Writing for the Web: Clarity 1/7

Clarity

Futurama - Stuff n' Junk (or whatever)Using concrete specific words won’t necessarily make your writing shorter, but it will make it more interesting to read. Consider the following:

“A number of factors must be addressed to ensure this effort meets its objectives within the proposed time frame.”

Avoid:

  • Several – how many?
  • Numerous – What number?
  • Various – Which?
  • Very – use your imagination!

And of course:

  • Stuff
  • Junk
  • Whatever!

Rule: Use Concrete Specific Words

Writing for the Web, It’s a Digital Life

It’s a Digital Life

It's a digital lifeWhen writing for the web, you are writing for an audience that’s mostly fickle and distracted. There’s just too much information out there, so readers flit about looking for writing that’s most easily consummable to them. If they encounter any challenge to their reading (poor organization, rambling prose, padded sentences), they bail.

The maxim, “Ride the horse in the direction it’s headed” is appropriate here. If you organize your information in a way that follows how people read, your writing is more likely to be read. Web readers read differently in the following ways:

  • They don’t read screens as easily as pages.
  • They tend to scan and forage for the content they want.
  • They don’t read in a linear fashion—they follow links and move about.

Generally, to get your writing read, write shorter sentences. This principle is widely known, but little information is ever provided on how to write shorter sentences. Over the  next 14 days, I will describe ways to improve the readability of your writing based on the following web-writing principles: clarity and economy. Starting tomorrow…clarity.

Barry Cogswell, Artist & Sculptor

I also want to thank you for helping to make the process so easy and pleasant. It was great working with you. From the beginning you had a very clear idea of how the site might be designed, but you were also more than willing to listen to my own ideas and suggestions. Throughout I found the complete process, from starting with my initial request to taking delivery of your excellent final design a very positive and enjoyable experience. I assure you I will not hesitate to recommend you to acquaintances and friends who may need the help of a web-site designer.

Thank you again.

Testimonial – Combining profound technical knowledge with creative flair

Jason combines profound technical knowledge with creative flair that makes him the Michelangelo of training/user manuals. He upgraded our training materials to a world-class level and streamlined the production process.

—Michael Kano, Training Operations Manager, ACL Software

Testimonial: Susan Dong, Recruitment Director – BC, S.I. Systems

I had the pleasure of working with Jason on two client projects, where he delivered customized solutions that met their needs and exceeded their expectations.

I would rank Jason in the top 10% of consultants in his area of expertise, not only for his high level of professionalism, but for his commitment to his responsibilities.

Jason is a knowledgeable and dedicated person. I highly recommend him to anyone looking for a true professional.

Gary Wagner, PMP, Product Manager

During our working together, Jason confidently led the development and execution to plan, of the end user and internal communications that accompanied regular product software releases.

Jason took strong ownership of the content, direction, and consistency of these communications and delivered consistently to previously agreed-to scope on time, and on more than one occasion, earlier than expected.

A self starter and engaging collaborator, Jason demonstrated the ability to maintain focus on his and his team’s set of deliverables whilst being aware of overarching project milestones during it’s lifecycle.

I would welcome the opportunity to engage Jason again on any future project which would benefit from his creative skill.
March 31, 2010

Testimonial: Barry Cogswell, Artist & Sculptor

I also want to thank you for helping to make the process so easy and pleasant. It was great working with you. From the beginning you had a very clear idea of how the site might be designed, but you were also more than willing to listen to my own ideas and suggestions. Throughout I found the complete process, from starting with my initial request to taking delivery of your excellent final design a very positive and enjoyable experience. I assure you I will not hesitate to recommend you to acquaintances and friends who may need the help of a web-site designer.

Thank you again.

Testimonial – Industry experience helps

Throughout both COMM 1007 – Technical Writing Style and COMM 1008 – Technical Editing and Grammar classes, Jason stressed the importance of learning industry standard software used in technical writing. The amusing visuals he used and his approachable manner helped to make the classes very engaging. And his frequent anecdotes about experience in the industry helped me understand something about the real work of a technical writer.

