For his 1959 horror movie The Tingler, director/producer William Castle had movie theater seats rigged with buzzers to scare moviegoers during a scene when the Tingler creature is loose in a theater. Patrons in those seats probably didn’t enjoy the jolt—or making a spectacle of themselves because of the Tingler’s “attack.”
Last night, a bit of spam managed to worm its way through the filters on a personal email account, and I have to admit I glanced at the content while scanning previews of messages. That’s when I spotted a paragraph that really jumped out at me:
They have good management systems, product quality inspection system. And international speedboat (EMS) is the door – door accurate! Soon!
My thought process was, What’s up with the international speedboats? And why are emergency medical services (EMS) using these speedboats? I knew that the person who wrote the content was likely not a native English speaker, but I could not figure out what the writer was trying to communicate.
This morning, I finally realized what the message was trying to say: the company uses EMS worldwide delivery services for prompt and accurate delivery to my door. My brain must not have been firing on all cylinders last night when I thought EMS meant “emergency medical services.”
I don’t think I’ve ever spent as much time thinking about a company’s marketing message, but my thoughts weren’t about using the company’s services–I was merely trying to comprehend the message itself. That’s not what the company intended, I’m sure.
Marketing for a global audience–particularly one that associates EMS with “emergency medical services”–is not an easy thing!
The Shanghai Tech Writer blog has posted a screen capture of a rather ominous error message in FrameMaker:
The licensing subsystem has failed catastrophically. You must reinstall or call customer support.
I have never been the unfortunate recipient of that particular message in the many years I’ve worked with FrameMaker. If I did encounter that message, I would fully expect it to be accompanied by the shrieking strings from the Psycho shower scene. The use of “catastrophically” is a bit over the top. The fact I need to reinstall or contact customer support sets the tone enough, thank you very much–no soundtrack or scary adverb required.
The editor in me wants “catastrophically” removed from that message. If that bit of text came across my desk for review, I would have pushed back hard on the use of that word. It’s bad enough the user has to get a solution to the error, and referring to the problem as “catastrophic” is certainly not doing the user any favors.
About a year ago, we added Google Analytics to our web site. I have done some research to see what posts were the most popular in the past year:
- The clear winner was our FrameMaker 9 review. With 21 comments, I think it was also the most heavily commented post. Interestingly, the post itself is little more than a pointer to the PDF file that contains the actual review.
- InDesign CS4 = Hannibal post, which discussed InDesign’s encroachment on traditional FrameMaker features.
- A surprise…a post from 2006 in which Mark Baker discussed the merits (or lack thereof) of DITA in To DITA or not to DITA
Our readers appear to like clever headlines, because I don’t think the content quality explains the high numbers for posts such as:
We noticed this pattern recently, when a carefully crafted, meticulously written post was ignored in favor of a throwaway post dashed off in minutes with a catchy title (Death to Recipes!).
- Write catchy titles
- Have an opinion, preferably an outrageous one
- More cowbell
Which graphics formats should you use in your documentation? For print, the traditional advice is EPS for line drawings and TIFF for screen captures and photographs. That’s still good advice. These days, you might choose PDF and PNG for the same purposes. There are caveats for each of these formats, but in general, these are excellent choices.
Of course, everybody knows to stay away from WMF, the Windows Metafile Format. WMF doesn’t handle gradients, can’t have more than 256 colors, and refuses to play nice with anything other than Windows.
Think you’re too good to hang out with WMF? For your print and online documentation, perhaps. But it may be a great choice to give to your company’s PowerPoint users.
Are you familiar with this scenario? PowerPoint User saw some graphics in your documentation and thought they would work for some sales presentations. The screen captures are easy; you just give PowerPoint User PNGs or BMPs or whatever. It’s the line drawings that are the problem. PowerPoint User doesn’t have Illustrator and has never heard of EPS. PowerPoint User says, “Can you give me a copy of those pictures in a format that I can use in PowerPoint? Oh, and can make that box purple and change that font for me first? And move that line just a little bit? And make that line thicker? And remove that entire right side of the picture and split it into two pictures?”
You want PowerPoint User to reuse the graphics; you’re all about reuse. But you have dealt with PowerPoint User before, and you know you will never get your real job done if you get pulled into the sucking vortex of PowerPoint User’s endless requests.
The secret is to give PowerPoint User the graphics in a format that can be edited from within PowerPoint (or Word): WMF. Here’s the drill that will make you a hero:
- Save your graphics as WMF.
- Place each WMF on a separate page in a PowerPoint or Word file.
- Tell PowerPoint User to double-click on a graphic to make it editable.(If you think your PowerPoint User is really dumb, you can double-click the graphic and respond to the dialog box asking if you want to make the drawing editable yourself before saving the file, but nobody is that dumb.)
WMF. It will make PowerPoint User go away…happy!