ThinkSimple Now's Jesse Hines' suggestions to bring clarity and efficiency to your writing are excellent. The 8 keys near the bottom of the entry are a great reminder to anyone who blogs, writes copy, or does the occasional article. I need constant reminders of these principles when doing blog entries, but especially if I have to do web site copy. Good stuff.
This is a screenshot from 'The 21 Steps', by Charles Cumming on We Tell Stories. The site does pretty interesting mashups, utilizing sites including Google Maps and Twitter to tell a stories.
Someone asked me the following question:
I'm considering using a wiki as a documentation tool for a collaboratively written project. The main functionally I need is a table-of-contents navigation, probably similar to how a document tree or outline format nests links under a multiple categories.
In response, I wrote up the following review of some of the Wiki and CMS options I've used and am familiar with. This isn't an exhaustive survey of the solutions out there, but my report of solutions I have experience using feel confident recommending. Other suggestions are welcome.
TOC of Single Page
When I left Bell Labs, we were using Twiki and were using the built in TOC variable for pages. Like Word Processing table of contents, this works by editing your page naturally using headings, and then inserting a %TOC% variable at the top of the page. The variable automatically generates a table of contents based on the headings you've used in the page. MediaWiki features a similar TOC variable.
TOC of Multiple Chapters and Pages
If you're looking to create a document that consists of a series of chapters and pages, like a traditional book, then you might be more interested in Drupal's Collaborative Book module. This module allows you to create books with chapters, and assign pages to chapters in the book. You work organically by creating pages and assigning the pages in a hierarchical book outline. The Drupal documentation itself is built as a series of books.
The administrative display for organizing a book is really quite good.
I was working with a client that wanted to basically take a printed publication and later move their editing process to a web-based application that allowed them to provde a companion ebook. The idea of a living document suited itself to using Drupal's book module. With the module, they can create a site organized in chapters as the printed book is, and also export or print the book as a single page PDF.
Maybe I'm just too simple-minded. My suggestions as a web designer often come across that way, because it seems like I offer design and copy direction that is minimal and spare. Here's an example from the past. I once got a piece of copy that looked like this:
[client name] has updated the home page of [client site name] with a new look to provide [client name] employees with a user friendly gateway to a wealth of information for their work assignments. The redesign of our home page displays a greater breadth of available data sources and highlights the latest news and market intelligence that is refreshed regularly throughout the day.
While the look is new, the array of the information sources and easy navigation remain the same. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact a [client name] representative at [email address of client]
There's more where that came from when you click the Read more link. The irony is that the message mentions being user friendly, but the message itself makes your head spin and want to stop reading.
I think it could be simpler to express. Here's my rewrite:
We've redesigned the home page to:
- be more user friendly
- show you more of what's new and most requested
- let you see more of what the site offers
We think you'll love it. If you need help, email us at [client email address].
I didn't repeat the client name in the second version because the message is to appear on the home page. I also don't think the jump to read more isn't necessary. But, maybe my version is too simplistic and short. It seems in keeping with the message to keep the copy itself user friendly as well.
I don't enjoy working on copy, but when I do, I tend to favor more concise messaging the cuts to the chase and speaks in simplistic language. Doesn't that work better in most cases?
I finally got to watch Zach Braff's Garden State after waiting quite a while for it from Netflix. Popular movie I suppose. I loved it. I think Braff made a true movie that speaks to what's real for these people in a way that makes it possible to feel empathetic without feeling contriving and forced. The story is about coming home, awakening, feeling alive and falling in love. It was sweet and funny in the right (absurd) ways. The experience just felt understated and entrancing. A gem, really, for a first time director.
It's rare, these days, for an American movie to pull you in with subtlty and restraint. I'm talking about the movies that are smart and understated. Movies that tell stories that feel true and that allow the characters and actors to tell the story. Movies that resonate long after the credits roll. These are the ones I've been appreciating lately. Good, and probably underappreciated movies like All the Real Girls and Tully. There are also some brilliant darker movies that still stick with me as well. Dirty Pretty Things and Maria Full of Grace are examples that stand out. Realize that as a Dad to a homeschooled 4 year old there are lots of good movies I miss.
Another thing that this movie made me think about was how artists are influenced by other artists. I love catching movie references. In the closing sequence, the part where Large starts up the escalator and Frou Frou starts to play, I wonder if Braff is paying homage to Fellini? The image of him leaving his friends and father behind in that brief sequence is brilliant and so recalls for me that wonderful culminating moment in I Vitelloni. I can't believe I was even able to recall what movie that remind me of, but if this is who influences ZB, wow. He's in great company. In any case, the reference seems somehow apt for a film about leaving home, and by home I mean Sam, the one who makes him feel safe and at home. The circumstances and outcome are quite a bit different, however.
There's something wonderful about directors giving respect to those who came before them. At one point Braf even gives a nod to Orson Welles! Once in a while I catch these references and it somehow alters my understanding of them as artists, although you might argue that it shouldn't. It just gives me some clue of what may have possibly informed their art. (It also makes me feel somehow movie literate.) But, what do I know? He may not be referencing that film at all. Perhaps it was just a coincidence. If not, I wonder what else I missed in this film. Maybe watching the movie with the commentary on will give some clues, but the directors hardly ever mention these things in the commentary.
Anyway, it's a fun game we film lovers play. It may seem like some sort of elite thing. An insiders game. But when you love movies, you get a buzz out of catching those moments and being part of the dialog. For beginners, the game might be most easily accessible if you try to catch film references in The Simpsons. In senior seminar in Cinema Studies, I gave a presentation on this very topic using the Simpsons as my example. We were reading Roland Barthes and discussing textuality a lot, and I was trying to make some point about intertextuality and the cute games the writers/directors of The Simpsons play to utilize the language and imagery of film to tell their stories. It was a fun idea, but I didn't really make any weighty point about it.
Maybe the point for me is that all texts DO exist in the message received by the viewer as much as in the script and direction of the creators. This view allows me to be a participant in the artistic experience rather than a passive object to be filled with or bombarded by some message. Sadly, a lot of films do make me feel this way and it can be insulting. But Garden State wasn't that kind of movie.
I'm always looking for good movies like the ones above to watch when I can. As a busy parent, it's kind of important to be selective in what I watch because there is so little time. If I had my way, I would be able to get by on 4 hours sleep so I couild watch more movies, good and bad. This post is making me think of blog ideas that I'd like to see out there. Off to search Google for movie blogs.
Bryan Eisenberg discusses how to make ads work by writing advertising for introverts.
Roger Johansson on 456 Berea Street writes about how to properly quote and cite text using XHTML markup and CSS. Discusses how to properly use the q and blockquote elements.
Spotting and eliminating unnecessary prepositional phrases.