Choosing to Use Graphics

Graphics can be a tricky issue in technical writing. Some authors use graphics at the drop of a hat. Often, the graphic shows something that the reader can readily understand from the text or contains nothing of value to the reader. For example, some books contain images of objects that don’t have any intrinsic value of themselves and possibly contain a little text that the author could easily include in the text. However, some authors err to the other extreme. Some abstract concepts lend themselves to pictorial representation. For example, a block diagram can often convey relationships that would be impossible to describe using text alone. Consequently, the issue of whether to use graphics within a text or not often hinges on the graphic’s ability to convey meaning that words alone can’t.

However, the decision to use graphics often involves more than simply conveying information. The quality of the graphic also matters. Graphics that appear too small in the book make it impossible for readers to make out details and render them useless. Designing a graphic that provides all the required details can be time consuming. However, including a less than useful graphic in the book is generally a waste of space. In some cases, the solution is to provide a reference to an external source (such as the Internet) for the graphic, rather than include the graphic directly in the book. Some authors have a strong desire not to use external sources because they tend to change, but using poorly designed graphics that fail to convey the desired information to most readers is equally problematic.

Focusing the graphic is also a problem. When a graphic contains too much detail or contains elements that have nothing to do with the discussion, the message can become lost. Using a cropped graphic helps focus attention and reduces the amount of space the graphic consumes in the book. By focusing reader attention on specific details, it also becomes easier to convey a specific message. Most important of all, keeping individual graphics small (yet easily readable) is essential to allowing use of as many graphics as is needed for the book as a whole.

The bottom line is that authors who use graphics effectively are able to communicate a great deal of information to readers in a modicum of space. In addition, using graphics presents the reader with another way to learn the material. Many people don’t learn well just by reading text, they also require graphics, hands on activities, exercises, and the like in order to learn a topic well. When choosing to use graphics, you must consider all aspects of how the graphic will appear to the reader. Let me know your thought on graphics usage at [email protected].


Developing Good Work Habits

Writing, like any kind of work, requires a certain amount of discipline. However, unlike many sorts of work, pounding away at the keyboard is only helpful when you have ideas to get onto paper (digital in most cases today, but the idea is the same as writing in the past). In order to become more productive, you must develop good work habits. Part of the task is to base your work habits on the kind of writing you do, your personality, and the requirement to get a certain amount of work done in a given time. It’s also important to consider your work environment.

I normally work a 12 to 14 hour work day, but I don’t spend all that time at the keyboard. My work day is split into one hour segments with 15 minute breaks. The day always begins with chores and breakfast for me. After all, everyone has to eat. During my first segment, I’ll answer e-mail, and then it’s usually time to take a break. I get some cleaning done or get the wood stove ready for the evening fire. The point is to get out of the office for 15 minutes so that I can rest, but also remain productive.

I am a huge believer in keeping your work environment clean and tidy. One of my best friends works in an Office and so they have a commercial office cleaning service to take care of their workplace for them. Clutter and dirt can be incredibly distracting and can even prevent you from enjoying your work which can have a detrimental impact on your productivity over time. Contacting cleaning services Red Deer, or ones closer to the office vicinity, will help keep everything together and clean. So whether you work in an office or from home, try to be as tidy as you can. Cleaning is also a great way to take a step away from the screen which is incredibly important for your creativity. Whilst cleaning is important, there will always be some jobs that people are unable to do. For example, cleaning the outside of the windows will be a difficult job for staff to do quickly whilst they’re in the office. This job will normally have to be done by a professional window cleaning company. Ideally, windows should be cleaned regularly, so it’s important that residential and commercial properties consider contacting their local window cleaners.

During the second segment I normally write as much text as I can. Sometimes this means pressing pretty hard in order to get the task done, but you need words on paper to move forward. Last week’s post mentioned some ways in which I get the job done. This segment usually goes by so fast that it seems as if I’m just starting when my timer goes off. Yes, I use a timer on my computer to keep a routine in place. Pacing yourself is important. At the end of the second segment it’s usually time to check the chickens and get any eggs they’ve laid. A walk outside is nice too. Sometimes I play Frisbee with the dogs or do some cleaning or even just enjoy some sunshine while I read the newspaper.

