contentgrrl

I am conTENT. My work is CONtent.

Archive for January, 2008

3 sites for more writerly blogging

Posted by contentgrrl on January 25, 2008

On FreelanceSwitch, I’ve found a new thrill of writerly blogs and advice on improving writing:

In particular, Content Crossroads: Supernatural Success at the Intersection of Ideas is an inspiring model of good writing, even if it is a bit long. The intro reminds me of an homage* in the movie O Brother Where Art Thou?, but the meat of the article is 5 ways to observe differently (learn for life, change perspective, free your mind, travel, and listen).

Another site I’m adding to my blogroll is FigaroSpeech, by Jay Heinrichs, author of Thank You for Arguing: What Aristotle, Lincoln, and Homer Simpson Can Teach Us About the Art of Persuasion. I’ve bought the book, and I’m both captivated and compelled to try some of those rhetorical tools.

*OK, here‘s the homage to blues legend Robert Johnson from the movie:

Tommy Johnson: I had to be up at that there crossroads last midnight, to sell my soul to the devil.
Ulysses Everett McGill: Well, ain’t it a small world, spiritually speaking. Pete and Delmar just been baptized and saved. I guess I’m the only one that remains unaffiliated.
Ulysses Everett McGill: What’d the devil give you for your soul, Tommy?
Tommy Johnson: Well, he taught me to play this here guitar real good.
Delmar O’Donnell: Oh son, for that you sold your everlasting soul?
Tommy Johnson: Well, I wasn’t usin’ it.

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5 Ws and H interview questions for news writing: part 4, discovery

Posted by contentgrrl on January 25, 2008

In the art of news writing, we still use tried-and-true formulas to get started with researching, interviewing, and organizing basic news according to the 5 Ws and the H.

Let’s look at how these questions can play out for news stories about discoveries. The questions below apply to science, technology, medicine, art, music, fashion trends, relationship patterns, polls and statistics, and even religious revelation.

  • Who initially made the discovery or work?
  • Who have confirmed the veracity or value?
  • Who are the critics and detractors?
  • What are the hypothesis, circumstances, conditions, or limitations of the discovery?
  • What authority and experience does the subject have?
  • When did the discovery occur, after what length of time working on it?
  • Where did the discovery take place?
  • Why is the discovery significant?
  • How were obstacles overcome?
  • How do we know it’s true or valuable?
  • How does this change what we’ve assumed before?
  • How can other people best appreciate or take advantage of it?

Previously, we looked examples for stories about policy, events, and aftermath. Thus ends this series. Soon, I’ll share the GOSSEY formula for feature stories.

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5 Ws and H interview questions for news writing: part 3, aftermath

Posted by contentgrrl on January 24, 2008

In the art of news writing, we still use tried-and-true formulas to get started with researching, interviewing, and organizing basic news according to the 5 Ws and the H. We discussed policy examples previously, and event examples last time.

Now, let’s look at how these questions can play out for news stories about aftermath. The questions below apply to analyzing the causes and consequences of conflicts, disasters, losses, and mistakes.

These stories may include war’s battles, terrorist attacks, earthquakes, fires, stormy weather, epidemics, extinctions, sports and other competitions, transportation wrecks, market crashes, crime, utility outages, closings, civil suits, industrial accidents, even product and software defects, illnesses, injuries, and other broken promises and dreams.

  • Who is the injured or affected party?
  • Who witnessed the event or reported the problem?
  • Who is blamed or taking responsibility for the problem?
  • What damages have taken place?
  • What are the symptoms that affected parties suffer?
  • What is the major cause of the problem or failure?
  • What additional mitigating factors contributed to the problem?
  • When did the event, problem, and cause commence?
  • When is a solution expected to be complete?
  • Where did the event, problem, and cause occur?
  • Why is this event or problem significant?
  • How do we know what caused the problem?
  • How is the problem being treated or resolved?
  • How are we proactively preventing this problem in the future?

Next, we’ll look at how these questions can play out for a more positive type of news story: discoveries.

Posted in citizen, community, culture, publishing, writeroll | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

5 Ws and H news writing questions: part 2, events

Posted by contentgrrl on January 23, 2008

In the art of writing is an art, we still use tried-and-true formulas to get started with researching, interviewing, and organizing basic news according to the 5 Ws and the H. We discussed policy examples last time.

Now, let’s look at how these questions can play out for news stories about events. Most of the questions below work for sports and other competitions, fundraisers, awards ceremonies, professional development conferences, training classes, filing deadlines, holidays, anniversaries, religious/commitment/memorial ceremonies, parties, club activities, meetings, and even sales.

  • Who is performing the event?
  • Who is organizing, funding and hosting the event?
  • Who are the guests of honor?
  • Who are the target attendees for the event?
  • What is the purpose or objective of the event?
  • What are the popular traditions of the event?
  • What is the newest focus of the event?
  • When – date and time – is the event scheduled?
  • Where – building/venue, room, city – is the event scheduled?
  • Why is it popular, or beneficial to attend?
  • How will special attendees be rewarded?
  • How many are expected, and/or how many attended? How much has attendance grown?
  • How much does it cost?

Next, we’ll look at how these questions can play out for other types of news stories: accidents and discoveries.

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5 Ws and H news writing questions: part 1, policy

Posted by contentgrrl on January 22, 2008

Writing is an art, but that is not to say there is no science to it. You can use a tried-and-true formula to get started with researching, interviewing, and organizing basic news according to the 5 Ws and the H.

The questions below work for news on policy, including election candidate campaigns, federal/state legislation and regulation, city codes, commercial company acquisitions/launches/divestitures, departmental initiatives, insurance coverage limits, financial transaction agreements, mechanical maintenance requirements, club by-laws, school board requirements, even classroom or household rules.

  • Who is making the policy?
  • Who are the political movers and shakers creating the pressure that drives this policy?
  • Who are the critics and detractors?
  • Whom does the policy affect, or who is accountable for results?
  • What action must be taken?
  • What conditions will trigger the need to act in accordance with the policy?
  • What are the consequences of inaction?
  • What are the consequences of failure?
  • What alternatives were considered?
  • When is the deadline or stages and phases?
  • Where in space or organization is the jurisdiction of this policy?
  • Where might be the boundaries or grey areas?
  • Why is this new?
  • Why was the particular action selected (what pros and cons)
  • How do they know the policy was necessary?
  • How will they know when the policy is successful?

Next, we’ll look at how these questions can play out for other types of news stories: events, accidents, and discoveries.

Posted in citizen, culture, publishing, reading, writeroll | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

20 questions: scoping out a writing assignment’s focus and misconceptions

Posted by contentgrrl on January 17, 2008

To fully capture a writing assignment’s focus and value, twenty questions are usually in order. Give or take a few. At the beginning of a gig, I’ll ask all of them. I never know when I’ll run into a misconception or political curse. But after a while, experience with a particular topic teaches me the answers to more and more of these questions.

Overview

  1. Topic: What are the keywords?
  2. Service or product: What product or service is involved or might be helpful?
  3. Timeliness: Why is this article timely at its writing/deadline?
  4. Focus: What merits a special focus?
  5. Expert Technical Reviewers: Who can serve as a resource for information and to verify the accuracy of the article?
  6. Communication: What channels do we want to use to get the word out — mass email, newsletter, Web page, fill-in form, press release, FAQ?

Audience

  1. Audience: Which target audiences, customers, or prospects are affected?
  2. Assumptions: What does the target audience know? What’s been rumored?
  3. History: What related issues have the audience experienced that may color their motivation or response?
  4. Misconception: What is most likely to cause the target audience to misunderstand or err?

