May 282018

Karwai Pun’s posters on ‘designing for accessibility’ are very insightful and helpful.

Writes Pun:

We’ve shared these posters across [the UK] government for feedback and they can be found on GitHub.

We are constantly improving and adding to them so please let us know what you think. Understanding accessibility through design means we can build better services for everyone, whatever their access need[s].

Update: We’ve been asked whether these posters can be reproduced or translated into other languages. In keeping with the the GDS ethos of making things open, we’ve used a Creative Commons license which allows everyone to share, use and build upon the posters provided they are used non-commercially and keep the appropriate attributions (Home Office, Home Office Digital and the Creative Commons logo). It would be great if people can share photos of them being used on Twitter and can commit translations of the posters to our GitHub repository so they’re available for everyone.

Oct 312017

A super-smart student in my Advanced Professional Communications class asked me whether using an app that generates a citation for you in proper APA, MLA, Chicago style was plagiarism. My first thought was “I doubt it,” but in my line of work I’m surrounded by plagiarism hounds so I wanted to be sure. I consulted some expert Facebook friends.

My friend Leigh, a high-school librarian working in England whom I’ve known since fifth grade, posted first: “Haha. No. It’s just a tool, wouldn’t you think? Most journal databases (jstor, etc.) provide all variations of citations to use, as well.”

No Contest Communications cofounder Tierney was emphatic: “Goodness no. If you are doing citations correctly, it is not a creative project; it should produce a uniform result. These tools simply help automate that process. I copy and paste mine from Google Scholar, but I also verify their content (sometimes page numbers are missing.” She added this excellent analogy / rhetorical question: “Is it plagiarism to use a tool like SPSS to run your stats and produce your diagrams instead of doing it all by hand?”

Author and retired university librarian Suzy chimed in on a related issue: “There’s nothing wrong with using a citation-generator app to find citations. All journal-content databases make it easier to ‘find’ citations than ever. But a student shouldn’t cite those in a paper unless s/he has actually consulted those sources. I still wouldn’t call it plagiarism; that’s just a failure to check your own sources before citing them – no different from citing a source from a bibliography (the old-fashioned way) without consulting the source.” Suzy noted that the formatting of these automated citations “isn’t 100% accurate, so a student (or professor) should always double-check. For what it’s worth, in my experience, faculty make plenty of errors in their citations!”

Aug 172013


Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC) is the nation’s official publisher and our largest translation organization. It also publishes a wonderful online style guide and a collection of writing and editing tools that will handily assist students and teachers, authors and editors, and managers and professionals of any stripe. I dare say that creating this guide must have been a labour of love for a number of people. Every section into which I have dipped is utterly clear and helpful, and often illuminating as well.

From the website: The Canadian Style gives concise answers to questions concerning written English in the Canadian context. It covers such topics as the decimal point, abbreviations, capital letters, punctuation marks, hyphenation, spelling, frequently misused or confused words and Canadian geographical names. It also includes useful advice for drafting letters, memos, reports, indexes and bibliographies. In addition, The Canadian Style includes techniques for writing clearly and concisely, editing documents, and avoiding stereotyping in communications.”

The style guide is searchable by chapter as well as by index. (Everything you need to know about the semicolon is here.)

I will be recommending several sections of the style guide to my students this fall, in particular those on the topics of revision and plain language.


Addendum: The PWGSC homepage also links you to the delightful “Language Portal of Canada.” There you will find all manner of language and writing resources. You will also be tempted by its huge collection of quizzes, one or two of which I have already found more humbling than I would have hoped.

Mar 242013

Last week I gave a presentation to the Vancouver chapter of Construction Specifications Canada. It was called “Twitter? LinkedIn? How to Use Social Media Professionally.” The room was filled with architects, engineers, landscapers, contractors, and one or two marketers: an animated, serious, and friendly crowd. One attendee wrote me afterwards to say that the mood in the room went from skepticism (“does our business really need social media?”) to enthusiasm (“look at all the ways we can find and engage clients!”), to trembling (“the enormity of commitment to social media that is possible and available seemed scary”) (a rare, admirably correct use of the word “enormity,” by the way). Many attendees told me they left with a better idea of how to approach this field and how to be selective in terms of which social media platforms to focus on.

