Monthly Archives: August 2012

“Jack” Hammers Plain Language

We weren’t speaking the same language. That’s what I thought as I idled in the drive-through at my local Jack in the Box. I had asked for a hamburger; The voice in the squawk box had no idea what I meant. I tried again. “I want to order two combos,” I said. “One with a hamburger, onion rings, and a drink, and the other with a cheeseburger…” The voice said, “We don’t have hamburgers in the combo.” Odd. No hamburgers in their combo? Wasn’t this a fast-food joint? “Well,” I said, “I guess I don’t want the combo then. I’ll have the hamburger with onion rings, and…” “Wait,” said the …

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized.

Plain Language: Pleasing and Profitable

I’m reading Writing for Dollars, Writing to Please: The case for plain language in business, government, and law, by Joseph Kimble, the chief advocate for plain language in legal writing. In the book, the author first summarizes the elements of plain language and dispels the myths about it. Then he provides the historical highlights of the plain-language movement. He closes with examples that support the business case for plain language in the major industries. A short book, only 167 pages, it’s well worth a look for anyone who wants the big picture of plain language in our world today.

Posted in Uncategorized.

Illogical Writing: The Root Cause

Logic. Logic lays the foundation for any piece of writing. Novelists build their stories around the scaffolding of reality; even sci-fi writers must adhere to the rules they establish in their alternate worlds. Technical and professional writers use facts and organization to frame user documents. If the work shows the writer’s ignorance of the subject, contradicts itself, or dog-piles seemingly unrelated information, the writing crumbles, and the reader drifts. On Thursday I cited three examples of illogical writing. Here they are again: From a user’s guide:3. Enter your name, address, and contact information in the dialog box.4. Click OK.The information is saved in the dialog box. From a commercial for …

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized.

Is Your Writing Logical?

I found an old manual for software I now document. In the manual, a sentence irked me: 3. Enter your name, address, and contact information in the dialog box.4. Click OK.The information is saved in the dialog box. (If you’re a tech writer who documents software, tell me you caught the error in the last sentence.) Another example, this one courtesy of Marie Osmond for Nutrisystem:“It’s pretty much one step: Eat the food. Lose the weight.” Or this example from a radio ad for Rosetta Stone. A woman says, “I believe I can do anything, so when it came to learning a new language, I knew I had to do …

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized.

A Recipe for Confusion

If you’re rootin’ around for examples of bad how-to writing, look no further than your kitchen. Chances are any cookbook recipe for roast chicken, braised pork, or berry cobbler bursts with bundled steps and bungled assumptions. What do I mean? This weekend I whipped out a recipe for my husband’s favorite meal, pot roast. The ingredients: 3-31/2 arm roast, boneless2 large onions, sliced1/2 cup brown sugar1/3 cup soy sauce…and so on. Clear enough. But plain language bolted from the kitchen during the first step, which read: “Place meat, topped with onions, in slow cooker.” Do you see a problem? If you take the step’s meaning at face value, you’d think …

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized.

Plain Language, Microsoft, and the Windows 8 EULA

Newsflash: Microsoft assimilates plain language into its end user license agreements. Technology writer Ed Bott ponders the deeper meanings of Microsoft’s decision in this article on ZDNet: http://www.zdnet.com/microsoft-radically-overhauls-license-agreements-for-windows-8-7000002866/ Question: If Microsoft uses PL, can tech writers be far behind?

Posted in Uncategorized.

I’m Not Alone! Vinish Garg Feels My Pain

Like most professional writers, I keep tabs on the industry through our professional organization, the STC, and other bloggers’ sites. These days, it’s a disheartening exercise. I’ve begun to think no one but me, least of all the STC, seems to care about the actual writing work of our jobs any more. But I rest easier tonight; I’m not the lone voice crying in the desert. Proof? Here’s a post by Vinish Garg (on Tom Johnson’s blog I’d Rather Be Writing), lamenting the same issues that grieve my language-loving heart. Worth a read.

Posted in Uncategorized.

Trim the Fat: "Provides You With"

I’ve seen the phrase more and more in writing: “provides you with.” This chapter provides you with the information to publish your document. We can provide you with further details. The business analyst provided me with the requirements. In technical writing, where extraneous wording can confuse the user, obfuscate the message, or muddy the facts, bloat like “provides you with” has no place. “Provides” suffices. Every time. Here come the naysayers: “‘Provides’ doesn’t identify the (indirect) object,” they cry. No, but the point of view does. If you’re writing a document in second person–“you can do this; you can do that”–the point of view provides the object, especially in this …

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized.

Why Grammar Still Matters

I came across this article on one of the plain-language forums. Author Douglas Rushkoff  explains well why grammar still matters. Enjoy. It’s Not Just Rules; It’s Clear Thinking Douglas Rushkoff  is the author of “Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age .” Updated August 14, 2012,  2:57 PM In a culture characterized less by the printed word than by YouTube videos, it’s easy to cast off grammar as if it were a quaint vestige of some prim and proper era — a form of good manners or etiquette, like using the right fork. But without grammar, we lose the agreed-upon standards about what means what. We lose …

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized.

The Need-To-Know on NOW

There’s an old story about a man who walks into a hardware store and asks the clerk for a 3/4″ drill bit. The savvy clerk says, “Oh, so what you really need is a 3/4″ hole.” The man says, “Yeah. How did you know?” Users will do that. They’ll say they want to use your tax product, but really they just want a tax return. Or they’ll say they want to use GetCredit.com, but really they yearn for a credit report. Splitting hairs? I know. But consider this sentence from a “user story” we software people love to develop: Mike wants to use TaxPlan to get his tax return. A …

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized.