Have you ever looked at a web site, product documentation, blog post, etc. and thought “What the heck does that mean? This is a total waste of my time.”
Yeah, we have too. And we’re trying to make it so our own material doesn’t land on that list of yours.
But this quick story shows how easy it is for that to happen – how easy a clear idea recorded on paper (or computer or phone or whatever) can turn into a game of Operator.
The Stick or the Caret
A new Windward hire was asked to proofread some reporting documentation last week. He duly noted an error and showed it to the development group. He was told “oh no, that’s a perfectly legitimate word – not a typo. Leave it.”
The word? Caret.
Yep, caret. As in “Put your caret here.”
As in someone misspelled carat? Or that proofreading mark we used back when we actually edited student papers by hand?
Now, just between us, I had no idea what that sentence meant. It wasn’t clear until I looked it up on Wikipedia and learned “in graphical user interface terminology, caret sometimes refers to a text insertion point indicator, often a blinking vertical bar. In this context, it may be used interchangeably with the word cursor.” Huh. He meant CURSOR. Now I get it.
If you think this is just a tech speak thing, think again. We all have our own vocabulary that we aren’t even aware of.
(I once said during a talk to incoming Peace Corps volunteers, “You just boke it back to your dhara.” It was perfectly clear advice to the English speakers I hung out with at the time, because we also spoke Nepali. But the newbies had blank looks on their faces that weren’t just from the stunned realization they wouldn’t see running water or electricity for the next two years.)
When Good Writing Is Bad Writing
The takeaway: Sometimes writing stinks even when it is written well. Not because the writing is unclear or complicated, but because a single vocabulary word can make the difference between understanding and not understanding.
And too often we’re not able to fix it, because we don’t realize what is throwing the reader off.
So… we’re asking you, the Windward business user, to let us know. Is there anything that confuses you about our solutions or products? When we say “super” do you hear “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and get off track? Feel free to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Heidi (and the rest of the bloggers)