What adventures in language were accomplished this week?
Well, not so much accomplished but experienced. I have been writing some spreadsheets and cutting a video promo for a client this week. This has involved using some software in a more focussed way. Most modern programmes let you get started at a basic level by pointing and clicking and off you go. But if you want to do something that is not in the top twenty standard activities, then some digging around may be required; pointing and clicking then starts to look a little bit like my 3-year old nephew dragging his finger across the TV screen and getting very frustrated because the TV does not respond like an iPad. Prod the screen and nothing happens. Or worse, point and click and something you don't want to do happens, catastrophically.
This week, I really wanted to get the best out of some software - after all, most of these packages are crammed so full of features that an average laptop has a thousand times more computing power than every mainframe that was used to put a man on the moon. So, to maximise the potential of what I could achieve, I went looking for the instructions. As we all know, these no longer come in the box - if there was even a box for them to come in.
Has anyone else noticed that instruction manuals for nearly everything seem to be written by people who already know how something works and who therefore assume that everyone else knows all the basics of the product already? I am a big Apple fan but I have to say that the good people over there are as guilty as the folk at Ikea of creating instructions that need a separate subset of instructions to make them usable. To be clear, I am good at assembling stuff and I hardly break a sweat when asked to put together a table called Tostig or a bookshelf called Brønk. I am both good at this stuff and remarkably patient - so it's probably true that if I can't understand the manual, there may well be a problem with the manual.
So this week, I have decided that life is too short to read the manual on Numbers (the Apple version of Excel) because the authors are clearly expert accountants and brilliant software engineers, not small business owners who need things to be explained from the beginning. Or, because the authors assume that no-one is ever actually going to read the manual, they just leave stuff out - and the bit they leave out is exactly the bit that you have scoured the manual looking for.
So, I am on a mission: if you know someone who wants a manual written by a copywriter who would like to help to reduce the numbers of stress-related strokes and myocardial infarcts ('heart attacks' to those of us who haven't read 'How to be a doctor' manual), then I could very well be that writer. Clarity is everything in writing. Great fiction writers make sure that the reader can see the scene and never get lost. Great copywriters working on a manual make sure that the customer knows that Part A is the chair leg and Hardware Item E is the 4cm bolt that goes with the nut, Hardware Item F which will probably require the washer, Hardware Item G.
Right now, I am thinking of three magic words that can reduce blood pressure and bring joy to the world. No, on this occasion, not 'I love you'. The words I have in mind are, 'I get it!', swiftly followed by 'That was easy.'
So please be on the look out for referrals for me in Sydney, Australia-wide or throughout the English-speaking world to write a manual - a great way for me to chase up a lead of this nature is for you to contact me if you are ready to tear your hair out trying to read an incomprehensible manual. Let me know and I'll call the manufacturer.
Have a great week!