Clear and to the Point

29 April, 2010

Project cycles

I’ve recently discovered that graduate students typically a crisis when writing their thesis, when they despair of ever finishing their degree. At the time it seems like the collapse of their hopes for a career. It might be easier to handle as a stage in the normal writing-project cycle.

I’ve been writing technical materials for years, mostly in project three to eight months long, and still suffer from the emotional ups and downs of writing. Every project has similar emotional phases: excitement at starting out, wonder of discovery at learning the material, puzzlement or even bewilderment about how to organize the information, feeling productive at putting it together, and then doubt that it will ever be finished. The last stage is surprise and pleasure as it all comes together and doesn’t look so bad after all. The crisis might be less severe if thesis advisers would only tell their candidates to expect those phases and keep slogging, get a good night’s sleep or go for a walk and then come back to do a short manageable task.

It’s very daunting to start writing without a clear plan and just hoping to have everything down by the last page. It’s like setting off one day to walk across the continent. To help keep it manageable, I suggest outlining the topics and sub-topics of the thesis and then roughing out each one with a few sentences & a note of any illustrations or references. You can run such a plan past your adviser to make sure you’re on the right track. Then, with the logical structure in place, it’s easier to fill in the details. It’s more like riding to the next town, checking your itinerary, and buying a ticket to the next town—except that you don’t have to do the sections in order. Fill them in when you have the information or the inspiration. This is called top-down design and it’s one way to cut a project down to size.

I hope that helps (similes and all)!

13 April, 2010

Word origins: parched

Filed under: language — monado @ 09:42

I was struck by the similarity between parched and parcheminée in this line from a book by Irène Delse.

La plaine était grise et sèche comme une chose morte, parcheminée par le soleil.

Is something very dry left by the chimney too long? So I looked it up.

Possibly: Parcheminé, adj. – parched, like parchment. has

Origin: 1622. As a word for the result of roasting, parched is attested in English as far back as the 1400s.

Just as a biscuit is bis cuit, “twice cooked,” so parched may have originally meant “dried near the chimney.” Was parchment dried? Or was it “parched” or blanched by treating it with lime? I’ll have to consult my Ayto’s Word Origins.

7 April, 2010

Plain language

Filed under: communication,plain language,writing — monado @ 13:06

The plain language movement proceeds in fits and starts. Everyone who considers it knows that making public knowledge accessible to all is a good idea. However, the tactic for some government web sites in my province is to declare themselves easy to read without making any actual changes. Just to remind everyone, here are some benefits from

The benefits of plain language are both tangible and intangible. The American public deserves plain language communication from its government.

* Plain language gets your message across in the shortest time possible.
* More people are able to understand your message.
* There is less chance that your document will be misunderstood, so you spend less time explaining it to people. And if your document gives instructions, your readers are more likely to understand them and follow them correctly.

Many studies have shown that plain language affects your bottom line—you can save time, personnel resources, and money. And you will give better service to your readers.

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