Archive for April, 2010


Unfortunate word wrap

April 30, 2010

I make fabric things in my spare time, and sell some of them on ( I also participate occasionally in Etsy’s forums.

Recently, Etsy changed some of their web page design, and now I get this no matter how I resize Internet Explorer:

I think it should say ‘Forum Title’…

[Links last checked April 2010]


Excellent resource on typography

April 29, 2010

Saw this on my Twitter feeds:

What an EXCELLENT resource for anyone who writes, not just lawyers. Sections 8, 9 and 10 go into detail about things such as hyphenation, font choices, use of all caps and small caps, kerning, line spacing etc.

[Link last checked April 2010; thanks to @charjtf for Tweeting this link]


Multiple products in the one manual?

April 28, 2010

Should you document multiple products in the one user manual? Or does it just confuse users?

This question was prompted by a blog post I read recently (I like R-ing the F-ing Manual: The author stated that he hates manuals that try to cover all product lines in the one document — he finds them confusing and of no use when he is looking for specifics about the model he’s purchased. And he’s frustrated by the endless safety warnings and the input that lawyers have on these.

Normally, I wouldn’t have responded to his plea for a manual that just covers a single product. However, only two weeks ago I purchased a Sunbeam electric blanket for our new bed. And reading those instructions was frustrating and confusing!

Why? Because they covered general safety precautions (2 full pages + a loose leaf page), then SEVEN different types of blanket and 24 different models — all in a 20 page booklet. You can view a PDF of this manual here:

In addition, there were sections that were general to all types and models. These were before AND after the specific model information. Some of the specific model information was common to all models, yet wasn’t in one of these general sections. For example, every model included the same subsection wording  for SleepPerfect Technology and Cosy feet heating — this could have gone in with the general information about all models. Every model had a similar subsection for Detachable controls and Dual controls (there were some minor variations in wording for some of these).

Even my cursory analysis of this content highlighted several areas of repetition. A full analysis would no doubt highlight more. The information for the specific models may have been better placed in a table or matrix of features, with supporting notes — if required. That would have saved on paper and would have made reading this manual much less confusing. Instructions for fitting and using the blanket would have been clearer with numbered steps.

With today’s authoring tools that allow for all sorts of single-sourcing, the use of variables, variants and the like, there’s no reason (except printing costs) why there should haven’t been a different manual for each type of electric blanket, even if there wasn’t a separate one for each model.

Alternatively, if printing costs are so prohibitive, then spending a little more time and money on information/content analysis could pay for itself in reduced printing costs (replace nine specific model pages with a feature table/matrix on a single page), better readability, better usability and better comprehension.

BTW, many technical writers/communicators and/or content strategists can do information/content analysis of your existing documentation. You might even have one on staff…

See also:

[Links last checked April 2010]


Practising what you preach

April 27, 2010

Bottom line: If you’re going to write articles and create a website all about the user experience (UX), especially the UX of websites, then at least make the site usable and readable for as many users as possible.

One of my RSS feeds displayed an article from the 52 Weeks of UX website. The problem: I could hardly read the article — the image on the left took up much of the space, and the text column on the right was not fluid, i.e. it didn’t reflow the text as I resized the browser window.

I thought the problem was with my feed reader, so I opened the page in Firefox. Same deal. The right side was cut off. I have dual 19″ monitors rotated into portrait mode, but I still had to stretch the browser window a long way across the two monitors to read the article’s text without using the horizontal scroll bar.

Next I checked the code, looking for a link to the CSS file. And to my absolute surprise, I found that the CSS was incorporated directly into the HTML page. That may be because this is a blog-style website. So next I checked the almost unreadable CSS, finally finding the culprit — a fixed 525 px width for articles (.entry-content div, in case you go looking).

This site would be even worse on a small form factor device, such as a cell phone. That fixed width is the killer.

BTW, I also noticed a typo in the keywords — that’ll make it hard for some search engines to find…

[Links last checked April 2010]


iTunes showing up in German

April 26, 2010

I’m our household’s resident geek. If my husband gets stuck with his computer, he calls me. Well, he’d been complaining that the text he sees in iTunes was all in German — and neither of us read German! I checked the preferences in his iTunes desktop app. There’s a language setting under Edit > Preferences. It was already set to English (US), so I got him to change it to English (UK) just in case the selection needed to be refreshed. Then, following the on-screen instructions, he closed down iTunes and restarted it.

That didn’t fix it. However, I noticed that the iTunes app toolbar etc. was in English — and had been all along. The German text was in the iTunes Store section in the middle.

Off to Google… where I found that there are TWO language settings you have to change — one for the app (which we had already done, above), and one for the store. To change the one for the store, scroll to the bottom of any page in the store. On the bottom right, you’ll see a flag. Click the flag and choose the country/language you want. Problem solved — no more German text!

However, what my husband did find was that the information available to him from the Australian version of the store and the German (or other language) version of the store was different in some respects. He’s a bit of a ‘music detective’ in that he hunts out things like album credits, times for songs, release dates etc. so he’s interested in all that stuff — and that’s where he noticed differences. Now that he knows he can change the store’s country/view, he’s got has another little world to explore when hunting down such information. So that’s a bonus — I think…

BTW, Apple have documented this language issue in their knowledge base, which is where I found the answer:

[Links last checked April 2010]



April 25, 2010

On April 25th, Australians and New Zealanders the world over will remember those who died in the various wars. The original ANZAC Day was April 25, 1915 — the site was Gallipoli in Turkey; the result was slaughter. During WW1, Australia had a population of 5 million; some 420,000 fought in WW1; and some 60,000+ died, many at Gallipoli.

I’d like to share two songs in remembrance of those who were injured or who died in the various conflicts and wars, and the families left behind:

Also, if you’ve never watched Gallipoli — the Peter Weir movie starring a very young Mel Gibson — do so.

[Links last checked April 2010]


A $20K proofreading error

April 24, 2010

Oops! (from: