Reader's Exchange

Whether you have one subject or millions

Colin Firth at the microphone

The King's Speech could be one of the best horror movies ever.   King George VI, forced to address audiences of millions despite having a noticeable stutter, surely experienced unimaginable dread before such occasions.

The film conveys the terror of the king's predicament; he could clearly foresee the extent of criticism and disappointment generated by each turn at the microphone.

Another scary plight comes to mind--that of the internet communicator who doesn't realize the potential reach of those words just submitted online.  Once a message or text is posted, it passes out of the writer's control.  It may be copied, filed, forwarded, or otherwise disseminated far beyond the writer's intended scope.

Digital text may and frequently does take on a life of its own.  With that daunting reality in mind, I sought advice from three City of Round Rock professionals upon whose guidance I depend:  Will Hampton, Communication Director; Shannon McIntire, Information Specialist; and Brooks Bennett, Technology Specialist.  I asked all three to share the resource or inspiration that has proven most useful in shaping their communication styles:

  • WILL:  "As a government professional, my writing style has been influenced the most by Hans and Annemarie Bleiker, citizen participation experts who have taught many of us city employees.  Their website is http://www.ipmp.com/. People need to trust the information we provide them - be it on the website, in a newsletter, City Focus, script, etc.  Personally, I've always been a fan of Hemingway.  Simple and to the point is hard to beat in my book." 
  • SHANNON:  "I'd recommend Jakob Nielsen's article on How Users Read on the Web.  Nielsen's focus is web usability--not writing--but his research on user behavior often involves determining which writing styles are most effective on websites, email, etc.  His website has a lot of articles that involve writing for the web because research shows that improving the text on a website can dramatically increase its usability--probably more than any other single element."
  • BROOKS:  "I really have enjoyed the Yahoo! Style Guide.  Modern society has forced us to create and adapt to new words and terminology and the Yahoo! Style Guide makes doing so a little bit easier.  It also takes into consideration the differences in writing for print and writing for the web - an issue we strive to do better with everyday."

A while ago, I responded via email to a library patron's local history question.  My answer was addressed to that individual, but the letter--complete with my name and work contact information--is now displayed on the patron's website.  Upon spotting my correspondence in its new iteration, two thoughts occurred to me:  (1) Glad I proofread! and (2) Thank goodness, I, like King George VI, can access excellent advice.

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