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example of hone in error in book

Home sweet hone?

One of the quirky delights in my life is finding typos in books. I found the gem above in a tome published by Faith Words (I’m available for freelance proofreading, Faith Words!).

The writer made a common error—choosing hone in for home in.

Home in: Direct attention, move or aim toward a target or goal

Hone: To sharpen, make more accurate, perfect

In the example above, he wanted the howitzer operator to home in on the enemy battery; he wanted the operator to aim toward that target. If the howitzer operator was a bad shot, he should hone his targeting skills to shoot the enemy more precisely.

home in to a targethone skills graphic

Another clue: If the word you want makes more sense when followed by in on, you probably want home.

Now that you’re aware of the difference, you’ll hear/see it misused regularly. How delightful!


school lunch

Let’s change the world (or at least school lunch)

Let’s say your teacher/boss has asked you to create a persuasive presentation using PowerPoint (or equivalent). What’s your reaction? “Woohoo! I can change the world!” Or, “I don’t know where to begin.”

Crafting an influential message takes focus and skill, and, it’s probably not something you learned in elementary school. And that’s a shame. I’ve been going through the following steps in creating a persuasive presentation with my sixth graders, and I’ll bet they are helpful whether you’re a student or employee.

1. Know your purpose.

What are you trying to accomplish through your presentation? Just bringing awareness of an issue is not enough for a persuasive presentation—you want a call to action. For example, if you want to improve school lunches, what is it specifically that you want to change? Do you want your school to incorporate locally grown produce? Do you want the government to change their guidelines? Do you have recommendations on food choices? Do you want to change the tray color? Knowing your purpose will help you craft an effective message. Write it down.

2. Know your audience.

Audience and purpose are interconnected. If your audience is chosen for you, you may have to modify your purpose. For example, if you are trying to improve school lunches by incorporating local produce, and your audience is your fellow classmates, you might encourage them to sign a petition for more vegetables (good luck!) that you will pass on to the kitchen and school administration. On the other hand, if you are able to select your audience, who would be best? Who are the people in position to make the changes you recommend? In this case, you may choose to talk to the kitchen staff, school administration, or the school board. Then you will tailor your message to that specific audience.

3. Research.

Pulling quotes from a couple of websites is not enough. Learn your topic thoroughly. You need to become an expert on your topic, so don’t skip on your education. In addition to internet research, you may also want to interview people or take a survey to collect data. Don’t forget to study the opposing view—you may want to directly address what they are saying. For example, you may think the school lunches need improving, but what does the food director think? How will you address his/her position? (And as always, save your sources for your reference page.)

4. Organize your content.

Don’t overwhelm your audience with information. Select the strongest three to five points that support your purpose. More is not always better. You want your presentation to be short enough to keep your audience’s attention, but thorough enough to get your message across. Perhaps kids in Greenland have much better lunches than students in the US, but is that a solid reason we should change our school lunches? Probably not—it’s just an interesting fact. Unless, however, there’s data to support a correlation between good lunches and good grades. That would be a strong argument for your position.

Once you have your major points, it’s time to be strategic. How do you want to lead your audience to action?  Organize your points, then flesh them out to engage your audience. Perhaps you want to hook them with humor, like a funny image, then present your data. You could engage them emotionally with a picture (like above) or story. An infographic might be the best way to make your point , such as a chart showing how students rated their lunches or how many pounds of food were thrown away. We’ll be doing more engagement work in the design phase, but have an idea of the direction you want to take your audience and how you’ll keep them moving along with you.

Next time, the real fun begins—design! Can a sixth grader (or you) design a professional presentation? You bet!



glass of water

Make a poster—but make it good?

I am interrupting my website analysis series for this public service announcement:

We need to teach design to our students so they can be effective communicators. 

As a mom, I’ve seen my children create a variety of projects for homework—posters, books, presentations, videos. I applaud their teachers for throwing out the worksheets and promoting creativity. But what is the purpose of exploring media if the students aren’t taught how to use that media effectively?

We emphasize content while neglecting its container—design. If content is water, design is the cup, the bottle, the vase, the hose, the pool, the riverbank, the shore. Design helps us better understand the content. Is it to drink? Look at? Swim in? It contains the content so we are not overwhelmed. We often don’t acknowledge good design, but we know when it’s not there.

In our school system, content and design are compartmentalized. We learn to write in language arts; we learn design elements in art class. But this isn’t how our world works. Our kids explore websites, play games, use apps, even read books. All of these avenues rely on the effective combining of content and design. Will kids play a game that’s poorly designed, unappealing, hard to understand? For that matter, do you explore websites that are poorly designed, even if the content may be what you’re looking for?

To combat this problem in my little corner of the world, I have teamed up with a sixth-grade teacher in the local elementary school to work with five students on a project: Create a persuasive PowerPoint presentation. For the next few weeks I will be sharing my experiences with these students (who, by the way, are absolutely delightful to work with). We will explore the process of combining content and design to create an effective presentation. So if you missed this in sixth grade, I welcome you to class![/ezcol_2third] [ezcol_1third_end][/ezcol_1third_end]

credit union home page

It’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it

Your website is a tool to get your message to your customers/potential customers. Are you really sending the message you want?

Just like face-to-face communication has nonverbal cues (body language, tone of voice, etc.), you website does, too. Your message may be in words, but the typography, color, size, and capitalization all work together to give the message its full meaning.

For example, look at this home page from a financial institution:

What is the message they’re sending? What audience are they targeting?

  • The black stripe down the page is not visible on all browsers, but it is here. Message: They have some technical issues; perhaps they don’t pay attention to detail.
  • “Welcome” typography is Comic Sans. Message: This website is not current (Comic Sans is eschewed by designers everywhere). Also, their message is not serious; rather, it is appropriate for children.
  • Pumpkin graphic gives the message: We are fun and playful. (Is this the message this financial institution wants? Do people want to invest money in a company that’s fun and playful?)
  • The alternating typography colors are hard to read. Message: We would rather be cute than serious.

I don’t want to come across as harsh and critical, but it frustrates me that institutions think this is fine! This is exactly the stuff I’d like to banish from the web! It doesn’t serve the company or its customers well—in fact, it’s probably hurting their business. Here are my recommendations:

  • Contact your web developer and confirm that the website looks good on all browsers and platforms. You want to be accessible and professional.
  • Use typography that supports your business culture, your message, and your ideal customer. There may be a place for fun, but it’s not at the top of the home page of a financial institution. Does this font inspire confidence in a business owner, homeowner, or new family in town who is looking for a place to take care of their money?
  • Define your ideal customers and craft a message for them. Are first-time visitors looking for signature loans? Who is visiting your site, and what are they looking for? Do all the elements work together well?

There are so many options in website design today, it’s easy to get a little crazy. If you have a website and wonder if it’s sending your intended message, I’d love to help. Also, if you have suggestions to make my site better, let me know!

Tadpole makes it to the big leagues!

The world is a funnier place when you have  a good vocabulary. And can be really embarrassing when you don’t.

The word the headline writer was looking for is ambidextrous, not amphibious. The pitcher uses both hands equally well—unless, of course, he pitches well both on land and in water. Hmm…he does look like he’s holding his breath on the right.