s a long time since I used a word processor to create a printed document. Yet word processors are still made as if the goal is a sheet of paper.

Take Microsoft Word:Mac 2011. It offers six ‘views. All of them pay homage to print. At least three of the views go out of their way to reproduce what looks like a printed page on-screen along with cheesy skeuomorphic designs. You can’t use Word for long before coming up against page breaks.

What an antiquated idea that is.

Apple’s Pages 5.0 feels more modern, yet it still offers a line across the screen to tell me where a page break might fall. And depending on the settings paragraphs move around to accommodate those page breaks.

It gets worse. The default setting of the standard Pages 5.0 template assumes you’ll want to have page headers and footers. I haven’t used headers or footers since WordPerfect 5.1 — kids ask your grandparents.

Google Docs has its faults, but at least there is an option to not show pages. Google can’t quite bring itself into the 21st century though. Google Docs’s default setting is what it calls the ‘paginated view’.

I would like to see Apple and Microsoft offer non-paginated views. Perhaps they do. I can’t find them in any documentation or support forums.

On one level this is just a grumble. I prefer minimal writing interfaces, the less distraction the better. A page line might not be much distraction, but I’d still rather not see it.

There’s a deeper complaint. The fact that word processor developers are so conservative that they feel the need to include paper-like views and make those views the default, tells me they are too conservative full stop.


How to blog like an old school journalist: Wordcamp

On Saturday I gave a presentation to WordCamp Auckland 2014: How to blog like an old school journalist. Here’s a link to my slides. You can open it full-screen:


Blogging isn’t the same as old-school journalism. It’s less about recording facts and more about ideas or experiences. Blgging has influenced modern journalism — the lines between the two forms of writing are blurring. Yet there are still lessons worth learning from the old way of doing things.

Much of the material is a shortened form of posts elsewhere on this site. You might like to explore the following:


RSS — for when you can’t miss news

Two bloggers comment on RSS feeds:

RSS is no longer a key content distribution channel.

He’s right in that RSS never became a mainstream means of consumption (indeed, I’d argue that it never really was a key content distribution channel), but wrong in that, for those of us who live or die by the information we find, consume and process in various ways, it’s still a vital tool.

– Adam Tinworth.

When Google closed Google Reader there was discussion that said RSS was dead and no longer needed now that people get their feeds from social media. As Tinworth points out, there are still 15 million die-hard feed-reading users out there.

I’m one.

Social media has its uses, but with services like Twitter or Facebook, stories go whooshing by in among all those cat pictures and other distractions. Not only that, but a third party gets to choose what you see.

If you want to check this morning’s technology news from New Zealand publishers, RSS is the only easy way to capture everything in one single spot. The alternative is to spend hours ploughing through multiple sites.

Long may the practice of creating feeds live. It’s essential for anyone who needs a comprehensive list of relevant information.