I like comics about our language. here’s another. Can you tell his two mistakes?
I like to give credit whenever I post someone else’s work; see the info in the upper left corner.
Now down to business. Did you catch the solecisms? Obviously the joke wouldn’t be as good, but to stay with the possessive, he should have said “myPod.” And since he started with the singular, the last one should also have been singular; his, her, its-Pod.
I’m such a curmudgeon…
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A recent article in The Register criticized Google’s Eric Schmidt for, among other things, his (lack of) ability as a technical writer. Since this blog is mainly about expository writing, of which technical writing is a subset, I feel a need to share. Here’s the passage I’m referring to:
…Schmidt goes on to show he’s not conversant with the gentle art of technical writing with procedures that use inconsistent verbs, fail to open each step of a procedure with an active verb and make assumptions that lead to user-befuddling ambiguities.
Gentle art, eh? I’m flattered. Eric’s instructions are too long to quote here (you can find a link them in the article), but the criticisms mentioned in the quote above are worth noting for your own writing.
Inconsistent verbs…active verb. I’m not sure what the writer is referring to here, but when you write instructions, you should use the imperative. Do not say “Please.” Give one instruction per step. Tell the result of following the instruction correctly. (Do not write the result as a separate step!)
User-befuddling ambiguities. Ambiguity is the bane of technical writing. You should write so your material is interpreted exactly one way. Have someone follow your instructions. If they get something wrong, fix the writing. Do not whack the person upside the head for being stupid.
Tech writing has a lot more features, and I saw several other tech writing mistakes in Eric’s material, but I won’t go into them here.
Now in Eric’s defense, he is not a technical writer. He’s an extremely successful businessman with lots of money. (Warning: shameless plug ahead) If his intent is to write a good set of instructions (and not a marketing piece disguised as tech writing) maybe he should hire (ahem) a good technical writer to write the instructions for him.
A couple weeks back I got a comment from someone who looked like a spammer, but the comment, rather than being a vague compliment, it was a pretty good legitimate question about writing. So I figured it might be an actual person who wanted to actually sell actual ladies’ underwear, so I replied. Turned out the gmail address bounced, so I deleted the comment.
The question had to do with having trouble getting started writing, and wondered if I would share how I managed to not waste time waiting for the mood to strike.
Not being one to waste a perfectly good comment about writing, I share it herewith:
I’m not sure your question is legit, considering your user name, but the problem you describe is a real one, so I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt.
It takes your brain ten to fifteen minutes to get into a state we call flow. That fifteen minutes is normal, so it’s not really being wasted. Think of it as warming up your car engine on a cold day. You can shorten the time somewhat by developing a ritual before you start actually writing. Get your coffee (or whatever) ready, the chair arranged, and so on. Doodle a bit, or jot down random ideas related to what you want to write about. Before you know it, you’ll look up and an hour or more will have passed!
That person missed some good information by being bogus. Flow is an important part of writing.
By the way, the process of writing has gotten a bit easier with the advent of tools like word processors. Editing is so much easier now, because it’s so easy to insert things in the middle of what you’ve written. I like to write “sideways,” not beginning to end. I start out with whatever comes to mind, then go back later and add things that occur to me. Especially at first, I don’t worry about what order things should be. Resist the temptation to make minor fixes, too. Just get a lot of stuff down. Include notes about looking up things that you don’t know for sure. Include sentence fragments. Include topics, headings, metadata. Include actual content.
When the time feels right (when you have the content pretty much down; at least referred to), sit back and move things around. More ideas will occur to you; put them in. Presently you will feel like you have the content and organization fairly well in place.
Now take a break. At least several minutes, overnight is better. When you return to the writing, you’ll be amazed at what else you think of. Make the changes. About now you can start cleaning up the mechanics, too.
When you’re fairly satisfied, take another break.
Now go over it meticulously for mechanics: grammar, punctuation, SV-agreement, spelling, and all the rest. At least twice. Get someone else to do a proofread. Never let something out with bad mechanics! I’ve read several articles, even novels, (—online. Apparently the ones that end up on real paper get proofread by professionals) that were interesting and maybe accurate, but they were laden with simple mistakes and it gave the lie to their competence with the content.
You wouldn’t wear perfectly good underwear if it were dirty, would you? Then be sure your writing is clean.