This month, I was going to write a post on writing FAQs, and specifically writing FAQ pages for the web.
Then I did some research and foundÂ this page on FAQsÂ from a copywriter called Susan Greene, and it seemed so comprehensive and useful I thought Iâ€™d just link to it. Great writing, Susan!
The only point Iâ€™d add is to make sure your questions in your FAQ are actually questions that are likely to be asked by real people, let alone asked frequently.
Would someone really ever ask that obscure, detailed question youâ€™re trying to shoehorn onto the page? If not, then perhaps the information is best presented in another format.
Particularly online, writing has to be all about authenticity, or youâ€™ll lose your readersâ€™ attention.
If youâ€™ve studied how to be a writer, youâ€™ve read blogs like mine, or youâ€™ve stopped to think about your writing for five minutes, you will inevitably think of jargon as a bad thing. At best, itâ€™s a necessary evil. But weâ€™re all taughtÂ to cut it out.
Thatâ€™s normally good advice. But donâ€™t be scared to use jargon where appropriate.
What does that mean?
For a start, make sure you know your audience. If theyâ€™re all going to be familiar with your industry, you can go right ahead and use all the standard jargon â€“ it saves everyoneâ€™s time, and it avoids being patronising. And everyone knows exactly what each term means, which can be particularly useful if your readers donâ€™t all have English as their first language.
Remember your writing isnâ€™t always about conveying the meaning of the words. You may, instead, be wanting to create an emotional reaction in the reader â€“ and jargon can make them feel that writer and reader are somehow on the same side of the same argument, or in the same team. This shared knowledge creates a bond that pulls your readers in, and makes them feel a commonality with the writer. Thatâ€™s worth a lot.
Iâ€™m still looking for that elusive retro keyboard â€“ affordable yet stylish. The qwerkywriter is out of my budget, so Iâ€™m hoping theÂ PennaÂ delivers on its promise to bring us quality at a reasonable price.
It gets aÂ decent reviewÂ on The Verge, but Iâ€™m still not convinced about buying a product like this as a pre-production crowd-funded deal â€“ particular as The Verge points out the company behind the Penna has never shipped a product before. Maybe I need to go for theÂ LofreeÂ instead; there are just too many choices. Or, more realistically, Iâ€™m sitting tight and spending nothing.
Or maybe I should stop worrying about a keyboard, and just, you know, get on with writing.
Its death has frequently been predicted, but there was an interesting article in The Register recently pronouncing that Mooreâ€™s Law has finally turned up its toes.
Mooreâ€™s Law has seen us through five decades of rapid growth in computing power, but this article argues that the Meltdown and Spectre design flaws will put the nails in its coffin. As optimisation techniques can become security holes, goes the argument, weâ€™ll need to take stock and slow down our rate of progress.
Iâ€™m not sure I buy the premise, but itâ€™s thought-provoking. Doesnâ€™t Mooreâ€™s Law say that the underlying power of computing chips keeps on growing, as they get more and more transistors? What the software engineers do with that power, and whether they can harness it usefully, is a different question. Thereâ€™s plenty of other evidence that the rate of improvement of useful computing speeds is slowing down. For example, just to pick one random comparison, this comparison of iMac benchmarks shows only a 40% improvement over five years â€“ way short of the Mooreâ€™s Lawâ€™s compound doubling.
I normally blog about writing or related technologies, but this month I wanted to pick up on the 20th anniversary of Bluetooth. There’s a great article by Neil Tyler in this week’s New Electronics, looking at the creation of Bluetooth in the 90s. It made me suitably nostalgic, as I helped organise the European press launch for Bluetooth in Stockholm (when Ericsson was a client), and I also worked with CSR soon afterwards.
Who would have thought that two decades later Bluetooth would be quite so ubiquitous? There’s a lesson here on how to have a winning technology: not to over-simplify, but it’s something along the lines of make it useful, make it cheap, and make it simple to understand.
It’s worth remembering also that the original use case of Bluetooth was simply as a cable replacement technology, because it’s cheaper and more convenient to connect a phone headset or peripheral wirelessly, and it’s one less thing to forget when you pack your briefcase. It’s gone a long way further than that.
You may not know it by name, but you may be applying Betteridgeâ€™s Law without realising.
Put simply, it states that any headline thatâ€™s a yes/no question can in fact be answered â€˜noâ€™.
Do aliens cause cancer? Will Facebook buy IBM? Does eating apples give you superpowers?
It makes a lot of sense. If the story actually was correct, then the journalist or headline writer wouldnâ€™t need a question mark â€“ therefore, you can safely assume that whatever is being discussed is not actually true or accurate.
When you think about it, it seems almost a truism, but itâ€™s a big time saver in scanning the news. And as a writer, make sure you donâ€™t write a headline that readers will see as following Betteridgeâ€™s Law â€“ because theyâ€™ll simply assume a â€˜noâ€™, and skip your article.
Iâ€™ve seen lots of blog posts and articles talking about commonly-confused nouns and verbs, and explaining the difference between, for example, â€˜adviceâ€™ and â€˜adviseâ€™.
But to me thereâ€™s another angle thatâ€™s just as important. As writers, we need to think about words that can function both as a noun and a verb, and the confusion that can cause for readers.
Take a simple word such as â€˜hitâ€™. You can have a hit, which might be a film or song, or you can hit something, or be hit by it.
In a short sentence this double function can make readers stumble if they guess wrong as to the writerâ€™s intent. For example, if you write â€˜Tom Cruiseâ€™s latest hits the screenâ€™ you might be just missing out the word movie to save space, and hoping the word â€˜hitsâ€™ is obviously interpreted as a verb. But if a reader sees â€˜latest hitsâ€™ and reads it as a noun, theyâ€™re going to get confused.
If at all possible, just find another way to write what you need to say. Commas can be your friend, to make it clearer which words go together.