My New Book: “How I blogged my way through Europe”

Currently, only my friends know that I’m going to be working in Europe this winter. “How?” they ask. “Savings”, I say. Well, savings and ruthless cunning.

I took the summer off to quiet down and think about my future. I did little other than teach my technical writing courses at BCIT and study jazz clarinet. Under the placid surface, though, I was trying to figure out how I could work in Europe. This went back and forth for a while and it looked like I’d just have to go there first and start talking to people and perhaps plan on a miracle.

I was also talking with people in Vancouver about various types of work and I’ve been finding a bit of a perfect storm in which my technical writing and marketing copy writing meet as a powerful sales tool. Did you know there’s a large market for corporate bloggers with technical writing skills and a handle on social networking tools?

I’m now attracting companies that need to make their blogs and web sites look like, well, like someone’s home there. That’s where I come in. I write. And I research a lot about industries I never imagined I’d have to know anything about. The coolest part is I can do this writing from home. And, I reasoned, if I can do it from home, why not from the south of France?

And that’s just what I’m doing in a few short weeks. Living in France and blogging about companies in Vancouver. So you ask, “how did you do it?” C’est si simple, n’est-çe pas?

Oh, and savings helps too. I’ve been stowing away funds in my ING account and have amassed a small fortune.  Since signing up four years ago, I’ve earned $423.72 in interest alone?

If you haven’t switched to a no-fee, high interest bank yet, why not?

Grammar tip – Misplaced and Dangling Modifiers

Check Sentences for Misplaced or Dangling Modifiers

Let’s face it, misplaced and dangling modifiers are just plain fun (as long as it’s not you who writes them). A misplaced modifier usually just doesn’t make sense, because they appear to modify the wrong thing.

After our French lessons, we could understand the French spoken by our visitors from Québec easily. It’s misplaced because it sounds like the visitors spoke easily, when it’s our “understanding” that should be modified. “…we could easily understand…”

A dangling modifier often renders the sentence hilarious. The most famous example of a dangling modifier is by Groucho Marx:

One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas.
How he got into my pajamas I’ll never know.

There are web sites exclusively devoted to documenting them.

Here’s another example: “It wasn’t long before the two got engaged, lived in several Canadian cities, pursued their separate career paths and explored their new surroundings while weighing the pros and cons of each.”

What are they weighing the pros and cons of?

  • Their surroundings
  • Their separate career paths
  • Several Canadian cities
  • Their engagement
  • All of the above

How Dade County Service Fleet Relies on Job Management

All-AirAs service companies grow and add more vehicles to their fleets, they are challenged to track vehicle whereabouts and driver behavior. Without some form of automated vehicle location (AVL) and telemetry (vehicle diagnostics) fleet managers are in the dark while their vehicles are on the road.

That’s why All-Air of Dade County, Florida is re-investing in its Webtech Wireless Quadrant job management solution. Integrated with Garmin®, the job management solution enables fleet managers to dispatch vehicles to their next location, and it saves drivers from needing to call for other dispatches or directions.  Drivers can enter address information and get turn-by-turn directions.

Without their Webtech Wireless solution, fleet managers at this air conditioning solutions and service fleet would have no verifiable way of knowing how safely their drivers were driving. All-Air utilizes the Scorecard and LED feedback to maintain its driving quality. Dangerous driving is recorded on the Scorecard and drivers also see a flashing LED light that warns them that their driving is dangerous and it’s also being recorded.

Now, to fulfill All-Airs’ commitment of  “professionalism, care and attention” to its customers, the company is increasing its investment in the Webtech Wireless’ Quadrant Job Management solution across the entire fleet.

Avoid Ambiguous Pronouns

Avoid Ambiguous Pronouns

Ambiguous PronounThe best way to avoid this kind of confusion (what kind of confusion? The confusion that results from ambiguous pronouns), is to read your copy carefully checking that you can  identify the noun that belongs to the pronoun.

If more than one noun emerges as a possibility, replace the pronoun with its intended noun.

“There’s a high fly ball! Winfield goes back. His head hits the wall. It’s rolling toward second base.”

What’s rolling toward second base?

  • The ball
  • The wall
  • Winfield’s head

 

Simplify Tense

Simplify Tense

Unless you’re a time traveller (and therefore familiar with temporal paradoxes), you’ll be confused by sentences where the writer did not follow a logical progression in time (that skipped writing course at university would have helped now) and now covers too much temporal real estate in a single sentence—don’t you start doing this!

English has twelve tenses. Present tense is the only real tense—all the others are factors of our imagination. The best rule of thumb is to stick to the present tense as much as possible and make occasional forays to other tenses as needed. Don’t make time travellers of your readers by hiking them hither and yon through your temporal landscapes.

EXAMPLE: “Madonna removed her wedding ring before she appeared last week sparking rumours that her marriage is on the rocks.”

Tim Lloyd, Portal 80 Multimedia Inc.

“I would like you to meet Jason Hall, the fellow that will be working on the content for the site. We have worked with Jason in the past; as previously mentioned and find that he will be a great addition to the team.”

What’s a Technical Writer Worth in Vancouver?

My students frequently ask me about salary ranges for technical writers and, occasionally are confronted with their expected salary range on a first job interview. Based on Stats Canada information, you can add a job title, city, and province and find out what the salary range is. Here are the latest statistics on what salaries technical writers get in Vancouver:


Try it yourself.

Use Active Voice

Use Active Voice

Tricky Dick

The phrase, “Mistakes were made” is attributed to US President, Richard Nixon, to acknowledge that the Watergate situation was mishandled. He could have spoken in active voice and said, “Mistakes were made by me” or better still, “I made mistakes”, but he evaded direct admission of responsibility and thereby went down to history as Tricky Dick.

There are three times when it’s appropriate to write in the passive voice:

  • When the doer is unknown. “My bass clarinet was removed.”
  • When the doer is unimportant. “The lab rats were given a placebo.”
  • To protect the doer from embarrassment. “You were overcharged for your purchase.”

TIP: In technical writing, you can distinguish between general concepts and action-oriented procedures by writing the former in passive voice and the latter in active.

Using active voice in web writing adds interest and action to your writing. Good sentences begin with a clearly stated subject (the doer) and a strong verb (action). While it is a commonly used verb, “to be” is passive as it describes a state of being rather than doing. So the more you use “to be”, the more passive sounding your writing will be. Also, some verbs are weaker than others. The verb “to understand” is weaker, because it is harder to quantify and tends to get lumped with another verb that’s doing the real work.

EXAMPLE: To understand how to run for President of the United States, you must have friends in high places.

 

5 Ways to Lower Costs with Your Telematics Investment

Our customers frequently report that the way they realize the best results from their AVL (automatic vehicle location) solution is knowing what to do with all the data the solution provides. Webtech Wireless solutions contain extensive tools (such as score cards and reports), designed to show you how your fleet is operating.

Here are 5 ways you can lower costs:

1.    Re-allocate Resources

A GPS/AVL fleet management solution allows you to see where your vehicles are in real time. Knowing this enables you to allocate resources where they’re most needed. For example, Webtech Wireless’ Quadrant Manager provides the Find Nearest Vehicle feature, which also shows the best route to the desired location. This saves you in fuel costs and provides better service to your customers. Simply put, increased visibility into your mobile assets lowers your operating costs.

Quadrant - Find Nearest Vehicle

Quadrant - Find Nearest Vehicle

2.    Reduce Unnecessary Idling

A truck burns one gallon of fuel per hour of idling. Idling times are shown to range from 500 to more than 4,000 hours per year. How much idling is unnecessary in your fleet?

“Depending on the cost of fuel, distance traveled, and the size of your fleet, a 0.1 mpg improvement in fuel economy justifies the entire cost of a telematics deployment.”
— Telematics Return on Investment: the Human Factor

3.    Improve Driver Behavior

Our customers tell us that, after unnecessary idling, driver behavior (speeding, fast accelerations, and harsh braking) wastes more fuel, thus driving up the costs of doing business. They find that improving driver behavior (i.e., training and motivation programs) is the best way to eliminate these wasteful practices.

Accidents are costly. The more serious the accident, the more time and attention management must give to deal with it. Vehicle repair costs can vary from $3,000 to $5,000 for a fender bender to $50,000 to $100,000 for a serious accident. Liability risk, human injury, and brand reputation all create significant risk for an organization.

“There are so many unknown losses from accidents. There is lack of productivity when we all have to turn our attention to managing an accident. All kinds of personnel wasting their time dealing with the accident and managing the consequences. The cost itself can be really bad. Trucks are down, customers are upset, and it is an amplification of a problem.”
–Kevin Bookey, National Foods, Transportation Manager

4.    Eliminate Paper-based Reporting

Webtech Wireless’ Quadrant solution provides state-of-the-art Hours of Service (HOS) reporting that will save you thousands of dollars in errors, overtime, and even non-compliance fines. Without an electronic on-board reporting tool (EOBR) solution, the most common practice is for paperwork to be completed at the end of the day—almost always billed as overtime hours. Quadrant’s MDT device records HOS information automatically and reports it to head office in real time.

5.    Minimize Risk

Minimizing risk pro-actively also lowers operating costs. For example, fines for inaccurate fuel-tax reporting can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Companies take enormous risk with manual records. Once a fuel tax audit starts, it is almost impossible to predict how long and expensive the resulting audit will be for the company. After fuel tax reporting is automated, this risk is vastly reduced.

Use Concrete Specific Words

Use Concrete Specific Words

StuffnJunkUsing concrete specific words won’t necessarily make your writing shorter, but it will make it more interesting to read.

Avoid:

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

And of course:

  • Stuff
  • Junk
  • Whatever!