Misc. Helpful Advice

Increasing Your Attention Span

By Dr. Kevin

Attention spans are shrinking in today’s information rich technology of sensory overload. In response, the market has introduced pills, drinks, and powders that claim to increase your powers of concentration. But there are also lifestyle and work habit changes you can make to increase your attention span naturally. 

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Actor Robert Redford once said of a colleague, “He has the attention span of a lightning bolt.” I winced at that observation, thinking he could have easily been describing me. I’m lucky if I can write a single sentence before fighting the urge to starting another game of solitaire.

Behavioural scientists have known for decades that the upper range of the average adult attention span is 20 minutes when listening to a speaker. But, in recent years we have been conditioned to have an even shorter focus. Television programming works with eight-minute spans. Multi-media options and lightening fast access to information on the computer force internet searches to narrow their window of opportunity to about 30 seconds. How can we condition our minds to follow through on a train of thought to reach its conclusion?

Some people turn to stimulants or dietary supplements to boost the power of concentration. But there are simple changes in lifestyle and work habits we can make that can increase our attention span naturally. In addition to sleeping well, eating healthy, and getting enough exercise, here are some specific strategies for improving attention span.

Feed Your Focus

Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), which can occur when otherwise healthy individuals neglect to eat, can slow the speed at which people process information and shorten their attention span. After the overnight fast and lack of glucose in the body, it is important to eat a breakfast rich in both carbohydrates and proteins. The sugars can quickly make your mind sharp, and the complex carbohydrates and proteins will sustain energy to think for extended periods.

The health effects of synthetic food additives on certain people were documented 30 years ago by the late Dr. Benjamin Feingold in his book Why Your Child is Hyperactive. Since then, researchers have consistently corroborated that food additives exacerbate the symptoms of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Many with the disorder who switch to a diet free from artificial colorings, sweeteners, and preservatives can experience major improvements in attention.

In addition, ensure that your diet includes enough vitamins and minerals. Deficiency of magnesium, for example, can lead to fidgeting, anxious restlessness, and learning difficulties. As well, the B-complex vitamins (including folic acid and choline), omega 3 fatty acids, and zinc are all linked to the maintenance of a healthy attention span.

 

Practice Meditation

Studies have shown that meditation is even more effective than sleep in improving attention span. For example, in a 2005 study, Bruce O’Hara, associate professor of biology at the University of Kentucky had college students either meditate, sleep or watch TV. The form of meditation was deceptively simple: it involved focusing on an image or sound or on one’s breathing.

O’Hara then tested all the students for what psychologists call psychomotor vigilance, asking them to hit a button when a light flashed on a screen. Those who had been taught to meditate performed 10% better—”a huge jump, statistically speaking,” says O’Hara. Those who snoozed did significantly worse. “What it means,” O’Hara theorizes, “is that meditation may restore synapses, much like sleep but without the initial grogginess.”

 

Control Your TV Watching

Between the constant commercial interruptions and the ever-present remote control that allows constant channel surfing, television breeds an appetite for distraction. When you want to watch, consider pre-recording episodes or renting movies so that you can enjoy the program without breaks.

 

Read Books

Reading definitely increases your attention span. Have you ever noticed that if you find an interesting novel to read, you may turn the pages for five or six hours regardless of the activity around you? These marathon reading sessions increase the stamina of your attention span for other tasks that require extended focus.

 

Exercise Your Observation Skills

Exercising your memory and your observation skills is a great way to build your attention span. Try this “picture game”- study a picture for about a minute. Then, look away and recall as much of the picture as you can. Try to visualize and place objects in the image of your mind. As you practice this regularly, your attention span and power of recall in daily events will grow.

 

Limit Internet Use

You may have heard the quip, “The attention span of a computer is as long as its electrical cord.” Actually, you don’t have to unplug the machine to break a train of thought. All it takes is an impulsive click of the mouse. This is not good news for those of us who go on-line to inform and shape our thinking.

To avoid having the attention span of a computer, consider saving articles of significance and logging off the Internet to read them. You may even find it helpful to print important documents and leave your workstation to digest their content. This reduces the temptation to jump between websites competing for your interest.

These lifestyle and work habits can all help increase attention span. Of course, your powers of concentration will have ebbs and flows at the best of times. When this happens, don’t be afraid to take a complete break. It will refresh your mind in a way that simply switching to another task cannot.

Why Grammar Matters on Personal Blogs

Personal blogs — why grammar matters!

For those of us who have a personal blog, we know there is a much satisfaction in sharing our ideas. We spend time planning and writing our blog and we look forward to receiving likes and comments. Some of our blogs may be focused on a “cause” while others may just be a means of sharing life events with many people.

How much time do you spend editing your blog for proper grammar? Does it matter if you write things like “well” when you actually mean “good?” Will it impact your blog or readership if you interchange the words “there,” “they’re,” or “their?” It might surprise you how these grammatical errors might just impact your life.

Here are three ways that poor grammar might be impacting your world.

  1. Many jobseekers and career climbers are unaware that poor grammar is holding back their careers. Numerous online resources are reminding people that companies may not hire people who use poor grammar. Employers will take the time to look beyond your resume and cover letter. They now look at your online history and if your blog presents poor grammar or spelling issues this might be a deciding factor as to why you do not get the job. An employer might call into question your perfectly crafted resume and cover letter if they find other written documents with poor grammar – they will wonder which person they might hire. (Impact of poor grammar – Not Hired)
  2. Likewise, if you are competing for a promotion, your personal blog might be reviewed and quietly used as a reason to not promote you. Promotions often come with a need for increased verbal and written communication and these are skills that most employers do not have time to teach. If you present poor grammar outside of work, employers may worry that you will slip into bad habits while at work. (Impact of poor grammar – Not Promoted)
  3. Documents and blogs that you write in defense of a cause need to be properly edited and formatted. Poorly edited or formatted letters sent in support of your cause will receive less attention. Those who read these documents do not want to decipher what you are trying to say. (Impact of poor grammar – Your impassioned plea for your “Cause” is ignored)

So take a few minutes on that personal blog to make sure the grammar is correct. In the business world, it is very important to have a strong command of English grammar rules and be able to express your thoughts and ideas clearly using the written word. Maybe have one of your blog posts edited by someone who knows the difference between the proper use of “your” and “you’re.”

Grammar does matter, and people do notice.

Do you need a sabbatical?

By Dr. Kevin

Are you feeling burnt out? Do your day-to-day responsibilities at work stand in the way of a goal you have for your life? Perhaps a sabbatical is just the ticket for you. Once the privilege of tenured professors, the sabbatical is now spreading into the corporate world as a means of keeping employees happy, healthy, and productive.

Computer giant Cisco Systems in San Jose, California, experienced a surprising response when it created a pilot sabbatical program six years ago. Employees who accepted a two-thirds pay cut were offered a chance to volunteer for a year in the non-profit sector. Cisco expected 20 or 25 employees to sign up, but 300 made application. In its first year, 80 people were granted the sabbatical and Cisco has now added this program permanently to its benefits package. They are not alone. In 2006, nearly half of Fortune magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work for in America” offered paid sabbatical programs.

The concept of a sabbatical originated more than two thousand years ago as evidenced in the Bible. The Old Testament directs the Hebrew people to let their fields lie fallow every seventh (sabbatical) year in order to give the land and its people rest and maintain maximum productivity (Exodus 23:10-11 and Leviticus 25:3-4). Similarly, Deuteronomy 15:12-14 stipulates that Hebrew slaves were to be freed from service after six years. What is more, their owners were to send them on their way with a generous share of provisions to live on.

The modern practice of granting sabbaticals can be traced back to the 19th century. According to Kenneth Zahorski, in his book The Sabbatical Mentor, in 1888 Harvard University recruited noted philologist Charles Lanman from Johns Hopkins University by offering him every seventh year off with pay. The practice spread quickly in academia and the church. The purpose for the sabbatical was to afford professors and clergy the opportunity to travel, pursue research, reassess direction, renew one’s spirit, and accomplish goals that were not possible within the bounds of normal career routines.

Of course, the benefits of a sabbatical can apply to any vocation and the option has spread, particularly among companies that rely on their employees to generate ideas or expend emotional energy. In general,  publishing, high technology, advertising, consulting, social service and counselling agencies are more sabbatical-friendly than natural resource, manufacturing or finance firms.

Professional “sabbatical coach” Clive Prout describes four main reasons why people take sabbaticals (www.thesabbaticalcoach.com):

Exploring Self and Purpose  - Perhaps the most fundamental motivation for a sabbatical, time free from work allows deep contemplation to answer the question “What gives meaning and purpose to my life?”

Changing Track – Some people sense that their current career path has run its course and in order to avoid stagnation and death of the soul, they can use a sabbatical to redirect their vocation.

Rejuvenation – Other people know that they are on the right track in their life. However, because they are highly motivated, they are prone to overwork and burn out. For this group the sabbatical is an opportunity for renewal. They can return to their life’s work reenergized and ready for more.

Escape – Feeling frustrated and overwhelmed, many people seize the opportunity for a sabbatical simply to relieve stress. They have no plan to sustain themselves when they return to the grind that has worn them down, nor do they follow any strategy to make lasting changes in their professional or personal lives.

Besides the personal benefits, the sabbatical also benefits the company and the colleagues of the individual taking the time away. Having a sabbatical policy aids the employer in both recruitment and retention of qualified employees who are seeking more than simply a high salary. Upon return from a sabbatical, the employee often brings new direction, greater creativity, fresh energy and increased loyalty. While veterans of many years are away on sabbatical, junior colleagues who fill in get the chance to expand their skills, demonstrate their talents and earn greater confidence from others. In this sense, the sabbatical becomes a developmental opportunity for all.

Even if your employer does not have a sabbatical policy in place, it may be possible for you to arrange paid leave if you plan ahead. Some businesses and education boards offer self-funded sabbaticals. In these situations, employees have a portion of their income withheld over several years. They are then able to use these savings to fund extended time off. The employer continues to provide health, insurance and pension benefits during the sabbatical.

So, write that book. Sail around the world. Volunteer on a short-term mission. Learn a new language. Explore a different culture. Nurture your soul. Refresh your spirit. Regain your health.

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A Basic Taxonomy of Documentation Styles That Editing Services Should Know

In their freshman English courses, many college students must use Modern Language Association (MLA) style.  Some even learn MLA well enough to apply it in later undergrad papers.  However, when they take classes outside of the English department, they often find they must learn other documentation styles. The more common among these additional styles are the American Psychological Association (APA) style and Turabian or Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS or CMS; often referred to as Chicago style).

For graduate students and professionals engaged in scholarly writing, the documentation styles tend to be more varied, with many disciplines and professional groups having their own specific styles, including the Council of Science Editors (CSE), the American Medical Association (AMA), the American Political Science Association (APSA), the American Sociological Association (ASA), the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE, pronounced “I triple-E”).  In addition, many other professional organizations have their specific styles, many journals have their own in-house styles, and some publishers have their own styles that apply to all of their journals or to those focused on certain fields.

The various styles can be very confusing.  Besides the more salient differences (whether notes or parenthetical citations are used and whether dates follow authors’ names in parenthetical citations), the styles are often differentiated in the bibliographic entries by the use of parentheses and punctuation or the placement of the date.

To identify styles by the in-text citations, I generally apply the following system.

Numbers used to represent citations

  1. Are the numbers superscript (1) or regular font (in-line) in brackets (2)?
    1. Superscript numbers are used for different purposes in different systems.

a. In some documentation styles, superscript numbers indicate footnotes or endnotes that provide authorial comments only (used in MLA or APSA, for example).  These notes are not used primarily to indicate references unless, as specified by MLA, a parenthetical citation would contain enough references so that its length interferes with reading the text.

b. In other styles, the footnotes or endnotes indicate the sources for information used in the text and may contain authorial comments (alone or with reference information).  Such notes are used in the CMOS/Turabian notes-bibliography style.  Notes corresponding to superscript numbers appear at the bottom of the page on which the numbers appear (footnotes), at the end of a chapter (chapter endnotes), or after the last chapter (endnotes).  The information in these notes is repeated in a bibliography that often follows the final endnotes.  The bibliography is in alphabetical order.  This notes-bibliography style allows the use of shortened citations or Ibid. after the initial note giving the full publication information.  However, many students complain about having to duplicate the information from a bib entry for a source in the first note referring to that source.  Simply copying the information will not work because the punctuation in the notes is different from that in the bib entries.

c.         Finally, superscript numbers can indicate entries in the final references list (often labeled References or References Cited).  The entries in the final list are organized in the order in which they appear in the text and are numbered.  Subsequent references to a source will be indicated by the earlier superscript number assigned to that source.  Styles using this citation/sequence style include AMA and one of the CSE styles.  AMA indicates page numbers in superscript parentheses immediately following the number: 5(p377).

  1. Non-superscript (in-line) numbers in brackets usually indicate a citation/sequence style (with entries in the references list organized in the order of their citation in the text).  IEEE is an example of this style.  However, ACM has an alternative name/sequence style in which sources in the references list are organized alphabetically by authors’ last names and numbered consecutively.  In the text, a number in brackets (following punctuation marks if any are present) indicates the source being cited.

