I was reading a list of seven tips for improving technical writing, and the first tip gave me pause:
1. Analogy – provide a comparison or analogy to describe how something abstract works.
Not everyone is as familiar with the system as you are. Try to help the reader along by giving as much direction as possible so they see the bigger picture.
Once they understand how the system works at a high level, they will have more confidence in reading the more technical details.
If your content is going to be localized, comparisons and analogies are going to be problematic because they are often culturally specific. Here’s a good example of how an analogy had to be changed in marketing material so that it made sense to audiences in different parts of the world:
When the Walt Disney World Resort created promotional material for a North American audience, it stated that the resort is 47 square miles or “roughly half the size of Rhode Island.”
Outside of North America, many people don’t know about Rhode Island, and this analogy would have no meaning. Walt Disney wisely chose to customize the material for each target market. For instance, in the UK version, the material states that the resort is “the size of greater Manchester,” and in Japan, the resort is described as the size of the subway system.
Disney may have the deep pockets to pay for rewriting marketing content for various audiences, but I suspect there are few technical documentation departments these days that have the money or resources to reformulate analogies for different regions. You’re better off avoiding analogies altogther when writing technical content.
October 22nd, join Simon Bate for a session on delivering multiple versions of a help set without making multiple copies of the help:
I will be visiting New Orleans for LavaCon. This event, organized by Jack Molisani, is always a highlight of the conference year. I will be offering sessions on XML and on user-generated content. You can see the complete program here. In addition to my sessions, I will be bringing along a limited number of copies of our newest publication, The Compass. Find me at the event to get your free copy while supplies last. (Otherwise, you can order online Real Soon Now for $15.95.)
Register for LavaCon (note, early registration has been extended until October 12)
And last but certainly not least, we have our much-anticipated session on translation workflows. Nick Rosenthal, Managing Director, Salford Translations Ltd., will deliver a webcast on cost-effective document design for a translation workflow on November 19 at 11 a.m . Eastern time:
In this webcast, Nick Rosenthal discusses the challenges companies face when translating their content and offers some best practices to managing your localization budget effectively, including XML-based workflows and ways to integrate localized screen shots into translated user guides or help systems.
As always, webcasts are $20. LavaCon is just a bit more. Hope to see you at all of these events.
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!