Action

  1. Task: What is the target audience trying to do or accomplish?
  2. Trigger: What situation or case triggers a problem?
  3. Flow: How is it supposed to work?
  4. Solution: What do we want the audience to do? What sequence of steps are recommended in this particular case?
  5. Out of Scope: How do you know if you’re not affected? Are there special cases that merit more in-depth attention?

Value

  1. Benefits: What are the desired outcomes? What does a successful result look like?
  2. Consequences: What are the consequences of errors or inaction?
  3. Alternative: If there are alternative solutions, why wouldn’t you want to use them?
  4. Validation: What case data, evidence, statistics or resources can be used to confirm the veracity of our information?
  5. Illustration: Is there a metaphor, diagram, or image that might attract attention or help understanding?

TIP: With seven really good interview questions, a talkative expert can fill an hour. For the sake of efficiency, I try to get the basic facts out of the way, email my questions ahead of a meeting, and schedule a followup for during draft review to cover the rarer questions.

Posted in illustrating, learning, publishing, writeroll | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

report: new evidence for evolution, lack for intelligent design

Posted by contentgrrl on January 4, 2008

Yesterday, the National Academy of Science and its Institute of Medicine published a report, Science, Evolution, and Creationism, touting new fossil evidence for evolution and emphasizing that non-scientific creationist positions have no place in public school science classrooms.

The report emphasizes the need to teach evolution. That’s just in time for consideration by certain state education boards (including Florida and of course, Texas, which I’ve already mentioned in “teaching the controversy: first Texas science classes, then the world”) who are considering adding or adjusting standards for teaching evolution in their curriculum.

The book, which can be read online for free, also takes the stance that creationism and its repackaged intelligent design alternatives are not science, and thus should not be included in public science classrooms:

Despite the lack of scientific evidence for creationist positions, some advocates continue to demand that various forms of creationism be taught together with or in place of evolution in science classes. Many teachers are under considerable pressure … to downplay or eliminate the teaching of evolution. As a result, many U.S. students lack access to information and ideas that are both integral to modern science and essential for making informed, evidence-based decisions about their own lives and our collective future. …

…[T]he science curriculum should not be undermined with nonscientific material. Teaching creationist ideas in science classes confuses what constitutes science and what does not. [page 43]

The conclusion emphasizes that the science of biological evolution forms the basis for biomedical sciences, ecology, and some engineering fields that are profoundly important for the health and welfare of future generations.

Science and religion are different ways of understanding. Needlessly placing them in opposition reduces the potential of both to contribute to a better future. (page 47)

Why can’t we all just get along? Because we — both fundamentalist and atheist, both anti-evolution and anti-creationism — say hurtful and defensive things that turn us away from each other.

In the Dover, Pa., case, duly appointed judge upheld the evidence presented by the plaintiff (Kitzmiller) to declare a certain school-board required statement promoting an Intelligent Design text unconstitutional. Afterward, the 700 Club’s Pat Robertson said “to the good citizens of Dover: if there is a disaster in your area, don’t turn to God — you just rejected Him from your city.” It seems so unChristian and hateful of him. Just because Robertson didn’t agree with the results doesn’t mean that a loving God would retaliate against the faithful citizens of the town where the case took place.

And yes, I’ve heard my share of “infidels” discounting and insulting creationists. Them’s fightin’ words.
I for one am glad that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” If parents and church thought leaders want somebody to teach intelligent design, something clearly the realm of religion, shouldn’t that be part of their Sunday School curriculum?

I found the story originally on beliefnet news, Importance of Teaching Evolution Noted. There is an interesting set of reader comments there. The Associated Press story also appears in Dallas Morning News.

Posted in citizen, community, culture, heroes, heroines, learning, persuasion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

I gained 27 years in one day on our Wii — and a new Web browser

Posted by contentgrrl on January 3, 2008

Yay! According to Wii Sports, my fitness level improved 27 “years” since yesterday, based on my performance in boxing, tennis, and bowling. I think yesterday the level was based on boxing, tennis, and baseball. It does factor in strength, agility, and balance. But I think I’m just better at bowling than I am at baseball, even in real life. And I’ve got to give my dear husband some credit for his attempts to coach stubborn ol’ me. But the boyz and I are having a lot of fun together, cheering each other on.

We also started using Wii Points to buy a Web browser. My boys can now play Starfall in our TV room to learn to read, as well as other games (see my related series on free preschool games). But since the hunt-and-peck game is getting a little old while we enter Web addresses, we’re ransacking our closets looking for a USB wireless keyboard. Unfortunately some sites like NBC and SciFi have Flash applications that don’t support the Wii browser.

We also used some points to get some classic games from other systems, including Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time (originally Nintendo64). Sonic3 works fine, but the Ocarina wants the classic game controller instead of the Wii remote. Aargh for the delay.

But I’m just happy that after Lego Star Wars the Complete Saga, when we play with Legos in real life, my boys are suddenly building walls on their own, and a house for Yoda to sleep in, and a Star Destroyers to go flying through the house. Before, they could only watch as I helped them build cars, planes, and houses. They were never so creative; they never really knew what worlds and stories they could build.

And so I gush, we are so thrilled with our Wii. Thanks, dear Granny, Grandpa, and Uncle!

Posted in games, grrly, performance, What They Play | Leave a Comment »

my Wii fitness level 59 and Lego Star Wars

Posted by contentgrrl on January 2, 2008

For Christmas, the grandparents on my side got the kids a Wii, with much thanks to my dear brother, who pulled favors with his connections in the local Wal-Mart.

So we’ve had the console, Wii Sports, an extra set of controllers, and Lego Star Wars the complete saga, for a week now. My husband played the Wii Sports with the boys and his nephew for five hours on Christmas Day. He started out with a fitness age of 63, and is now at age 28 after seven days and a sore shoulder from boxing, baseball, golf, tennis, and bowling. I just tried the fitness test today, and I wanted to record my age of 59 with a similar goal.

I feel we’re in pretty good company. After all, if frugal guru Trent of The Simple Dollar can justify it, then so can I.

I should say that my sons love playing golf, especially when they hit the ball into the water hazard. They do the same with Tiger Woods on the PC. But this way they actually stand up and swing instead of hitting keys. It does indeed get us off our collective buns.

Wii golf water hazard

Not to say there aren’t more sedentary alternatives. Lego Star Wars, for which we mostly sit, has been both fun and frustrating, partially because of the required fine motor skills that my boys just don’t have yet, and partially because my boys don’t want to destroy all the things that will score you enough points to get to the next level or build a minikit.

But my preschoolers now know this epic very well. They can name all the characters, creatures, and machines like the geeks their parents are. And it’s fun playing out scenes like Luke on a tauntaun on icy Hoth, being attacked by that Wampa monster, hanging upside down, grabbing the light saber with the Force’s telekinesis, and cutting off the monster’s arm (one of the brothers works very hard to take his arm out of his sleeve, and then falls dramatically to the floor).

Video courtesy of NextGenWalkthroughs.

Posted in games, grrly, performance, What They Play | Tagged: , , , , | 11 Comments »

teaching the controversy: first Texas science classes, then the world

Posted by contentgrrl on January 1, 2008

Promoters of Intelligent Design may get their wish in Texas, due to state education board appointments and an impending review this month of state-mandated science textbooks.

This week I was passed a Dallas Morning News editorial warning that the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) in Dallas has been recommended to prepare graduate students online to teach Science in Texas.

DMN is usually a rather conservative paper, but this time they at least at first took a stance supporting the separation of church and state: “It’s hard to see how a school that rejects so many fundamental principles of science can be trusted to produce teachers who faithfully teach the state’s curriculum.

And then there was the closing call to respect faith: “It’s demeaning for the faithful to tout belief as science. But equally so, the advocates of science should be respectful enough to admit that faith is all that remains when science fails to provide the answers we seek.

