Things to Avoid

This post has lots of humor. But because the humor wasn’t intentional, it is a problem. You don’t mind if someone laughs at a joke you meant to make. Having them laugh at you is not as much fun.

Writing at the last minute
You should avoid this because it usually means skimping on sleep. According to the journal Sleep, sleep deprivation causes similar physical responses as being legally drunk. Writing a paper while you are sleep deprived is a bad idea.

Also writing at the last minute is problematic because you do not have time to review and rewrite or to have someone else read your paper. You need to write something that is readable. If you are writing quickly and without time to look over the paper, your paper might look like this example from Tech Standards’ 2002 Winners:
Poorly written rubik’s cube solution

Ridiculous product labeling:
The British newspaper The Telegraph has an article on ridiculous product labeling. The title of the article is taken from a warning on a package of salmon. “This salmon may contain fish.” The article is short, a bit funny, and has a reference to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

eWealth offers a plethora of ridiculous product warnings. It includes a road sign which said “Caution: Water on road during rain.” Of course, I didn’t think Silk Soy Milk’s was quite as crazy as the site implied. It said, “Shake well and buy often.” (Does that count as subliminal messaging?)

An overuse of warnings
a clear example of an overuse of warning labels.

Things Techies are annoyed by
A forum thread on Techlore has many posts on the worst line from a manual you’ve ever seen. Many of the posts are actually about directions, but there are some from manuals as well. Some of the things to avoid from that thread would include:
poor English translation (If you aren’t a native speaker, have someone who is read your work.)
changing terms (Use one term for one thing consistently throughout the work.)
recommending things that will cause the product to break (Duh. Except that one manufacturer did.)

And, of course, don’t do crazy things like those noted at TechWriting-L:

The December 19th entry from the *365 Stupidest Things Ever Said*
(Workman Publishing) reads: “To avoid breakage, keep bottom on top. Top
 marked bottom to avoid confusion.”

Lawyers and committees
Which way to go? discusses problems with employee handbooks. The two biggest no-no’s according to it are having a committee or a lawyer write the manual. (You are safe there.) Then he gives seven tips for writing an employee manual, which are spread throughout the article. The article is written as an interview and several questions interrupt the points he is making. (I would think that would be one thing to avoid as well.)

Too little white space
Don’t fill up your page. CTI advertising says that having less fill up your page makes your page look more prestigious.

Problems with parallelism
Headings need to be parallel. If you have a bunch of nouns or adjectives as headings and then you ask a question, that’s a problem. If you have sentences as headings and then you throw in a phrase, that’s a problem. The longer the work is, the more likely you are to have problems with parallelism.

You could end up with something like the Technical Standards winners for 2002 Worst Manual Contest, which said:

It is suggested that you read and follow these Rules:
1. Failure to report to work as scheduled without notifying the Company of your absence before 8:00 am and without a reason acceptable to the Company.
2. Excessive or unexcused absenteeism.
3. Failure or refusing to do work assigned.
4. Poor workmanship.

7. Stealing.
8. Willful destruction of Company property.

So how do you avoid this? Read back through your headings after you have completed a section. This means reading through your paper only looking at the headings. It is a simple thing to do, but you would be surprised how often people forget to do it. Then read through any lists or bullets you have under individual headings. Start from those at the end of the paper to help keep it fresh.

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