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

It's over. For four years of my life (which, oddly enough, took six years), I've been watching Battlestar Galactica weekly. This redesigned joy from my childhood became an engaging, exciting, andReview: Battlestar Galactica finale

The majority of senior executives and managers are stressed at work. Eighty percent of senior executives and managers are stressed at work, with a third saying they are highly stressed,Stress: Executives and managers feeling the pressure

Today held a couple of movie 'firsts' for me. I didn't see either of them coming. The first 'first': I went to a movie alone. The second 'first': I left before itThe #1 reason to walk out of Inception is...

This is one of the "prettier" explosions I've seen. Love the compression wave. [kml_flashembed movie="http://embed.break.com/Mjc1NjI4" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /] The sound of the shrapnel flying past through the end just completes theThat blowed up reeeel good

Driven to Distraction I absolutely love it when I find research that backs up my position. HANG UP YOUR CELL PHONES, DRIVERS!!! Psychological research is showing that when drivers use cell phones, whethercell phones + driving = drunk driving

So I've been on Google+ (Google Plus) for a little while now. For those who don't know, it's another social media platform, like Facebook. You make a profile, then youGoogle+ is open - is it a better Facebook?

LiveDigital: NBC's Heroes pilot I don't know how this got there, but if you want to watch the Heroes pilot episode in a really bad, small, flash video format, there youNBC's Heroes pilot online

When I returned from my vacation yesterday, my computer would not recover from hibernation mode (i.e., it wouldn't turn on). I went into a local computer store today to askA child's view of computer repair

SCI FI Wire | The News Service of the SCI FI Channel SCI FI Channel's award-winning series Battlestar Galactica will move to a new timeslot starting Jan. 21, 2007: Sundays atBattlestar Galactica moves to Sundays

Slice of Scifi - Science Fiction TV / Movie, News, Interviews & more - Jay's Doctor Who Update Well, Doctor Who's second season will air on Sci-Fi in October, as previouslyFuture Imperfect: Doctor Who on Sci-Fi

When I went to college, I hung out with a bunch of music majors. I also hung out with a bunch of geeks. Sometimes those were the same people. IDrinking games for geeky music majors - Tuesday TubeWatch

New season, new Doctor, new show runner, new companions... lots of change this year. How'd it turn out? (as with the reviews of previous years, I'm going to try toReview: Doctor Who 2010

(Well, I assume that the cost of internet access is taxed everywhere, but maybe not. If you don't get taxed for that... congratulations.) I was doing my taxes this weekend, soTuesday TubeWatch: You are being taxed to watch this

This is a great idea. Eddie Izzard's Dressed to Kill stand-up routine is hilarious (though profanity laced). Matching the bits with Lego stop-motion animation turns out to be really funnyTuesday TubeWatch: Lego Izzard - Cake or Death?

What’s the Difference Between Learning and Training? Don't worry. I'm not going off on another long post about this. I'm really just linking in here because it validates that I'm notWhat’s the Difference Between Learning and Training?

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