The third segment sees me editing the text I’ve written during the second segment and augmenting it. I usually end up with half again the number of pages that I had at the end of the second segment. The point is that the book has advanced, but that the text is also in better shape by the end of the third segment.

Depending on how everything has gone, I can sometimes fit in a fourth segment that I use to research new book material. I write ideas for the current chapter directly into the remaining blank spots so that I can start working on them immediately after lunch.

Lunch is an hour long. Afterward, I check on the animals again, check out the orchards and gardens as needed, and generally get things cleaned up. You’ll notice I do a lot of little cleaning segments during the day. For me, it’s better than trying to clean the entire house all in one fell swoop. Plus, I like a clean environment in which to work, some people actually do work better in clutter. There isn’t any right or wrong to the question of environment, just what works for you.

The rest of the day goes pretty much like the first part of the day went. I’ll have a robust writing segment after lunch, followed by an editing segment, followed by a research segment. It may seem mundane and potentially quite boring, but it’s an efficient way for me to work. Of course, you have to come up with your own routine-whatever seems to work for you. Keep trying different ways to approaching your writing until you come up with an approach that’s both efficient and rewarding. Yes, I’m quite tired by the end of the day, but I also feel quite happy with what I’ve gotten done. Let me know your ideas on writing workflow at [email protected].

Spring and Happy Chickens!

It’s getting toward spring and my chickens are definitely happy about it. I’ve discussed winter egg laying beforeproduction really does decrease. This is the point in the year where things start to turn around. My twelve birds really have become much happier and are now starting to lay six eggs on average per day. Some of those eggs still have calcium nodules, but I’m finding that even the number of calcium nodules is decreasing. The point is that they’re laying more eggs. Of course, this is the human view of happiness.

The chicken view of happiness is different. I can let the chickens out on most days now. When I enter the coop in the morning, I put down their food and then open the coop door. Now, you’d think the chickens would eat breakfast first and then run out of the coop. However, that isn’t what happens. They forget all about the food and fight each other to get out of that door designed for two birds at most as quickly as possible. It really is quite insane looking. They go out and stand around the water bucket discussing chicken events of the day (not that I quite know what to think of their discussions).

Of course, there is always an exception. Violet, the oldest chicken in the coop, just watches the fracas bemused, waits to be petted, and then calmly enjoys the quiet while she eats breakfast without the jostling of other birds to contend with. It’s hard to believe that chickens can become wiser with age, but somehow it happens. This old bird has gotten set in her ways over the years and many a fledgling has felt her beak where the feathers are fewest. Just watching my chickens each day reminds me of how individuals appear in every environment and that the need for individuality is universal. Let me know your thoughts on chickens with wisdom at [email protected].


Facing the Blank Page

Most writers face writer’s block at some point. You have a blank page that’s waiting for you to fill it and you have a vague notion of what you want to say, but the text simply doesn’t come out right. So, you write, and write some more, and write still more, and hours later you still have a blank page. Yes, you’ve written many words during that time—all of them good words—just not the right words.

Every piece of writing I do starts with an outline. Even my articles start with an outline. Creating outlines help you focus your thoughts. More importantly, they help you to see how your thoughts will flow from one idea to the next. Sometimes, if you’re honest with yourself, you’ll discover that you really don’t have anything more than a vague idea that will never become an article, white paper, book, or some other piece of writing. Of course, that’s really the reason for this exercise—to see if you have enough information to even begin writing. If you don’t have enough information, then you need to research your topic more. Research can take all sorts of forms that include everyone from reading other texts on the topic, to doing interviews, to playing. That’s right, even playing is an essential part of the writer’s toolbox, but this is a kind of practical play that has specific goals.

Once you do have an outline and you’re certain that the outline will work, you need to mark it up. My outlines often contain links to resources that I want to emphasize while I write (or at least use as sources of inspiration). A lot of writers take this approach because again, it helps focus your thoughts. However, an outline should also contain other kinds of information. For example, if a particular section is supposed to elicit a particular emotion, then make sure you document it. You should also include information from your proposal (book goals) and your reader profile (who will read a particular section) in the outline. Your marked up outline will help you understand just what it is that you really want to write. In reading your outline, you can start to see holes in the coverage, logic errors, and ideas that simply don’t fit.

