Tag Archives: Jared Spool

Jane Austen ponders technical communication

Last week’s news about the demise of Storify prompted me to go and retrieve a few of my old stories.

One of them, If Jane Austen wrote about technical communication, invited Twitter to complete the sentence

It is a #techcomm truth universally acknowledged, that…

PridePrejudice423x630you cannot safely assume anything about your audience.
– John Kearney @JK1440

it’s never too late. There is always the next iteration 🙂
– Yvonne Wade Sanchez @ywsanchez

buying a tool won’t fix your processes.
– Kai Weber @techwriterkai

when the big boss demands a dumb change, (s)he will later berate you for the dumb thing.
– Karen Mulholland @kemulholland

a person consulting the style guide for an out-of-office reply must be in need of a life.
– Anindita Basu @anindita_basu

the best review comments arrive right after it’s too late to update your content.
– Yours Truly @larry_kunz

you can’t stop people from sticking beans up their nose.
– Kai Weber @techwriterkai

That last one came with a link to Jared Spool’s Beans and Noses — the gist of which is that people will invariably do things that don’t make sense. That’s something we, as technical communicators, have to deal with. And it pretty well sums up life in the year 2017, if you think about it.

Watch those connotations

connotation (n.): the associated or secondary meaning of a word or expression
in addition to its explicit or primary meaning (from the Random House Dictionary)

Marli Mesibov has a nice piece, The Meaning Behind Connotations, explaining why content strategists must consider the reader’s interpretation of the content – not just its explicit meaning.

She describes an instance where an Internet marketer used an image that offended a lot of people and then tried to blame the people for taking offense. Then she says:

If the user has a certain connotation with a term (or image), then we as content strategists can’t decide they are right or wrong. It’s our job to accept that connotation, or lose the user’s trust.

Jared Spool tweet: Semantics is about meaning; meaning is important

Words of wisdom from Jared Spool (quoted by Marli Mesibov in her article)

As any good writer knows, you have to own what you write. You’re responsible for whatever meaning is there — whether you stated it explicitly, whether you laid it between the lines, and even whether you put it there by mistake.

You don’t get to decide what meaning the reader will take away. And because it’s a question of trust, it goes to the heart of the relationship between your business and your customers.

This applies every bit as much to technical writing as it does to content strategy, since the technical content you create falls (or should fall) under the rubric of your organization’s content strategy.

So how do you keep connotations from becoming problems? Continue reading