Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Dr. T and his Resourcefulness

Too many companies out there are lacking in good communication with their client base. They believe complicated sentences with big words give the company intellectual prestige. Honestly, if they only knew, it is really quite embarrassing for the company as they publish article after article.

I recently came across an article about a guy affectionately known as "Dr. T" in his work place. Dr. T made the employee spotlight in this company's recent quarterly newsletter.

As a writer, you know you want to get that first paragraph right. It leads the reader down the slippery slope to get them to the end of the article. In the story about Dr. T, I am left scratching my head wondering where do I get me some of that.

Consider the following sentence:

Dr.T as we call him, used resourcefulness to purchase his first computer, a Commodore 64.

He used resourcefulness? How do you use resourcefulness? Do you buy it at K-Mart off the shelf and sprinkle it upon a wish in hopes you get a C-64? Could you print resourcefulness on a Commodore Vic20 printer and use it as legal tender?

Perhaps, it would read better if the writer had said "a resourceful Dr. T worked to purchase his first computer."

This shouldn't have made it past editing, but it did. This is the problem with many companies and their corporate writing. They try to make writing a complex art, using big words, complicated sentence structures, and other bad habits in hopes of sounding intellectual. What happens is the reader gets bored or worse gets lost trying to discover what the company actually does or is trying to convey. Therefore the investment in having a writer on staff gets wasted in complicated sentence structure. The reader eventually gives up.

Remember you have less than ten seconds to grab a person's attention. My attention stopped at this poorly written sentence. I didn't read on as I kept wondering how you buy something using resourcefulness. Unfortunately, this same company is a master of writing complicated sentences that often distract from what they actually do, therefore few in the city they are headquartered know why they are there. That can't be good for business.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Plain Writing Act: New Federal Law Will Create Technical Writing Jobs

The government will soon hire lots of technical writers by October thanks to the new Plain Writing Act. The act forces the government to write in plain English to simplify government publications. There appears to be an all new federal government style guide produced by the law.

The Associated Press writes about the new law:

The federal government is rolling out a new official language of sorts: plain English.
That's right: Pursuant to regulations promulgated thereunder and commencing in accordance with a statute signed herein by President Barack Obama, the government shall be precluded from writing the pompous gibberish heretofore evidenced, to the extent practicable.

That sentence contains 11 new language no-nos.

Obama signed the Plain Writing Act last fall after decades of effort by a cadre of passionate grammarians in the civil service to jettison the jargon.

It takes full effect in October, when federal agencies must start writing plainly in all new or substantially revised documents produced for the public. The government will still be allowed to write nonsensically to itself.

I have always heard government publications are written on an eighth-grade level. What's this say about public education?

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Duck Creek Technologies Sends Technical Writer Rejection Letter With an Obvious Grammar Problem

The following rejection letter was received from Duck Creek Technologies in Bolivar, Missouri, a computer software company. The rejection letter is the basic you don't meet our qualifications letter, but notice how quickly Duck Creek proves whoever wrote the letter is grammatically challenged as they attempt to tell the Technical Writer they aren't qualified for the job.

Click to enlarge

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Hollywood Explores Technical Writing With a Rubber Sex Doll and a Sadistic Killer

Until Netflix, I was unaware Hollywood would ever produce a film about a technical writer. After all, our work can be dull sometimes, and as the film points out millions of Americans VCRs blinked 12:00 proving how unappreciated the technical writer is. Perhaps that's why Hollywood decided to define the tech writer as a sick pervert type with no soul. Eventually, you tire from being unappreciated right?

So "Love Object" caught my attention as it entered a recommended movie play list. It wasn't necessarily what followed in the description, it was simply the fact they decided to use a tech writer as the main character--a very sick main character.

Kenneth Winslow is an extremely shy but brilliant technical writer who orders a rubber sex-doll.

He develops a relationship with "Nikki," to the point of talking and even arguing with her. Kenneth begins to display bizarre behavior, and starts to feel stalked by Nikki. Their relationship evolves into a love-hate situation, and at one point even beats the doll.

Well there's more to it. He also starts talking to the doll to build up the courage to talk to the beautiful tech writer he works with, but when she finds out Winslow is a little strange, she starts keeping her distance. Which of course turns Winslow into a sadistic killer. I won't tell you how it ends, but I will say Hollywood really didn't do the technical writing trade any favors. Even the company Winslow works for seems a little odd to say the least.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Educational Wordiness

Is it ironic education programs throughout the country try to teach kids from the earliest age how to be effective writers. Then education destroys what they teach by assigning a page requirement for papers. Yes, I understand if it wasn’t for the page requirement some kids would only write half a page. It does serve a purpose, but it pollutes the greater purpose—better writing.

The more I read, the more I realize people learn bad writing skills working to meet page length requirements. You can have a brilliant paper written in seven pages that meets are requirements of the assignment except that it is three pages short. The paper soon collects filler as writers begin looking for ways to add three pages to the paper. Words like ‘during’ become ‘throughout the time period.’ The content begins to suffer thanks to wordiness.

The problem is, writers become so conditioned to writing for length that it carries over to their professional writing. I look over many reports every week, and I see three and four word phrases for what could simply be replaced with a single word. I have to think the education system is partially to blame. Perhaps educators should focus on content and not length by enforcing expectations and creating goals for the paper that go beyond it needs to be ten pages.

Friday, December 4, 2009

How to Embed a PDF into Your Web Pages

Technical writers use many different software programs and files types. Sometimes they integrate and sometimes they don’t. As someone who creates Web sites and writes white papers, I often need to post the white paper on the Internet.

Converting a white paper to HTML often creates formatting issues, and creating a hyperlink to the PDF means they are going to leave your Web site for all practical purposes. If they leave your Web site, you could be losing a new client.

I like to embed PDFs into the Web site’s HTML, and it’s simple to do. All it takes is the following code:


Simply adjust the width and height values so it fits neatly into your Web page. Of course, you will need to change the PDF file name from MyDocument to the name of your PDF.

You can also use the ‘embed’ tag to embed the PDF:

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Christmas Viral Marketing Video

Let’s face it, marketing has we have known it will soon be a forgotten art. Within the next five years, we will see the transition of advertising taken from text on a page to scripts on the TV to viral efforts destined to bring customers to your Web site and create brand recognition. It’s a proven fact commercials on NBC, who are celebrating NBC Green Week this week, and other networks are allotted times to get up off the couch and accomplish something time in most homes. You know, pee breaks!

To win business these days, you have to have a powerful social media presence. If you really want to win business, you need something that goes viral. The Great Office War is a perfect example of a video that has gone viral. Unfortunately, it wasn’t my idea, which is sad because there are Nerf guns all over the office I work in. It’s nothing to come under attack by a foam bullet at our office, so it would have been a perfect video to go viral to get our company noticed.

Last Christmas, Office Max was the winner in the Christmas viral marketing campaign with ElfYourself. Their Web site went crazy after they give it the ability to place your face on an elf and make it dance around. It’s really the simple ideas that are the best, but coming up with those simple ideas seems hard these days in a post-modern sort of way. Dancing computer images were nothing new—remember the creepy dancing baby?

So the challenge was given to my team today to come up with the next big viral marketing campaign. No pressure there! Where do you even begin? Plus Christmas is just over five weeks away. Talk about limited production time!

This is one of the joys of being a technical writer. You always get other stuff thrown at you—stuff you didn’t prepare for in school and must learn on the job. It does keep things interesting.