Moving your outline entries to the blank page will help you start the writing process. Convert the entries to headings and subheadings. Ensure that the presentation of the headings and subheadings is consistent with the piece as a whole. Unfortunately, you can still end up with writer’s block. Yes, now you have some good words on the page, but no real content. An outline is simply a synopsis of your ideas in a formalized presentation after all.

Write the introduction and the summary to the piece next. The introduction is an advertisement designed to entice the reader into moving forward. However, it also acts as a starting point. The summary doesn’t just summarize the material in the piece—it provides the reader with direction on what to do next. People should view a good summary as a call to action. By creating the introduction and the summary, you create the starting and ending points for your piece—the content starts to become a matter of drawing a line between the two from a writing perspective.

At this point, you have enough material that you could possibly ask for help. Try reading your piece to someone else. Reading material aloud uses a different part of the brain than reading the same material silently. Discussing the material with someone else places a different emphasis on the material. The other party can sometimes provide good suggestions. You may not use the suggestions directly, but listening carefully can often present you with creative ideas that you wouldn’t have considered otherwise.

It’s important not to overwork the piece. Sometimes you need to do something else for a while. Yes, you always want to spend time in research and thinking your piece through, some writing is often done in the subconscious. Fill your head up with as many creative ideas, fascinating thoughts, and facts that you can, and then do something that actually will take your conscious mind off the topic. You might watch a television show or movie, go for a while. have coffee with a friend, take a nap, or do any of a number of other things. The important thing is to forget about the book for a while. Often, you’ll find that the now semi-blank page doesn’t present a problem when you return. Let me hear about your ideas for dealing with the blank page at [email protected].


Enjoying a New Buck

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m quite careful with my breeder rabbits. They become pets, for one thing, so the older bunnies go to the retirement home when they’re past their prime. Of course, everyone gets a hug every day. However, I also realize that my rabbits are animals with particular needs and that I need to exercise care when they have specific requirements. One of those requirements is ensuring the breeding rabbits are actually healthy enough to do the job. So, it was with heavy heart that I bid adieu to my buck, Spartacus, this past winter. He’s just too old to get the job done anymore.

I obtain my new does from my stock. When the kits are old enough, I start monitoring the does for good potential. The doe of choice is alert, quite active, robust in protecting her territory against the other kits, and large. I’m always looking for the best possible breeding stock to ensure that future kits have the best possible chance of succeeding. I tend to prefer does that are a bit on the aggressive side so that I can be sure she’ll protect her kits, but I don’t want a doe who is overly aggressive. I learned that lesson the hard way with a doe that would actually charge me when I tried to provide food and water. She’d actually bite. Yet, she was pretty mellow once her kits were fully grown.

My new buck, Oreo, is a gift from a friend. He’s friendly, but slightly aggressive. His markings really do suggest an Oreo cookie—black and white. He’s a well built buck and loves his morning hug. The reason I don’t get bucks from my own stock is that I want to prevent inbreeding. Inbred rabbits exhibit horrid behaviors (including cannibalism) that are best left to the imagination. The point is that you need an outside source of DNA, so trading with other breeders and ensuring you get from a variety of sources is one hedge against the problem.

I normally try for a buck that’s slightly smaller than my does. The reason is that a really large buck can cause the doe to have babies that are too large and she might not be able to have them normally. Even if you manage to get to the doe in time, she often dies if she can’t get the babies out. Oreo is just the right size. He’s just slightly smaller than my does.

Breeding season will arrive soon. Normally I try to breed the rabbits the first time in late March or early April so that the chances of frost at the time the babies are born is minimal. Breeding early in spring also lets me breed the does more than once (normally I go for three breeding sessions during the year unless the summer is especially hot).

Getting just the right buck for your does can take time and effort, but it’s well worth it to have healthy kits. Let me know your thoughts on choosing a new buck at [email protected].