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They flouted their disregard for the laws concerning proper disposal of hazardous waste.

Oh, he’s just playing politics. He’s flaunting the state’s constitution to push a political agenda, but what he’s trying to do won’t hold up under legal scrutiny.

In the examples shown above, flouted should be flaunted, and flaunting should be flouting.

Recently I’ve run across these and many similar misuses of the words “flout” and “flaunt” in print, online and on the radio. It seems as though a lot of people have only a fuzzy idea of the difference between flout and flaunt, so I think it’s worth taking a moment to talk about them.

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Flout

Flout

Unfortunately, dogs can't read ... This one enjoys taking a stroll at Kerrycroy near a sign that states “No dogs.” Where is the dog’s rule-flouting owner? (Click image for source and credit)

To flout is to ignore or defy authority, or to treat laws with contemptuous disregard and scorn. It can also mean to mock or insult someone, or treat someone with contempt.

Brazen defiance and deliberate offense are contained in the notion of flout. If someone chooses to flout a rule or law or social convention, for example, their act shows a certain brash arrogance toward others. Why? Because to flout is to challenge and to affront, all while in the act of making one’s disdain plainly evident.

You can see, then, that the sentence beginning with “they flouted their disregard …” makes no sense, because it means the people in question ignored their disregard or treated it with contempt. By contrast, the correct word, flaunted, means they proudly or ostentatiously displayed their disregard in front of others in a way that indicated they mocked the laws.

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Flaunt

Flaunt

Do you flaunt what you’ve got to inspire envy in others? (Click image for source and credit)

To flaunt means to ostentatiously display oneself or something, or to parade in a showy and public way, often with the intent to inspire envy in others.

Flaunt contains an element of strut and swagger, of grandstanding and shameless spectacle. Those who flaunt engage in a theatrical, flashy exhibition that is intended to impress others in some dramatic way.

Consider the sentence that opens with “he’s flaunting the state’s constitution ….” In that case, the rest of the sentence indicates that the politician in question is not trying to show off or pretentiously parade any part of the constitution to his advantage. Rather, by attempting to defy or ignore it in order to further his agenda, he is flouting the state’s constitution.

Writers, readers and listeners, are you among those who have been flouting when you should flaunt, and vice versa? If so, maybe now is the time to draw a clear distinction between the two in your own mind, and then do your part to stop the epidemic of misuse of flaunt and flout.

Talkback: Have you found examples of misuses of flout and flaunt? Do you have any favorites? Now is your chance to weigh in on this topic and share your insights, anecdotes and stories by leaving comments. Thanks!  Elizabeth Lexleigh  lexpower  The Write Ideas

Documentation Is Part of a Smart Marketing Strategy

Do you see documentation as an important marketing asset? Are you putting your documentation to work as a sales tool? If not, you may be leaving money on the table. (Click image for source and credits.)

In these difficult economic times, companies need all the strategic marketing assets and sales tools they can muster. Did you know that documentation can help you achieve several important marketing goals? Are you getting the most out of your documentation?

One of the strongest arguments for investing the proper amount of time and money to produce effective documentation—the kind that shows you understand your market and your customers—is that you will create several powerful marketing tools in one package.

Want to become a member of the “smart marketing” winners circle? Here are some of the top reasons why great product documentation can set your products and company apart from the crowd …

One, repeat business. Successful documentation helps your company get repeat business in a very economical way. As you know, converting prospects to customers requires a lot of work and money. Once you’ve made the sale – what then? If your customers are satisfied with the product and how it meets their needs, they are likely to buy from you again. Documentation that helps customers use your products and get the most out of them promotes repeat business.

This is low-hanging fruit, so don’t overlook the marketing value of great documentation. As a bonus, if you publish your documentation online, you can build out those pages to encourage even more customer interaction with your company.

Two, analytics. How do you know your documentation meets your customers’ needs? Are you really communicating everything your customers need to know about the product?

Build out your online documentation package to encourage customer feedback, so you can find out what customers really think about your product documentation, and how they use it. Enable comments so users can tell you what they think is missing, what they like, and more. Automated analytics tools can tally and rank page and topic views, for example, and also list referrers, search terms used to find topics, which links were clicked, and so on.

Documentation analytics just might turn out to be your best friend in the marketplace, providing unvarnished, honest feedback and market intelligence. You can use that information to correct weaknesses, build on strengths, make better decisions about product development, gain a competitive advantage—and, ultimately, generate more business.

