About

I'm Mike Pope. I live in the Seattle area. I've been a technical writer and editor for over 30 years. I'm interested in software, language, music, movies, books, motorcycles, travel, and ... well, lots of stuff.

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— One of my cousins



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Blog Statistics

Dates
First entry - 6/27/2003
Most recent entry - 9/21/2018

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Posts - 2522
Comments - 2582
Hits - 2,081,911

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Entries/day - 0.45
Comments/entry - 1.02
Hits/day - 374

Updated every 30 minutes. Last: 12:17 PM Pacific


  08:58 PM

Last week I moaned about what I considered some dumb instructions. This week I'll praise some instructions that probably look pretty dumb, but I thought were actually pretty smart.

First, the instructions. The scenario is that you have an ad posted on Craigslist already and you then edit it. When you save your edits, this is what you see:
YOU ARE FINISHED EDITING. THANKS!

READ ALL OF THIS! -- TO SEE YOUR CHANGES:
Go see your ad at http://seattle.craigslist.org/est/msg/nnnnn.html
While viewing that page, hold down the 'Ctrl' key and press the 'F5' key.
The page should now show your ad, with your new changes included.
Your edits have been made. If you still don't see them after the above steps, try restarting your browser and looking again.
One of the complaints I had last week was that some of the steps ("Click Next") were telling the reader to do something blind, without the context of what you were actually accomplishing. But hey, look! These instructions do something that's arguably the same thing:
While viewing that page, hold down the 'Ctrl' key and press the 'F5' key.
What they really mean is "refresh your browser." (Also, they mean "Press Ctrl+F5".)

So why do I like these particular instructions? It has to do with understanding your audience. Last week's instructions ignored the fact that the audience was Microsoft employees — people who have run similar procedures many, many times.

Ah, but Craigslist: your audience is anyone who might post an ad, which might be everyone from Bill Gates (well, maybe) to my great-grandmother. Sure, some part of your audience, and maybe even a majority of them, might understand the instruction "Refresh your browser." An additional segment might not understand that specifically, but probably understands "Press Ctrl+F5".

But there is yet another segment that might not understand even that. So some anonymous writer/coder/tech support person at Craigslist[1] wanted to make extra-super-sure that every single person who got to this point would know what to do in order to see the updated ad, that there would be no ambiguity about what to do. (In some contexts, an instruction like this might be thought of as requiring a "low concept count.")

I'm not even particularly annoyed in this case by the use of "should" in the instruction. ("The page should now show your ad.") With some squinting, I can see this as acceptable via the "some wiggle room" clause of my recommendation to avoid "should," under the proviso of "well, that should fix it." They even follow up with a recommendation if the step is not successful (reboot your browser, haha).

So, see? I'm not always a meanie editor hatin' all over instructions that people write. They just have to be the right instructions for the scenario and audience.

Or maybe I'm just in a charitable mood today. :-)


[1] Isn't the whole company run by, like, 24 people and a goldfish?

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