Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Bad Typing Habits: Two Errors for Every 300 Keystrokes

As a writer, especially a technical writer, I am aware about my bad typing habits. I am not a bad typist, the problem is I am a fast typist who thinks ahead of what I am typing. When I edit my material, I often find I leave out words, which confuses the meaning of what I type. I know I it’s a problem that many writers face when they type out their work.

Obviously, there is no cure for the bad habits with the exception of slowing down. Slow down your typing, and slow down thinking ahead of yourself. That’s hard to do, especially when you have an amazing thought that you want to express in your writing. The fear of losing the thought for accuracy scares most writers, especially those who are perfectionist with their thoughts.

The only solution is good editing. If you are like me, you are constantly writing during the day. When you add the additional blogging activities to your day, where does one find time to edit? I know my blogs often suffer from my lack of time and desire to get the information on the net so it can be read. I guess many of us compromise on some work and pay attention to the more important jobs all so we can fit everything in and meet deadlines. It’s really an unacceptable compromise.

I was reading a report at work that we are using for a new product. It claims that for every 300 keystrokes the average typist makes, there are two errors made. When you are typing a 1500 word article, that could easily mean there are 25 errors in the work. Ouch!

I don’t have to tell you, for many of us with English degrees on the wall, that’s just not acceptable; although, it’s really not a direct reflection on how well you use the English language. Typing is hard. It’s hard because we acquire bad habits. I have been typing now for 23 years. Imagine how hard that can be to fix after being conditioning those habits for years. Therefore, technical writers need to enforce their editing skills. You must find time to edit. If you don’t, you will embarrass yourself.

I recommend electronic editing through a software program called StyleWriter. It runs a quick pass through of your document and asks you to look at problem areas. Then print out your documents, get a pencil out, and manually edit your document. My editing instructor from college would be proud of me for making this suggestion. You will be surprised what you find. Remember that’s two errors for every 300 keystrokes.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Beware the Cubicle Idiot

As a fresh writer coming into a new job, you have to be aware of the ego trap. Ego trap you ask? The ego trap is the most annoying employee in the company that thinks they are the company. Without them the company would fall apart. It is important to figure out who this person is in case the day comes they ever ask you what you think of their writing.

In my first job after graduating from college with my technical writing degree, that first ego was named Dan. I started the job in the cold days of a Chicago January. The earth has been frozen for a number of months when you live that far north, and there’s little to talk about, especially if the Bears miss the playoffs.

Dan sat in the cubicle next to mine. Nearly every minute of every day of every workday, I had to listen to Dan greet potential clients. When they asked him how he was doing, I had to hear the same one-liners about Chicago’s frozen tundra. I would have hung up had I been on the other line.
One morning between frozen tundra phone calls, his beady eyes popped over my cubicle like a scene out of the office. He spoke.

“I just wrote this marketing letter to my doctors for the latest software special. I was wondering if you would take a look at it and make sure it’s okay.”

I just took the bait to enter the ego trap.

He handed me three pages of a sales letter. I sat in my cubicle listening to the frozen tundra bit reading his long-winded, large worded letter. I shook my head knowing this was going to hit the trashcan.

I asked him to send me the Word document version. I ran it through Style Writer. Style Writer gave it one of the lowest scores I have seen to date. Geez!

For the next hour, I sat editing the letter. It shrunk from three pages to just less than a total page. I sent it back to Dan proud of my work.

Within minutes, his beady eyes popped over the cubicle wall. “What’s wrong? You didn’t like my letter?”

I explained to him that I transferred it from passive voice to active voice while trying to fit it on one page. He began to explain that his wife worked in marketing and his letter was text book. I left it at well, throw out my changes.

A week later I bought my first new PT Cruiser. I did my best to arrive after Dan so I didn’t have to park next to his rusted out, multi-colored Dodge Neon that was a collection of junk yard parts on what used to be a purple car. One day I arrived before Dan as I sat talking to my girlfriend on the phone.

Dan pulled the Dodge Neon as close to my new car as possible. He flung his door open. It hit my car violently shaking it. He looked for my attention, and when my eyes met his, he flung his cigarette into the black snow.

Over the next few weeks, I began to discover more nicks and scratches on my car. Deep down inside I knew. I began parking my car behind a parallel building down the street and began walking to work.

Even that wasn’t enough to stop Dan. I always took my lunch later in the day. I hated where I worked, and a combination of things kept making it worse—including the boss’s Chinese girlfriend began working and we had an instant language barrier and a difference of opinion on design. My designs that once impressed quickly fell on their face when she came along. Officially, she wasn’t his girlfriend, but I saw them walking in the park holding hands the same day I met his wife. Since time always passed faster before I took lunch, I always put it off.

One morning, I was running late, so I parked in the parking lot. As I left to grab lunch, I noticed Dan was in the parking lot watching me leave. I thought little of it. I pulled into Wendy’s a few blocks away and went inside to have lunch for 30 fast minutes.

As I stood in line, the site of a purple junk Dodge Neon doing a u-turn caught the corner of my eye. I watched Dan drive into the Wendy’s parking lot the wrong way, and he was steering his junk car towards the bumper of my new PT Cruiser. He was looking over his shoulder to see if anyone was watching him. My eyes met his, and he steered out and away from my car. I finally went to my manager and reported him.

From that moment on, Dan stopped messing with my car to my knowledge. Of course, I put in my two-weeks’ notice at this time, and the owner had asked me to stay on and work from home. I agreed to knowing it would be easier to look for a new job. I started working from home in April.

A few weeks later, a corporate e-mail was sent letting employees Dan would no longer be working there. It turns out he went into the owners office and presented him with a list of OSHA regulations he felt the company violated. He told the owner he would return to work once they fixed the infractions.

I learned a valuable lesson about the ego trap. Sometimes it’s better to tell someone their writing is simply amazing knowing they will fail rather than try to help out. I was in sales for over ten years by the way, so what I gave him was good advice. He didn’t want good advice. He wanted to be told he was the best employee in the history of best employees.

Is this a Joke?: Tehcnical Writing Getting Very Technical

I found this blog entry on the Internet a few months ago. I hope it's a joke, because this person shouldn't be considered a technical writer otherwise. (Click on image to enlarge if you can't read it from this page.)