Tag Archives: technical writer

Those Darn Gremlins! The Typo Gritters

We’ve all been there:  we wrote a great press release, a killer brochure, a wonderful news letter, an amazing emailer. We spent hours composing compelling content, fine-tuning sentences and coming up with a gripping call to action….only to find out that our fruit of the pen contains an annoying typo. No matter how many times who proofread your copy, overlooking typos is an occupational hazard. Our eyes and brains are great at auto correction. That’s a mixed blessing when you are a marketing, technical or a copywriter.

Ideally, you write something, leave it alone for 24 hours and come back at it the next day. (It’s a translator’s trick). Life is being made more difficult with Microsoft’s auto-correct. When misspelling a word, it’s great. However,  insisting that it’s should be its (or the other way around); not so much! Let alone if you want to insert a foreign word, company name or phrase in your text. I got some hilarious “suggestions” from the proofing & spelling tool.

Is there a way to make sure that your copy does not contain typos? Yes, but like everything in life, it comes with a price tag…

  • Proofread backwards. Start at the end of each sentence and proofread each word separately. Needless to say, this is extremely time-consuming (and boring).
  • Have someone else going over your text. This is perfect when you write fiction; your friends will love to proofread. However, your colleagues do not have the time (or the interest) to do this for you at work.
  • Proofread each sentence separately, without the context of the whole paragraph. This will disable your brain’s “fill in the blanks” capability.
  •  Print it out and circle typos with a pen or highlight them with a marker. I like to number each one, so it will be easier for me to incorporate them in the text. In my experience, PDF files are even harder to proofread than word files if they are not printed out.
  • Check text in Google or Yahoo. It’s an acid test. If you put your text in Google translate or search, the tool will politely ask you “did you mean……..” before it starts searching or translating. It’s a great way to quickly pick up mistakes. Yahoo also has a spelling tool – like Microsoft, it’s not 100% accurate, but it does raise warning flags.
  • Be prepared to get criticism from non-native speaking bosses and/or jealous colleagues. I once had a boss who insisted that it should be “product suit” instead of “product suite”. It took a lot of effort to convince him without antagonizing him. I also had a (Swedish) colleague who would love to challenge everything I wrote. She was quite upset when I pointed out that “being pissed” or “anyways” was not something I wanted to include in corporate materials, including the corporate blog.
  •  Make sure that you spell all names correctly. Customers get upset when their own or company name is misspelled. One of my customers is Curapipe, which an accounting firm kept misspelling as “Cureapipe”. Also pay attention to days and times, especially if it concerns events or exhibitions. If you put in a location, make sure that you add the correct country or state. Paris, France is dramatically different from Paris, TX.
  • Check the call to action and contact details. Make sure that all links work and the telephone numbers are correct.
  • Reading aloud is a great way to catch mistakes. It is easy if you are a freelancer working from home, but a bit tricky if you work in and/or share an office.
  • If you want to know if your text makes any sense, send it to someone you trust (e.g., a friend) outside of your industry. They will tell you what is absolutely unclear or misspelled!
  • Ask questions. If you write e.g., a help desk document, talk to the manager and ask in detail about the procedure and how long each step takes. I found out this way that handling a support ticket takes 4 hours instead of 2 which I originally understood!
  • Learn the lingo. Each industry has its own lingo, which is clear for the recipient (e.g., app developers) but not for the average man in the street. You need to find out if the reader of your text is the general public (e.g., press release), a specific industry group (e.g., mobile operators), or a specific target audience (e.g., investors, who want to read about ROI and TCO).

A great example is tablets, where tap is used instead of click; long-press and drag (with one finger or two fingers) is common. Pinch is used for zooming in and spread for zooming out.

  • Make it fun. No matter the target audience, it must be easy to read and understand. Again, friends that are not in the industry are a great help. If they can quickly grasp the message, you are OK. If you can use a funky term or coin a new word or phrase ( I coined Twitterati, Evillenus, Trollzilla, and Cybercrooks).
  • Take care of the legal stuff. If you write for a public company, legal will have its merry way with your text and quite likely make adjustments you will not like. My advice: live with it. Public companies have to comply with various rules and regulations (SOX, HIPPAA), so if they want to tweak your text – let them. From your end, make sure that you check each product you mention in your white paper, brochure, press release, web content etc. for its intellectual property (trademark, copyright). Many companies, including Microsoft, have a list of all their products on their website. Checking out their boiler plate in their press releases is also an easy way to find out what is protected and what not.
  • Live with your mistakes. You are human, so you make mistakes. Nobody is perfect, and most people will not even pick up on your typos! If you are not sure how to spell a word or use a phrase, ask members of groups you belong to. They will be more than happy to advise you! Some texts seem to be prone to gremlins; no matter how many times people go over it; some typos are just not caught. Annoying, but again, not the end of the word (oops, I mean world!)

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Why There is a Need for Technical Writers

Almost every organization needs technical writing due to the need for user guides, instruction manuals, quick guides, user manuals, white papers, product documentation, training materials, etc.

Since technical writing has become essential part of today’s business and government, jobs can be found in almost any industry sector.  The demand for technical writers is expected to grow, since enterprises need to communicate existing and new scientific and technical information to others.

Many technical writers prefer to specialize in a specific industry such as telecommunications, computers, bio-tech, pharmaceuticals, agriculture, health care, or manufacturing. This way, they can build expertise in e.g., software documentation, tutorials, white papers, or user guides.

Technical writing is as diverse and there is an overlap with marketing writing. Product instructions, reference and maintenance manuals, articles, project proposals, training materials, technical reports, catalogs, brochures, online documentation and help systems, Web pages, multimedia presentations, parts lists, assembly instructions, white papers, sales promotion materials, tenders, RFI and RFP, and tech blogs require the skills of technical writers.

Technical writers enable enterprises to tell their users how to use their products and services. Those users can be consumers, system integrators, resellers, scientists, engineers, plant executives, line workers, production managers, but also product reviewers, tech journalists, and tech bloggers.

Technical writing is different from marketing writing. Technical writing describes the current situation; marketing writing also covers what will be. The writing style between the two is therefore very different. Good technical writing is concise and easy-to-read. In many cases, technical writers are also expected to deal with the graphics, layout, and document design.

Thinking of becoming a technical writer? Then look for a technical writing course near you. It normally also includes an internship to get hands-on working experience.

(Cartoon courtesy of Scott Adams)

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