Technical Writers Beware

Larry’s new to the company; he’s gone through some training, has eight years of experience, and is ready to start his new marketing job.  Larry’s also a creative person, and reading the policy and procedure manual is close to root canal for him, but he’ll do it over the weekend…at least he’ll start it.

Kristen’s also new to the company and she’s ready to know everything about it and her IT department; she’ll read and reread the policy and procedure manual over the weekend.  She’ll probably memorize parts of it just for fun and understand every word.

 

Larry and Kristen represent the cross section of most employees; they both need to understand what the policies of the company are, and how to implement the procedures during their tenure at the company.  When you write policy and procedure, instructional manuals, and status reports write with a diverse and mixed audience in mind.

Creative thinkers read information differently than analytical thinkers.  The right-brain thinkers – or the creative employee – will read one section and not understand any of it if the writer directs the information to the left-brain employee – or analytical thinker.

The analytical employee writes a majority of these manuals – instructional included – and they need to be read and understand by the creative employees too.  They’re written in a language that most right-brainers can’t begin to understand.  Why?  Because the creative people don’t learn the technical language and jargon; they’re into what works for them:

  • Simple explanations
  • Word pictures
  • Pictures and graphs
  • Plain  and descriptive language

Instructional manuals – to me – are the worst offenders for right-brainers.  They’re written by analytical thinkers who write to analytical readers.  And yet…  When I buy new software, a clock, a camera, even a bookcase at Target, I want simple, easy-to-understand instructions, and pictures – more pictures than words – to help me with the process. If the manual doesn’t have pictures, then the words need to paint that picture for the readers. It’s frustrating to be confused in an instructional manual to all of us who don’t have the innate technical abilities that “geeks” have.

Policy and procedure manuals are the same: plain safety issues are vital.  Understanding what to do in an emergency, or what I need to do and whom I need to see if I need to take emergency leave, or want an extra day off is imperative if I’m going to be a good employee. Share information with co-workers, not in your department, to get their feedback and input. Do they understand all that intricacies of the material? If not, ask what they need to get it in their mind’s eye.

Simple language is a good place to start.  I don’t know if you ever watch NCIS, but I so relate to the major character, Gibbs, when he goes to Abby, the forensic scientist and technical genius, and she begins to explain in a language so over his head, he says, “English, please, Abby.”  Yes, English to us, the reader, who is eager to learn, and yet needs an extra explanation in simple language.

Tools:

  1. Use white space – bullets.
  2. Use graphs and pictures.
  3. Keep your paragraphs to three or four sentences.
  4. Make your sentences 15 words or fewer.
  5. Instruct “me” in simple language – everyday vocabulary.
  6. Never assume.
  7. Write for the reader.

Larry doesn’t need a translator; he needs and wants the information to speak to him as well as the other readers.  There is common ground.  Give him the opportunity to dig into his policy and procedure manual and to understand the grounds for his survival; Kristin will survive and possible help the Larry’s of her company when she writes new programs.

© Copyright 2016 Dee Dukehart * Dee@DeeDukehart.com

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Taking a Month Off

The last day of class before summer vacation and you could feel the excitement and anticipation from the whole school: No more classes for another three months. Yes, we had a reading list and possibly some other educational activities, but no regulation classes. We were free!

What we might not pay heed to, and I know I didn’t pay any attention to, was what we might forget in those few months that would make September’s class return a bit of a tug-a-war with our memory. When we don’t use our knowledge we tend to get rusty, whether it’s been a week, a month or the whole summer.We remember and strengthen the skills  we focus on, what we use daily, what we share and what we learn more about.

As I read some web pages, promotional materials, articles or emails I find that some of the rudimentary grammar and punctuation rules we were taught in school have been either forgotten or foggy.

Examples: 1. From a global company specializing in performance improvement: “We enable…everywhere”.  “We fulfill … ‘Achievers with heart'”.

2. From an international maintenance company:  “To find additional local websites…and the words ‘news’,‘blog’ or ‘event calendar'”.

Rule: Periods and commas stay inside quotation marks.  These sentences need correcting.

It’s summer, it’s hot, and you probably want to be on vacation, even for a week; go, have fun, refresh your soul and spirit, and remember to focus on what matters to your readers and other audiences even when you’re at the beach or camping.

Help your brand, help your team and help yourself: Stay current on the rules of grammar and punctuation. How you communicate is a major part of who wants to work with your product, your service, or you.When you press the send button you send out a neon sign that you want the readers to take notice of what you offer. If your grammar and punctuation are wrong, your readers think you don’t care, you’re sloppy or you’re ignorant; you don’t want to be any of those.

