On most Fridays, Evan Peterson rounds up five stories from across the Web that scribes of all stripes should check out.
Plain writing is a benefit to writers and readers. In the federal government, it's a mandate
, and there are officials dedicated to reducing jargon.
One of these officials wrote about the experience this week. We are also introduced to a new conjunction and a new editing app, and we explore how writers interact with the world.
Revisiting the plain writing act.
Last year, I highlighted the story of the Center for Plain Language
, which grades federal agencies' adherence to the Plain Writing Act (PWA). The PWA is a law that requires government officials to write clearly, and avoid excessive jargon or acronyms. First of all, yes, this is a real law. And second, there is a real non-profit called the Center for Plain Language. There's even a "Senior Official for Plain Writing" within different federal agencies. In a blog post, the USDA's senior official explains why that agency was ranked No. 1 in plain writing last year among federal agencies, and why it places a high emphasis on plain writing.
A new conjunction.
Slang is constantly evolving. But as Anne Curzan points out in a piece for the Chronicle of Higher Educations
' language blog, Lingua Franca
, new words are usually some combination of existing words, and they tend to be verbs, nouns, or adjectives. “Slash” is one that is increasingly used as a conjunction, she writes. As in, I'm writing slash re-writing an article today. A punctuation mark has evolved into a new conjunction—Curzan calls it "a rare bird sighting in the world of linguistics."
A new editing app.
Editors will always be necessary. Any professional writer knows that. But it doesn't mean it's not worth trying one of the many editing or grammar tools now available through Web apps or browser extensions. If nothing else, it can boost your confidence to know that a robot has only three grammar suggestions for your article. The tool mentioned here is called After the Deadline
, and like a lot of similar tools, this one does a one-click assessment of any piece of writing you plug-in. It checks for spelling, grammar, and style. But mostly it's just fun to try if you've got time to copy and paste.
The writers in the world.
Most descriptions of good writing environments include at least seclusion and quiet. But today—during a time when writing nearly requires an Internet connection—are writers too distracted by the millions of links and images and tweets to write quietly? Matthew Battles takes on that issue in this story, and sums up the situation well:
“Authors, after all, have always sought the means to build bridges between the world and the page. Wi-Fi, Google Docs, social networks and even smartphones and other gadgets are just the most recent means of doing so. "
The real Salinger.
The quiet, secluded writer definitely lived in J.D. Salinger. Hard telling how he would cope with the distractions brought on by mobile apps and Wi-Fi connections. But somehow it seems he would have managed. Some letters of Salinger's from the early 40s were discovered this week, and they give a rare look at the author. The most interesting, at least among those released, is one where he discusses a truth about writing that lives today: “You can’t go around buying Cadillacs on what the small mags pay, but that doesn’t really matter, does it?”
Salinger was 22 when he wrote the letter, and more than 70 years later, still no one can buy Cadillacs on a small magazine freelance career. The experience is always more important.
Evan Peterson is a writer based in Chicago, and the editor of OpenMarkets magazine at CME Group. He's on Twitter at @evanmpeterson.