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I'm a geek working as a distance learning specialist for a large corporation.

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This post is going to be like throwing spaghetti on the wall: I'm just gonna toss a lot of stuff up here and see what sticks. It worked for OscarThrowing spaghetti on the wall

Well, I had planned on another retrospective post to celebrate 5 years of typing random things into this blog, but the day passed a few days ago and it doesn't5th Blogiversary

Yeah... somebody had too much time on their hands. Still, it's kinda fun. [caption id="attachment_1180" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="created by Kris Staub - click for larger version"][/caption] You can even buy a print ofSci-fi Periodic Table (TV and Movies)

I'm late for leaving on a trip, so this will be quick. The Dark Knight Rises is a completely worthy capstone to the Nolan/Bale Batman trilogy. It turns the trilogy intoReview: The Dark Knight Rises (no spoilers)

Ohio Board Undoes Stand on Evolution - New York Times (free subscription required) The Ohio Board of Education voted 11 to 4 Tuesday to toss out a mandate that 10th-grade biologyOhio Board Tells Students, "Thinking Isn't Important"

I had the opportunity to watch 2 TED talks tonight. Both of them were about the power of technology and its relationship to... well, relationships. The intertwining of connection and isolationTwo TED talks: Turkle and Whitacre - Internet Connections and Isolation

Well, here we are with more sci-fi news. This time it'll be a mix of things old and new. Strap on your propeller hat and hang on, 'cause here weSci-fi rumors and news catch up

2012 has an impressive line-up of films. Time travel, mutation, gods, monsters, hobbits, technology, and sheer awesomeness all combine to create an almost inescapable desire to just set up an7 movies my mother has to worry about (and a bunch more)

SCI FI Wire | The News Service of the SCI FI Channel Tim Kring, creator and executive producer of NBC's superhero drama Heroes, told SCI FI Wire that the the seriesHeroes web comic

The YouTube Weird Al list Weird Al Yankovic is the undisputed king of music parody. People have said his career is dead about a year after almost every album he putWeird Al Tube

The Podcast Challenge Michael Allen is a very smart guy, and a leader in the world of e-learning. He knows the world of training and has spent a lot of timeMichael Allen's Podcast Challenge

AAA has nothing on these guys

Let's face it... some stereotypes exist for a reason. Even among native English speakers, in general, programmers are not known for their English skills. I know a few who buckProgrammer English

YouTube - Yep yep - Sesame Street Martians Man, I miss the old Sesame Street. I'm watching again with my daughter, and I really don't think it's as good as itYep yep yep yep yep yep BRRRRRRRNNG

I don't know a whole lot about Wolverine's origins other than what is in the X-Men movies. For some reason I never read the comics versions. I'm pretty excited toWolverine movie trailer

Technical writers, pay attention

New York Times columnist David Pogue has had two extremely good posts lately. One is aimed squarely at general computer users, and both are of great use to technical writers.

In the generally focused Tech Tips for Basic Computer Users, he points out things that all us geeks think everybody knows about computers. There are a fair amount that I didn’t know, however, so the list’s worth a look (though the article is so popular that it may have overloaded NYT’s comment system – the page took a really long time to load).

Here are two examples:

  1. Pressing ALT and the Tab key together in Windows will cycle you through all of your open programs. I’m frequently amazed when people don’t know that simple time-saver.
  2. Pressing ALT and F4 together will close the current window. So if you do it now, it will close this browser.

Takeaway for technical writers: Don’t assume your readers know these shortcuts. Be specific in how to perform required tasks.

The other article is good for any business writer, really, but it’s especially well suited to technical writers.

It’s really easy, as a writer, to slip into jargon. We’re comfortable with the specialized language and the meanings of all these words that confuse regular people. If you’re responsible for communicating with someone who doesn’t live and breathe in your corner of the world, though, you’ve got to be careful to use plain language.

Here’s an excerpt from Pogue’s article:

* Display. “Display” can be a noun (“a display of fireworks”). It can also be a verb that takes a direct object (“He displayed emotion”). It is not, however, a verb without a direct object, except in magazines like PC World: “Shows filmed in high-definition end up displaying in letterbox format.”

Displaying what in letterbox format? Fireworks? Emotions?

The word this writer was looking for is “appearing.”

[...]

* Enable. Who on earth says, “Enable the GPS function”? Only user-manual writers and computer-book authors. Say “Turn on GPS” instead.

[...]

* Functionality. WOW, do I despise this pretentious word. Five syllables–ooh, what a knowledgeable person you must be!

It means “feature.” Say “feature.”

I’ll add my own pet peeve here: Utilize. I want to scream every time I see this word. It’s another example of trying to sound smarter. It’s “use”. There is absolutely no difference in meaning. “Use” is much simpler and more common. That’s a good thing. Use it.

Oh, and while I’m talking about writing skills, here’s another tip for everyone, and it applies to speaking as well: be careful with clichés. If you’re not 100% sure you know it, don’t use it (or better yet – GASP – look it up!). Example: it’s not “for all intensive purposes,” it’s “for all intents and purposes.” “Intensive purposes” doesn’t even make sense. Think about what you’re saying. Most of the time, that will help.

Okay, I’m off to utilize the functionality of the TV remote control to enable the screen to display. For all intensive purposes, that should wrap up my night.

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5 comments to Technical writers, pay attention

  • found this post via your 3-years lookback..via Lee’s blog.
    Great post! I really hate it when I see words that could have easily been replaced by a far simpler word. Among those words are a lot of words directly used from English to Dutch..and ‘Dutchified’ ..just horrible.
    It’s always good to bear the technical writer stuff in mind because it’s partly my job to write decent texts (that is..when I’m done studying).

    Arjans latest blog post..A shadow of myself

    Reply to this comment

    Jeff says:

    Hey, Arjan… nice to see you.

    In a sick way I’m kind of happy that the problem exists in other languages, too… :P

    Oddly, I don’t typically get upset about Anglicized words. There are enough problems with people butchering English with English, I guess, that I just let those go as colorful.

    I’ve got a couple more “technical writer” posts in the queue, so you might want to watch for them.

    Reply to this comment

  • Jeff,

    When I read what you said about “utilize,” I cried.

    At last… someone who UNDERSTANDS!

    Reply to this comment

    Jeff says:

    Hallelujah! Thanks for leaving the comment. :) It’s good to know I’m not out there alone…

    Reply to this comment

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