some thoughts about the SAA listserv story

It seemed like the perfect irony: “Archives Organization to Delete Its Own Archives.”

Variations of this headline appeared on quite a few blogs last week when the Society of American Archivists (SAA) announced its intention to delete the accumulated e-mail traffic on its listserv, which dated back to 1993. The SAA’s explanation was that cost of maintaining the list was outweighing its usefulness. Following standard archival procedure, archivists appraised the collection to assess its informational and evidentiary value (that is, to determine whether the collection warranted preservation either because of the long-term value of the information it contained, or because of the value of the collection as a unique artifact in and of itself) and determined that the collection could be discarded.

The outcry that followed, and the subsequent decision by the SAA to forego discarding the collection in favor of trying to find a permanent home for it, provided a telling example of how archives are perceived — and misperceived — by the world at large.

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thoreau and the economics of adverbs and adjectives

“Not that the story need be long,
but it will take a long while to make it short.”
— Henry David Thoreau (1817-62)

If you’ve ever taken a class on writing fiction, chances are you remember your instructor admonishing you to eliminate adjectives and adverbs from your writing. Or perhaps you were told to make a great effort to eliminate them ruthlessly (if you had my witty instructor). This advice applies just as well to nonfiction writing as it does to fiction.

Some writers believe that using gobs of adjectives and adverbs conveys erudition, emphasis, or importance. But to a discerning reader — your reader — it will convey precisely the opposite.

Why? Because most nouns and verbs already provide their own accompaniment. In the presence of a well-chosen noun or verb, adjectives and adverbs are redundant. Use them and your reader will assume one of two things: either that you lack the vocabulary, or that you don’t know the real meaning of the word.

In other words, taking the time to pick the right nouns and verbs conveys the message that you care about what you wrote. And your readers will care, too.

Still too abstract? Here’s a handy tip that I recommend for eliminating unnecessary adverbs and adjectives, using a metaphor that any businessman or -woman can understand: money.

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tuesday hack: rollabind disc dispenser

Rollabind ring dispenserThe Tuesday Hack is a little early this week because I couldn’t wait to introduce my weekend DIY project: a prototype Rollabind ring dispenser.

As I’ve already described, my paper file management system is now based almost entirely on Rollabind. And with one exception, the transition has been as smooth as I could have ever hoped for. The one exception? Where to put all the discs.

I’ve been collecting rings on an as-needed basis — ordering them a bag or two at a time from Rollabind or Levenger and keeping the leftovers in the original baggies which I kept in a box. Up to a point this technique worked fine, but it was — well, inelegant. And since much of the Rollabind aesthetic derives from its sense of order, I wanted to find a better, more orderly solution. One that showed me how many discs I had, made discs easy to get, and didn’t take up much room in my crowded supply closet.

Here’s how I made the proptotype . . .

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tuesday hack: pda harmony

The strengths of the hPDA concept — ruggedness, reliability, and simplicity — derive from its preferred medium, the humble 3×5 card. But as hard as it is for me to admit, paper does have its limitations. Ink affixes the data to the storage medium statically, and in doing so it limits the user’s ability to manipulate the data.

On the other hand, while electronic storage offers magnificent interactivity, the data manipulation and search experience can be more complex and intensive than on an index card. If only index cards could sort themselves!

But until scientists figure out a way to manufacture smart 3×5 cards (and for any scientists reading this, there’s probably a Nobel Prize in it for you), here’s the best of both worlds — a quick hack for my wife’s Palm that blends the yin of a PDA with the yang of a hipster (or is it the other way around?). It uses three small Rollabind rings affixed to a sheet trimmed from a poly file folder, which is then slipped into the leather holder’s card pocket. A stylus with a built-in pen allows her to translate between the two with ease. The hPDA is perfect for shopping lists, quick reminders, and taking notes on the fly. The PDA manages her complex and ever-changing calendar.

Now if I could only get her to use my hPDA templates

paperjamming for freelancers

Not only are freelance writers their own bosses, they are also their own administrative assistants. And every doubling of duty results in a halving of available time. That’s one of the reasons that freelancers represent such a large proportion of the audience for organizational systems like David Allen’s Getting Things Done, Merlin Mann’s 43 Folders, and planners like Day-Timer and Franklin Covey.

Here’s the thing, though: no matter what organizational system you adopt for your freelance business, you still have to interface with the legal, financial, and contractual requirements of the rest of the world. And those requirements can be complicated. Plus, you still have to manage all those paper and electronic files you create. And store them somewhere. All of this while trying to develop and manage your business.

PaperJamming templates help you manage your files on the fly. These handy templates, featuring the distinctive and popular Active Voice design, distill professional information management practices into clear, easy-to-grasp guidelines. Now you can control your files right from your hPDA.

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burying the lede in technical writing

“Burying the lede” is a common stylistic error in journalism. To bury a lede (rhymes with “bead”) is to hide the most important information within a news story instead of putting it up front where readers can find it immediately.

Technical writers can bury the lede too, and with the same results — the audience leaves, never to return, without ever reading the crucial message you wanted to convey.

Learn how to spot these four common style errors before they cost you your audience — and their business.

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welcome 43folderers, lifehackers, and GTD’ers!

You can imagine the shouts of joy and the dancing around the room when I found out that the Active Voice hPDA templates have been featured on 43Folders, Lifehacker (a coveted Download of the Day!), and Did I Get Things Done? yesterday and today.

Thanks, Merlin, Gina, and Paul for the shout-outs! Each of you are an inspiration to me, and it’s an honor and a pleasure to be able to pay it forward in my humble way. And thank you everyone who linked to the templates on — the Download page was the day’s fourth most popular link! That’s a very fine way to be introduced to you all.

There are more templates to come, and I’m always happy to hear suggestions for improvements or new designs. So feel free to leave comments and e-mail me. And to those who have already, thanks again!

A bit of template-related news: currently I’m in discussions to design custom templates for a series of business planning and creativity classes that are currently in development. Stay tuned for more information as this unique opportunity develops.


new hpda templates: proofreader’s marks

Proofreader's Marks hPDA TemplateFor editors on the run, we offer two templates with the most commonly used proofreader’s marks grouped into handy categories (Insert, Appearance, Position, and Correction). Plus, there’s an additional quick-reference section spotlighting common grammatical mistakes — all packed into two highly-readable 3×5 hPDA templates for your buy real diazepam uk convenience.

Active Voice offers templates as free .png graphics that you can drag-and-drop to your desktop and use in your favorite planner. They are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 License.

Check out the new proofreader’s marks templates on the downloads page.

new hpda templates: note capture

hPDA note capture templateTwo new downloads today designed for taking notes on-the-go. These note capture forms (in both portrait and landscape format) are designed to let you take quick notes that you’ll transfer somewhere else later — a website to bookmark, an action item to add to your calendar, or even a great idea for a new hPDA template.

Active Voice offers templates as free .png graphics that you can drag-and-drop to your desktop and use in your favorite planner. They are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 License.

Check out the new note capture templates on the downloads page.