From Round to Square (and back)

For The Emperor's Teacher, scroll down (↓) to "Topics." It's the management book that will rock the world (and break the vase, as you will see). Click or paste the following link for a recent profile of the project:

A new post appears every day at 12:05* (CDT). There's more, though. Take a look at the right-hand side of the page for over four years of material (2,000 posts and growing) from Seinfeld and country music to every single day of the Chinese lunar calendar...translated. Look here ↓ and explore a little. It will take you all the way down the page...from round to square (and back again).
*Occasionally I will leave a long post up for thirty-six hours, and post a shorter entry at noon the next day.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Styling Culture (3)—Styles

Click here to read the introduction to the Round and Square series "Styling Culture."
In the next few weeks I will be posting the text for a "volume" that I have been distributing for the last fifteen years. Back in 1997, I handed out a two-page set of instructions that I called "Rob's Style Sheet." I quickly learned that it could be a useful teaching tool, allowing me to describe the practicalities and esoterica surrounding grammar and style in the higher education classroom (and beyond). It also became apparent that it could be a useful tool for writing comments on student papers. Instead of trying to explain in the margins of a paper that s/he was using "number" in problematic ways (we'll get to that), I could write "#19," and have her know exactly what I mean. The most impressive students learned the material very well, and some of them have already gone on to be successful writers—in and beyond academia and the corporate world.
[a] Style RF
I will be posting the manuscript that I have provisionally entitled Styling Culture on Round and Square during August and September. As you will quickly see, it is meant to be a grammar book for the anthropologist of American English. It has its prescriptive elements, to be sure (this is all explained in the introduction to the series), but it is meant far more powerfully to be a genuinely useful guide to the culture wars surrounding grammar and usage. In particular, I have great venom for both the annoying critics who always seem to be correcting people and (this is important) for the "good guys" who tell you that it doesn't matter. They're both wrong, and they will hurt you if you listen to them. I'm here to help you, so read on.

It is easy to work with the “styles” that are found in virtually all word processing programs. I will discuss what I mean by this in class, but it is possible, with just the click of a key (or a mouse) to change from well-formatted double-spaced text with consistent fonts and margins to quotation style—and many others. Too few people use this powerful tool, but I encourage you to become familiar with it. Listed below are some of the “styles” that I have created for my own writing. I am only using Palatino font as an example, but this should give you a sense of the possibilities.

          Palatino/Text                      12-point Palatino type, double-spaced

          Palatino/Notes                    Footnote text; 10-point, single-spaced
          Palatino/Quotation              Double-spaced, 12-point
          Palatino/Sub1                     A bold-italic subheading
          Palatino/Sub2                     An italic secondary subheading
***  ***
Styles? Huh? Does that involve "writing with flair?" What does it even mean?

[b] Style  RF
While I certainly want all of us to develop the kind of rapport with our readers that might lead them to call us "prose stylists," that has nothing to do with this advice. I speak of a much more mundane world of word processing "styles." If you have ever poked around in the little pull-down tabs in Microsoft®Word, for example, you might have seen (way down the list) something called "styles."

When I learned of these in 1993, my entire life changed. Yours will, too.

These styles are so powerful, so academic life-altering, that you will never, ever be able to return to moving around little column bars to make quotations, adjusting font-sizes for footnotes, or altering just about everything to create headings and subheadings. I wish I remember the book that first mentioned these styles. It surely was a book on writing success that I was reading while I procrastinated during the writing of my dissertation. That I cannot remember the title should be evidence enough that I spent a great deal of time and money avoiding work on the thesis, but that is another story for another time.

[c] Style RF
I have included a few links, but I would suggest going right into one of your existing documents. Make a copy of it, and then experiment with styles. If you can figure out how to play Angry Birds on your iPhone, this will not be difficult.

It is not difficult, and it will change the way that you write...forever. If you spend any significant amount of time writing and—like ninety percent of your fellow students, insurance agents, professors, and lawyers—you will remember this day as the one when you finally gained control of your documents. You will write to your friends and, weeping with gratitude, tell them how easy it is to create (instantly) a perfectly formatted title from the generic slop of fonts and page widths in a document draft.

Here's the rub. No one listens. I use "no one" somewhat loosely here, but I can say with confidence that I have told far more than a thousand students about styles in the last decade or so. I have shown how double-spaced text can be turned (instantly) to single-spaced, and back again. Several students have shrieked with surprise at the wonder of it all, and one clapped her palms against her cheeks in disbelief. Still, only a tiny number of students actually integrate styles into their writing repertoire. Semester-after-semester I ask how many people are using styles. The vast majority of times, no one is. I explain it all again.

But no one listens.

Be "the first." It will change your life.


Margins and Fonts
We will dive into the nitty-gritty for a few posts (this is a writing guide covering everything, don't forget), before re-entering the culture wars centered on grammar and usage.

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