Three, interactive customer engagement. Who said documentation has to be just static pages lurking on a company website, waiting for customers to drop by? That’s all well and good, of course, but why stop there?

If you know your customers and how they use your product, you can slice and dice your documentation into many different configurations, and push it out onto many devices in various formats.

You can also make your documentation more interactive. Beyond pages of text, figures, drawings and photos, why not add podcasts, videos and automatically updating fields to the mix? Consider a video-game format for a training document, for example. Interactivity keeps customers connected and learning; that can pay off on the bottom line.

Hankering for more information on interactivity? Then you might also like to read Does Your Company Use Interactive Electronic Technical Manuals (IETM)?

Too many companies still view documentation from a limited perspective and, therefore, leave business on the table. You already know documentation is critical for making your products usable and useful. It’s time to take the next step and realize its potential as a powerful, strategic marketing asset.

Talkback: Does your company view documentation as a marketing asset? Do you use documentation to develop and retain your customer base? If you use documentation as a marketing tool, has it helped increase your customer base and revenues? What documentation formats work for you? Share your thoughts and experiences in comments—thanks!   Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write Ideas

Semantics: The Meaning of Words

Let’s untangle the meanings of “nauseous” and “nauseated” without having a cat fight. They share the same root word, but have different meanings. (Click here for image credit and source.)

Lately I’ve been spotting many misuses of nauseous and nauseated, which is unsettling, to say the least. And also kind of humorous.

While the two words both stem from the Latin nausea, meaning seasickness, they have different meanings.

The careful writer makes a distinction between them.

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Nauseous

Something that is nauseous causes nausea.

For example, if you smell a nauseous odor, it makes you feel sick to your stomach.

You can also use the word figuratively to mean sickening, disgusting, or loathsome. For example, a nauseous idea or statement is one that disgusts you.

A perfectly fine synonym for nauseous is nauseating.

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Nauseated

If something makes you feel sick to your stomach, you are nauseated.

Figuratively, the word can also be used to mean you feel sickened or disgusted.

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Common Misuse

The most common misuse seems to be something similar to this: “I feel nauseous,” which actually means: “I feel I make other people sick to their stomachs.”

Hey, could be. But probably the speaker means to say: “I feel nauseated,” meaning: “I feel sick to my stomach.”

Now it’s your turn: Has the misuse of these two words caught your eye? Do you have any examples to share with us? Thanks for leaving a comment!   Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write Ideas

Bookstore Nook

The bookstore, such a wonderful place for browsing, perusing and discovering books you want to read and add to your personal library. Brick-and-mortar bookstores may be in trouble, due to declining sales, but think about this: What will happen to online and ebook sales when customers can no longer linger among stacks of books, thumbing through pages, flitting from book to book, each more inviting and enticing than the last? Are online sales driven in (perhaps large) part by our ability to walk into a real bookstore and sample the wares? (Click image for credit and source)

How many wonderful books have you stumbled upon while browsing in your favorite bookstore?

Books you decided you couldn’t live without.

Books you would never have found if you hadn’t been able to roam and wander and poke about among the overflowing tables, bins, stacks, bookcases and displays.

Books that attracted your attention because of their cover, or a chapter title, or a blurb on the inside jacket flap.

Look around the aisles and alcoves and cozy nooks of your local bookstore. The books stand there, waiting for you, promising knowledge, entertainment, connection, enlightenment, pleasure and joy. A book is a journey.

As you look around, how many people do you see reading? Moving from one volume to another? Pausing to lean over and pluck from the stacks a book that has caught their eye?

And how many people do you see actually buying a book?

Cozy Bookstore Corner with Chair

A cozy corner in a bookstore invites reading. How many new books have you discovered in bookstores? Do you buy your books in the store, or online? Do you think it is fair to use bookstores only to shop, but then buy the books you want online? (Click image for credit and source)

The Borders bookstore chain declared bankruptcy recently and is now selling off its assets. In another few months it will shutter its stores for good.

Where once communities had easy access to books and a destination in which to meet and connect over new ideas and literary finds, there will be only empty shelves and dust.

Another outpost of civilization will have gone dark.

Kindle Ebook Reader

Do you buy print books and ebooks on the web? Do you shop for your books on the web as well, or do you go to a bookstore? (Click image for credit and source)

One reason Borders is closing its doors is that apparently more people were shoppers than buyers.

In the many reports I’ve read about Borders’ bankruptcy, one feature really jumped out at me: many of the staff and analysts interviewed said that for some time they had noticed a new pattern taking shape in the book-selling business: people shopped the bookstores, found what they wanted to buy, and then went online to make their purchases.

A number of shoppers who were interviewed admitted they were guilty of “mooching” – browsing at their bookstore, but then buying online.

Borders is one casualty of that trend.

Some trade analysts have speculated that online and ebook sales might actually decrease as a result of physical bookstores closing. Their thinking is that as more and more brick-and-mortar bookstores go out of business, people will have no place to browse and pick up a book to explore it.

Hmm, does this book appeal to me? Do I need to buy this and read it? Oh … maybe that one instead.

Many industry observers have opined that bookstores are the vehicle of book discovery, and that without thousands of actual books all around them and knowledgeable, professional staff ready to offer help and suggestions, most consumers will remain unaware of what is available in the literary marketplace.

What will that do to online and ebook sales of books?

Is there some way to develop a hybrid store that combines physical books, print-on-demand machines, and the on-site ability to buy ebooks (with the bookstore getting a commission on the sale price)?

Could those hybrid stores also offer multimedia viewing kiosks for titles that are only in ebook format?

As the publishing and book-selling business continues to transform, new models are emerging for getting books in many formats into the hands of readers.

We’re approaching a critical juncture, in my opinion, and this important topic deserves some serious thinking and entrepreneurial inventiveness.

What are your ideas for the bookstores of the future?

Now it’s your turn: What do you think of consumers who shop bookstores, but buy online? Do you think brick-and-mortar bookstores will eventually disappear? Do you support your local independent and chain bookstores by actually purchasing books there? How do you feel about the closing of Borders? Join the conversation by leaving a comment – thanks!      Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write Ideas

Geographic Information System (GIS)

How can Geographic Information Systems (GIS) help writers and content creators visualize data? Do you use information visualization in your publications and documents? (Click image for credit and source)

Data visualization is becoming the new frontier in content, writing, and communication. In this post, I want to share with you a remarkable type of map.

There are your standard, average sorts of maps, and then there are your WOW! amazing, captivating maps.

In The World in Tweets and Photos and Infographic of the Day: Using Twitter and Flickr Geotags to Map the World, Eric Fischer has created a marvelous series of geographic maps of the WOW! kind showing overlays of geotagged photos posted to Flickr and tweets to Twitter.

This fascinating project visualizes the intersection of geography and vast quantities of user-generated data.

When you look at Fischer’s images, you will see clusters of multi-colored dots that represent where people are when they send photos and tweets. Red dots correspond to Flickr photos; blue dots signify tweets; and white dots indicate locations from which both have been sent.

From New York and Washington to the entire United States to Europe to the entire world, you can see images that instantly communicate how many people are using those two social media, and where they are when using them.

In an earlier post, Information Visualization: How Can It Improve Your Publications?, I wrote about the value of using visualization to extract meaningful information from a sea of data, and gave you some guidelines for successfully doing just that.

I think Eric Fischer’s maps beautifully illustrate the best reason for visualizing large and complex data sets: visualization is a technique that allows us to explore visually and perhaps arrive at some understanding of patterns and groupings that might otherwise remain invisible.

That type of large-scale analysis gives writers and other communications professionals a powerful tool to connect with their audiences and convey a story in moving and unforgettable ways.

Enjoy Fischer’s glorious maps. I hope they inspire you to come up with even better visualizations for your own publications and documents.

Now it’s your turn: What do you think of Fischer’s maps? Do you use information visualization in your own work? What software tools do you use to take large sets of data and convert them to visual form? Please share your tips, techniques and experiences – thanks!  Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write Ideas

Weasel Words

How do you respond to weasel words? Do you find them useful, annoying, or deliberately misleading? (Click image for credit and source)

Ah, weasel words.

People often use weasel-speak in business to create the impression that they have said something important, meaningful and to the point when, in fact, their claims are ambiguous, their assertions little more than assumptions, and their statements vague and misleading.

When you hear weasel-speak, don’t you just want to raise your eyebrows in alarm and mutter What sesquipedalian tergiversation!

Here are a few common weasel phrases as examples:

Studies show …

The vast majority …

People say …

Critics claim …

There is evidence that …

Experience shows …

If you use such phrases, you can avoid weaseldom in one of two ways:

  • Substitute the exact figures, names or details in place of the weasel phrase in the body of the text.
  • Use footnotes or appendices in which you give exact figures, details, names, places, and so on.

Notice that the key idea in both suggestions is the same: Prefer language that is concrete, factual, specific and detailed. Substantiate all claims. Provide supporting evidence for all assertions. Avoid the clutter of bureaucratic phrases. Simpler language almost always communicates better.

You can also use what is known as the “general-concrete” pattern. In this method of writing, general and abstract statements are followed by a concrete case. Use specific examples, illustrations and detailed explanations to get your exact point across to your readers. Don’t just present concepts and sweeping generalities. Clarify each one with a concrete case, specific figures, or detailed examples to convey what you mean and help prevent weasel-speak from creeping into your writing.

Now let’s take the example weasel phrases above and remove the smoke screens. The following examples banish the empty weasel words and restore substance and specificity:

Two studies, the 2003 Hirt Report on Nicotine Use and the 2007 CDC Mortality Rates Report, show …

89 percent of respondents said …

People we interviewed agreed that …. Here is a list of their names and departments …

The movie critics of the following newspapers claim … (provide the names of the papers and critics)

The 26 supporting studies we cite in the appendix offer evidence that …

Based on the self-reported experience of the following 10 people … (give their names, describe each person’s experience in detail, and how each person’s experience supports your point)

Oh, it’s so easy, isn’t it? A little weasel here, another slithery weasel there, and before you know it, clear, substantive speech can find itself on the slippery slope to puffery, devoid of all real content.

To help you maintain sense and meaning in your writing, here is a list of handy resources I think you will enjoy:

Now it’s your turn: What weasel phrases do you dislike the most? How do you avoid using weasel words? Please share your thoughts in the comments – thanks!  Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write Ideas

Metaphor: The Open Road

Can we imagine any part of our life without using a metaphor? Do we need metaphors to create meaning? (Click image for credit and source)

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All is connected, all is real, and all is metaphor.

Do you think this statement is true?

Recently I ran across a website of metaphor examples. According to its author, the site is based on the idea that metaphorical relationships can be considered to be “universal” in scope: a sort of Rosetta Stone between disciplines, if you will.

A related view is that metaphors provide a set of tools to compare two (seemingly) unlike things that are alike in at least one important way. Pick the tool of your choice – simile, analogy, personification, and others – and use it to explore and better understand the unknowns.

Then there’s this definition: “A metaphor is a literary figure of speech that uses an image, story or tangible thing to represent a less tangible thing or some intangible quality or idea … Metaphor may also be used for any rhetorical figures of speech that achieve their effects via association, comparison or resemblance.”

And what of visual metaphorsCognitive metaphors? Root metaphors?

If you follow some of the links in this post, you will see that metaphors of all kinds appear to be an indispensable key to understanding as well as creating our reality. They also allow us to connect to other forms of reality and to live beyond the boundaries of our own space.

Could we write, or communicate in any way, without metaphors?

Can you think of any aspect of your life that is metaphor-free?

If you were deprived of all metaphors, could you exist?

Do you think humans are responsible for creating metaphors, or do we just notice all the connections around us and attempt to describe their interfaces and correspondences?

In a recent post titled Language: The Government Wants Your Metaphors, I discussed IARPA’s Metaphor Program, which seeks to “exploit the fact that metaphors are pervasive in everyday talk and reveal the underlying beliefs and worldviews of members of a culture” in order to “characterize differing cultural perspectives associated with case studies of the types of interest to the Intelligence Community.”

Although analytically and intellectually admirable, at least as a mathematical construct, such a project may ultimately prove too daunting to be practicable, because what metaphors say is so complex, interlocking and interrelated that it seems quite a challenge to untangle all the possible meanings and connections. And never mind that all of those qualities are dynamic.

If, as some suggest, metaphors are the foundation of our conceptual systems, then apparently we require them in order to think and act.

And if we can only understand or experience one thing in terms of another, that is, by using metaphors, then what don’t metaphors say?

Now it’s your turn: Do you think metaphors are the engine of communication? Could language itself be construed as a form of metaphor for life? Without communication of all kinds would life exist? Thanks for leaving your comments!   Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write Ideas

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