Blogging for a Better World through Writing Well



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By far, the biggest influence on me this year has been BlogNation. And, the best in the bunch is the crew at www.worldchanging.com.



Since scribing for Alex Steffen's speech at Pop!Tech this October, I have been inspired to rise to the Worldchanging standard of publishing, in terms of:



  • Awareness of trends and tools

  • Collaboration with like-minded souls

  • Searching for meaning and utility

  • Publishing (ala PHP and blogware)

  • Social enterprise and entrepreneurs

  • And, most difficult, good writing




  • As we at Alphachimp try to raise the bar in sharing thoughts and tools on visual learning, graphic facilitation, problem solving, strategic planning, etc. we are always looking for simple rules to give structure to our work.



    I find the Worldchanging's Draft Contributor Guidelines to be more than worthy of emulation.



    1) Only positive recommendations. It's fine to review a tool which is itself critical or negative, but only if it offers something unique and useful to people working on that problem (or seeking to understand it). For example, Alex plans to review a book which describes the anatomy of failure � why things fail, and how � because its critical insights are really useful to people who want to succeed in their work. But the recommendation of the resource itself should be positive, overall: otherwise, why are we wasting the reader's time?



    2) Always a fresh angle. The resource reviewed should be either new (or newly-available), or the recommendation should explain why we're recommending this resource *now*: has there been a news event which this resource helps to better explain, or is an inferior new resource getting a lot of buzz (such that readers would be well-reminded of the existence of this older, superior one?)



    3) Pithy writing. Write short and strong. In general, while we like to prattle on (especially Alex), we aim for short recommendations, no more than three paragraphs(some things take longer to explain, and sometimes you'll want to review several related items in one recommendation, but the denser and pithier the writing, the better). Try to start with a strong, declarative first sentence.



    4) Excerpts. Including a few quotes from the resource recommended is a great idea. We italicize all stand-alone quotes, as well as putting in quotation marks. If you have a longer excerpt, you might think about pasting most of it into the "extended entry" box, which allows those who are interested to read more, while keeping the front page tight. A good guideline for choosing excerpts is that of the old Whole Earth Review, which is that a great excerpt illustrates the nature of the resource you're recommending and also provides an interesting thought or crucial bit of information for the casual reader who won't follow the link. Cherry-pick, in other words: pull the best quotes from the resource as excerpts in your recommendation.



    5) Why It Matters. It's a good idea to include not only a description of what the resource is but also some explanation about why it matters: Why is it good? How is it useful? How do you use it? What's innovative about it? What are the implications if its use were to spread? Feel free to be opinionated!




    Eventually, everyone I know who writes for a living--whether prose, fiction or code--gets cornered by me at a dinner party, and gets pestered for references and guides on writing well, for print and web alike.



    Columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Diana Nelson Jones, recommends the tried and true The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White. A very handy on-line version is available at www.bartleby.com, which describes the work, originally published in 1918, as such:

    Asserting that one must first know the rules to break them, this classic reference book is a must-have for any student and conscientious writer. Intended for use in which the practice of composition is combined with the study of literature, it gives in brief space the principal requirements of plain English style and concentrates attention on the rules of usage and principles of composition most commonly violated.




    Writer, actress and martial arts expert Blaed K. Spence of Treehouse Creative Studios, directed me straight to The Old Man, Himself, Ernest Hemmingway.



    I am fortunate to have a book of his collected journalistic pieces that I've carried with me for over ten years, By-Line Ernest Hemingway : Selected Articles and Dispatches of Four Decades. My particular tattered copy was pulled from a pile of trash in the bedroom belonging to an American band living in, of all places, Szczwiejoice, Poland.



    New Media designer Jason Simmons of GradientLabs directed me to a more modern topic addressed by Adam Mathes, Folksonomies - Cooperative Classification and Communication Through Shared Metadata



    This paper examines user-?generated metadata as implemented and applied in two web services designed to share and organize digital media to better understand grassroots classification. Metadata - data about data - allows systems to collocate related information, and helps users find relevant information. MORE..




    A couple of more conventional titles I discovered during a holiday troll through a bookstore:



    On Writing Well, 25th Anniversary : The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction (On Writing Well) by William Zinsser

    This is not a didactic lesson plan, nor a pompous "Behold! I'm a Writer" book. Instead, it is warm and conversational, while being very tightly written and focusing on the principles of good writing; which boil down to simplicity, clutter, style, the audience, words and how to use them. He also covers the basic forms of writing: interviews, travel writing, memoirs, tech writing, business, and the art of being funny.



    The Art of Styling Sentences by Ann Longknife and K.D. Sullivan is a slim, orderly exploration of the mechanics of sentece structure. The authors teach the reader how to craft better sentences. Period. They claim that the key to writing with more style--and with more variety--comes through understanding the 20 basic patterns of complex sentence construction. At first, I had flashbacks to diagraming sentences in Junior High, however, after the first two chapters, I came to read other writers' work with a renewed sense of appreciation for style.



    Feel free to send us any other recommendations, especially on writing for the web, for example Glenn Harlan Reynolds' The Good, The Bad, and the Bogly.