Why people may experience difficulty writing

Speaking of writing, I have neglected this blog lately, as I have been caught up in too many other things, but I would like to get back on track. Today’s post isn’t related specifically to metadata or information management, but it’s a topic that is very close to my heart, namely, the art of writing. I have been fortunate in my life to have been formally schooled for many years in the grammar and syntax of a number of languages. The quality of writing in so many environments does appear to be declining, and I certainly see this in many of the assignments that I receive. While problems with grammar and syntax are common and, unfortunately, on the rise, the bigger matter is the ability to communicate clearly and concisely.

In this post, Glenn Leibowitz’s discusses his frequent encounters with writing that is loaded with jargon, clichés, technical terms, and abbreviations. Leibowtiz asks:  what is the writer trying to say, exactly? And second, how can the writer convey her ideas more clearly, without having to lean on language that confuses the reader? Leibowitz discusses  psychologist Steven Pinker’s belief that the root cause of poor writing is the Curse of Knowledge, which he defines as “a difficulty in imagining what it is like for someone else not to know something that you know.” I encounter this phenomenon frequently in academic writing; as a reviewer of manuscripts, I have often found it necessary to ask authors to provide further clarification of pivotal concepts or ideas they discuss. When marking papers, I often remind students to be wary of assuming prior knowledge on the part of the reader. This situation can be remedied relatively easily by the provision of simple explanations.

Jargon, on the other hand, is more insidious and difficult to deal with. Jargon is particularly rampant in the business environment, and I encounter it frequently from some colleagues in my faculty.  There have been a number of articles about the pervasiveness of jargon and “management speak.” This post suggests that jargon may be a means of validating the importance of the work; further, when we replace a specific task with a vague expression, we grant the task more magnitude than it deserves. If we don’t describe an activity plainly, it seems less like an easily achievable goal and more like a cloudy state of existence that fills unknowable amounts of time. This post suggests that jargon is used for two reasons:

  • Technical. In this case, you have a specific highly technical area where jargon helps communicate more clearly, efficiently and effectively (within the technical community).
  • Posturing. Here people choose to use language that prevents others understanding what they are saying. The word ‘evasive’ is used a lot in connection with this type of jargon.

This post provides useful tips for how to avoid jargon:

  • Try to think of a different word. If you can’t come up with one, try harder. If you still can’t think of one – Google it.
  • Think about your audience and what you’re really trying to communicate. Where are these people coming from? What are they interested in? Keeping these things in mind, how can you communicate your message clearly, simply, and effectively?
  • Ask yourself if a fifth grader would understand it. That doesn’t mean you should weed out complexity, but think about simplifying language. Simple doesn’t mean stupid.
  • Have someone who is not familiar with devspeak (development speak) read over your work and give you feedback. Eventually, you’ll start to learn which words make no sense, and which ones are OK.

I am crossing my fingers that this post does not contain jargon.


Privacy and the monetization of data

In this article, David Rabb discusses the various privacy implications of the monetization of data. Rabb focuses specifically on Personally Identifiable Information (PII) that companies can obtain about people through cookies, IP addresses, GPS, and so forth. Companies have often touted the anonymity of cookies but, as Rabb points out, there are many ways to tie cookies to known individuals, a process that often includes “consent” consumers don’t know they’ve granted. Other theoretically anonymous identifiers such as device IDs and IP addresses can also often be connected to PII. And research has shown that even less specific information, such as a collection of taxi trips or a combination of birthdate [sic] and Zip code, are [sic] often enough to identify specific individuals.

I don’t think that most internet users are naive enough to think that companies don’t have their PII but, as Rabb points out, customers may broadly assume your company knows everything about them but they can still be surprised at the data presented in specific situations – especially if that data is wrong.

Information managers face the increasingly complex task of maintaining the security of PII, ensuring this information is accurate, using only the personal information needed for a specific task, and ensuring that the privacy rights of customers are respected.

Text messages as health records

A research study from York University, one of my almae matres, studied text messages sent between nurses and physicians in deteriorating internal medicine patients requiring escalation to intensive care unit (ICU) to identify issues in failures to rescue. Looking at records from 2012 to 2014 at the Toronto General Hospital, the team found that message quality was positively linked to survival. The study highlights the need for a standardized and responsive text-based communication system.

As a taxonomist and cataloguer, I’m pleased to see a degree of authority control (or standardized vocabulary) used in these text messages, as shown in this legend of abbreviations:

RR = respiratory rate; NP = nasal prongs; bpm = beats per minute; BP = blood pressure; pt = patient; NS = normal saline; TM = tracheostomy mask; A&O = alert and oriented; ABG = arterial blood gas; CCRT = critical care response team (rapid response team).

I’m interested also in whether hospitals have a plan for managing these records. I consider these records to have business value, since they document decisions made, and transmit patient information. Are these text messages subjected to any records and information management policies and standards? Are they subject to retention schedules? Given the potential confidential nature of the content of these messages, how is their security maintained? Are personnel using mobile devices that are owned by the hospital and protected by firewalls? There is certainly a lot of ground to explore here. I think a discussion with the authors might be interesting.


