About me

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

My Pandora "radio station" profile
This is my favorite way to listen to music now.

My Yahoo "radio station"
(Unfortunately, only works in IE.)

Shopping

Looking to purchase something online? Support Caddickisms by going through one of these links:

Caddickisms Store

Amazon.com

Calendar

October 2008
S M T W T F S
« Sep   Nov »
 1234
567891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
262728293031  

Topics

Posts by month

Around the site

The Simple Dollar » Everything You Ever Really Needed to Know About Personal Finance on the Back of Five Business Cards Lately I've felt like Trent was recycling the same advicePersonal Finance on 5 business cards

I've got a problem. There are multiple layers to this thing. And it's all George Lucas' fault. Well, maybe I have some part to play in it as well. But it'sThe Star Wars Conundrum

Set up your own free storefront (referral included) It seems like there has to be a catch to this, but I haven't found it yet. Zlio.com is a service that allowsMoney for nothing, and discounts on online purchases - Zlio.com

Well, I'm working on podcasting technology for work, so I figured I'd better get my feet wet and learn how to do it. As such, here is a lame exampleOdeo podcasting

I finally got around to seeing Crash tonight. As you have probably heard, this is an excellent movie. A little hard to follow at times, but well worth the effort. ThereReview: Crash

I don't understand. NBC Universal is canceling three of the best Sci-Fi shows in recent memory. Journeyman, The 4400, and The Dead Zone are all goners. What's the deal?! All threeNBC Universal nailing the coffin shut on Sci-Fi

Woman Has Two Year Relationship From Boyfriend’s Bathroom - Slice of SciFi I don't even know what to say about this. I'm sickened and saddened at the same time. Apparently a 35-yearWoman grows onto toilet seat

I just ran across a blog that offers "Tips for Life". In two articles, they provide perspectives on how to deal with police officers if you are pulled over forHow to deal with Cops

Today a guest post I wrote was published on the personal finance blog Gather Little by Little. Thanks to Glblguy for putting it up! I figured a couple people might wanderQuick overview for new visitors

This is pretty funny if you've ever been addicted to Tetris. Mike, you should enjoy this. It doesn't really get funny until about the 1:00 mark, though. [kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/SYRLTF71Sow" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /] [tags]YouTube,Tetris humor

For the first time ever, this blog is involved in a contest. This isn't like a "who's got the best blog" kind of thing, but one that gives you theWill you win?

Before jumping into the new stuff, just a quick note on the second episodes of shows that started last week... Heroes - an improvement. I both enjoyed and was annoyed byPremiere weeks 2009, part 2 - SGU and Clone Wars

Parkin's Lot: Stupid in America Godfrey Parkin takes the notion (supported by a study) that America's public schools, on average, produce substandard education, and applies it to corporate environments. As he says,America's schools ineffective? Challenges for corporate learning

I'm a bit behind in putting up my movie list for this year. Last year's list was full of promise, but I only got to see 4 of the 21 listed2011 Movies to Drool Over

I subscribe to news alerts from both CNN and the New York Times. I find the differences in their content interesting at times. The New York Times alerts pretty consistentlyBias in News Alerts?

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.

Tags: , , , , ,

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

Leave a Reply

  

  

  

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

CommentLuv badge