It’s never too early to plan for next year’s gardening. I just got a new pair of pruning shears, and on the back of the package I found these illustrations:
….accompanied by these instructions:
Don’t twist the scissors in use. If the scissors are in the city Figure C in the way the clock pointer, the two shear bodies will squeeze each otherDamage: if it is twisted to the look of the clock in the opposite of the A, the time of the clockWill produce a gap between the two sides of the plane, and can not ensure smooth trim. Correct useShould be shown in figure B.
I was tempted to laugh and roll my eyes, and I confess that maybe I did. A little.
But it’s also worth pausing to make a few points — because someone wrote this, honestly thinking they were conveying useful information. Nobody sets out to make their readers’ eyes roll. So what happened here? Let’s think about it.
First, I’m pretty certain that the writer, despite the best of intentions, overthought the whole thing. Here’s what they wanted to say: For a smooth cut, always cut straight on. Don’t rotate the shears to the right or left.
But, anxious to make sure no one would misunderstand, the writer inserted cross-references to the pictures and added the convoluted text about what happens if you turn (twist) the shears clockwise or counterclockwise. The added detail, rather than clarifying, only muddled things.
My copy often goes from simple to complex, just like this writer’s. Then, after setting it aside for a little while, I can come back and make it simple again.
Then, when you’re writing content for translation, be sure it’s translated by people who know both the source and target languages. It sure looks like this company cut corners when it came to translation. (Maybe they twisted their shears counterclockwise while cutting. Who knows?)
I’m certain that this copy looked a lot better in the source language than it does in English.
Also, when writing for translation, be sure the writer and the translator are working with the same authoring tool. It’s likely that those crashed-together words, like otherDamage and clockWill, resulted from a writer saving the copy in one tool and a translator opening it in another.
Verify, verify, verify
The manufacturer knew they’d be selling their product in a large English-speaking market. Wouldn’t it be nice if they’d usability-tested their instructions — or even if they’d simply verified them with one English speaker?
Perhaps it seemed like an unnecessary expense, or too much of an inconvenience, to verify the instructions. Or perhaps someone simply said We don’t care — just ship it. Whether that decision will have negative consequences, in the form of damaged customer loyalty or decreased sales, I don’t know. (Very possibly it won’t, which is why someone said We don’t care.)
The decision certainly has resulted in embarrassment for the manufacturer. Can you put a cash value on that?