Why Technical Writing Matters

Real Life

Today, I was faced with a real-life example of why Technical Writing matters.

Our dental insurance cards are printed in a ALL-CAPS, sans-serif font. That matters because:

Capital Letter I looks exactly like Numerical 1

Numerical 0 looks very much like Capital Letter O

When asked to share your member number, one has to study the rest of the member card to clarify 1s from Is and Os from 0s.

A Tech Writer would catch this as a problem during the card’s design and would insist on a distinctive font that uses serifs for the I and 1 as well as wide capital Os and “computer” 0s.[1] Anyone with an eye for fonts would save the insurance companies’ customer service lines a lot of wasted time in deciphering their non-specific characters with customers on the phone.

Bonus

Consider, too, not every font renders these characters with distinction:

8, B –or even– S, 5

Fonts matter.

Use your Technical Writers and staff designers. You will find a balance between a font that fits on the card, one that is legible to customers, and one that is attractive, too.

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[1] If you are using Internet Explorer, you may not see the symbol for zero. IE does not play nice with the Internet and simply can’t do what other browsers can. Consider Firefox or Opera, instead.

Word – Turn Off Hyperlinks

Word tries to help you by automatically formatting hyperlinks and email addresses with clickable links in blue underlined text. For documents that will be used electronically, this can be handy. For documents going to print, this can create clutter.

Turn Off an Individual Hyperlink

  • Right-click the link
  • Choose Hyperlink from the popup menu
  • Choose Edit Hyperlink from the secondary popup menu
  • Click the Remove Link button
  • Repeat for every link you want removed from the document

Turn Off AutoFormatting for Hyperlinks

To turn off automatic hyperlinks for future text/copy, you’ll need to remove that option from your preferences.

  • From your menu bar, choose
    Word > Preferences (MacOS) or
    Tools > Options (Windows)
  • Within Authoring and Proofing Tools, select AutoCorrect
  • Select AutoFormat As You Type
  • In the “Replace as you type” section, uncheck “Internet and network paths with hyperlinks”
  • Click OK
Word Turn Off Hyperlinks
Prefer a visual? Click for a quick how-to.

Excel Tip: Zoom to Fit

Are your eyes tired from all the lines of numbers? Are you scrolling too much? Excel can zoom to fit your window.

  • Highlight the section you are reviewing.
  • Get the pulldown for the zoom, and choose Selection.
  • Ta Da! A perfect fit!
ExcelZoomToSelection
Prefer a visual? Click for a one-minute how-to.

What if the area is so big that you can’t scroll with the mouse without losing control? Then, use the keyboard to select.

  • Click in the last cell in the bottom right corner that you want in your selection. I even go one column and one row past my last cell to give little right-hand and bottom margins to the work.
  • Cmd-Shift Up Arrow and Cmd-Shift Left Arrow. (Ctrl-Shift, if using a PC.)
    Repeat, if necessary. Depending on your data layout, one Up or Left may not be enough to get to Row 1 or Column A. If you have a lot of blank rows/columns in your layout, you could just hold the Cmd-Shift Up/Left Arrow until Row 1/Column A is highlighted.
  • Everything from your last cell to Cell A1 is now selected.
  • Without clicking in the worksheet (which would de-select your selection), click the pulldown for the zoom, and choose Selection.

Bookmark this tip, you’re going to wonder where you read it when you get ready for income taxes!

Advanced Searching in Google

Advanced Searching in Google

Some sites are so chock full of information, that it’s difficult to find certain topics even within the site. Google’s Advanced Search can help.

I wanted to see what Lifehacker said earlier this week about the Agenda app for the iPhone. However, the site has many (amazing) writers giving a lot of good information. I knew it was Lifehacker through Twitter, but a quick view of the site didn’t return that (now old) information.

In Google’s search bar, type the keywords. If you don’t immediately see what you need, click the link near the search bar for “Advanced search”.

In the Advanced Search, you can specify the site, date, and other information. I knew I wanted to search within lifehacker.com. The site is also very full from years or so many good writers, so I also chose the date of within the past week.

Just like that, I had my article.

Bonus

If you’re rather type than click (or wait for another page to load), put the criteria in the Google search bar yourself.

iphone app agenda calendar site:lifehacker.com

…which returns my article fourth in the list.

Google Advanced Search

Excel Tip: Counting Weekdays & Today’s Date

Problem

You are setting a deadline or goal and need to know the number of weekdays between any two dates. If you have a 12-month calendar handy, you could count the weeks and multiply by five. But, when you try this on the computer, the calendar scrolls smoothly, making it hard to know if you counted that week or not. Or, maybe this is a long term project and you’d like to set the goal off in the distant future. If so, counting weeks by hand and multiplying by five would be tedious.

The TODAY Function

Excel has a function for figuring today’s date. And, because it will change each time you open the document, you can guarantee that it will always reflect “today”, whatever today is!
=TODAY()

The NETWORKDAYS Function

How to find the number of weekdays between two dates:
=NETWORKDAYS(A1,A2)

Example

The formulas will look like this:

Col 1 Col 2 Col 3
Row A =TODAY() 12/21/2012 =NETWORKDAYS(A1,A2)

Your view of the Excel Worksheet will look like this:

Col 1 Col 2 Col 3
Row A 7/18/2011 12/21/2012 185

Other Considerations

Of course, this does not factor in holidays or vacation time, so if you are using this to set a goal for work, be sure to pad the deadline accordingly. This is just one tool to help you along the way. It might give you the motivation you need to pick up the pace or the satisfaction of knowing that you are on track toward the goal, but it can not be the only tool for goal-setting.

Excel: lines breaks within cells

@corrinrenee What’s the magic shortcut for getting multiple lines in a cell in Excel on a Mac?

@loriluza CTRL + ALT/OPTION + SHIFT + ENTER. RT @corrinrenee What’s the magic shortcut for getting multiple lines in a cell in Excel on a Mac?

@corrinrenee DING DING DING! We have a winner. Thank you! RT @LoriLuza: CTRL + ALT/OPTION + SHIFT + ENTER.

@loriluza@corrinrenee You are quite welcome! Excel is my favorite software…of all time!