Writing Instructions: Fewer Words Mean Faster Understanding

We all have a friend who rambles on and on when giving instructions that could be described in one sentence. What we’ll forgive in a friend, however, we are unlikely to forgive in a user manual or other written procedure. We want to move quickly from instructions to actions. Complicated instructions are more likely to be misunderstood or ignored entirely.

The next time you write instructions, check your copy for these word-wasters:

(a) Putting everything in the future tense: “The equipment will turn on after a 4-second delay.” The meaning is perfectly clear in the present tense: “The equipment turns on after a 4-second delay.” One “will” makes little difference–a manual full of “will’s” can easily double in size.

(b) Beginning sentences with “it is” or “there are”: “There are two ways to shut down the equipment: manually or automatically.” Again, a rewrite saves words while keeping the meaning clear: “The equipment can be shut down either manually or automatically.”

(c) Adding unnecessary qualifiers: “The shutdown delay is in the range of 7 to 10 seconds.” Since “7 to 10” is already a range, the sentence can be simplified as: “The shutdown delay is 7 to 10 seconds.”

If you are having difficulty keeping your instructions within reasonable limits, contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications.

Health Care Attitudes: Is Your Industry Healthy?

Last year, Providence Business News in Rhode Island “announced the winners of its newest event, Healthiest Employers, which recognizes companies–large and small–that have health and wellness initiatives and believe in encouraging employees to adapt healthy lifestyles.”

Oddly enough, about 40% of the 28 winning companies were in health-related fields, from insurance to preventive care. A similar top-20 list by the Kansas City Business Journal featured a rehabilitation center, an insurance broker, a medical center and a hospital–20% of the total winners.

Now maybe companies in the healthcare and insurance industries have a greater commitment than most companies to employee health. (Or maybe they are just more aware of health-related contests!)

How would you rate your industry for its attitude toward employee health? Take the poll on LinkedIn at Let’s Talk Health Care or leave your comments here.

Disclosure: I’ve partnered with Harvard Pilgrim on this sponsored post. However, the thoughts and opinions expressed are my own. You can find more ways to be well at HarvardPilgrim.org/CountUsIn and Let’s Talk Health Care.

 

 

Frequently Asked Grammar Questions

This post is a quick Q&A to answer some grammar questions that drive people nuts.

Q. How can I tell if it’s “it’s” or “its”?

A. “It’s” means “it is” and “its” means “belonging to it.” Write your sentence and then try this: When you come to “it’s,” read “it is” instead. Does the sentence still make sense? When you come to “its,” read “his” (or “her”) instead. Does the sentence still make sense? If it does (“It is a good thing the dog went to his house”), you are using the right words. If the sentence doesn’t make sense (“His a good thing the dog went to it is house”), you are using the wrong words. By the way, its’ (with the apostrophe after the s) isn’t a word.

Q. What’s the difference between “insure,” “assure,” and “ensure”?

A. They are close in meaning but try to keep them separate. Use “insure” when you are talking about an insurance policy (“he wanted to insure his boat”). Use “assure” for the act of reassuring or pacifying someone (“he assured her he was a good sailor”). Use “ensure” in the sense of “make sure” (“with daily maintenance, he ensured the boat was seaworthy”).

Q. When should I use a semicolon?

A. The three most frequent uses of a semicolon are (1) to separate a series of items when the items contain commas, as used in this sentence; (2) to separate an independent clause that starts with “however” from the rest of the sentence (“He is a good sailor; however, he could be better with training.”); and (3) to join two independent clauses together without the use of “and” or “but” or some other conjunction (“He is a good sailor; he would be better with training.”). Independent clauses can also be written as two separate sentences with a period between.

If you want more information about grammar, I highly recommend two books: The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White; and The Little, Brown Compact Handbook.

Send me your grammar questions. I’ll be happy to reply with answers for you.

Business in New Hampshire

Until I moved to New Hampshire in 1999 and started my own business (TWP Marketing & Technical Communciations), I lived in New Jersey, which has quite a different business environment. Everyone talks faster about everything, everyone is always headed somewhere else and boundaries are carefully maintained. I like the slower New Hampshire style, the willingness to settle down and settle in and the infinite variety of connections: the stranger you meet on a hike today becomes your client tomorrow and your vendor next week and a fellow board member on your favorite charity the week after that. Everyone is welcome to join in the community; everyone is wanted and needed.

NHBusinessBlog will discuss many different business issues, including marketing, health and education–the issues that affect us all day-by-day as business owners and members of the New Hampshire community.