Writing 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.

Peer-reviewed research article vs. dissertation

Peer-reviewed research article vs. dissertation: How to write a great paper for publication

You’re writing your dissertation and want to publish your first research article. What is the difference between your dissertation and a publishable article? Working at a peer-reviewed journal, I have seen manuscripts of all types including those that look like they were copied and pasted from a dissertation. Research articles are concise summaries of your work directed at readers who are experienced in your area of research. Dissertations serve as a platform for an evaluation of your expertise and work. If you keep this in mind, then you will have a much better chance of having your work published.

How to write a great paper for publication

First, let’s review four sections of any research paper: introduction, results, discussion, and methods. I have not included the abstract, as this requires an entire blog on its own. Second, I will give you a strategy to develop your paper that will put you on a path for success.

Introductory section

Roles of a dissertation include demonstrating an in-depth knowledge of your field, assessing your ability to define a problem, creating a hypothesis, and designing an appropriate tool to test it. When you are writing a paper for publication, all of these are already assumed. The readers are experts and not on your committee. Your introduction should include a few points to orient the reader as to what is known, what you are aiming to determine, and how. The last sentence of your introduction should state that the objective of this research is to determine whatever you are interested in by using your selected tool.

Results section

The results that are discussed in your research paper need to be restricted to those that are relevant to answering your objective. No matter how interesting a particular experiment may have been, if it isn’t directly related to your research question/objective, it will detract and ultimately sabotage your efforts to have your work published. It will prompt reviewers to question the structure of the research plan and lose focus on the objective. They may even envisage a different paper centered on a new objective. Keep it simple.

Discussion section

The discussion section must not repeat the results. If you repeat the results, then you have consumed your word count unnecessarily and bored your readers. The discussion is the opportunity to address your objective. The discussion should take in account your data, as well as data from supporting studies. It must elevate the work so it can be applied by other researchers. A discussion should include the most relevant limitations of your work and provide an intelligent conclusion.

Materials and methods section

The methods section must include the sufficient detail for someone experienced in your area to replicate your study. It must be concise and should reference previous work, so you don’t have to repeat details. The steps for performing a routine experiment don’t need to repeated, it is adequate to say what was done in a general way with any unusual details expressed explicitly.

Choose your journal and manuscript type carefully

An author must know the audience. In the case of writing a research paper, you must know where the article will be submitted before you start writing. It is imperative that you go to the website of your selected journal and read the instructions to authors. Ideally, templates will be provided so your document will be correctly formatted. Be sure to correctly select the type of manuscript you are intending to write (e.g., original research, review, etc) and verify the word count. These two factors will have a tremendous impact on your manuscript and need to be carefully considered. You may want to switch journals at this point, if it isn’t what you were expecting. I have returned manuscripts to authors without review, because the author failed to submit the article in the correct format or has exceeded the word count. If an article does proceed in the wrong format or with an elevated word count, then it may fail at a later stage simply because the senior editors and reviewers are distracted by the flaws in the manuscript preparation. If you didn’t care to format it properly, then the reviewers are wondering what else is missing.

A practical strategy

With the correct journal, article type, and word count in mind, you should start by writing the results section. Considering the study objective, prepare tables or figures and/or write the results in a concise manner to support the objective, and in parallel, write the methods. Only include the necessary experiments and details. This preparation will logically lead you to write a discussion of the results (not a repeat of the results), limitations, and enlightening conclusion. After reviewing what you have written (results, methods, and discussion), you will see that there are a few sentences required to orient the reader (i.e., someone with expertise in your area) in the introduction. Write the introduction, which will end with your objective statement(s).

Edit for grammar and style

Now that you have prepared first research paper, have it properly edited for grammar and style. Send the instructions to authors with your manuscript when having it edited. When a paper is written poorly, the editors and reviewers are distracted from the content. A good research paper can be rejected, because its message is lost in cumbersome language.

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.

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.

The 5 Keys for Self-publishing Success

Writing a novel, short story, or technical manual is on many of our “Bucket Lists.”  With the advent of Self-publishing through Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Apple iBooks, or many other avenues it has become easier to self-publish.  Regardless of whether or not you plan to sell millions or just a few copies to achieve fulfillment and happiness, you need to follow these five important steps to be successful in book writing and publishing.

1) Use a content editing service

Find a friend, fan, or professional editor who will read your book for content.  This person should be familiar with the genre of your book and be able to help you by suggesting areas that need improvement.  Some areas that a content editor might be able to identify as needing work include character development, storyline flow, and historical (if appropriate) accuracy.  It is also important that your content editor make sure your story is unique.

2) Develop an eye-catching cover

The first thing a potential reader sees for your book is the cover.  As people scroll through eBooks or on bookshelves, the cover is what catches the eye.  If your cover telegraphs the content and excitement of your story then people will pick up a copy and start looking in more detail to determine if this is a story worth their time or money. Choose a designer wisely and budget for a good one. Elance is a good way to find freelancer designers, as is Behance.

3) Have a Table of Contents

With a Table of Contents, it is easy for people to see what your book offers.  Interesting chapter titles or descriptions of the technical chapters helps the reader immediately assess the value of your book.  In our fast-paced society, a book without a Table of Contents might be set aside because it would take to long to determine the value of the book.

4) Employ an excellent book editing service

If you have spent any time reading book reviews you will notice that many reviewers comment on spelling errors, typos, and poor grammar.  It is critical to the success of your work that you have the book edited.  A good book editor will find punctuation issues, spelling and grammatical errors, formatting problems, and he or she can help you keep readers happy and providing you with four and five star reviews.  Poorly edited books often receive one star reviews and this can absolutely stop any sales of your book.

5) Write a catchy book description

After the cover grabs the potential readers attention, your book description needs to convince them that your book is going to be a wonderful read.  You must tease the reader, activate his/her imagination, and capture his/her attention.  Often a beta reader or a book editor can help you write the book description.

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