design & typography lists & tables

Housekeeping–a starter kit

There’s this little detail about housekeeping called TMI. Too much information goes something like this. Master the art of potato peeling in the following three ways.

  • slicing
  • dicing
  • grating

And that list is fine until you append fourth and fifth ways to skin a spud. Now you, or more likely someone else, will have to update “three” to another number. The person inheriting the list becomes responsible for TMI. Good housekeeping avoids referring to a finite number.

Speaking of finite items, once there were nine, now there are eight planets. That housekeeping detail was massive, very necessary, and had to be updated everywhere immediately.

writing & editing

Free the verbs

While verbs do the job of denoting action, some sentences challenge us to find a pulse. Luckily, there’s a way to reveal those hidden actions. Here’s how.

Locate an equipment warranty or similar document that has conditions and clauses. Now look for a verb form that ends in –ance, –tion, or –ment. These suffixes tip-off actions that will spring to life after a simple rewrite.

For example you can probably spot the word ‘agreement’. To free the verb agree simply lop off the verbal suffix then rephrase the sentence. You’ll go from… ‘We must get to the agreement stage…’ to ‘We agree to disagree’.

language & style

Style guidance on numbering

Today’s news reported that Sen. Kennedy’s surgery was successful. His surgeon told the press, “The surgery lasted roughly three and a half hours and is just the first step in Senator Kennedy’s treatment plan. One article reported that the surgery took about 31/2 hours. Notice there’s no space between whole number and fraction.

Another report said he was awake during the 3 1/2-hour procedure.

I suppose another report states the duration as 3.5 hours.

Whether using a fraction or decimal, each way shows how company style guides can and do differ. Clearly, the duration in the reports is the same; one style just writes it clearer.

grammar & speech tech light

Building credibility

I’m reminded of a conversation with a neighbour who decided to become a corporate trainer. This was in the early days of the web. He was telling me about “HMTL”. Yes, you read it as he said it, H-M-T-L.

Whoa! Do I tell him he meant HTML? Yes, I decided. To protect the reputation of training professionals everywhere, I will tell my neighbour that HTML means hypertext markup language.

His pet-sitting credibility remained intact.

authors & audience

Scanning v reading

I came across a business article that reads in part, “… we will use a link from XI — our [acquired] platform — to our [existing] platform …”.

Hmm? How does the author want us to pronounce the word “XI”? Possible options are:

  • Eleven
  • Ex-Eye
  • Zee

Does pronunciation matter? Perhaps not so much in scanning. But when you’re pitching a product, knowing how it’s pronounced matters big. However, anyone reading the article might find it helpful to know that “XI” refers to, let’s say, the eleventh release.

If your product name matters, then treat it like your own name. Don’t make me guess it wrong.