Brush up on the basics: grammar, punctuation and syntax rules. You will find the basics send out a positive communication message to clients and prospects.

Take some well-deserved time off, and keep your communication skills fresh in the interim!

 

 

 

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Consequences

It’s been a trying week: a what-I-call-a-viper-law firm is after me for not one, but two “debts.” It’s stressful to have some unknown man ring my doorbell at 8:45 p.m. one night – I didn’t answer – and then come back Sunday and throw a roll of legal garbage in my front door. It wasn’t even a case number, just the vipers sending their pleasantries. Why?

This has to do with a rear-ender in June of 2014! Yes, almost two years ago. My insurance company sent them a check and they sent it back saying they wanted more money, now the vipers are coming after me for the extra $1,500. If my small knowledge of law firms is correct, even if the insurance company does even some close to the extra $1,500, the client will get only 1/2 of it. Why do they – either the viper or the client – bother for basically $700? I don’t know, and I do know that it’s causing me hives.Consequences abound.

A young woman showed up at my door yesterday afternoon wanted me to rate her on her presentation of selling books. A cookbook I inquired about was $66!!!! (Pauleese!) She told me she’d made some mistakes and now was going door-to-door to ask people to buy books so she could get a commission and go back to school. This is a young – maybe late 20s – woman with six  – six!!! – children, and her husband is in prison for life. Yes, she’s paying the consequences. No, I didn’t buy anything. She left without looking me in the eye, one of  the presentation skills she was to be graded on. I guess you only get good eye contact if you’re listening and a prospect; when you say “no,” the eyes divert to the sidewalk and away she goes.

The young UVA student was just sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in a North Korean prison for stealing a state flag for a friend’s mother! He stated, “I made the worst mistake of my life.” He’s paying a stiff, stiff, stiff penalty and the consequences will last him – torture him – for the rest of his life.

The second reason the vipers are after me is for a credit card debt I closed down in 2008. It’s past the statute of limitations for collections, and something I’d completely forgotten. My financial mistakes in the early 2000’s have come back to haunt me. I’m paying the consequences – who knows what they’ll be, if any – but I have to take responsibility for my actions.

Have you made mistakes? (Rhetorical, obviously.) Credit card debt is not the “worst mistake of my life,” or maybe it was…I can only hope. It’s a minus-36 on the UVA student’s scale of 1-10! Did he think when he was stealing the flag for a memento for a friend that he’d be stealing government property in North Korea and would pay a hefty “fine”? Probably not; didn’t think he’d get caught.

Did the young woman going door-to-door consider her future with six children, as a single mother and no job when she was married – if she actually did get married – and got pregnant six times? Probably not. Who’s paying for those children now?  Who will fend for their future? The children pay for the mother’s actions and consequences for the rest of their lives. Sad.

What was I thinking using a credit card that I couldn’t pay off at the time? I don’t know, that was 13 years ago. I have learned a valuable lesson or three, though: live within my means, spend only what I have or know I can afford, pay my accounts promptly, and never borrow money I can’t pay back. (Also, find Guido to knock on the viper’s door at midnight and see if they like it!)

Consequences are always with us: do the work and receive good consequences; slack off and pay the consequences at some juncture.

Here’s to a mistake-free future – not that I think that can happen.  I do hope any mistake is nothing like Otto Warmbier’s in North Korea and simpler than my credit card debt.

 

 

 

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Enunciation

It’s a global world and some names are harder to understand when left on voice mail. Mobile phones sometimes have a foggy reception, and names and phone numbers are hard to hear and understand.

During the political circus, I must receive 10 calls a day asking me to either go to my caucus or support a candidate. Most don’t leave a message, and some do. One person asking me to attend my caucus left an unintelligible voicemail. I listened to his message three times and still couldn’t understand the phone number.

Two days ago someone left me a voicemail with a foreign sounding name and then her phone number: neither could I understand.

Three recommendations for all of us when we leave messages:

  1. Speak slowly. It takes only an extra two-three seconds to enunciate your name – maybe even spell it if necessary.
  2. Let me know what time zone you’re calling from if you’re unknown to me and want me to call you back. Times make a difference.
  3. Repeat your phone number – slowly.

Example: Hi, it’s Mishamequa Parsuruski. (Call me “Meeka.”) I can be reached at 202- 555-1674; again, 202-555-1674; I’m on the East coast.

