Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Improve your writing in 10 easy tips

Use these simple tips to improve your writing, whether you are writing with less than 140 characters or more than 100,000 words.

01 Read what you've written.
When my daughter was in elementary school she would frequently write something and then ask me to review it. When I always asked, "Have you read through it yourself?" her answer was usually, "No." In my estimation, this is not just a problem limited to students still learning how to write and edit: I receive many e-mails where it is clear from either poor phrasing or bad grammar that the author never read the e-mail before sending it. When you write, take a few minutes to read it and make quick corrections.

02 Run spelling/grammar checks.
Even when reading back through a document you may not notice misspelled words or grammar problems. Many applications highlight misspelled words. Microsoft Word underlines misspelled words in red and questionable grammar in green. Certainly, not every grammatical improvement that Word suggests is correct, but often it works as the first editor of your writing.

03 Use word count/grade level tools.
Word count tools are useful if you set writing goals based on a certain number of words per day. However, word count tools—whether a feature of an application or stand-alone—often include grade level assessments of your writing. This can be helpful to ensure that you are writing at the appropriate level for your desired audience. It is also helpful if you are writing a longer document because you can keep the grade level consistent across various sections or chapters. Word Count Tool is an add-in for Firefox and is also a web-based application. This paragraph (excluding this sentence) has 101 words and 584 characters, including spaces. The reading level is 11-12th grade.

04 Search for your overused words.
Whether you call them "overused" or "weasel" words, you probably have certain words that you may use too often without even thinking about it. For me, I use that, also, additionally, so, and thing too often. Whenever I write, I use the Find feature to highlight these words and see if I can eliminate them. Review your writing and try to identify your overused words. It may be helpful to keep this list of words on a piece of paper prominently displayed on your computer.

05 Print to review.
This is probably more of a personal preference than some of these other tips. I find it helpful to print a document when proofreading it, especially if a document is particularly long. Certainly I don't print every e-mail and tweet, but I prefer reading on paper, because it is not as taxing on my eyes as on-screen reading. Printing documents also has the advantages of comparing different versions over time and presenting the writing in a different format so that it can be easier to spot mistakes and opportunities for improvement.

06 Use standard editing markups.
If you print a document, learn and use standard proofreading symbols. You can search for lists of these. The basic ones are delete, insert something, close-up a space, bold, italicize, capitalize, and transpose words/letters.

07 Take a break between writing and editing.
Spaced repetition is a term used to describe increasing the intervals of time between study periods when reviewing information. Allowing an interval between writing and editing is beneficial because you will be able to view your writing with fresh eyes. I recommend allowing at least a day between writing and reviewing. If you've written a longer document like a book, I recommend waiting at least a week between finishing the writing and starting the editing.

08 Use text to speech.
Whenever you view your writing in an unfamiliar way, you will be able to identify problem areas more easily. Just like printing, listening to your written words will present them in a novel way. There are several apps for iPhone and Android to read back selected text. However, at least for iPhone, you can configure the accessibility to speak any selected text. This is my preferred option because it is free. The current version of iOS (version 9) allows you to select from a variety of male and female voices and accents (for English) as well as multiple languages. The iPhone text to speech accessibility option is smart enough to transition between languages. My wife and I tested this with paragraphs of text in Korean and English. Siri had no trouble switching languages.

09 Omit unnecessary words.
One of the principles in The Elements of Style by William Strunk and EB White is to "omit needless words." When editing your work, look for ways to rephrase so that the same ideas can be stated in fewer words.

10 Adopt a mindful approach to writing.
I have frequently read that it is good just write while disregarding spelling, grammar, and sentence construction. While there may be a time for this type of creative writing to generate ideas, I believe it is better to be mindfully aware of spelling and grammar when writing. By keeping these tips and other sources of writing instruction in mind when writing, you can eliminate a lot of errors that would be caught during the first reviewing of a document.

Never Quit Learning

If you learned something from this post, please check out my free e-book, Never Quit Learning: 10 easy ways knowledge can help you stand out.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Mac Keyboard Shortcuts

Use these shortcuts to be more productive when using your Mac computer.

My switch to Mac

For years I was a Windows operating system personal computer user. However, after a series of laptops that consistently overheated following about two years of use, I decided that I was ready to switch to an Apple Mac computer.

This transition was already well underway for me because I had already started using an iPhone, and then added an iPad to the mix. Thus, switching to the Mac completed the Apple puzzle.

I love the Mac. The power-up time is fast, and when the computer is asleep, pressing the power button instantly brings it to life. Because the hard drive is solid state, there are no moving parts.

Any type of change takes time. Switching to Mac required me to become familiar with new screen layouts, file organization, and keyboard shortcuts. You can easily search the Internet for keyboard shortcuts for both Windows and Mac operating systems.

Keyboard shortcuts

There are numerous keyboard shortcuts for Mac. Many apply across all applications on the Mac operating system. There are other shortcuts that are app specific. The shortcuts below are, in my opinion, essential ones to use all the time.

General keyboard shortcuts

  1. Letters with accents: Hold down a letter to reveal accented letters. For example, a document detailing educational and work experience is a résumé, not a resume.
  2. Emoji and Symbols: Click Edit on the menu bar and select Emoji & Symbols. You can also hold down Control+Command+space bar simultaneously. 😀
  3. Delete a character to the right: Press Control+D or Fn+Delete.
  4. Navigate to the top of a document or page: Fn+← (Fn+left arrow).
  5. Navigate to the end of a document or page: Fn+→ (Fn+right arrow).
  6. En dash: Option+dash. The en dash is used to indicate a range of dates (1941–1945) or page numbers or to set apart some text – that is, for emphasis or interruption – to draw attention to it. The en dash usually has spaces on either side when using in a sentence (dates do not use the extra spaces).
  7. Em dash: Shift+Option+dash. The em dash is preferred by many editors—according to many style guides—for inserting statements of emphasis or interruption. It can also be used to attribute a quote. For example, "All I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother ." —Abraham Lincoln.

Keyboard shortcuts for Pages

  1. Increase font: Command+plus (⌘+).
  2. Decrease font: Command+dash (⌘-).
  3. Left justification: Command+{ (⌘{).
  4. Right justification: Command+} (⌘}).
  5. Center a line: Command+| (⌘|).

Keyboard shortcuts for Word

  1. Increase font: Command+Shift+>
  2. Decrease font: Command+Shift+<
  3. Left justification: Command+L (⌘L).
  4. Right justification: Command+R (⌘R).
  5. Center a line: Command+E (⌘E).

Never Quit Learning

If you learned something from this post, please check out my free e-book, Never Quit Learning: 10 easy ways knowledge can help you stand out.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Am I Really Needed

Am I really needed? Does every individual contribute?

I discovered this analogy while browsing through my daughter's high school notebook. This was a handout distributed in one of the classes.

Am I Rxally Nxxded?

Xvxn though my typxwritxr is an old modxl, it works wxll xxcxpt for onx of thx kxys. I’vx wishxd many timxs that it workxd pxrfxctly.

Trux, thxrx arx 42 kxys that function, but only onx kxy not working makxs thx diffxrxncx.

Somxtimxs, is sxxms to mx that our organization is somxwhat likx my typxwritxr—not all thx pxoplx arx working propxrly. You might say, “Wxll I’m only onx pxrson; it won’t makx much diffxrxncx.”

But you sxx, for an organization to bx xfficixnt, it nxxds thx participation of xvxry pxrson.

Never Quit Learning

If you learned something from this post, please check out my free e-book, Never Quit Learning: 10 easy ways knowledge can help you stand out.

Friday, November 6, 2015

30-day challenges to challenge you

Complete a 30-day challenge and change your life. This list provides 12 possibilities in the areas of spiritual, physical, emotional, and learning.

