Print vs. Digital Publishing is a Moot Point

The future of publishing is magic paper, digital tabletops, and walls that project information. It is not magazines vs. websites

A guy that I work with, John Murphy, showed this video to me the other day while we were unwinding after work over a beer:

We had been talking about websites, digital publishing, and magazines. I gave him my standard line — “iPads make the discussion about print and digital moot, and pretty soon–when these iPads are flexible, and we can roll them up and stick them in our jacket pockets, like we do with magazines–the argument will be totally superfluous.”

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How to Write Blogs and Articles That Your Editor Will Like

Write whatever you want  (as long as it is what I want you to write)

As a web editor, I love bloggers. If they write good stuff regularly, I do not have to. I can develop and edit many more articles per month than I can write, so working with bloggers is a simple matter of editorial economics. And if I invest in the right authors, not only do I get a short term benefit, but I boost credibility for my websites and magazine, which pays long term dividends.

It is all about me

I love it when bloggers listen to my advice. I love it even more when they take my advice. I do not love when bloggers write about whatever they think is important and ignore the needs of my audience. I do not love when bloggers write articles telling half of the audience that they are wrong, dumb, or evil.

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Microsoft: Why Most Business Charts and Graphs Suck

Three-dimensional charts and graphs hide information unless three dimensions are being plotted.

UPDATE: It looks like the video has been closed down. Thank goodness. The InfoTruck claims no responsibility for this improvement

I don’t know how many hundreds of times I have sat through presentations in business meetings or at conferences where the presenter shows slides with a 3-D column chart. Because the column is drawn in three dimensions, it is hard to tell exactly where on the y-axis the top of the column corresponds with. In making the column chart fancy, the presenter inadvertently hid information.

This is even worse on a 3-D pie chart, whose job is to illustrate relative amounts or area.

Decoration is not design.

Design finds solutions to problems, decoration dresses things up for the holiday. When delivering information graphically, always begin with two dimensions. Dollars over time. Building permits per zip code. Miles per hour. Words per minute. Only move to three dimensions when the information asks for it. Height, width, and depth for example.

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Subheds: Road Signs That Help Readers Navigate

Subheds in the main text give readers clues about where to jump in

Beyond a clear, informative, and clever HED, DEK, and LEDE, another service you can provide to readers is to write subheadings that indicate what each section is about. Subheads allow readers to skim  the article for  parts that are most important to them (it is all about the reader).

Because people do not always begin reading at the top of an article and finish at the bottom, and because some readers will skip parts of an article that others will read first, articles should be easy to navigate. Subheads are like road signs on the information superhighway. And if your readers read anything like I drive, those road signs had better be clear.

Good subheads can begin the information delivery process one step earlier

Subheads can be either labels or sentences. Sentences are more interesting and informative than labels are. They are also harder to write. Labels list the elements of an article, sentences can summarize information or set the context. Labels are often vestiges of the outline; sentences are an upgrade of that.

Consider if the subheads that I wrote above were labels instead of sentences. Sentences deliver the bottom line up front.

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How To Write Great Lead Paragraphs (a.k.a. LEDES)

After the hed and dek, the lede paragraph is next on the information-delivery totem pole.

If the reader has made it to your lede paragraph, your HED and DEK have done their job—given enough information and intrigue to convince readers that it’s worth their time to read on. Either that or the HED and DEK are so unclear that readers are grasping to figure out what the heck the article is about. Hopefully, that is not the case, so I will move on.

The LEDE should put things quickly into context in an inviting way, not in a thick, jargon-y way. LEDEs don’t have to be flowery, anecdotal-laced writing as is common in many magazines, but real-world anecdotes are a good way to get in to a topic. Good LEDEs get into the topic quickly.

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How to Write Headlines and Decks (Heds and Deks)

The hardest-working words need the most space and the best place, because they are the first line of defense against an ambivalent reader

If I were a pile of words, I would like to be a hed and dek because not only do they get the best seat in the house, and have the most responsibility, but they get to ignore some rules of punctuation and grammar along the way. Not that I am against rules of grammar and punctuation, but a license to break the rules is appealing to me. Heds and Deks are the 007 of the word kingdom.

With this extrordinary power comes great responsibiliy. If the hed and dek fail, the whole article pays the price. And because you wrote them, you have just limited your ability to get a raise. But worse, you have hidden information from people who need it.

There is a craft and an art to writing headlines—as editors and journalists, we get paid for the craft — putting together the structure of what information needs to be conveyed. The art is what we do to keep our jobs interesting — looking for the right words to speak to just the right audience, tying the topic to cultural icons of the audience. Speaking to the audience, rather than fumbling your way through an incomprehensible hed and dek.

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Entry Points Can Open Your Writing to More Readers

Whether writing for web or print, entry points and a clear hierarchy of information help readers to decide whether (and where) to jump in to your article

The point of writing is to get that particular piece of writing actually read by someone. It doesn’t matter if the writing is a magazine article, blog post, poem, or hate mail, the point is to have someone read it. Usually, more readers are better. Your writing can cover a complicated topic, like vapor diffusion through a roof assembly, or a simple one — like knock-knock jokes.

Good writing doesn’t waste the reader’s time.

Good articles have a focused topic and are well organized. Regardless of how well focused and organized the main text of an article is however, it looks exactly like an unfocused and disorganized article — it looks like a bunch of words on a page. That’s where entry points and levels of information come in.

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