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Writing

OakenDoor provides Information Design of all types of writing, including Journalism, Marketing Writing, and Technical Writing. Metronome is a music-oriented magazine where local (New England) and international recording artists with current CD/DVD releases and/or a tour in progress are interviewed. We pride ourselves in developing and maintaining dynamic, engaging, "won't put you to sleep" reading materials for your audience based on thorough information design principles.

Writing is a many-faceted craft, but the following three concepts detail some basic differences between success and failure when engaging an audience through the written word.

Minimalism

Ernest Hemingway was the greatest business writer of all time. Well, he was at least the greatest archetype that a writer immersed in technical, MarCom, and other forms of business writing should follow. Hemingway got the most out of the least by understanding the depth and breadth of his writing, understanding his audience and the world he was writing for, and scouring his writing for wasted words that offered nothing more than hypperbole. He created his stories with directed and succinct writing. He engaged his readers and made them want to continue reading, not for the sake of reading, but to understand the story. A desire to read the written word is not what gaining knowledge and embracing sophistication is all about. The desire lies in understanding the story and gaining a broader spectrum of knowledge concerning the external world and the internal self. How does his work translate? Simply, cut dead words. Be precise and concise.

If content is reduced, but the same or a better story is told, a better message is conveyed about your product or service. The user is refreshed by understanding and grateful that time was not wasted. The financial impact is great and wide-ranging. Support calls are reduced; any print overhead is reduced; clients are happy and continue to invest in your company; time is reduced in the creation of writing and efficiency improves. As your company expands globally and writing requires localization, translation costs are reduced. Less is indeed more.

Information must be delivered to the user at exactly the right time and place. Context sensitive and granular queues developed through minimalistic and topic-based writing are the keys to delivering useful information that is easily and quickly digestable to the user. This type of content creation and delivery improves quality, readability, and the user experience.

Content management and proper distribution also tie to minimalism. Implementing a balance of tool-based and human-based content control ensures the delivery of the best, most up-to-date materials every time there is a necessary release. By improving the way you create, review, edit, and manage your workflow, you increase efficiency and productivity.

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Word Usage

There are many pitfalls when making word choices; knowing the true meaning not only provides you with the tools to present the proper context, but also ties to minimalism by allowing you to tell a succinct story. Often times, writers use hyperbole because they are at a loss for proper word meaning, and don't like to admit to their lack of knowledge. The following words are some of my personal favorite pitfalls when I review and edit the written word.

Affect vs. effect: These two words can definitely be confusing, especially since the definition of affect is to influence or have an effect. Keep in mind that if you are looking for a noun, you want effect. The noun, affect is used almost exclusively in context relating to psychology. You want effect in sentences like, "the new law will take effect soon" and "the rainy weather had a negative effect on everybody's mood". But, when you are looking for the verb that corresponds to this noun, as in "the rainy weather negatively affected everyone's mood, you want affect. There are two other verb usages to consider. The verb effect is somewhat formal and is used to refer to the actual achievement of a final result, as in, "they hope to effect a peace settlement soon". Affect as a verb is also somewhat formal, and it usually has to do with pretense, as in, "she affected a cheery disposition despite feeling down.

Have you ever confused the words than and then? Than is used when you are talking about comparisons; then is used when you are talking about something related to time. Than is the word to choose in phrases like "smaller than", "smoother than", and "further than". It's also the word that follows other, rather, less and more. Then is the word to choose in phrases like "just then", "back then", and after words like first, since, and until. It also fits into phrases like "and then some", "every now and then, and "even then". In a handful of cases though, than is used to say that something happens immediately after something else; that would be something relating to time. So, no sooner had I explained the rule than an exception came to mind, it's than not then that is required. Don't feel bad about confusing these words though; linguistically speaking, they are identical twins. In Middle English, they were the same word and both spellings were used for all of the various meanings. It's been a few hundred years since English has treated them as distinct. The same is true of the word's German descendants, but in Dutch the ancient pair have melded into a single word.

If you are trying to decide whether to use who or whom, it is possible to memorize a rule for distinguishing who from whom, but it's easier to simply trust your ear. To understand which pronoun is applicable, replace who/whom with he/him. If he sounds right, use who; if him is right, use whom. For example, since he did it and not him did it, use who did it; since we give something to him and not to he, use to whom. It gets messy only when the preposition is separated from the who: Who/whom did you give it to? Rearrange the words in your head ("To whom did you give it?") and remember that prepositions at the end of sentences are the nasty little imps of traditionalists. There is, in fact, a substantial body of opinion against end-of-sentence prepositions, so try to be vigilant.

Myself: As a reflexive pronoun ("I hurt myself") or an intensifier ("I did it myself"), the word is fine. But a romance with the long word often leads people to use myself where I or me is preferable. My guess is that eighty-three percent of myselfs in business writing could safely disappear, and no one would miss them.

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Punctuation

Semicolons probably produce more confusion and misery than all the other punctuation marks combined. But they're really not very difficult to master.

The semicolon has only two common uses. The first is to separate the items in a list, often after a colon, especially when the listed items contain commas: "The following books will be covered on the midterm: the Odyssey, through book 12; Ovid's Metamorphoses, except for the passages on last week's quiz; and the selections from Chaucer." The semicolon makes it clear that there are three items, whereas using commas to separate them could produce confusion.

The other legitimate use of a semicolon is to separate two independent clauses in one sentence: "Shakespeare's comedies seem natural; his tragedies seem forced." Here's how to tell whether this one is appropriate: if you can use a period and begin a new sentence, you can use a semicolon. In other words, this kind of semicolon can always be replaced by a period and a capital letter. In the example, "Shakespeare's comedies seem natural. His tragedies seem forced" is correct, so a semicolon can be used. (If you used a comma here — "Shakespeare's comedies seem natural, his tragedies seem forced" — you'd be committing the sin of comma splice.)

It's risky to use semicolons anywhere else. There's no need for them after, for instance, "Dear Sir" in a letter (where a comma or a colon is preferred). Don't use them before a relative pronoun ("She sold more than 400 CDs; which was better than she hoped") — it should be a comma, since the bit after the semicolon can't stand on its own.

The comma is one of the trickiest elements of punctuation, and the concept is too broad to reproduce here. My biggest pet peeve is the serial comma, so I'll go over its proper usage. In most House Styles, the comma is preferred before the last item in a list. For example, "the first, second, and third chapters." Leaving it out — "the first, second and third chapters" — is a habit picked up from journalism. While it saves a bit of space and effort, omitting the final comma runs the risk of suggesting the last two items (in the example above, the second and third chapters) are some sort of special pair. Consider the apocryphal book dedication quoted by Teresa Nielsen Hayden: "To my parents, Ayn Rand and God."

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