About Ellis Pratt

Ellis Pratt is Sales and Marketing Director at Cherryleaf. You can follow Ellis on Twitter. Cherryleaf helps you provide technical and user documentation your customers will love - through our content development, recruitment, consultancy and training services. See the main Cherryleaf web site for more details.

The decline of the gerund in technical documentation?

Louise Downe, who works at the UK’s Government Digital Service, wrote a blog post (Good services are verbs, bad services are nouns), where she stated:

“After several rounds of user testing, the Home Office changed the name of ‘Immigration Health Surcharge’ to ‘check if you need to pay towards your health care in the UK’ – a service that allows visitors to the UK to pay for the cost of healthcare.”

Screenshot of Home office page, where  Heading uses "create"

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The Art v Science conundrum in technical communication

One of the common debates in technical communication is how much the profession is art or science. Can we take an engineering-like approach to assisting users, using tools like DITA, or does each requirement need a bespoke, hand-crafted solution? Can we quantify, using analytics and other means, the effect of technical communication, or do we just have to hope and guess it’s being useful?

There’s been a similar debate in advertising. Indeed, there is the famous quotation, attributed to various people, along the lines of:

“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”

One organisation believes it has cracked this puzzle. On Wednesday, The Saatchi Institute announced a formula describing the correlation between the investments in the art and science of a brand and their financial impact. The new formula has been developed in conjunction with the London Business School, and is based on academic research conducted in partnership with Unilever and Nielsen Research.

Although the formula is presented as a way to predict cause and effect in advertising, and justify advertising budgets, could it be applicable to other forms of communication, such as that created by Technical Authors? We won’t know for a few weeks. According to a press release by M&C Saatchi, the new formula will be explained in detail by Lord Saatchi, Tim Duffy and special guests at a London Business School event on 3 July.

Protecting your brand using technical communication

Lisa Thomas

On BBC Radio 5 live’s Wake Up to Money programme today, Lisa Thomas, Chief Executive of advertising agency M&C Saatchi, said:

“We can’t just think about just one advert. We have to think about the brand and the relationship that consumers have with that brand, and be aware that consumers see your brand and your product everywhere now.

They can have a very direct relationship with that brand, whether that’s via Social Media, whether that’s via just by being more in more contact with those brands and the business, so there’s more imperative now to think holistically about the brand than before, and be more creative.”

The co-presenter, Mickey Clark, commented that he’d heard from David Kershaw (a director at M&C Saatchi)  that even the through the toughest economic times, companies are anxious still to protect their brands, even if they have next to no money.

Brand means the customer’s expectations of what they will get, or experience, when they use a product or service. Today, organisations have to protect the promise, that expectation, and make sure that promise is matched by what they actually experience.

Organisations that think more holistically, and focus more in terms of brand than simply advertisements and sales orders, need to ensure the brand image is consistent throughout the whole of the customer’s experience with it. In this context, technical communication, the instructional content that supports users as they use the product or service, becomes an important means of protecting the brand.

That’s because, when the customer has left the store, all the packaging has thrown away, and the customer is actually using the product, one of the few things left to sustain the brand’s reputation is technical communication – the User Assistance, the technical documentation. This will help support the user through the periods they spend using of that product or service.

Tips for writing in the business world

Writing in the business world can be difficult. We have to write Web pages, proposals, emails, policies and procedures and, perhaps, adverts. It can be hard to get going, and create something that’s clear and to the point. Here are some tips to help you get over these difficulties.

It’s not your fault

Let’s start by saying it’s not your fault if you find business writing difficult, because most of us are not taught how to do it at school. At school, we learn how to write stories and how to argue a case. That usually involves building to a big conclusion at the end.

In business, mostly we have to write to:

  • persuade
  • instruct, or
  • inform.

Those are different forms of writing.

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Cherryleaf presentation on creating effective content

Just a reminder that Cherryleaf’s Ellis Pratt will be speaking at the Institute of Directors’ June 2015 Members Masterclass on “The written word – creating effective content”.

The written word is one of the key ways we communicate with others. Whether we’re telling or selling, it’s important we get our message across. Unfortunately, many people find writing time consuming, and it can often be difficult to get started on a new document.

In this session, we’ll look at some of the most effective techniques for creating the types of content created in today’s business world. You’ll discover some of the approaches used by professional technical communicators, copywriters and report writers.

Some of the issues we’ll look at include:

  • Clarity and persuasiveness
  • Getting started and organising your thoughts
  • How to structure documents
  • Getting to the point and being concise

This session is ideal for managers, engineers and other professionals interested in effective approaches to communicating more clearly and effectively in writing.

The IoD invites IoD Members and non-members to share their expertise and knowledge with other members. It will be held at 116 Pall Mall, London, on the 2nd June (18:00 – 21:00).

See:

The written word – creating effective content.

The EU is good for Cherryleaf

Working in a country that’s a member of the European Union (EU) provides many benefits to a company such as Cherryleaf. It’s been straightforward for us to work with customers in France, Germany, Hungary, Poland, the Netherlands and elsewhere. We’ve also found it easy to hire freelancers who have been based in France and Spain.

In comparison, it’s harder for us to trade with companies based in the USA. We can deliver training and other services over the Web, but there are many barriers to doing work physically in the States. The USA requires a valid working visa, which is challenging and time consuming to obtain. In the EU, we can pass through immigration and customs in little time at all, whereas in the USA, the queueing, questioning and fingerprint scanning can take hours.

The single European market means that we can trade in a market of over 503 million people, rather than just the 64 million in the UK. If the country were outside of the EU, it would take 27 new trade agreements to be negotiated just to get back to the position it is in today.

People may complain that the EU sets rules for how much meat is in a sausage, or the type of electric adapter for battery powered cars, but somebody has to set the ground rules for doing business. Our UK customers know that if they have to create products that conform to a certain standard, their overseas competitors have to do the same, too. The rules and standards are going to be set whether the UK is in the EU or not. The difference is that those who are members of the EU have a say in setting those rules.

Barriers that have been removed are easy to forget, because they are not there. It’s important to remember, from time to time, the benefits to companies such ourselves of the UK being a member of the EU.