Thursday, October 23, 2014

You’re not a retard, so don’t write like one

In a recent post I mentioned a message that some retard at Microsoft had built into Microsoft Word. I didn’t intend that post as a specific criticism of Microsoft; many suppliers of PC software and online services seem to have retards writing their messages.

Here are a few examples:

Hmm, that’s not the right password. [Is that “Hmm” supposed to be the sound the software makes while it’s “thinking”?] 
Whoa there! There’s nothing here. Whatever you were looking for doesn’t currently exist at this address. Unless you were looking for this error page, in which case: Congrats! You totally found it.
Congrats on successfully changing your email address! We really like your new one. It’s totally awesome! [Am I supposed to believe that the software is so sophisticated that it possesses aesthetic sense but simultaneously is so callow that it uses the vocabulary of a skateboarder?] Now you can log in to Your Account Page using the new email address you provided to us! Cool, huh? [No, it’s not cool. It’s just a mundane function.]
Well, this is embarrassing.
He’s dead, Jim!
Whoa there!

Analysis of the examples

This kind of diction is not clever; it’s frivolous and puerile. It’s not helpful to your readers; it’s distracting. And it’s not polite to your readers; it’s offensive, because it presumes the reader is an intimate friend and is as ditzy as the writer.

In contrast, here are a few messages that are clear, helpful, polite and dignified:

The information you entered does not match our records. Please check your information and try again.
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These messages sound like they were written by intelligent, well-balanced grown-ups. The writers have used no hype, interjections, exclamation points or Star Trek quotations. And they have used no false intimacy or false enthusiasm.

The Takeaway: If you are in charge of writing anything that will be read by customers, don’t write like a frat boy, dude, ingénue, bimbo, scatterbrain or flibbertigibbet. In other words, don’t offend the people who enable your employer to pay you.

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