National Archives of Australia’s new information management standard

The government of Australia has been a significant leader in the field of information management for several years, and serves as the standard I use in my RIM classes to demonstrate IM best practices. Continuing this fine tradition, the National Archives of Australia has just published a new Australian Government standard to manage business information.

The new Information Management Standard (IMS) outlines principles to help agencies meet business, government and community needs in relation to how information is managed across the sector and aims to help them maximise the business benefits of well-managed information in the Australian Government.

The eight principles are:

Principle 1: Business information is systematically governed
Principle 2: Necessary business information is created
Principle 3: Business information is adequately described
Principle 4: Business information is suitably stored and preserved
Principle 5: How long business information should be kept is known
Principle 6: Business information is accountably destroyed or transferred
Principle 7: Business information is saved in systems where it can be appropriately managed
Principle 8: Business information is available for use and reuse.

This standard complements the National Archives’ Digital Continuity 2020 plan.


Call for chapter proposals: Social tagging and linked data

I am pleased to announce that I have signed a contract for another book. Below you will find a call for chapter proposals. Please consider submitting a proposal, and feel free to circulate this call to your colleagues:

Call for book chapter proposals

Book title: Social tagging for linked data across environments

Publisher: Facet


Dr. Louise Spiteri. Associate professor, School of Information Management, Dalhousie University.

Dr. Diane Rasmussen Pennington. Lecturer, Department of Computer and Information Sciences, University of Strathclyde.


This book will explore how social tags can serve to link content across a variety of environments. Most studies of social tagging have tended to focus on discrete applications, e.g., library catalogues, blogs, social bookmarking sites, and so forth. Hashtags, in particular, can provide this level of linked data. Since hashtags are now used across different platforms (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, WordPress, Instagram), it would be interesting to explore the role of hashtags as a form of linked data without the complex implementation of RDF and other Semantic Web technologies; for example, a hashtag on a specific topic such as #PublicLibrariesInScotland could link to a conference on this topic, the research done by academics in the field, blogs from practitioners, newspaper articles, and so forth.

This book will explore social tagging behaviour. Most studies of this topic have focused on the types of tags that people assign to resources. Our interest is to examine how people interact with, and use, social tags to access and create resources and networks in linked environments.

It should be noted that, for the context of this book, the term “social tags” is used to include hashtags and geotags.

We welcome book chapter contributions centred (but not exclusively) on the following themes:

  • Social tagging and the creation of social networks.
  • The use and effectiveness of social tagging recommender systems.
  • The role of social tagging in information behaviour activities.
  • Social tagging behaviour in different domains.
  • Semantic or syntactic stability of social tags.
  • The role of social tagging in linked data applications and the Semantic Web.
  • The use and re-use of social tags for information discovery.
  • The role of social tagging in the formation of community networks.

Intended readers include practicing library and information professionals who implement electronic access to collections such as cataloguers and systems developers. Information architects and web developers would also have a particular interest in the book, as well as students in information management and cognate disciplines.

Submission Procedure:

Chapter proposal submissions  are invited  from researchers  and practitioners. Proposals should be limited 1000 words, explaining the mission and concerns of the chapter and how it fits into the general theme of the book. Please submit proposals to Louise.Spiteri@dal.ca by June 30, 2017.


Chapter proposals:                                                Submission deadline:  June 30, 2017

Review proposals & contact authors:                By July 31, 2017

Chapters due:                                                         By  September 30, 2017

BReview of chapters:                                            By December 31, 2017

Editing of chapters after review:                        By February 28, 2018

Submission of first draft to Facet:                      By March 31, 2018

Review of proofs & creation of index:                    By April 30, 2018

The changing role of the Chief Information Officer

In this article, Andrew Horne, IT practice leader at CEB, discusses the changing role of the Chief Information Officer (CIO). Horne argues that while the importance of managing digital data is increasing, the recognition of this importance could lead to the decline of the CIO position, as this management becomes more integrated throughout various management levels, rather than the purview of one individual.  Horne suggests that CIOs can explore different paths in this changing landscape:

  1. Digital Evangelist.  Digital evangelists put next-generation technology capabilities such as big data, machine learning, and the Internet of Things into context and explain how they enhance or transform the enterprise’s products, channels, and operations.
  2. Modernizer. As modernizers, CIOs build and manage the next generation technologies and platforms that support digital transformation and enable interoperability of digital product portfolios. They also continually adapt IT’s processes and skill sets in areas such as business engagement, iterative development, customer experience and data management to the changes triggered by digitization.
  3. Productizer. An alternative path for CIOs may open up in companies that are selling digital products or services to end customers for the first time. So as a digital business grows, productizer CIOs will need to choose whether to become full time product owners and give the CIO role to someone else, or stay CIO and find a dedicated leader to take the digital business to the next level.

Although I find the terms above a little cringe-worthy perhaps, given my dislike of jargon and buzzwords, Horne does point to the importance of flexibility in the area of data management, especially as more functions become automated. The ability to adapt quickly to new environments is certainly something that information management programs need to incorporate into their curricula.