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Archive for Technical Writing’ Category


Comments Off on Public Relations Tips: Build a Better News Release

Public Relations Tips: Build a Better News Release

Marking Up a Document

Constructing a top-notch news release requires a solid structure, from the headline down to the boilerplate.  Take your time and get it right; a well-formed, succinct, grammatically correct news release will generate the greatest coverage.

Before you even get started, be sure all of your source information is at-hand. Depending on the topic, this may include meeting notes, product literature, sales memos and website copy.  It’s best to have these materials in electronic format so you can cut and paste directly from existing materials. Why re-invent the wheel? If client-owned copy has already been approved for another purpose, incorporate some of this language into your release when it makes sense to do so.

While your headline should be simple and to the point, it also has to quickly grab the reader’s attention.  Utilize an active voice rather than a passive one.  Focus on keeping it short and sweet. Add a sub-head if you need to convey a great deal of information.  Most importantly, make certain your headline supports the overall message of your completed release.

When writing the lead paragraph, think back to Journalism 101. Be sure your opening answers the essential Who, What, When, Where, Why and How questions. Weave in as much information as you can into a single sentence. Remember, blending completeness with succinctness is the overall goal.

Enhance your body copy by adding quotes from company experts. Every release should contain information an editor can’t find anywhere else. This is a perfect platform for forward looking statements and commentary from company spokespersons and the geniuses behind new product developments.

Add deep links to take readers directly to more information on the exact topic covered in the release. Don’t make them jump through hoops by sending them to the site homepage and forcing them to navigate their way to the specific page they need.

Every release should end with the company’s official boilerplate. This begins with a brief statement about the company, the products and services it provides and the industries it serves. It is essential to also include the mailing address, phone number, fax, general email and website URL.

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Comments Off on Seek and Ye Shall Find: Tips on Search Engine Usage

Seek and Ye Shall Find: Tips on Search Engine Usage

Google, Bing, and Wolfram Alpha Logos

How often are you asked for information that could just have easily been googled? Now there’s a website for that. It’s called Let Me Google That For You (www.lmgtfy.com). It creates a link for you to send that shows a how-to animation of Google usage.

But maybe your questioner is overwhelmed by the search results and can’t find exactly what they are looking for. That’s where a Google advanced search comes in (http://www.google.im/advanced_search?hl=en). When you use it to enter more search parameters, Google will narrow its results.

If you are looking for web pages via Google that have been recently updated, use the “last update” field. If you’re looking for something on a particular site and its own search engine isn’t helping, try a Google advanced search with the “site or domain” field filled in. If you know the desired information is stored in a PDF file, for example, select that as the “file type.”

If any of these applications sound useful, create a bookmark for Google Advanced Search in your browser’s toolbar where it will be easy to find.

Here are more hints for googling:

– Use quotation marks around a multiple word search to get results matching the exact phrase.

– Did some obscure error message just pop up? You aren’t the first person to wonder what it means. Copy and paste the text into Google for some links as to the cause.

– The Google home page is simple and fast. Use it to test whether you have a connection to the Internet.

– Create a bookmark for Google in your browser’s bookmarks toolbar. If you only use the search field above the
bookmarks toolbar, you’ll never see Google Doodles (www.google.com/doodles).

– Try other search engines. Bing is another general-purpose search engine. WolframAlpha.com is geared toward
scientific research.

As for the title of this blog, your instinct is right; it’s from the Bible. A Google search quickly tells us it’s from Matthew 7:7. This ancient phrase could be Google’s corporate motto but they chose “Don’t be evil.” That sounds biblical as well.

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Comments Off on Technical Writing: The Difference Between Warnings and Cautions

Technical Writing: The Difference Between Warnings and Cautions

Warning!  Caution!

It’s that time of year when television weather forecasters wave their arms around to inform us of yet another winter storm headed our way. The impending doom and gloom are described as watches and warnings, but what do those terms really mean?

The National Weather Service issues a Winter Storm Watch to alert us to the possibility of an impending storm. They issue a Winter Storm Warning when hazardous winter weather is imminent or occurring. But, even they recognize that we might be confused about this distinction (http://nws.weather.gov/haz_simp).

Likewise, in technical writing, the subject matter often calls for warnings and cautions. We need to know the distinction between them and how to write them effectively.

– A Warning explains dangers that might result in personal injury or death.

– A Caution explains hazards that could damage a product, including data loss.

If both results are possible, a warning takes precedence.

To write a warning or caution:

– Start with a simple, clear command.

– Write to the intended audience, for example a machine operator or a maintenance technician.

– Choose your words to be specific, leaving nothing to uncertainty.

– It might be necessary to add an explanation to make the risks clear. This will make the warning or caution longer, but more effective.

– If conditions are necessary before starting a procedure, list the conditions first.

Of course, warnings and cautions should not be buried in the text. They should have headings and graphics to grab the reader’s attention. Waving your arms is optional.

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Comments Off on Is it gigabytes or gigabits?

Is it gigabytes or gigabits?

Units of Measurement

We have a hard enough time with abbreviations in everyday copywriting, but when the subject is technical or scientific, out come the style manuals. Abbreviations based on proper names along with their prefixes complicate matters. Do we follow the rules to the letter, like omitting periods, or use editorial discretion and just keep everything consistent? Like our English teachers taught us, there are always exceptions to the rules. Let’s start at the beginning.

Units named after long-dead scientists are abbreviated with an initial uppercase letter. Hence, A is for amps (from Ampere), V for volts (from Volta), and Hz for hertz (from Hertz). An exception to that rule is Ω for ohms to avoid confusion with the letter O or numeral 0. Along those lines, L is for liters, so not to confuse with numeral 1.

Prefixes are uppercase for factors greater than one, like M for mega (one million) and G for giga (one billion), and lowercase for factors less than one, like m for milli (one thousandth) and µ for micro (one millionth). An exception is k for kilo (one thousand) because K is used for the Kelvin temperature scale.

Then there are abbreviations that have standardized through common usage, like B for bytes and b for bits. So GB is for gigabytes, a measurement of data storage, and Gb is for gigabits, which is used in the expression Gb/s for gigabits per second, a measurement of data speed.

Now that you are thoroughly informed on technical abbreviations, we can make a game of spotting incorrect usage in print and web ads. Whoever finds the mistake in the largest point size wins!

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