Archive for November, 2011

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Funny news headline

November 15, 2011

There are SO many pithy comments I could make about this headline, but I’ll refrain!

Lawyers to tackle shark issueOver to you….

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Installation confusion

November 11, 2011

I’ve been running some maintenance and upgrades on one of my computers, and came across this after downloading and starting the installation of a driver that HP’s Health Check had recommended:

Confusing installation message

What the...? How do you decipher this message?

I have NO idea what I’m meant to do. The message is confusing, very poorly written (reminiscent of scams/malware, etc.), and appears to be contradictory (the original driver is removed, then you have to go back to the original driver and run its setup.exe to install the new driver??? huh?)

Needless to say, I clicked No and backed out of the installation.

Can anyone interpret what it means? It’s got me totally confused.

I did find one thing with a Google search, but it didn’t tell me if the so-called instructions in this message had to be followed for the installation to happen or not: http://h30434.www3.hp.com/t5/Other-Notebook-PC-questions/Strange-message-when-doing-HP-Health-Check-updates/td-p/751063

[Links last checked November 2011]

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Tighten up your writing by removing redundant/unnecessary words

November 10, 2011

Another writing tip that I wrote for my team of authors…

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Getting rid of redundant or unnecessary words tightens up your writing, thus making it easier for your audience to read and understand your documents.

There is a strong ‘plain language’ movement across many industries and governments (the US enacted Plain Language legislation in 2010) that aims to use language that is clear, concise and correct in all documents, websites, etc. ‘Plain language’ doesn’t mean ‘dumbing down’ the content; rather, it aims to clearly and effectively communicate the message.

So, in the interests of promoting plain language, I’ve listed some sentences I’ve edited recently. On the left are the original sentences/phrases, in the middle are the changes I made, and on the right are my comments. I’ve removed words (represented by ‘…’) that weren’t necessary to make each point. In every example, the word count was reduced and the ‘fluff’ was removed.