The ICR’s CEO wrote a letter to the editor defending his curriculum and calling into question whether the theory of evolution has been scientifically proven. But the ICR stands to gain tens of millions of tuition dollars from students around the world who want a Texas-certified master’s degree taught from a fundamentalist perspective.

An earlier story reported a Texas state board of education employee’s forced resignation, highlighting the tensions around “the first review of the science curriculum in a decade. …As one of the largest textbook purchasers, the state could dictate content across the nation.The agency hopes to fill the position in January, the same time review groups are set to begin meeting and examining each aspect of the science curriculum.”

President Bush has said he advocated teaching Intelligent Design in schools. His protégé Texas Gov. Perry appointed a Bryan, TX, dentist (who teaches Sunday School at a very conservative Bible Church) to the position of chairman of the state board of education, and Dr. McLeroy said he could support an addition that requires teaching the strengths and weaknesses specific to evolution.

Skeptics (including Science Avenger, Texas Citizens for Science, and Panda’s Thumb) think such a tactic of “teaching the controversy” is yet another repackaging of creationism and intelligent design.

Let’s take a look back to 2004, when the Dover, Pa., school board added this requirement to their curriculum, which sounds similar to what TX education board members are looking into:

Students will be made aware of the gaps/problems in Darwin’s theory and of other theories of evolution including, but not limited to, intelligent design. Note: Origins of life is not taught.

That Dover school board also required a statement promoting a textbook on Intelligent Design be read to 9th grade students; dissenting board members resigned with frustration and teachers refused on the grounds that they did not believe the statement was true, so an administrator was called upon to do the reading.

In Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District, the plaintiffs argued successfully that Intelligent Design was a form of Creationism, partly because its proponents did an obviously poor job of replacing the term in a draft of the proposed textbook, and was therefore unconstitutional in accordance with Edwards v. Aguillard. Nova had a documentary on this case recently.

But Teaching the Controversy could leave a big footprint. Once they can establish in the public’s mind that a controversy exists, then it would be much less controversial later to reintroduce intelligent design into public school curricula. Discovery Institute fellows have documented this reasoning and the new Texas state board chairman agrees. And if they establish this controversy in Texas, other states who buy from the same textbook publisher will follow suit.

At church this Sunday, one member asked, “If they add this to the public school’s current 180-day curriculum, then what will they have to take out? Will we have to sacrifice proven science for pseudoscience?”

At home, my husband asks, “Would you trust a doctor, who doesn’t believe in evolution, with the medical treatment of your children?” Well, squarely in the Bible belt, I am certain that many fundamentalists would flock to such doctors were they known.

On a Parenting forum, it brings up the question, “Who is the state board of education to circumvent my rights as a parent in indoctrinating my children on something that is clearly the realm of religion?”

In a more and more cosmopolitan population where more and more people come from different countries, heritages, and belief systems, I am vigilant to examine the sides in question, but I don’t see any scientific evidence on the part of intelligent design, only rhetoric that is either transparently offensive or vociferously defensive. It makes me watchful of steps that could lead a teacher or classmate to belittle, proselytize, harrass, or exclude my sons if they happen to offer an argument for evolution.

On Sept 17, 2007, the Committee on Culture, Science and Education of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe issued a report of American creationist efforts to influence European schools that concluded, “If we are not careful, creationism could become a threat to human rights which are a key concern of the Council of Europe…. The war on the theory of evolution and on its proponents most often originates in forms of religious extremism which are closely allied to extreme right-wing political movements… some advocates of creationism are out to replace democracy by theocracy.”

I hope the Texas education board will listen carefully to science educators and parents of all backgrounds during the comment period. I hope they don’t make a decision that will have to go to court when the money for that expense would be better spent elsewhere. Say, on research to cure disease or on organizations who help children get out of abusive families into safe and healthy environments.

Posted in citizen, culture, learning, persuasion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »