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.

Advertisements

Ten principles of information management

Defining the principles of information management has never been easy; those of us in the field know what we do, and appreciate the value of our knowledge, but defining what we do to people outside our field can be challenging. This lack of clarity is not a reflection of any weakness in the area of information management but, rather, a reflection of the breadth of its scope and relevance. In this article, James Robertson outlines the key features of information management, which he draws from a number of “critical success factors” from various information management programs. Robertson makes a point of emphasizing that information management is not about just information technology; those of us in the field understand the frustration of having all our skill sets subsumed under the umbrella of technology: From the outset, it must be emphasised that this is not an article about technology. Rather, it is about the organisational, cultural and strategic factors that must be considered to improve the management of information within organisations.

Robertson’s 10 principles of information management:

  1. Recognize (and manage) complexity
  2. Focus on adoption
  3. Deliver tangible & visible benefits
  4. Prioritize according to business needs
  5. Take a journey of a thousand steps
  6. Provide strong leadership
  7. Mitigate risks
  8. Communicate extensively
  9. Aim to deliver a seamless user experience
  10. Choose the first project very carefully

Robertson does an excellent job of explaining the scope and breadth of information management, and I will be sure to incorporate this article in my courses.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee reflects on 28 years of the Web

In this post, Sir Tim Berners-Lee reflects on the development of the Web since he first proposed it 28 years ago. Sir Tim expresses concerns about the increased amount of personal data that people surrender to the Web, to the point at which he believes we have lost control over this data. Sir Tim points also to the inherent dangers of the ease with which misinformation can be spread, and to the increased use of the Web by governments to surveil their citizens. Sir Tim makes mention of a five-year plan for delivering digital equality, created by his Web Foundation. The goal of this plan is to use the open Web to build a more equal digital world:

Because despite the wave of creativity, innovation and collaboration unleashed by the web, the reality is that today, the web is not for everyone. In fact, the digital revolution is creating new patterns of privilege and discrimination. It is causing job losses and wage polarisation as well as productivity gains; it risks taking away our privacy and autonomy even as it gives ordinary citizens new powers; it is isolating us in filter bubbles as well as connecting us across borders; and it is amplifying voices of fear and hate just as much as voices for tolerance and rationality.

This plan has three foci:

  1. Power: All People Can Make Their Voices Heard Equally
    We will fight to ensure people’s rights on the web are legally protected. This means enshrining in law your right to freedom of expression and privacy online and ensuring that you have control over the collection and use of your personal data.
  2. Accountability: Citizens Hold Governments and Companies to Account
    We will continue to push for policies that open up key information online, and equip public interest groups to use this data to hold governments and companies accountable.
  3. Opportunity: Women and Other Excluded Groups Gain Economic and Social Opportunities and Resources. Digital equality means more inclusive public services and fair opportunities in the digital economy. Examples of policy outcomes we will be pursuing here are affordable broadband for all; expanded and enhanced free public WiFi schemes and digital skills programmes; and increased financial inclusion for women through digital financial services

Email addiction

This article by Naomi Schaefer Riley discusses email addiction amongst workers. I think most of us are aware of this phenomenon: The feeling that we must check our work email in the evenings, on weekends, and even on our holidays. We compulsively check our email several times a day, which can have a negative effect on our productivity. You can’t sit in any meeting without seeing at least half of the members checking their email. We are being told increasingly that most of us do not multitask well. I was a conference last week, where most of the audience during a plenary presentation had their necks down as they worked on their mobile devices; I doubt most of them were taking notes related to what they were hearing. It struck me as rude, in fact, that so few people were giving the speaker their full attention.

Riley mentions a French law passed recently that gives employees “the right to disconnect.” Companies with more than 50 employees must allow workers to go home in the evenings or on weekends without having to check in electronically. I’m not sure why companies with fewer employees were not included in this law, as this means that these employees would not enjoy the same privileges. While my email practices are not protected by law, sadly, I adopted my own policy over the past two years of not checking my work email after 6:00 pm, on weekends, and on holidays (I use an away message). Many people I know say that they check emails during their holidays because they want to avoid a full inbox when they return to work. I have disciplined myself not to do so. My away message makes it clear that I will not read my email when I am on holidays, so I find that many people do not send me a lot of emails while I am away. Further, from past experience, I know that once I read work emails during my holidays, I feel obliged to answer them, which means my relaxed state often goes out the window. I have learned that setting boundaries around my time is a sign of self-respect, and allows me to have a healthier perspective on work and life priorities. I would like to think that there is more to my life than my job, regardless of how much I love it.

 

Seven Chrome extensions to help with productivity

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I love being organized. I have a weakness for to-do lists and organization-based apps. This post discusses seven Chrome extensions to help enhance personal productivity; the post is geared towards teachers, but I think that these extensions could have a broader scope. Since I use a Chromebook at home (I still use a laptop at the office),and thus must work exclusively online, these extensions could become even more relevant.

  1.  Prioritab
  2. Google Keep
  3. Add Tasks to Do It (Tomorrow)
  4. Wunderlust New Tab
  5. OneTab
  6. Save to Google Drive
  7. Print Friendly