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Silencing the inner pedant

10 September 2010


At school, I was taught the order of the parts of a German sentence was time, manner, place. At university, I was told that wasn't true. The correct order was attitude, time, reason, instrument, place, manner. Even if we cull the extra detail, that's a significant change from school: place and manner have swapped positions. That's because the things that are considered places at GCSE level are more likely to be complements that have to be there because there is a verb of movement or positioning. It's just much simpler to teach school students that the order is time, manner, place because it's good enough.

I was reminded of this when I was writing a chapter for my new book Web Design in Easy Steps, last week. After writing something, I thought "hang on a minute: that's not strictly true". It's always easy to think of exceptions to the rule, and sometimes they're important. But in this case, the extra detail required to explain the exceptions would have greatly increased the complexity of what should have been a relatively simple idea.

I concluded that the most important thing is not that you teach readers absolutely everything. Actually, the skill in writing is to work out what's important and to convey it clearly. And sometimes there will be stuff you know that isn't important to the reader at the level they are working at.

One of the challenges is to balance the need to remain accurate with the need to sound authoritative. You wouldn't want to create the impression that there is an absolute rule that can be easily challenged later on, because it makes the text look inaccurate. At the same time, using words like 'generally' or 'most of the time' sounds a bit wishy-washy. For readers who want to stretch themselves, you can always point them to where they can find out about the exceptions.

The key thing is that sometimes when the inner pedant speaks, it's okay to tell it to go away. Not everything that is true is important. At least, not important enough to damage the flow of your reader's learning.

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How many editors does it take to create a book?

03 September 2010


I've just finished working on my second book for John Wiley's Older & Wiser series, Microsoft Office for the Older and Wiser. As I've been talking to people about it, I've realised that a lot of people don't understand the process behind a computer book. I thought I'd explain the different people who are involved in working on a book project.

Every book project is different, and sometimes there are more people involved and sometimes there are fewer people. Some of the people I've worked with have fulfilled several of these roles at different times in the project. I've worked on some projects with some publishers where I've been pretty much left alone to write, and then just checked the laid out pages at the end. John Wiley has offered me a much greater level of support with these books, which has been extremely valuable. In particular, the level of quality control has been excellent.

Here's an overview of some of the people who might make a contribution to a book coming into being (editorially - lots of people help with other things too):I hope I didn't leave anyone out! What this process means is that at least three people (plus the author) are looking out for the quality of the end result to make sure that it's well-written, accurate and easy to read.

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Lady Gaga is the most followed person on Twitter


Pop star Lady Gaga has become the most followed person on Twitter with over six million followers. The next closest person is Britney Spears with 5.8 million.

To put those numbers in context, the UK Prime Minister has about 1.7 million Twitter followers, Yoko Ono has about a million followers and Stephen Fry (who's used Twitter to connect to a whole new audience) reaches 1.7 million.

Lady Gaga was also the first to have over 10 million Facebook fans, and now has 16 million.

It shows how powerful a medium social networking can be for connecting artists with fans. I've been writing for some time about how you can promote your music on the internet. For a long time it was all about attracting listeners to your content. Now it's about seeding your content where the fans are already, so sites like Twitter and Facebook are key. For pop acts who want to reach more than just hardcore music fans, mainstream social networks are probably more important than places like MySpace and Last.fm which have a focus on music. But then the nature of your content has to change accordingly. It's about what you say and what you look like, and less about what you sound like. Attitude sells.

The other side of this is that fans can connect with their favourite acts without any filter now. Before artists started setting up their own websites, everything was filtered through the prism of music journalism. Now people can use sites like Twitter, as I explain in my social networking book, to keep in regular contact with artists. It's only 140 characters, so most artists update their own Twitter feeds, although a few delegate it to their staff.

Although there's some debate about the future of the music industry, these social networking statistics show that pop music still has the power to move the masses, more than any other artform. Whether that level of interest will translate into a sustainable business model remains to be seen.

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Sign the petition to support libraries and authors


The Society of Authors has created a petition urging the government not to cut the public lending right budget. The public lending right (PLR) is a legal right that authors have to be paid when their books are borrowed from libraries. The amount has been about 6p per loan, and the total per author is capped at £6,000 to stop JK Rowling from getting all the money in the pot.

For many people, especially if you're a business and computer book author, library sales represent the bulk of the potential market, and PLR is an important factor in enabling those authors to create the books they do. If the authors can't afford to create the books, then publishers can't publish them and libraries can't lend them.

There are big budget cuts on the way to help tackle the deficit, but PLR has already been cut for some years. While public spending has been relatively healthy in the last three years, the PLR budget has fallen by 3%, which is a 10% cut in real terms. The Society of Authors notes that the PLR Office has already cut its administrative costs significantly too, which means any cut in the PLR budget will have an immediate impact on authors.

Please support authors and libraries by taking a moment to sign the petition, which is hosted by the ALCS.

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Books by Sean McManus

Scratch Programming in 

Easy Steps

Scratch Programming in Easy Steps

Raspberry Pi For Dummies

Raspberry Pi For Dummies

Learn to program with the Scratch programming language, widely used in schools and colleges.

Set up your Pi, master Linux, learn Scratch and Python, and create your own electronics projects.

Coder Academy

Coder Academy

Cool Scratch Projects in Easy Steps

Cool Scratch Projects in Easy Steps

Learn to make games and other programs in Scratch 2.0, and make a web page in HTML, with this highly interactive book for 7-10 year olds.

Discover how to make 3D games, create mazes, build a drum machine, make a game with cartoon animals and more!

More books

©Sean McManus. www.sean.co.uk.