Monday, May 21, 2012

3 Keys to Making Images "Work"

I learned my editing trade first at Weekly Reader and then at Springhouse Corp, now part of a conglomerate that shall not be named. The editors at those places drilled it into me: Make images do work.

An image does work when it provides clinical content in a visual way. An image of an ECG strip, the interior of a heart, or an algorithm of emergency care of ventricular fibrillation do real clinical work.

An image of someone at a computer doesn't do any clinical work. Who hasn't seen someone at a computer?

An image of an apple in an article about nutrition doesn't do any work. It's just there to look pretty on the page.

I hate those kinds of images, and I blame, specifically, Nancy Webb at Weekly Reader and Pat Schull at Springhouse. I love them both; they're incredible editors and incredible people, and they made me this way.

So blame them.

Ask yourself these three questions to make sure the images that accompany your articles or chapters do good work.

#1 Does the image help illustrate a concept?

For every image you want to add, ask yourself, Does it move the content forward?

Let's say you're authoring a chapter on medical assistants using an electronic medical record (EMR). Does a stock photo above of a smiling woman at a laptop, like the one above, do anything to move clinical meaning forward?

No, it doesn't. So don't use it.

But if you used a photo like the one at right, now you've got something. Now you've moved the clinical meaning forward.

See the difference?

#2 Does the image carry the content forward?

Let's go back to that apple in a nutrition article. By itself, the apple image doesn't do squat. It just sits there.

Seriously, who hasn't seen an apple?

Right. So for that article, which describes, let's say, how fact sheets about common fruits can help people better understand nutritional requirements, suppose you used an image like the one at right? Now you've got something worthwhile.

#3 Is the image useful enough to take up valuable space on the page?

Your publisher pays dearly for every inch of space on the page. Do your part to make sure you're using it wisely.
Images that do more than one piece of work always prove valuable. For instance, an illustration that shows blood flow through a partially blocked artery can show (1) narrowing of the arterial lumen, (2) decreased blood flow at the blockage, and (3) how a blockage can lead to disease.

If you aim to make most of your images perform that much work, you'll strengthen your textual content and give the visual reader great help in understanding the concepts.

So stay away from stupid, do-nothing images and make your images do real, honest to goodness work.

Nancy and Pat would be proud.

Friday, May 4, 2012

So This is What 60+ Looks Like?

I've been over 60 now for a little over a year and a half, and I've finally reached the point where I understand what my good friend Phil Carr once told me.

"Sixty is different," he said, a certain sadness and touch of fear in his eyes. "It's different."

I thought, Phil, hey, 60 is just another number. I was fine when I hit 50, no big deal. How tough can 60 be?

Pretty tough, as it turns out.

I've thought more about my own mortality since I turned 60 than at any other time of my life. I mean really thought about it.

  • Am I ready to die if I go sooner rather than later?
  • No, I'm really not ready.
  • I guess I could be ready.
  • Hell, no, I ain't ready!
  • How do I get ready?
  • What is ready?
  • Maybe I'm ready, I don't know.
  • How is anyone ever ready?

I've entered the mortality years, doing more looking back than looking ahead.

I've entered the been there, time to let someone else do that years.

I've entered the what's next years, the time when I'm not yet ready to retire but am thinking solidly and clearly about what I want to do with my remaining time.

Is it too late to be a David McCullough wannabe? I hope not.

It's certainly too late to get much better at golf, though I do think pushing my handicap down into the high teens is possible.

I just want have enough time, just enough.

Enough to have some fun without having to have to work.

Just enough time, that's all.

Phil, my friend, now I understand. The 60s really are different. Mortality different.

I don't know what the rest of the 60s will bring, or God willing the 70s and beyond, but I'd like to find out.

I would very much like to find out.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Where Social Media and Public Schools Meet

The New York City Department of Education (NYC DOE) has drawn an interesting line in the sand with social media. The department released a set of social media guidelines this week that lay out a line faculty, staff, and students can't cross.

There are two fundamental guidelines:
  1. Teachers can have their personal Facebook, Google+, Twitter, or other social media pages, but they can't interact on those sites with students. They call this use "Personal Social Media."
  2. Teachers can interact with students using social media but must do so through the Department's own sites. They term this "Professional Social Media."
The guidelines also require that DOE employees behave professionally regardless of whether they're using personal or professional social media.

On face value, I like the core message about remaining professional regardless of what social media you're using. Yes, teachers should do whatever they can to keep their professional life separate from their personal life, if only because their students need their own space too.

But the guidelines fall short in addressing student-to-teacher interaction. What if a student follows his teacher's Twitter feed? Can the teacher be disciplined?

I also fear the effects of making faculty go through their institution's social media managers whenever they want to use the media for their classes. Kinda goes against the whole premise of social media. And education, for that matter.

I think schools need to grab social media by the horns, not shirk from it, which is what the NYC DOE's guidelines are trying to do. They're trying to walk a fence between embracing social media and ignoring it, and when you're walkin' a fence, you're bound to fall off.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Facebook, LinkedIn, or E-Mail: How to Communicate with Your Publisher

With the enormous popularity of Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, and other social media  have come an increasing number of ways for people to communicate with one another.

And that's good. But not always.

I'm finding that more and more people are contact me using Facebook or LinkedIn. I don't mean first-time contacts, which is absolutely fine, the more the better. I'm talking about people I've been consistently doing business with using social media to contact me instead of e-mail. And on weekends too.


Here are my Four Rules of Engagement for business communications in social media.

Rule #1: Keep typical business hours.

l'm not a fan of business contacts who try to message me on Facebook after business hours. It's bad enough they're using Facebook to communicate during business hours, much less after.

You might have time only at night to communicate with a publisher because you work at your regular job during the day, but I work during the day too. That's my time to communicate with business contacts.

Nighttime, that's mine. If you want to contact me after hours, please use e-mail.

Rule #2: Use e-mail for anything important.

It's no accident that e-mail continues to thrive even with all the other ways to contact people. It works.

If you e-mail me, I can always go back later and find the e-mail, usually pretty quickly. That's important for lots and lots of reasons, not the least of which is to remind me what I said.

I might be able to find a particular message on Facebook, Google+, or LinkedIn, but it will take me waaay longer. Those sites just aren't made for archiving messages. They do archive them, but they don't make it easy to use the archive.

Rule #3: If you start with social media, move to e-mail as soon as possible.

Sometimes the only way you can find a publisher, or we can find you, is through social media. And that's peachy keen.

But get off social media as soon as you can and use e-mail.

See Rule #2.

Rule #4: Use e-mail.

Did I say anything yet about how you should use e-mail for business correspondence with a publisher?

I did?

Oh, good. Use e-mail.

Or, you know, that thing with the cord. The, um, whatchacallit? Oh, right.

A phone.