I explained how eight social media platforms – Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube, Flickr, and blogs – were being successfully utilized in my audience’s industries. As a handout I provided‘s 2013 Guide to the Social Media Landscape, which compares the first six platforms above in terms of their effectiveness across four categories: customer communication, brand awareness, driving traffic to one’s website, and search engine optimization (SEO). It’s a handy-dandy PDF:

According to its website, is “Adobe’s content site created to provide digital marketing news and insight for senior marketing executives around the globe. Its aim is to help CMOs stay informed and save time so they can more effectively lead their companies in the digital world. The editors daily review relevant content from more than 150 leading content sources, including major business, advertising, social media, and marketing-industry publications and Web sites.  We scour posts from thought leaders and influential bloggers.  Plus, we publish articles by experts—Adobe’s own, as well as those from around the industry—agency leaders, and other CMOs that you won’t find anywhere else.”

It’s a marvelous site that, in addition to news, provides slideshows, event listings, lucid infographics, interviews, case studies, and product evaluations.

I tell my marketing students they need to check into at least twice a week: “You will be paid to be the one person in the room who is on top of everything. Reading is one way to help make sure that’s the case.”

Feb 172013

Love Adobe Creative Suite but can’t stomach the price? Looking for a new e-mail client with a feature that’s missing from your current one? Love Omnifocus, but it’s not available for Windows?

Enter offers, based on user recommendations, a list of apps with similar functionality. The site permits you to filter by tag, license, and platform, and rank based on a number of different criteria. Not all the suggestions are spot on, but it’s a great site for exploring.

Feb 102013


One of the biggest risks to your online security is having unpatched programs. Keeping all your software up to date is no simple task, but Secunia’s Personal Software Inspector (PSI) makes it much easier to keep your Windows PC fully patched.

Secunia scans your computer for out-of-date programs and prompts you to perform updates. The autoupdate feature doesn’t always work perfectly, but knowing which of the many programs you’ve installed are out of date is half the battle.

Best of all, Secunia PSI is free for personal use.

Feb 092013

If you spend as much time looking at a screen as I frequently do for work and play, you’ve probably experienced eyestrain. Lucky for us, Stereopsis has created a nice little free app that makes that screengazing easier on the eyes: f.lux. F.lux uses your location and lighting settings to adjust the brightness and color of your monitor throughout the day. Now that I’ve acclimated to using it — I even use it for gaming — turning it off makes my eyes burn.

Do yourself a favor: Get f.lux and go easy on your eyes. It’s available for Windows, Mac, Linux, and iPad/iPhone.

Feb 072013

One of the best sources out there for security tools, news, and good advice is Sophos, which is based out of the UK and has an office here in Vancouver. Disclaimer: I’m married to a Sophos employee, but I wouldn’t shill for just anyone who keeps the lights and Internet on at our place. Bob, who is not married to the company, is equally impressed.

What makes Sophos interesting from a communications and PR standpoint is that they’ve committed to taking the stance of a “trusted advisor.” Good will is such an unusual tactic in this hard-sell world that some are naturally suspicious of their aims, but Sophos continues to freely offer their knowledge and some of their tools to the community in order to keep us all safer. And it seems to pay off.

A few of their notable tools, free for personal use:

  • Sophos Mobile Security for Android
  • Sophos Anti-Virus for Mac Home Edition
  • Virus Removal Tool
  • Sophos Free Encryption

Be sure to check out their Naked Security blog for the latest security news, and the Sophos Security Chet Chat (also available on iTunes) if you prefer listening to your news over reading it.