This may sound like a bit more information than you want to leave, and it may add a few seconds on your part. The recipient though will appreciate the enunciation and the information; it saves times on his/her end and alleviates frustration.

End the aggravation of listening to a message three or more times to get the phone number and name: enunciate and repeat!

Here’s to saving time and getting a returned phone call.

 

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Reading List

Happy New Year.

Many of you are putting your goals down and hoping your dreams come to fruition before 2017 – or close by, great! Some of you say, “Nah, it doesn’t make any difference if I write them down.” Others don’t even consider it…!

What about your reading list for this year? If you’re like me, I have, oh, dozens of business/self-help books on my shelves. I buy them after I hear the speaker, or when they’re recommended, or when I need some expertise on the subject. Have I finished them? No! Have I even started them? One or two!

If you read all the business books in your library, where would your education level rise to this year? Even if you only read two or three and take in the information, implement the ideas and knowledge, and digest the power of their wisdom, you’d be 87 percent better than 90 percent of the adult population.

A challenge: Read all the business books in your library, no matter how many. If you don’t own any, but get them from the library, that’s a plus in your column. Can you read at least six? That’s only one every two months.

I have six sitting in front of me today, and one of my goals for this year is to read them, begin to focus on my needs and how I can then help you and others,  and of course, educate myself through the pages.

You are “this close” to a better you when you read. Begin 2016 with some mental stimulation, and garner more influence.

A few recommendations: (Oldies and goodies.)

  1. Getting Things Done, David Allen
  2. Making it Stick, Chip Heath and Dan Heath
  3. First Things First, Steven Covey

Send me a list of your top three for the next six months’ reading. Only six books in 12 months…a cinch…!

Happy New Year and happy reading.

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Do You Hear What I Hear?

During the holidays, many of you scramble to finish year-end projects; you have multiple projects at work and for Santa. In meetings you might be thinking about what you’re going to buy for someone instead of listening to a co-worker’s  or manager’s information about the budget cuts, the new software install in January, or the client close. What did you miss?

When you listen intently you gain access to other’s input and information that will help you with your job or your action management; listen.

Studies show that an average adult only listens – really listens – 50-60 percent of the time. Do you tune out people? When you’re driving to work and listening to the radio do you remember what the announcer, the ad or the song said 100 percent of the time? I know I don’t. Our minds wonder.

To promote active listening, implement these five tools:

  1. Turn off mobile phones and computers when someone’s in your office.
  2. Do the same when you’re on a landline; focus on the conversation at hand.
  3. Ask, “Did I hear you say…?” Repeat what you heard to reinforce the point.
  4. Look at the person and acknowledge them.
  5. Refrain from interrupting; let him or her finish before you ask a question or make a comment.

Active listening is a tool you admire, you desire and you require in both your personal and professional lives. It’s a courtesy that others admire too.

Do you hear what I hear? Misinterpretation costs time, money, mistakes and sometimes embarrassment.

Take those five tools and begin to active listen to everyone you come in contact with; you may be surprised at what you learn all year long.

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All A’s!

All during school and college our parents and teachers impressed upon us that getting all A’s was the pinnacle of success. As adults, whether you were an A student or not, I recommend you strive for all A’s in your daily writing with the following five A’s:

  1. Attract, and keep, the attention of your reader
  2. Alleviate confusion
  3. Use Appropriate grammar, punctuation and syntax
  4. Achieve a specific goal/objective
  5. Ask someone to proof for you

A. You will attract attention with a pithy subject line and a powerful opening sentence. You have only ten seconds to grab the reader’s attention, and it’s your responsibility to keep the reader engaged in your e-mails, memos, reports, cover letters and other documents. Make every word count.

B. To alleviate confusion specify steps, times, dates, places, people and action items that will help them and you. Never assume.

C. Appropriate grammar, punctuation and syntax are paramount for the “A” in your writing. Refresh and review the use of subject/verb agreement; the use of colons, semi-colons, quotation marks and commas;  and stay away from sentence fragments and run-on sentences.

D. To achieve your goal/objective in your writing, less is more. Site examples, use bulleted lists, give time tables, be specific. Organize your documents for easy transitions. Make your points memorable.

E. Proof! Ask someone who’s not in your department to proof your documents. Yes, some e-mails are only a few sentences, and others need to be proofed.  You see only what you thought you wrote and may miss common typos and mistakes. A different set of eyes and understanding will give you invaluable feedback.

You’re still in school: the school of getting your points across, getting what you want, selling a product or service, and making money. Use the five A’s to continue to get all A’s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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