Monthly Archives: November 2012

The Hacks at WhiteSmoke

Several months ago I downloaded a trial version of WhiteSmoke, an editing app. Then, having found it to be a mishmash of useless features that also snuck a plug-in into my Web browser, I unceremoniously removed it. But that wasn’t the last I heard from WhiteSmoke. I kept getting junk email from them–even after I clicked the “Unsubscribe” link in the messages and got a confirmation of my unsubcription on their Web site. Then I started getting junk email from other companies. So I wrote them at support@whitesmoke.com. I told them that they were in violation of the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 and included a link to the Act’s Web …

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What’s the Difference? "Can" vs. "May"

Can. May. May. Can. Two words, more alike than different. So similar people use them interchangeably, including tech writers. No problem, right? Let’s see. Here’s a sentence from a (fictional) user’s guide. The first version uses can, the second uses may. Using TaxTalk, you can create and file your tax return electronically. Using TaxTalk, you may create and file your tax return electronically. At first glance, the can/may switch looks innocuous, but maybe it isn’t. According to my dictionary consultants, Mr. Merriam and Mr. Webster, can means “to be physically or mentally able to.” But may means “to have permission to.” The Merriam-Webster Concise Dictionary of English Usage has a …

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Blogger’s Block (Plain Language Calling)

Here’s the deal. I know I’ve been promising a post called “Plain Language Calling” since last week. In that post, I had wanted to say something brilliant about how I saw a colloquial name used for a part on my home office phone system, and how it reminded me that technical writers often have to decide between using a product’s cloogy vocabulary and the user’s actual vocabulary in our docs. Then I was going to offer some oh-so-insightful pearls about when writers must invoke the product’s wording and when we might avoid it. Truth is, I drafted the post, and then try as I might, I could not get the …

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Get Out and Vote!

Just Plain Karen is Just Plain Busy this week, so no regular posts ’til next week, kids. However, here’s a quick reminder (as if you needed it): Tomorrow is Election Day in the U.S. No matter who you favor for President, get out and vote! It’s the fundamental right of the U.S. Citizen (well, except for convicted felons). And while you’re there, evaluate the ballot to see if it uses plain language. After all, what could be more important than voting information that explains the issues and candidates clearly and concisely? See you next week!

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