On Writing – Please Don’t Say Please

Posted by | blog writer, freelance writer, On Writing, online help, Online Help Writer | No Comments

One of my biggest writing pet peeves is the overuse of the word “please” in application instructions both onscreen and in the online help.

In heavily regulated industries, such as financial services, specifications for new software features often start out as legal documents responding to new or changing regulations. In rapid software development environments without well-established workflows, these legal documents quickly become product specs. Lawyers love to be polite in their writing. Please do this, please do that, and so on and so on.

Without the constant presence of a writer in the development process, programmers will copy and paste text from the spec written by the attorneys directly into the code. I don’t blame them – they’re not writers.

Software developers may also fancy themselves to be writers. I have seen this trait among programmers who are non-native English speakers. Using the word “please” is part of a more formal written English, and it’s not unexpected that non-native English speaking programmers who were taught formal English would use this writing style. I don’t blame them – if that’s how I was taught to write, I would do the same thing.

However, the end result of both of these scenarios is an application user interface littered with extra words. Please enter your information in the fields below. Please click here. Please send your completed form to the following address.

Please STOP!!

Look, it’s not that I want to be rude. In actual human interaction, I am always polite and respectful. But using a software application or reading information on a screen is a completely different situation. Users are busy and impatient and don’t like to read. The software doesn’t have to be so polite, it just has to get to the point.

As a writer, my job is to communicate the most useful information in the most efficient and user-friendly manner. My job is to get to the point. The word “please” is completely unnecessary and indeed, every extra word on screen has the potential to reduce usability.

So please – don’t say please in your writing.

Pros and Cons of a River Cruise – Ama Waterways The Enchanting Rhine

Posted by | River Cruises, Travel, Web Content | No Comments

River cruises have become extremely popular in the past few years, and many river cruise lines have seen success in catering to my generation, the baby boomers.

My wife and I recently went on our first ever river cruise. After considering several vacation options, a well-traveled friend recommended a river cruise in Europe and sent me links to a few higher end cruise operators. After doing our own research, we chose the Enchanting Rhine river cruise offered by Ama Waterways, a river cruise company operating out of Europe.

Our seven-night cruise on the Rhine River took us from Amsterdam, The Netherlands to Basel, Switzerland, passing wonderful castles and vineyards and stopping for group excursions at several locations in four different countries. We really didn’t know what to expect, but in the end we were pleased with our choice.

Castles on the Rhine

If you are thinking of going on a river cruise for your next vacation, here are a few pros and cons that you should consider.

Pro – River Cruises Offer Great Service

I’m a cynic and I never expect the best. Even I was very impressed at the level of service.

These guys know what they’re doing. Our ship was the Ama Kristina, the cruise line’s newest ship. It held around 150 passengers and was always kept spotless and shiny. I’ve been to four- and five-star hotels whose level of service was far less impressive.

  • Our stateroom on the ship was small but not so small that my wife and I were tripping over each other. The bed was comfortable and we enjoyed a beautiful little balcony with chairs and a table. The room was cleaned several times a day, and the guy who cleaned our stateroom instinctively knew what items to leave in their place and what items to clean up.

Stateroom

  • Food and beverage service was always friendly and fast but not too fast so you felt rushed. The wait staff was always responsive to the needs of every passenger. There were just a couple of minor exceptions: bartenders could get busy so occasionally, you had to wait a few minutes; and the omelets took a little too long to prepare for my impatient tastes. But those were minor.
  • All excursions on land and other events were always very well-organized without feeling too restrictive. Each evening you received a “newspaper” in your room detailing the next day’s activities, meals, and other important information. They also had a good system based on room key cards so they always could keep an accurate count of passengers and to ensure safety that was unobtrusive and easy to understand.
  • Always friendly, responsive and professional, the cruise manager, cruise director and ship captain spoke to passengers en masse regularly to introduce themselves, dispense information about the next day’s excursions and to introduce members of the staff.
  • Transfers were not included but were arranged by the cruise. It was very nice to have a taxi waiting for us when we disembarked at Basel at the end our cruise.

