September 1, 2011

Introducing Definitions in the Text and Using Sculpting of Text

I wanted to show you this bit from a Newsweek article as a good example of how you can blend definitions into the text. But now, I can’t resist suggesting that it would be improved by some sculpting of the information. The second sentence is 45 words and the length contributes to making it a tough read. Sculpting reduces the cognitive load of the number of words.

What do you think?

“At least five large, randomized controlled studies have analyzed treatments for stable heart patients who have nothing worse than mild chest pain.

The studies compared invasive procedures including angioplasty, in which a surgeon mechanically widens a blocked blood vessel by crushing the fatty deposits called plaques; stenting, or propping open a vessel with wire mesh; and bypass surgery, grafting a new blood vessel onto a blocked one.”

Here is the second sentence after a rework.

The studies compared invasive procedures, including:

  • angioplasty
  • in which a surgeon mechanically widens a blocked blood vessel by crushing the fatty deposits called plaques

  • stenting
  • propping open a vessel with wire mesh

  • bypass surgery
  • grafting a new blood vessel onto a blocked one.


September 4, 2010

Change is certain, and often quick

I inherited a tattered cookbook from my grandmother, a Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook from 1950. When I turned to it for a carrot cake recipe, there was none. So I checked for one in a 1990s cookbook I inherited from my father. This book started off the entry with, “Carrot cake is as American as apple pie”. Wow, what a big cultural change in a short period of time.

It seemed to me a more rapid adoption than the slow change in language to gender-free titles or the adoption of the use of the singular they pronoun.

Take the Rainbow
Rainbow over Vancouver Island

Back in the 1970s and 1980s, I enjoyed have out-of-town visitors to show around my city. I used those opportunities to visit a little shop that sold only rainbow items. The emotional connection that rainbows evinced at that time was joy.

The native peoples of the Andes had a different association which was expressed by using a rainbow of colors in their national symbol, the Wiphala, which is used as a square flag.

Wiphala Diagonal Wiphala

Some of these are made up of 7 bars of color while others are 7 x7 squares with the colors running diagonally. Some of their people want to avoid creating confusion in their international diplomacy about their flag’s meaning by adopting the diagonal format generally. See Wikipedia.

You know why, right?
There is now a mental association between gay and rainbow.

The rainbow may now become a symbol for the struggle for equal human rights. Anyway, as writers, editors, and designers, we need to check out the current interpretations of symbols we choose to use in communicating meaning.

Investigate Change in Meanings
To investigate new words that don’t even appear in a dictionary, I use Rainbow has 57 new associations.

I was hoping I could find a visual thesaurus or visual dictionary that would be of assistance in this quest but I have not so far. They seem concerned with word labels not psychosocial meanings. For example:

Visible light Electromagnetic radiation that is perceived by the human eye and ranges from red to violet.

visible light spectrum

So, do check on alternative uses of the words and symbols you choose–to make sure you will communicate effectively.

May 29, 2010

Empathy is key to plain language

The Empathic Civilization by Jeremy Rifkin

May 10, 2009

Visual language, a new tool

Public Lecture in Toronto, May 14

Neil Cohn of Tufts University and Emaki Productions will give a public lecture at the University of Toronto on Thursday, May 14th at 5pm. His will be the first talk in the Visual Thinking lecture series  More information here.

What is “Visual Language”?: What Comics can Tell Us About the Mind

Many theories describing “visual language” have been emerging from diverse fields including computer science, communications, and design. However, often these approaches rely on metaphoric or folk notions of “language” without delving deeper into what Language actually consists of, especially on a cognitive level. This talk will present Visual Language Theory from the view of the linguistic and cognitive sciences to discuss what “language” entails, and thereby exploring just what it means to have a literal theory of a graphic modality of language. The result will be a view of graphic communication and the capacity for drawing that is embedded alongside other mental capacities and divorced from socio-cultural labels that stymie its recognition.