 

Parenthetical in-text citations

  1. Do parenthetical citations include the publication date?
    1. If parenthetical citations do not include a date, the documentation style is very likely MLA.
    2. Styles that include the date in parenthetical citations are often used in the social sciences and in some humanities.  They include CMOS/Turabian author-date style, APA, ASA, APSA, ACM, and CSE name/year style.  These styles can be further differentiated by the formatting of the citations.

a.         If an ampersand (&) is used to join multiple authors’ names instead of the word and, the style is very likely APA or Harvard style.  APA is further identified by a comma following the author’s name before the date and preceding the ampersand (Smith, Jones, & Brown, 2010) while Harvard style does not have either of these commas (Smith, Jones & Brown 2010).  Both Harvard style and APA have the page number preceded by a p and a period: (2010, p. 5).

b.         Styles that do not place a comma after the author’s name can often be differentiated by the way the date and page number are treated. APSA and CMOS/Turabian author-date styles separate the date from a page number with a comma (Name 2010, 23).  CSE name/year style also separates the date from a page number with a comma and indicates the page number with a p with no punctuation following it: (Name 2010, p 23).

c.         ASA separates the date from the page number with a colon: (Name 2010:23).

d.         Some styles do not use parentheses for the in-text citations.  Specifically, ACM uses brackets: [Name 2010].

 

Thus, the taxonomy for the documentation styles is as follows:

Numbers or Information in parentheses

If numbers, are they superscript or regular font?

If superscript, do the numbers indicate notes?

If so, do the notes contain source information?

If not, the style is probably MLA or APSA. (Skip to “parentheses” questions below.)

If so, the style is probably CMOS/Turabian.

If the numbers do not indicate notes, check the references list for numbered entries. The style is probably AMA or CSE.

If the numbers are not superscript, they are probably in brackets.

If the numbers are consecutive early on in the paper, the style is probably a citation/sequence style, such as IEEE, and the entries in the references list are not in alphabetical order.

If the numbers appear to be random, the style is probably a name/sequence style, such as ACM, and the entries in the references list are in alphabetical order.

If parentheses are used, do the in-text citations include dates?

If not, the style is probably MLA.

If so, is an ampersand used to connect authors’ names?

If so, does a comma appear before the date?

If so, the style is probably APA (which has a p and a period before the page number).

If not, the style is probably Harvard (which also uses a p. before the page number).

If an ampersand is not used to connect authors’ names, is the date separated from the page number with a comma?

If so, does a p without punctuation appear before the page number?

If so, the style is probably CSE name/year style.

If not, the style is probably APSA or CMOS/Turabian author-date style.

If the date is separated from the page number with a colon, the style is probably ASA.

 

Finally, if the author-and-date citation appears in brackets instead of parentheses, the style is probably ACM.

 

If you are having trouble, hire a good editing service such as Edit911.

8 Steps in Writing Technical Manuals

As technologies continue to develop, there is an increasing need for quality technical manuals.  Whether the product is a piece of software, hardware, mechanical device, or a technical reference on a particular subject, there is a need for your book writing skills.  Here are some guidelines and advice that can position you to be successful with your technical manual writing project.  A technical manual that is well written, properly formatted, and edited can be a selling point for the product.  For example, if your product is comparable to another, yet people comment on the poor quality of your technical manual, a consumer may choose the other product because the instructions are better.

Learn, in detail, about the item or subject matter with a hands-on approach.  Your experience using the piece of equipment, software, or involvement with the subject matter is valuable in technical manual book writing.  Use the item and identify problem areas so that you can provide a clear, yet concise, series of instructions.

Discover the skill level and technical proficiencies of your end user.  Understand your target audience.  If you are writing to the public who has no experience with the item, you will need to provide details that are easy and fun to follow.  If you are writing for advanced users, remember to refer them to other sources of information for the basic use of the item or subject.

Develop an outline for using the item from start to finish for a task, lesson, or purpose.  Your outline is a brief sketch of how you would use this item or explain the subject matter from start to finish.  For example, a technical manual on a calculator would start with explaining how to power the unit on before you would begin providing details associated with using memory or power function buttons.

Write the document with easy to read vocabulary.  Choose your vocabulary so that end users can easily read the technical manual and understand what is written.  Most often, when people need to use the manual, they seek a clear example of how to get past a particular issue with the product.

Have test users utilize the manual and give you feedback.  Find test users, people who will use the product, and let them evaluate the technical manual.  Ask these people to make notes or comments about where your manual was not clear.

Edit for content and format.  Book editing for proper grammar, clarity of presentation, flow of ideas and content, and ease of reading will help the end user find value with your technical manual.  The format, especially inclusion of a table of contents and page numbering, is critical for making this document user friendly.

Perform a secondary review with another focus or test group to determine if you have solved the problems found by the first group of test users.  After your edits are complete and the areas that were unclear have been improved, find a few new test users and give them the opportunity to use this technical manual.  Make certain you have addressed the problems discovered by the first user group.

Final Editing. Finally, edit and re-write sections that the second test group found to be problematic and then move forward with your final plan for book editing and formatting prior to publication.

Congratulations, you have successfully written and formatted your first technical manual.