It seems like there are a variety of 30-day challenges to introduce you to new ways of doing things.

Advantages of a 30-day challenge

A 30-day challenge of any kind has several advantages.
  • Thirty days is enough time for something to potentially become a habit. 
  • Thirty days is not a life time, so you can try a challenge and discontinue it after the 30 days, if desired. 
  • Engaging in an activity every day for a certain number of days achieves approaches to life that I advocate: 

▶️ Be intentional with your time
▶️ Give consistent, daily effort
▶️ Set goals
▶️ Track your progress
▶️ Reward desired behavior

Below are twelve challenges that I have either completed or would like to attempt at some point in the future. These challenges span the four main aspects of life: spiritual, social, mental, and physical. Each of these challenges should be done every day for thirty days. If for some reason you miss a day, don't give up; start back as soon as you can.

Challenges completed for 30 consecutive days are meant to challenge you. Select one of these challenges that may be a new activity. Commit to doing it every day for the next 30 days.

Twelve 30-day challenges

1. Write 500 words. You can write about anything, but the key is to write without editing - just write. I learned about a writing challenge, My 500 Words, from the author Jeff Goins. I started this challenge in January, 2015. Somehow I reinterpreted the challenge as writing 500 words per day for 120 days, so I ended up writing over 60,000 words.

2. Write out a Psalm. I completed this challenge in 2012. I wrote out (by hand) a Psalm from the Bible every day. The Psalms are a good source because they are inspirational, usually short, and there is a large variety from which to choose. I selected the Psalms prior to starting the challenge.

3. Complete a 30-day plank challenge. The planking exercise consists of holding your body stiff while resting on your forearms. You can read more about the planking challenge at 30 Day Fitness Challenges.

4. Take a photo every day and upload it to Instagram or Tumblr. Most of us probably think of Instagram as a place to upload pics and write a brief caption. However, I have seen more and more posts with long descriptions and stories. Read about this approach at Nieman Storyboard. Three excellent sites for photo challenge ideas are: FatMumSlim, Expert Photography, and The Idea Room.

5. Create a video every day and upload it to YouTube. I learned about this via e-mail from one of the many entrepreneurs I subscribe to. Many tips are provided on the 30 Day Video Challenge, but you don't have to join ($177.00) in order to benefit.

6. Read the Bible for fifteen minutes. If you are not familiar with the Bible, start reading at Psalms or Acts. Beyond physical Bibles with pages, numerous apps exist that feature a variety of translations and features.

7. Drink only water. The Mayo Clinic recommends about 3 liters of total liquids per day for men and 2.2 liters for women. A number of variations exist, ranging from the classic 8 cups (64 ounces) per day to calculations based on weight. The key for this challenge is that you should only drink water: no tea, coffee, juice, or alcohol.

8. Do a random act of kindness. Reaching out to help others also helps us individually. For this challenge, be aware of the activities going on around you and find a way every day to ease someone's burden, whether that is holding the door open or giving up your parking space or feeding the homeless. The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation has a great list to give you some ideas.

9. Learn a new word. Increase your vocabulary by learning a new word or phrase every day. The Merriam-Webster dictionary, both online and the app, feature a word of the day. For maximum learning to occur, write out the definition of the word.

10. Memorize a Bible verse that is new to you. There are many promises, inspirational passages, and guidance for life in the Bible. Search for some of these yourself or start with an online list.

11. Single-task at your desk. The opposite of multi-tasking, which scientists suggest is really a misnomer, single tasking means doing one thing at a time. Clear everything from your desk except the barest of essentials: a computer, if needed, a planner, and writing utensils. Bring out whatever resources you need to accomplish a task, but then clear those resources before starting the next task.

12. Walk 15 to 20 minutes. If you don't have a regular exercise program, this is a great start. Beyond the benefits of physical exercise, gives you an opportunity to stimulate your brain for better thinking and lets you take a mental relaxation break. Stepping away from a problem may provide a catalyst for problem solving.

Create a record in a journal, on a whiteboard, or on your computer so that you can track your progress every day. At a minimum, record whether or not you completed the challenge each day. If the challenge is quantifiable (e.g, minutes or distance walked, number of words written, ounces of water consumed), record these measurements as well. This will allow you to review your progress and see what is possible in a brief period of time.

Have you started any 30-day challenges? Have you completed any 30-day challenges? What helps you get from the start to the finish?

Commit to a challenge

If you would like to commit to one of these challenges, use the link below to sign up. I will send you a couple of encouragements during the process and follow-up with you at the end.

Yes, I commit to a 30-day challenge!

Never Quit Learning

If you learned something from this post, please check out my free e-book, Never Quit Learning: 10 easy ways knowledge can help you stand out.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Reward Yourself

Use the science of behavior modification to motivate yourself.

The Science

In the classic book, Science and Human Behavior, B. F. Skinner describes the behavioral principles that govern much of human and animal behavior. The premise of the book is that behavior is influenced by the consequence of the behavior.

If a behavior receives a positive reinforcement (for example, you give your dog a treat when he obeys a command) that behavior is more likely to be repeated.  However, if you are punished when engaging in a certain behavior, theoretically, you may be less likely to repeat it.  Research and history have both shown that punishment is largely ineffective in the long-term.  Short-term, it may have some immediate effects, but usually those effects are brief.  The table below depicts the conditions under which behavior is influenced.

Karen Pryor is an animal trainer and has worked with large marine mammals such as dolphins and orcas.  In her book, Don't Shoot the Dog, she discusses the fact that whales do not accept punishment.  If the mammal misses a trick and is given a punishment, the whale will no longer respond to the trainer.

Create Incentives

Suppose you want to start an exercise program of some sort. Perhaps you want to walk or jog everyday or want to visit the local gym two to three times per week. You could provide an incentive by giving yourself a reinforcer when you complete a certain number of minutes or miles (walking/jogging) or number of visits to the fitness center.

I am not one of those exercising-loving individuals who runs until the endorphins kick in. However, I recognize the necessity of exercising for better health. To keep myself motivated to walk every day, I decided that I would celebrate each marathon, 26 miles, that I complete. At a rate of three to four miles per day, I am able to walk a marathon every few days. My incentive is $25 to spend at Amazon or iTunes. Now that I am walking consistently, I have changed my reinforcement structure so that I need to walk 50 miles in order to receive the reward.

More Science - Schedules of Reinforcement

Another aspect of reinforcement is the schedule of reinforcement.  
  • Fixed ratio reinforcement occurs when a reinforcer is administered after a certain specific number of responses, in my case miles walked.   
  • Fixed Interval reinforcement occurs when the reinforcer is given for the first response after a certain amount of time has elapsed. A example of this is salary paid every two weeks.   
  • Variable ratio reinforcement occurs when a reinforcer is administered after a random number of responses. For my exercise incentive program, I could randomly generate a number of miles. However, usually, the person receiving the reinforcement would not know what the random schedule is, something unavoidable when creating your own incentive plan. Variable ratio reinforcement is the secret behind slot machines. A random amount of money is given after a random number of attempts, thus ensuring that patrons sit mindlessly at the machines depositing coin after coin.
  • Variable interval reinforcement, in which the first response is reinforced following a random amount of time, is effective when the person receiving the reinforcer doesn't know the schedule.

In previous posts I wrote about my writing project where I wrote 60,000 words in six weeks. I gave myself incentives for completing blocks of words ahead of schedule. This was effective. My initial goal was to write 500 words per day for 120 days. However, by incentivizing my writing, I wanted to write more words per day and try to write regularly.

Start Today

If you are trying to start a new behavior, think about about how you can provide incentives to help that behavior become a habit. Make a list of reinforcers and when you will earn them.

Never Quit Learning

If you learned something from this post, please check out my free e-book, Never Quit Learning: 10 easy ways knowledge can help you stand out.