Before After Comments
The purpose of the … system is to provide… The … system provides…
  • ‘is to provide’ can be replaced by ‘provides’
  • ‘The purpose of’ can be deleted without changing the meaning
This document has been prepared to outline the … Plan This document outlines the … Plan
  • ‘has been prepared to outline’ can be replaced by ‘outlines’ without changing the meaning
The … Coordinator has responsibility for… The … Coordinator is responsible for…
  • ‘is responsible for’ is more forceful than ‘has responsibility for’ and is easier to read and interpret
…reviews will be conducted on a monthly basis, the frequency is borne out of the reporting requirements. …reviews will be conducted monthly, in line with the reporting requirements.
  • ‘on a monthly basis’ can almost always be replaced by the simpler ‘monthly’
  • ‘the frequency is borne out of’ is hard to interpret and can be replaced by the easier to understand ‘in line with’
The … reporting provides a summative view of performance of the project team. … reporting summarises the project team’s performance.
  • ‘provides a summative view of’ is hard to interpret and can be replaced by the easier to understand ‘summarises’
  • ‘performance of the project team’ can be replaced by the possessive and easier to read ‘project teams’ performance’
The accountability for the maintenance of the information within the register and the administration lies with the … Coordinator. The … Coordinator is accountable for the maintenance and administration of the information within the register.
  • This sentence is clumsy as it separates various things that should go together (maintenance/administration; accountability/lies with)
  • Also, the role that’s accountable is not mentioned until the end
  • By putting the role up front, then stating what that role is responsible for, you get a sentence that’s much easier to read and understand
The [document] provides a summary from all relevant … studies… This [document] summarises all relevant … studies…
  • ‘provides a summary from’ can be replaced by the easier to understand ‘summarises’
Risks are evaluated based on the following: … Risks are evaluated based on: …
  • ‘the following’ can almost always be deleted from the introduction to a bulleted list – if the sentence and list items read just as well without it, delete ‘the following’
A dedicated jetty … is utilised for the loading of LNG… A dedicated jetty … is used for loading LNG…
  • ‘utilise’ (and its variations) can almost always be replaced by the simpler ‘use’
  • ‘the loading of LNG’ can be replaced by ‘loading LNG’ without changing the meaning
…in close proximity to… …close to…
…near…
(or even better, be specific about the distance – e.g. 50 m, 10 m, 300 m, 1 m)
  • ‘proximity’ is synonymous with ‘nearness’ so ‘close proximity’ is redundant. You could use ‘in proximity to’, but it is simpler to say ‘close to’ or ‘near’ – and easier for your readers to understand
  • All these terms are also very fuzzy and not specific – does ‘close proximity/close to/near’ mean 10 m or 500 m? Where possible, be specific as to the distance.
Thunderstorms during the summer months … Summer thunderstorms …
  • Summer is one of four seasons, therefore it covers three months, so ‘during the summer months’ is redundant and can be replaced by ‘summer’
The major systems … are summarised below: The major systems … are:
  • Like ‘the following’, ‘summarised below’ can often be deleted from the introduction to a bulleted list – if the sentence and list items read just as well without it, delete ‘summarised below’
An … injection system assists in the prevention of… An … injection system assists in preventing…
  • ‘the prevention of’ is wordy as are many ‘the … of’ constructions, and can be replaced by the ‘-ing’ version of the word; in this example, ‘preventing’
… is obtained downstream …, whereby it is sent to the … facility … is obtained downstream …, and then sent to the … facility
  • In this sentence, ‘whereby it is’ can be replaced by the simpler ‘and then’
The requirements for … are set forth in the tables below. Table 6-4 and Table 6-5 list the requirements for …
  • ‘are set forth’ can be replaced by ‘list’ (or its variations)
  • ‘below’ should be avoided where possible and replaced with the relevant table/figure/section numbers
  • Reword this sentence to make it easier to understand
…this licence will be further expanded… …this licence will be expanded…
  • ‘further expanded’ is tautological – ‘expanded’ is sufficient
Uninterruptible power supply (UPS) is provided to supply critical instrumentation circuits and other control circuits that could impact safety or continuous operation of processes in the event of a momentary loss of power. If there is a momentary loss of power, the uninterruptible power supply (UPS) supplies critical instrumentation circuits and other control circuits that could impact safety or continuous operation of processes.
  • ‘in the event of’ can almost always be replaced by ‘if’
  • ‘is provided to supply’ can be replaced by ‘supplies’
  • Shift the condition (the ‘if’ statement) to the front of the sentence as the consequence/action doesn’t apply except under that condition
… have been designed to muster >50 personnel … … can cater for >50 people …
  • ‘personnel’ can often be replaced by ‘people’ (though not always)
  • ‘have been designed to’ can be replaced by ‘can’
  • As this sentence was about muster points, the use of a second ‘muster’ was redundant and was replaced with ‘cater for’
In the event that the … is blocked in… If the … is blocked in…
  • ‘in the event that’ can almost always be replaced by ‘if’
The materials of construction for the… The construction materials for the…
  • ‘materials of construction’ is awkward; ‘construction materials’ is easier to read and understand
All detectors are located such that they are readily accessible… All detectors are readily accessible…
  • ‘are located such that they’ was redundant in the context of this sentence and was deleted
… to reduce incident severity and risk of escalation in the event of breach of mechanical integrity. … to reduce incident severity and the risk of escalation if mechanical integrity is breached.
  • ‘in the event of’ can almost always be replaced by ‘if’
  • ‘in the event of breach of mechanical integrity’ was replaced with ‘if mechanical integrity is breached’
Unique, one-of-a-kind… Unique OR one-of-a-kind but NOT both
  • ‘unique, one-of-a-kind’ is tautological – ‘unique’ is sufficient
… in order to… … to …
  • ‘in order to’ can often be replaced by ‘to’ (though not always). If the meaning doesn’t change with ‘in order to’ replaced by ‘to’, then delete it.

See also:

[Links last checked November 2011]

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WritersUA Conference 2012

November 9, 2011

The 2012 Conference for Software User Assistance (WritersUA) is moving from the west coast of the USA to Memphis! It will be held at the Peabody Hotel (famous for the Peabody ducks that march through the lobby) from March 11 to 14, 2012.

I’m doing two ‘UA101‘ sessions on the Sunday afternoon — one on Copy Editing and the other on User Interface Text. The UA101 Sunday afternoon stream is a new initiative from the conference organizers. It’s aimed at those who are new to the world of user assistance and it offers some great short (45-minute) introductory sessions with some top speakers. It’s real value for money at $195 for the whole afternoon (you get a choice of three sessions from the 12 on offer). That works out at just $65 per session to get some great information from some of the top-rated gurus in the UA world.

The best thing about presenting two sessions on the Sunday afternoon is that I get the opportunity to attend a session in all the time slots of the main conference. Usually, I speak in one or more of those slots, which means I can’t attend anything else in that slot, even if I wanted to. And if I’m presenting on the Wednesday, for example, it means that my Tuesday night is spent doing a final run-through of my presentation, instead of socializing networking. By the time the 2012 conference proper starts on the Monday morning, I’ll be done!

If you’re thinking of going to this conference (and I highly recommend it), there are ‘early bird’ registration discounts available until January 16, 2012.

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Honesty in job advertising

November 7, 2011

A job ad for a technical writer was recently forwarded to the Austechwriter mailing list. Normal stuff, except for a couple of lines in the list of requirements that made me smile!