Posts Tagged ‘Outline

Are Your Publications Things or Behaviors?

Do you see your company's publications as things or behaviors? Your answer can have all sorts of interesting consequences for your customers and your company.

If you started to think about your company’s publications as behaviors instead of things, would such a shift in perspective change the resulting documents? Would your customers respond to your message in a different way?

Consider the publications that you and others in your company create—they probably run the gamut, from sales and marketing literature to online pages to proposals to technical documentation and maybe even to interactive multimedia presentations and video scripts.

Like most writers, you work with others to establish the requirements for each publication and to generate and refine its specifications. You create an outline that captures the topics, features and procedures to be included in each document and organize that content in a way that satisfies the project specifications.

Such an approach is based on seeing the document as a thing. And, while it may be necessary, at least in part, is it sufficient? Does it really satisfy your customers’ needs? Does it let you wring every last drop of value out of what you spend on trying to connect with your customers?

What if you viewed a publication as a set of behaviors, instead of just a thing?

For starters, this might mean that your project requirements stated how your company’s customers would interact with the publication—and any associated product. After all, why do your customers read your stuff? What do they expect to get out of it?

If you thought about customer behaviors—for example, how they use the publication, the ways in which they need to access the document, how they find topics, how they use the information, what other resources they might need, how they might use the document as a focal point for customer-to-customer and customer-to-company interaction—would those considerations change your document specifications? Would the specs begin to reflect a mindset that took user experience into account?

If you viewed each publication as describing, prescribing and integrating a dynamic set of behaviors among your customers, your products and your company, how would that change the types of documents you create?

Would you enhance your publication model to include various scenarios and anticipated interactions that played to customer needs and experiences?

Begin to think about your company’s publications as behaviors instead of things, and I’ll bet your documents become more interactive, more dynamic, more user-friendly and more attuned to your customers.

Now let’s talk: What is your opinion? If you create publications, what is your approach? As a customer, how do you respond to companies’ offline and online publications: What do you like about them? What don’t you like? You can leave your comment at the top of this post. Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write Ideas

Timeline: Universe to Humans

What does this timeline show us?

This timeline caught my eye. It encapsulates the concepts of emergence, process, change and transformation so well; it’s colorful, witty; and I just liked the delightful style.

You could say this graphic offers us one view of human evolution. But on a larger scale, the drawing also conveys the overarching concept of transformation: things change, don’t they? They can adapt, mutate, flourish and take off in one or more directions. They can also stultify, remain static, wither and perish. A single, accidental mutation in one organism—or even the organism’s extinction—can give rise to a profusion of new, dissimilar life forms.

One thing for sure, though: Nothing stands still in time, at least not for very long. Time inexorably modifies, erases, transfigures, changes, enhances, diminishes, grows, dies, creates and destroys everything. Time is motion. We all obey time, and this charming timeline about us and everything else gets that point across beautifully.

And how about this clock?

This clock image expresses the concept of transformation in time

As space-time processes, we live in a continual dialogue with time. This clock image shows how the use of graphical elements like repetition and shadings of color can communicate ideas about change, transformation and adaptation.

The clock shows how the use of graphical elements like repetition and shadings of color can communicate change, transformation and adaptation.

Depending on the context, the clock graphic could represent the literal passage of time, nothing more. But drop the image into the history of an individual or a company, or a description of a manufacturing process, or an account of the evolution of an idea, for example, and the image takes on new meanings.

Beyond that, a skilled artist could re-work this or any other timeline graphic in all sorts of ways. The artist, who lives in a time stream, as we all do, is also one of time’s agents and, as such, behaves as a sort of time proxy and serves as an entity who has the power to alter things—in this case, a graphic image. In his drawings, M. C. Escher joyfully plays with just such self-referential notions.

The next timeline is a tongue-in-cheek image that purports to show how humans evolved from a more primitive life form—from ape to human in this example. As any biologist knows, however, such a representation is technically incorrect. Rather, it seems that humans and apes share a common ancestor, which means we are not the descendants of apes, but more like their kissin’ kin.

