Category Archives: Tips and Tricks

Trello Rocks or How Trello Helps Me Organize Everything

This post is the first in a series about websites and apps that can help writers and editors get through their projects as easily and pleasantly as possible.

Let me put it simply: I organize my life — and sometimes the lives of others — with Trello. And I really do mean my life: not only do I have boards for our company and our clients, but I also have boards for my son’s homeschool activities, our family’s weekly menus, and my various other to-dos.

A couple years ago I had been fruitlessly trying out planning systems (both old-fashioned paper ones and online apps) when a friend of mine introduced me to, a free web-based project-management system. Trello works like a bulletin board: you “tack” and organize virtual task cards on project-specific boards. You can have as many boards as you like and they don’t take up any wall space!

Trello clicked for me immediately.

Your cards contain whatever information you need: project names, descriptions, team members assigned to the project, comments from those participating, and — my favorite! — checklists. You can also set deadlines and alarms.

SampleTrelloBoardThe boards are arranged in columns, and the site starts you off with 3 columns (To Do, Doing, Done), but you can change their titles and add more columns. Then you add cards for whatever tasks you are keeping track of. You drag and drop cards from one column to the next as a project moves from one step to another.

Or, if you are keeping track of, say, the family menu, you can set up columns for each day of the week and move meals around as needed.

Trello is both visual and tactile — well, as tactile as a web application can be. It lets you organize things and then change your mind and move things around until they are just in the order you want them. You can even move a card to a different board.

The checklists are really checklists, so when a task is finished, you can check it off and it gets crossed out.  (I am one of those people who only feels something is completely finished when I can cross it off my to-do list, so I love this — and if you are working with a team, it’s also essential to let them know what’s been taken care of.)

Need the same checklist for multiple cards? No problem! You can also copy a checklist from one card to another.

When you assign a card/task to someone, Trello adds their icon in the bottom right-hand corner — with a quick glance at a board, you can see who is supposed to be doing what.

You can also put color labels on cards to help organize different levels of urgency or different types of tasks or or or (the organizational possibilities are endless).

TrelloTeamBoardEveryone who uses Trello needs to have an account, but accounts are quick and painless to create. And once you have one, you can start sharing. Boards can be private, shared with specific people or specific teams, and they can also be public.

For example, the Trello team organizes Trello LIVE on Trello — see their “live” board here.

Recently Trello released a new feature: you can email cards to your Trello boards. I have yet to try this, but it seems like a good way to keep track of things you want to add to your list when you’re away from the computer.

When I start a new project, Trello is now the first app I open on my computer. I know it will help me organize my thoughts and all the pieces I need to keep track of and put together. Trello rocks!


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Which e-reader is right for you?

iPadMiniWhite4IOOnce you’ve read a few ebooks on the right handheld device, it’s very hard to go back to paper. But which is the right e-reader? The three most popular e-readers today are the iPad, Kindle, and Nook. And each has its uses.


I know ebook enthusiasts who will only read on the iPad. Jeffrey Tucker was giving thumbs-down reviews to the most popular ebook readers back when I was already a complete convert to digital text. He said that turning the pages was too slow, that you couldn’t flip around in the book. “I can see how this might be valuable if this is the way we mostly read — the way people navigate the latest best-selling novel — but I have my doubts that this is the way most of us use books.”
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Filed under Ebooks, Tips and Tricks

the vagaries of eggcorns

Yesterday’s word of the day at was vaguery:


I’ve never seen this word before. My spell checkers all reject it. When I look it up in my dictionary app, it isn’t there; not only that, but the app tries to correct it to the word with which I’m much more familiar: vagary, for which it is apparently an "eggcorn."

eggcornI love the neologisms that language lovers come up with to categorize the creative mistakes people make. My personal favorite for a while has been mondegreen, but eggcorn may take its place.

The eggcorn, Wikipedia tells us, "is an idiosyncratic substitution of a word or phrase for a word or words that sound similar or identical in the speaker’s dialect." Unlike a malapropism, however, the eggcorn

introduces a meaning that is different from the original, but plausible in the same context, such as “old-timers’ disease” for “Alzheimer’s disease."

The term comes from the substitution of "egg corn" for the word acorn. (You can find a huge list of eggcorns here.) But back to yesterday’s word of the day.

The vagaries of fate (and the vagueness of the Delphic oracle) replaced Croesus's throne with a pyre.