—James, Technical Writing Student, BCIT

Client of Frances Carere, Business Development Manager, CDI Education

Thank you for providing [us] with Jason Hall’s services during their migration; the project is officially over. During the sign-off interview, [our IT Manager] said she was extremely satisfied with the work Jason did. (Despite me giving you such short notice!) [She] was particularly impressed with Jason’s ability to quickly resolve their logo migration issue. This would have been a huge problem for them to resolve but Jason did it within a day.

Thanks again for pulling the rabbit out of the hat. I look forward to working with you again.

Perfect Contract

The Perfect Contract

I was contracted to provide technical help, which I would describe as The Perfect Contract. What was perfect about this contract was how much I was able provide because it mirrored my diverse range of skills and abilities. So much so, in fact, that the description of what I did reads almost like my résumé. This contract was a quick turn around – I was called on Thursday and had the majority of work completed by the following Wednesday.

Needs Assessment – 6 hours

The client was in the midst of an office-wide migration from Macintosh computers to Windows PC computers to be compliant with head office. I spoke with their IT Administrator to determine what operating systems were involved and what she thought the key issues were.

I discovered that some Users would migrate directly to PC computers and other would be on their old Apple Macintosh computers running Windows in a Citrix shell for several weeks. My training and materials needed to reflect that.

I explored their system making notes. I needed to know their systems well enough to anticipate a broad range of questions pertaining to both Apple Macintosh and Windows PC operating systems as well as the Citrix Shell. I concluded that I would be giving a lecture type demonstration to all staff using screen projections and handouts.

Create End-User Guide – 11 hours

At home, I created a complementary End-User Migration Guide aimed at both the full PC Users as well as the Mac Users now operating Windows in the Citrix Shell.

Topics covered included Understanding Windows 2000 Server, Using Word and Excel in Windows, Introduction to Outlook, Good PC keyboard shortcuts for Mac Users and how to navigate between the two environments.

Deliver Presentation – 1.5 hours

On Monday, I delivered a presentation to all available staff in their boardroom. I handed out my Guide and used a projector to demonstrate how their new computer environment would operate.

Following the demonstration I answered questions ranging from how to access old programs and files to security concerns in Windows 2000.

Provide Desk-side Support – 14 hours

After the presentation, I visited each staff member in person to help with specific questions or concerns. As with many offices, there was a broad range of skills to accommodate. Some Users had come from Windows backgrounds in other companies and were pleased to return to a Windows environment. Others had only ever known a Mac environment and verged on terror at the prospect of starting all over again with a new and unfamiliar operating system.

I took time to assess their individual needs so that I could provide service to even those who initially thought they didn’t require any support. For example, I showed some Users how to create mail rules to organize their email in Outlook, how to assign their favourite keyboard shortcuts to toolbars in Word and how to navigate and manage files in Windows.

I returned over several days to provide desk side support and re-iterate the initial presentation to those how had not been to the original presentation.

Design Corporate Logo 3.5 hours

An interesting spin-off of this contract was that the IT Administrator discovered that their corporate logo did not port over well from Macintosh to Windows and asked if I could redesign it.

My solution was to recreate their old logo using Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop and create both Web and print versions to suit all their needs. After one revision, they were pleased with what I created and the new logo now adorns their corporate letterhead and Website.

Conclusion

Although I have taken on more technically challenging contracts than this one, rarely have I been able to roll so many skills into one short contract. I welcome all other creative and diverse opportunities where my skills and abilities can be as well utilized.

And here’s what the client had to say

Thank you for providing [us] with Jason Hall’s services during their migration; the project is officially over. During the sign-off interview, [our IT Manager] said she was extremely satisfied with the work Jason did. (Despite me giving you such short notice!) [She] was particularly impressed with Jason’s ability to quickly resolve their logo migration issue. This would have been a huge problem for them to resolve but Jason did it within a day.

Thanks again for pulling the rabbit out of the hat. I look forward to working with you again.