Sunday, May 25, 2014

Want to Sharpen Your Vocabulary?

Be suspicious of writing consultants who tell you which words to avoid using in business writing. Before long, you'll discover that they do not always practice what they preach. Nevertheless, since the business world is a breeding ground of buzzwords and jargon, reviewing lists of taboo words can prove a simple technique for maintaining a fresh writing style. post, Words to Avoid in Business Writing, covers author Bryan A. Garner's list of verboten words. After reviewing them, browse the website. Using its quiz features regularly will help you pick up fresher words to replace the dropped stale ones.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: "Moonwalking with Einstein"

There's something cinematic about Joshua Foer's Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything. At certain points in the book, one can understand why it has been optioned for a movie deal, especially when Foer recalls his interviews of scientists and the subjects of their investigations, when he engages other memorists in divulging the tricks of their trade, and when prepares for and competes in the United States Memory Championship. Those moments move from wistful to comedic, from poignant to suspenseful. 

Participating in mind games was the farthest thought from Foer's mind only one year before, while engaged in a routine journalism assignment on the national memory competition in New York. There he happened on Ed Cooke, a British Grandmaster memorist, who claimed that he could teach Foer to be an excellent memorist in no time. True to his word, Cooke coached Foer all the way to becoming the US Memory Champion within one year.

The best quality of Moonwalking with Einstein is Foer's gift of understatement. He claims early on that he does not intend it to be a how-to resource for memory improvement. Yet it is. By describing the techniques he used to improve his recall, Foer provides numerous techniques and tips the most amnemonic among us can use to remember almost anything on demand. In describing his encounter with Tony Buzan, the English educational consultant whose outrageous claims of transforming humanity make him an easy target of ridicule, Foer prefers to objectively report his findings to let readers decide for themselves whether they should subscribe to Buzan's mind mapping techniques. 

Foer's documentarian approach to memory uncovers stories of individuals past and present whose virtual total recall confounds their contemporaries and makes them the envy of people who long to remember pi to the thousandth place or to summon on demand the weekday, weather, and major headlines of any recorded day in human history. He looks at the remarkable tale of S, the famous patient of early twentieth century Russian psychologist A. R. Luria. S could summon every seemingly insignificant event that ever occurred to him, a skill which actually hurt him professionally because it prevented him from the more important ability to generalize. The author discusses at length the sad case of his meeting EP, whom he calls the most forgetful man in the world, to better understand the characteristics of remembering that are present in some and absent in others. By sharing these situations and the known science underlying them, Foer grants us access into what make our memories work, why we forget things, why we should forget most of them, and how we can recover more than we think.

Some reviews suggest that reading Moonwalking makes one feel like a voyeur touring a curiosity shop, but Foer's crisp prose, earnest inquiries, and interesting summations about the human capacity to remember are more than sufficient reasons to pick up a copy.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Thoughts on Visual Design, Part 3: Tips

This is the last in the three-part series on using visual design theory in documents and slide decks.] 

Readers viewing illustrations that accompany reports may closely analyze them than the text. Applying graphics is as critical a skill as writing content. Most problems in using graphics result from a failure to see how the text balances the illustration and vice versa. The visually inclined author might think that the illustration trumps the text; meanwhile, the linguistically inclined writer might minimize the great value of the illustration.

With these challenges in mind, consider these eight tips for using visual design in slide decks or documents:

  1. Employ the 6-Foot Rule. Use text and illustrations for slides that are readable from 6 feet away when not projected to ensure that they will be readable from the back of the room when projected.
  2. Apply the 6 X 6 Rule. Limit text on slides to no more than 6 lines per slide and 6 words per line.
  3. Show proportion. Start graphs and charts at a zero baseline, justify your baseline choice when you do not, and draw graphics to scale.
  4. Keep backgrounds transparent. Ensure that the text and graphics are readable in the chosen background.
  5. Place graphics strategically. Insert the graphic in an easily accessible, logical spot of the slide or document for the reader to process the combination of textual and graphical data.
  6. Label graphics thoroughly. Remember that people often read the graphics out of context, so label the heading and components clearly (e.g., x and y axes) and tell a complete story with the visual aid.
  7. Highlight the graphics in the text. Even though the visual aid should stand alone, you still need to focus the reader on its significance in the text. Show relationships among discussion points to increase reader interest and support your position.
  8. Minimize stylistic features. Use text styling (bold, underlining, and italics), color, and animation features sparingly.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Thoughts on Visual Design, Part 2: Principles

[This is the second in the three-part series on using visual design theory in documents and slide decks.] 

Visual design achieves the five goals of stimulating interest, clarifying complexities, promoting retention, inducing action, and imposing enduring impressions by adhering to the following six principles:

  • Openness – Keep as much white space as possible. Take the attitude that space is money, so you won’t want to lose too much of it. As for text, less is more.
  • Emphasis – Capture the meaning of what you want to say in a focused theme—then work from that theme. This practice will help the visuals drive the idea you need to get across.
  • Relevance Include only visuals that contribute to understanding and remembering the central idea. Make the image purposeful before you make it beautiful.
  • Uniformity Keep the theme consistent throughout the page. A minimalist and repetitive approach to color, spacing, margins, and font helps establish and reinforce the theme.
  • Clarity Create a design that enhances the text and does not get between the text and the reader. An eye for contrasting—not clashing—elements is essential.
  • Balance Cultivate a total picture to be symmetrical when evoking an image of order and to be asymmetrical when reflecting randomness or chaos.