Slow Down to Find the Right Word

Screenshot of the “slow down to find the right word” passage from Norwegian Wood.

The patience and attention to find the right word inspires me. From Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami.

TOA (Thoughts on Acronyms)

Have you ever seen an acronym in a work chat or read it in an online article — or anywhere — and immediately had to Google it?

“Like, ummmmmmm, WTH does this mean? SMH.”
“Ohhhhhhh. I see. OK. TIL.”

The utility of acronyms is proven when the resulting phrase is easier to parse. The details are abstracted away nicely, hidden from view, and the reader gains quicker understanding. If the details aren’t essential to understanding and you don’t need to know what the concept is behind each word to grasp the bigger picture, such as DNA. — Douglas Hofstadter in Surfaces and Essences

Just like we don’t know all the inner workings of a cell phone, yet can understand how to operate it. We don’t call it a “cellular transmission device” — just “phone.”

Simpler is better, usually. WFM.

If acronyms are popular enough they can become common and useful — often lowercased — words such as radar, scuba, modem, or yuppie. These are considered “dead acronyms” because most people won’t know a) that they are acronyms at all, and b) if they do know they probably don’t remember the exact words represented. Which is fine.

Insight from REAMDE by Neal Stephenson, “Among geeks, the cool-soundingness of an acronym is more important than the existence of what it refers to.” Note, case in point: SCUBAT. Fun to also redefine existing like John did with PHP (People Helping People).

Oh my gosh, get me outta here! Credit: computergear.

My tips and guidelines for acronym usage. YMMV.

    1. Consider your audience. Posting for an entire company? Assume no knowledge of your team’s insider lingo. Consider both your existing coworkers plus future hires that will join later and read back in the archives.
    2. Expand and explain at first use.

      In formal writing for a broad audience, the expansion is typically given at the first occurrence of the acronym within a given text, for the benefit of those readers who do not know what it stands for.

      Define the term the first time it appears in your text using longhand, with the acronym in parentheses. Then use the acronym, the shorthand, in the remaining text of the same post or page. “This week we launched The Awesome Sauce (TAS). Since inception TAS has truly been a team effort.”

      A perfect act to follow is The Economist. The magazine has a particular style that encourages an inline definition for the first appearance of a new word, something possibly misleading — not just acronyms — unknown or proper nouns, too. For example, “Automattic, a web platform company, announced today…”

      If you don’t define it — ideally using expansion at its first appearance — I will have fun with it.

    3. Use HTML title attributes. When publishing hypertext, say on your WordPress website, take advantage of hyperlinks and tooltips to give acronyms meaning and a visual explanation. You can use the abbr tag with a related title attribute. Here’s an example: WP. Here’s a good visual example of the HTML code, from Mozilla:mozilla-abbr-examples
    4. Beware lazy abbrevs such as pw, ty, yw. This may save you time in the moment, yet if you’re following along you’ll already be considering others’ needs above your own. Avoid the confusing usage by either typing the words out, or use a tool like TextExpander to do that for you. You’ll be known for your helpful attitude by using clear, unambiguous communication. If in doubt, spell it out.
    5. If you see something you don’t understand, just ask. Fun tip: you can play with your own version of the acronym’s meaning while you wait for the author to explain. At Automattic, when I see an acronym I don’t understand I’ll ask — but sometimes I can’t resist sharing back my phony interpretations on the thread, too.

Bonus acronymivia, HTH.

A recent fun acronym seen in my hometown, Tucson: BRO (Breault Research Organization, Inc). Heh, say it out loud. LOL.

More acronym geekery on Wikipedia — my favorite in the list there is PAYGO (pay-as-you-go). I learned the word “initialism:”

“Initialisms” are words where you can’t pronounce the resulting “word.” The spelled-out form of an acronym or initialism — what it stands for— is called its expansion.

FYI: this video is a funny take on how badly acronyms could go: “Corporate Acronyms: You may not know it, but some of the world’s most recognizable apps and brands are all acronyms.” YOLO.


A quick list of all the acronyms I used in this article, in case you’re like me and still learning a new one each day. In the order they appear above:

WTH: What the heck/hell (can also have an F at the end for f***)
SMH: Shake my head
OK: Okay
TIL: Today I learned
DNA: Deoxyribonucleic acid
WFM: Works for me
SCUBAT: Scaffolding contigs using BLAT and transcripts
YMMV: Your mileage may vary
HTML: Hypertext markup language
WP: WordPress
pw: Password
ty: Thank you
yw: You’re welcome
HTH: Hope that helps
BRO: Breault Research Organization, Inc
LOL: Laugh out loud
PAYGO: Pay-as-you-go
FYI: For your information
YOLO: You only live once
TTYL: Talk to you later

A Journey of Theme Craftsmanship

My name is Lance, and I love themes.

