Art Technology Group hired me as an Administrative Assistant for their San Francisco Software Support team at the start of 2001, and automated a large part of my job only two months later. I started apprenticing as the team’s licensing issue “expert” (it was a frequent and easily solved problem), and gradually worked up to harder cases as I gained more experience with Java and tools we worked with.
The very first mistake I caught myself making, I would later realize was Jeff Johnson’s blooper #22, Inconsistent Terminology.
Coming from an English Literature and Grammar background, I had umpteen years of schooling that synonyms were worth extra points in pleasure writing. You could shade meanings, vary the tone and rhythm of your prose, reach a more sophisticated audience, and generally get a higher grade. I found I had an aversion to using the same term over and over in a technical discussion or instructions. It sounded redundant to my ears.
I found that when I did succumb to the lure of the that alternate wording, I soon regretted it.
My audience needed more clarity to make sure that my instructions were understood. And in a crisis situation, no one wants to be unsure.
There are so many complex programs in our workplaces and personal lives, you just can’t read the manual first, you need to find crucial information on how they work, as you go, often, in the middle of a crisis.
And if your application or documentation can’t be understood on the fly in a crisis, you risk loosing your audience.
Lose that synonym habit!