We came across this lovely story recently of an RAF pilot fighting the authorities for his right to wear a moustache. It got us thinking what an odd word moustache is, so we looked it up to save you losing any sleep over its peculiarity.
Apparently, the English word moustache comes from the Middle French moustache, which in turn derives from the Old Italian mustaccio. This comes from Middle Greek moustaki, which is a diminutive of the Greek mystak or mystax, which means upper lip. Phew. By the time you’ve read that, you could almost have grown one.
Isn’t the web great? There are all sorts of great writing tips out there. I came across this excellent – and funny – article about writing for the web. It cocks a bit of a snoop at some of the web-writing theories about how people read online.
My view is that while there is some value in the readability research and techniques espoused by the likes of web-writing guru Jakob Nielsen, they are not the only consideration when you’re writing for the web.
What a lot of these techniques seem to overlook is the fact that the best way to keep people reading is to make it interesting. If you can do that, you’re three-quarters of the way there.
If they’d done all this kind of readability research when they were inventing books, we’d all be reading large print Mills & Boon picture books, full of one sentence paragraphs, sub-heads and bullet lists.
Some of the most effective tools for clearer business writing are so obvious we tend to overlook them. Take bullet points, the unsung heroes of the print world.
Bullets work because they:
- Add structure and organisation to your writing
- Provide multiple entry points in to the text
- Help simplify information
- Emphasise key points
- Improve comprehension
How to use bullets:
- Begin with a header/title followed by a colon (as above)
- Make sure that text and bullets are properly aligned
- Try to apply some sort of logical order, perhaps based on the alphabet, chronology or priority.
But watch out for these common bullet mistakes:
* Having too many of them: bullets should be used for emphasis, but if you emphasise too much, the emphasis is lost.
* Using different colours or fonts: the strongest colour is always black. Simplicity makes for clarity.
* Avoid non-parallel construction: bullet points still need to make grammatical sense and fit into the context of the paragraph. You’ll notice that the first two items in this list begin with a present participle ending in -ing. The third item (this one) doesn’t, and as a result it jars. It would have been better to start with ‘avoiding’ rather than ‘avoid’.
Bullets aren’t the answer to every writing problem, but they are a useful structural device to make your writing clearer, more readable and give key points greater impact.
The deipnosophists among you (go on, look it up), will love this site, Luciferous Logolepsy. It’s dedicated to weird and wonderful obscure English words. It’s certainly luciferous and not just for logoleptics.