Human Evolution: From Simpler Life Forms to More Complex Life Forms

This timeline shows the emergence of more complex life forms from simpler ones

The previous image is like the first two images in that on a larger scale it says something about the essence of life, which includes concepts of emergence, adaptation and transformation. On a smaller, more specific scale the image says: If you are here reading this, then you can thank a very long line of ancestors (a line so long that it stretches, unbroken, beyond an ape-like ancestor, all the way back to single-celled bacteria so primitive they didn’t even have a nucleus).

You may have seen an adaptation of the previous image, one in which the final figure was a pair of high heels, representing woman. I don’t recall the context in which that image appeared, but the high heels completely changed the meaning by implying that the most advanced form of life was the human female. Or maybe the sort of female who wears heels.

The next and final timeline in this post shows another view of the transformation of human life, from extinct ancestral hominin forms to related hominids to … us–Homo sapiens, at the top of the left branch. Although incomplete, the evolutionary tree in the graphic shows a distinct bifurcation, with a right branch leading to the genus Pan (chimpanzees), our closest primate relatives.

This image is much more detailed than the previous one, and more scientifically accurate as well. It includes a timeline (on the left side) that shows a scale of millions of years. The image makes clear that as life flows along in time, it changes in myriad and unpredictable ways, and it is only after the fact that we can map out the transformations on a timeline and assign values to them.

Human Evolution: Tree of Life and Knowledge

The Tree of Life and Knowledge is a timeline with many branches

Together, these four images show just a few of the many ways you can use timelines to get across concepts about emergence, change, adaptation and transformation. Whether you are looking at life in general, or some aspect of it, timelines are useful tools to communicate your ideas.

For more about timelines, you might like to read the following posts in my blog:

Chronological Order: Show Me the Timeline!

Benefits of Chronological Order

How to Establish Chronological Order in a Paragraph

How to “Tell Time” in a Letter

How to Describe Chronological Order

How to Show Chronological Order

If you would like to learn more about the timelines of your own personal ancestry, visit The Genographic Project.

Now it’s your turn: Do you use timelines in your work? What is your subject matter? Do you think timelines are useful in communicating with your audience? Please share your thoughts about timelines.  Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write Ideas


Timeline Showing the Evolution of the Bicycle

Timeline Showing the Evolution of the Bicycle


Enmeshed as we are in time, it’s no wonder that timelines are among the most-used graphical devices.

But what to do when you need some ideas about all the ways you might represent a timeline?

As I was thinking about how to show eye-catching and mind-grabbing examples of timelines in this post, it occurred to me that nothing I could quickly devise would be a match for what is already in use on the web.

So I went hunting for timelines. And was pleasantly surprised. In addition to the well-known and beloved static graphs, charts and tables, I discovered some wonderfully unusual as well as interactive methods of showing time, which I share with you on the rest of this page.

Put on your hiking boots, rev up your curiosity and check out the following sites, where you will find plenty of useful ideas for creating readily understandable timelines that will dazzle your audiences. The examples can serve as models to help you communicate your information in vivid and delightful ways.

General. This MIT site contains some excellent timeline examples that will inspire you to think and get more creative. Within each timeline, take a tour of all the clickable, interactive features.

And of course there is Google Images, which presents a dizzying variety of inventive timelines. Click on an image to access the website of origin, where you can also enlarge the image.

Geologic Time Periods. This ingenious clock representation of the geologic time scale makes the length of each period relative to all the others readily apparent to even the casual reader. A “zoom” button in the caption area lets you enlarge the illustration. Compare that model with the accompanying standard, linear timeline that conveys the relative lengths of the supereons, eons, eras and periods in the earth’s history. In both examples, note the excellent use of high-contrast colors.

Global Financial Crisis. On the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s website, click on the word “Timeline” in each paragraph to display a PDF that clearly and beautifully illustrates the domestic and international timelines of policy responses to the global financial crisis.

Evolution. How do you show the major events in the development of life on earth? This is a fairly tall order, as the timeline of evolution stretches over billions of years, but the graphical and tabular models you will find at this site present a comprehensive picture.

Big Bang. The Big Bang was so huge and complex that one graphical timeline alone could not do it justice, which is perhaps why it is accompanied by a physical-cosmology table that contains many links to other related timelines. This example shows how sets of interrelated contextual information can be communicated to readers in a very approachable way.

World War I. This timeline of World War I uses tables to list key dates and event descriptions. The various war theaters are color-coded.

Immigration History. If you have questions about the history of immigration, the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation timelines can help you. Each time period you select is accompanied by overview descriptions and relevant images.

History – Examples. Here are some typical ways to show a history timeline. Although this site is geared to teaching students about timelines, the examples are good and could be used as general models by anyone.

World History. The TimeMaps Atlas of World History uses maps with date tabs to allow you to step your way through key events in world history. These highly interactive timelines impart a full sense of the sweeping context of time for each event, its time period and its geographic location.

Emerging Diseases. The Global Health Council website shows several useful ways of representing emerging-disease timelines. Examples include pathogens identified since 1972, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), and avian influenza.


For more about timelines, you might like the following post in my blog: Timelines about Life

Do you have any timeline examples to share with the readers of this blog? We’d all love to hear from you, so leave a comment, including the link to one of your personal favorites.  Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write Ideas

If you have a task to accomplish, how are you supposed to go about it? What are you to do first, second, third, and so on? How will you know when you have reached the end?

If you are trying to describe a process, or give instructions to someone, or describe the development of events or a product, how do you help your audience see the order of occurrence?

The answer to these questions is organization. The information must be organized so that your customers will understand the correct sequence of steps, from first to last.

To do that, you need chronological order.

A benefit of chronological order is that it shows how things happen over time. It untangles a riddle by assembling the facts into a coherent whole on a timeline.

This powerful organizing principle guides your customers, so they know what to do first, initially, while, finally, in turn, immediately, later, after, before, subsequently … and so on. Now that you have given them the magic key, an organizational order that indicates when they are to do something, they can actually use your product, service, process, or idea.

Satisfied customers, in turn, help to drive sales and grow your company.

When you develop your customer-experience strategy, don’t overlook the benefits offered by chronological order in your communications.

What do you think? Do you agree?  Elizabeth Lexleigh  The Write Ideas  lexpower

A good writer uses many strategies to make material clear and understandable to readers. When you plan your document, for example, you must select a structural style to use in ordering the material within each chapter or section—that is, how should you organize the paragraphs to best suit the document objectives? Should you use spatial order? Chronological order? Cause/effect order? Ascending or descending order? Comparison/contrast order? Another type of order?

Don’t answer that question on the fly. Before you begin writing, plan the document. As part of your planning, establish the structural style for each chapter or section. Then, when you write the first draft, implement your plan as you construct each paragraph. When it gets right down to the nitty gritty of writing, here are some suggestions for building a paragraph using chronological order:

One, start a paragraph with a subject sentence. In the subject sentence, establish the content and the organization of the paragraph. In the case of chronological order (our example), use words and phrases related to time. Such words indicate the order of occurrence over time, for example, words that give instructions, describe a process, or show the development of a product or a process.

Examples of a chronological subject sentence:

  • Four steps are required to complete the inspection of this product.
  • Your tour of the garden will begin at the main fountain, proceed to the herb garden and the woodland areas, and finish with a pleasant stroll through the azalea walk.
  • Periods of glacial maximum develop under three conditions.

Two, maintain paragraph unity. Once you have established the subject and the organization of the paragraph, remember that all the other sentences in the paragraph must support and explain the subject sentence. You can spot a paragraph that is not unified by looking for information that is not relevant to the subject sentence.

The sentences within the paragraph must maintain the overall order. In our example, this means you would use “time” words to discuss the subject and transition from one sentence to the next. Words like first, last, subsequently, next, after, immediately, then, in turn, initially, and so on will help maintain chronological order.

What are your thoughts on this?  Elizabeth Lexleigh  The Write Ideas  lexpower

In any document you write, your overriding objective is to make the content immediately understandable and usable by your audience.

If someone tells you that your work is not clear, the problem typically falls into one or more of these categories: planning, conceptual design, information, and language usage. To analyze the problem, start by asking the following questions:

Planning. Did you complete a thorough planning phase at the beginning of the writing project? Did you use the results in writing the document? For example, do you understand the purpose of the product? The purpose of the document? Do you know who your audience is? Do you know how your audience will use the document? You should have answered these and other planning questions at the outset, and then implemented the answers as you conceptually designed the document, gathered the information to be included, and wrote and reviewed the material.

Conceptual Design. Did you answer all of the important design questions? For example, do you know what your audience is looking for in the document? What is the most important part of the document? What are the key requirements that the document must meet? What are the editorial standards you are to use in your work? And so on. Further, did you establish page and text formatting guidelines? And, critically, did you build an outline based on your planning and design decisions?

Information. Did you scope out the content to be included in the document? Content to be excluded? Did you keep in close touch with your subject-matter experts and have them review the document, giving you feedback? How much do you yourself know about the subject matter? How good a researcher are you? Do you have the right material for the document, based on your outline?

Language. Do you have the necessary knowledge and grasp of the craft of language: spelling, grammar, syntax, punctuation, vocabulary and word usage? If you feel you need to improve in this area, do two things: read and write. Read good writing by good writers, and practice writing. Make both a daily habit. If you want regular critiques of your writing, join a local writers’ group, or check out classes for adult learners at your local university, community college, or online.

A final tip on analyzing problems involving clarity of writing: be careful of telling stories or going off on tangents when you write. All content and how you handle it must serve the purpose of the document, based on your planning and design decisions, and your outline. If it doesn’t, get rid of it.

What do you think? Do you agree with these suggestions? What would you add?  Elizabeth Lexleigh  The Write Ideas  lexpower

When you are writing a document, how do you begin to tell your story? How do you snag your readers’ attention and charm them enough to keep them reading?

The beginning of your document is the critical point where you must engage your readers’ interest. If the beginning isn’t good, it will also quickly become the end, and your attempt to communicate with your audience will fall far short of the mark.

So, how to begin? The short answer is that there is no definitive answer; it all depends on the following, which you defined in the planning phase of your project:

  • type of document
  • audience
  • purpose of the document

For example, if you are writing a report, you might start with an executive summary, in which you present the gist of your research, conclusions and recommendations.

On the other hand, if you are writing a user guide, you could start with an overview of the product, its intended audience, ways of using the product, and other useful “getting started” information for your company’s customers.

In a memo, you may decide that opening with a summary of results or conclusions would work best for your audience.

In other types of documents, you could begin by presenting a theme, or opening with a question, or stating a problem, or by providing an answer.

What all these ways of starting a document have in common is that they must give your readers a general sense of where you are going and how you intend to get there. You need to manage their expectations and get your document off on the right foot to accomplish your communication objectives. So think of your opening as a sort of “roadmap,” with the details to follow.

There are no absolutes in how to begin a document, because each type of document has its own requirements, as well as its intended audience and objectives. So put your thinking cap on and nail this part first, before you begin the first draft.

Now it’s your turn, dear reader: What is your approach to beginning a document? Please comment on your most successful method.  Elizabeth Lexleigh  lexpower  The Write Ideas

Welcome to LexPower!

Word Power for Business and Technology
Put The Write Ideas to work for your company

Enter your email address to get a free subscription to this blog. You will receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 5 other followers


Copyright © 2009-2011 by LexPower. All rights reserved. You may not use or duplicate my blog material without my express and written permission. You may use excerpts and links, provided that you credit LexPower fully and clearly, and also give specific direction to the original content. All unauthorized use is strictly prohibited.