The vagaries of fate (and the vagueness of the Delphic oracle) took Croesus from a royal throne to the pyre of a condemned prisoner of war.

Vagaries (I always encounter the word in the plural) are unpredictable changes, as in the vagaries of fate or the vagaries of the economy. They are not vague. The vagaries of the stock market are ups and downs, profits and losses that we can’t see coming. But while we may not know what those changes will be, we have a very clear understanding of what the possibilities are.

I have often seen writers misuse the word, either to mean "vaguenesses" (or vagueries, if Wiktionary is to be trusted) or in a way that is ambiguous enough that I can’t tell if they intend the word to carry its unpredictable-change meaning.

When King Croesus of Lydia asked the oracle at Delphi whether or not he should confront Cyrus the Great on the battlefield, he was trying to avoid the vagaries (unpredictability) of fate. But what he got back from Delphi were the vagueries (equivocal predictions) of the oracle: if the Lydian king made war on the Persian king, he would destroy a great empire. Croesus took the ambiguous answer one way, and the battle went the other way, destroying Croesus’s own empire. Tricky oracle: either way, she got to keep her job.

So if a writer makes reference to "the vagaries of oracular prophecy," you know he or she probably means vagueries, not vagaries, but it’s probably best to do more than just correct the spelling. A better word choice is needed. And if instead the text you’re editing says, for example, "the vagueries of fate," well, that may or may not be spelled correctly, depending on what the writer means, but it’s probably still best to avoid the vaguery of the word vagueries. Go for something more precise.


Filed under Language, Tips and Tricks

The Power of the Comma

LetsEatGrandmaReuters editor, Tony Tharakan, sneaks a spurious comma into his post on how a comma allowed a Malaysian airline to sneak into the protectionist Indian market (h/t Grammar Girl).

He invites readers to identify his spurious punctuation mark.

Very clever.

I think I’ll follow his lead and invite you to find the (not one but) two (yes, 2!) false commas in this very post.

(Hint: they’re more than unnecessary; they change the meaning of what I’ve written to imply something that is false.)

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What Is a Style Sheet?

DigitalChicagoIn the world of digital publishing, style sheet is an ambiguous term.

It originated in the print-publishing industry. A style guide (or stylebook) is a book that lists the important rules of capitalization, punctuation, some basic grammar, some spelling issues, and the syntax of citations in footnotes and endnotes. At Invisible Order, our standard style guide is The Chicago Manual of Style. Other style guides you may have used or at least heard of include the Associated Press (AP) stylebook, the guide for the Modern Language Association (MLA) — even the venerable Strunk & White probably counts.

But there are various reasons a particular publication or company may want to diverge from the rules given in a style guide, while still wanting to remain consistent. If so, they maintain a document for their "house style." To avoid confusion, in IO we call this our house style guide, but the common term from the print world is "style sheet." As the name implies, it was not supposed to be longer than a single sheet of paper. It doesn’t have to be a list of differences from the main style guide; it can also be a list of the most important rules from the main style guide. You can see ours here.

Why would it cause confusion to use the term the way the print world does? Because at Invisible Order, we do both editorial and technological work. And on the technological side, "style sheet" means CSS (i.e., "cascading style sheets"): instructions to a web browser or ebook reader for the visual presentation of text and images.

I’ve worked on teams where someone would say "style sheet," and everyone thought they knew what the term meant, but the coders thought it referred to typeface, character size, and layout, while the writers and copyeditors thought it referred to commas, semicolons, and compound adjectives.

Fortunately, it’s easy to avoid the ambiguity. On the editorial side, we use the term "style guide" to cover both the Chicago Manual and our house style. We use "CSS" to be unambiguous on the tech side. And when someone talks about a style sheet, I smile and nod and look for an opportunity to make sure I know which kind they’re talking about.


Filed under Ebooks, Language, Publishing, Tips and Tricks

Beware of Zombie Quotes

More and more, I find unsubstantiated zombie quotes roaming the Internet, preying on careless authors. A zombie quote is a false quotation repeated so often and so prominently that people start to believe it’s true.

An author recently sent me a piece with this quote attributed to Randolph Bourne: “he who mounts a wild elephant goes where the wild elephant goes.”
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Copyediting Is about Three People

Copyediting is about much more than fixing dangling modifiers and knowing Chicago style by heart (although both of those are good too). It’s fundamentally about meeting the needs of three very different people: the publisher, the author, and the reader. They each want something specific, and the copyeditor connects the dots between them.

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