What was my standard opening line for many years when starting a WordCamp talk is still true today. “My name is Lance, and I still love themes.”

I’d like to tell you the story of my journey of theme craftsmanship—the ups, the downs, the unexpected results—and how I’ve now become an apprentice again in a new field.

It’s been a journey of adventure and learning where my skills have expanded beyond anything I’d expected—not just the technical path from web designer and developer to “front-end expert” and WordPress themer—but also writing, speaking, and leading. And more.

It’s September 2015 and I’m now back in an apprenticeship role. Working hard on finding my craft: tools, skills, patterns, workflow, and process. Discovering myself, my passion, my community, and opportunities to learn.

Continue reading A Journey of Theme Craftsmanship

Software Technical Writing Done as a Career: What Next?

Software developer—and former technical writer—Jim Grey gives advice to technical writers looking to stay in software as a focus on user experience (UX) replaces the need for technical writers.

Software technical writing is a dying career (but here’s what writers can do to stay in the software game) | Stories from the Software Salt Mines.

…the writing is on the wall. If you’re not finding fewer technical writing job openings yet, you will soon. Fortunately, your skills transfer to other jobs in software development organizations. You will need to build some new skills for many of these jobs, but you might be able to land that first new job without them and build them as you work.

New roles suggested include testing and quality assurance, product management, and UX/design.

…I think this trend toward effective UX is better for the user, and gives writers good paths for growth.

I love these tips and specific role descriptions. I’d say this advice applies to anyone who loves writing and documentation and wants to move into product design and development.

(Technical side notes: I found this post via the Reader’s suggested blogs to follow. I then posted it to this site using the Press This function in WordPress, called “WordPress Post” under Advanced Settings in the new interface. Screenshot example.)

You Should Start a Blog

You blog whether you know it or not—even without a blog or website. You might not think of it as blogging. Yet, it is. Tweeting a photo or sharing an update on Facebook. A funny quote or story you see in your daily life. A beautiful sunset. Clueing in friends and family back home to a fun experience when you travel.

Blogging on your own website is much better than directly using services like Twitter and Facebook because you own your own content; it’s your online hub that you control. When people read your content, it will link back to you. Not some third-party site.

To spread the word to your social network—in case they don’t happen to know about or follow your blog—simply use features like’s Publicize and Sharing to share out the content to popular services (see Jetpack Publicize if you host your own blog).

To understand what I mean by publishing your content on your own blog—then push it from there to any social media service easily—I recommend watching this video: WordPress as Your Publishing Hub by Andrew Spittle (about 25 minutes long).

A few examples of my own blogs—several of which are brand new in the last few months.

Lance On the Go

Lance on the Go — A “moblog”, which is “mobile blogging” for quick things on the go, like from your phone, not long-form essays or big picture galleries. Not too polished or curated, just point-and-shoot and post.

Bad Français

Bad Français — My “Bad French” blog. As a language major (French & Spanish) I often find it hard to resist poking fun at misspelled foreign words—it’s a habit. Please don’t take offense if you or your business make it to this blog.

Theme Spotting

Theme Spotting — Geeky WordPress themes blog, fun with theme names. When you spot a theme in the wild, you post a picture of it. (Want to join the fun? See theme names at Theme Showcase and Theme Directory and then look for them as you are out and about.)

What to blog? Photos of things you see on your daily journey. Put up random notes. Whatever is on your mind. Quotes. Fun songs or videos you see online.

Why blog? Express yourself! Clue in your friends and family to your experiences. Importantly, you own the content you post—not a company like Facebook or Twitter. For me (any anyone in the WordPress community) it is good practice using WordPress itself: helping find bugs and suggesting improvements to the software. Using the mobile apps more, helping them be better.

Don’t just take my word for this, though, that you are a blogger and should blog. Matt Mullenweg, co-founder of WordPress, recently explained the “why blogging” succinctly when echoing Ernest Hemingway’s expression “write for two people: one specific person and yourself.” See also The Intrinsic Value of Blogging and Short-form blogging by Gina Trapani.

Let me know when you start and I’ll follow your blog. ):}