Con – River Cruises are Expensive

All that good stuff comes at a price.

The 7-night Enchanting Rhine cruises for 2018 cost roughly between $2,500 to $3,500 per person, depending on  room choice and time of year. Now add airfare. Of course, river cruise operators like Ama Waterways offer longer cruises which cost more, and safari cruises to Africa cost considerably more. Everything else is included, plus they give you a couple of freebies like an Ama Waterways baseball cap. All meals and excursions and onboard entertainment (there was something each night) are included in the price. While wine and beer at dinner is free, but alcoholic drinks cost extra.

Tips are not included and the cruise lets you know in the literature they give you what they recommend (approximately 12 Euros per person per day plus an additional amount for the Cruise Director). Personally, I did not object to the amount because the staff certainly deserved it. We even left extra for the guy who cleaned our room.

So for two people in a good room, figure you will spend somewhere in the neighborhood of $7,000 plus tips and drinks, airfare and transportation, and spending money on excursions. Click here to see the current published prices for the Enchanting Rhine river cruise in 2018, including promotions.

Pro – River Cruise Ships Are Small, Leading to Better Socializing On Board

The ship holds 156 passengers in staterooms ranging in size from 155-235 square feet to larger 350 square-foot suites. There is a lounge with a bar where all entertainment and presentations take place, a separate dining area and a sun deck on top of the ship with tables and chairs, a heated pool and great views of the river. So other than your own stateroom, the cruise is really organized in part to get people to meet, greet and hang out with other.

Image source: https://www.amawaterways.com/Assets/Ships/Large/ship_hero_23.jpg

Every day brings a new set of excursions in another beautiful village, town or city, preceded or followed by down time on the ship. And then there is meal time, where you are kind of forced to seat at tables with a minimum of four seats. During these periods, you will meet people.

We talked to our fellow passengers in the lounge, we swam with a small group in the heated pool on one warm day, and most everyone was very warm and friendly. With only 150 people, you remember faces and names and become “cruise friends.” You’re not on top of each other either; there’s plenty of space to avoid conversation if you prefer. We met a very nice and interesting couple a few years older than us that we ended up eating with at every meal and were our best pals on the cruise.

If you like meeting new people when you travel, you definitely will on a river cruise!

Con – River Cruises Attract an Older Crowd that Separates Into Cliques

I’m 60 and my wife is in her early 50s. All of our friends are in their 50s or younger. I have one group of friends who are mostly in their 30s. We have children in their teens, 20s and 30s. We are used to younger people. Most of our fellow passengers were in their 70s. There were maybe two or three couples in our age group or younger.

I’ll be honest – I found the age difference offputting. I was not completely comfortable with such an older crowd and had second thoughts about the cruise at the beginning. On the ship, they even offered free canes and other medical condition-related accessories for older folks. The river cruise operators know that this older group is their biggest market and target  their river cruises to this demographic. The river cruise industry is expanding its fleet of ships by 7% in 2017, so they must be on the right track.

In addition to the age difference, the passengers had a tendency to go off in their own small social groups. “It was like high school all over again,” my wife commented.

Even though I overcame my initial discomfort and grew to enjoy socializing with some of my fellow passengers, I still think I would have enjoyed it more with a slightly younger crowd. If the age of your fellow passengers is an issue, you will want to find river cruises that cater to a younger crowd.

Pro – Everything is Done for You

On a river cruise, all you do you arrange your own airfare. The cruise takes care of everything else for you:

  • No checking in and out of multiple hotels. No packing and unpacking every few days. You check in once and unpack in your stateroom once.
  • No looking for restaurant recommendations every day. You only have to choose your lunch and dinner from a menu after you’re seated in the dining room. Meal service times are clearly listed for you in the Daily Cruiser, the onboard printed newspaper delivered to your room every night. There is always plenty of time to get a meal to avoid the initial rush.
  • No deciding which things to see or which place to go or how you will get there. It’s all planned out for you. Also, you don’t have to worry about tickets for sites and attractions. They’re included when required.
  • Less chance of getting lost if you stay with your tour group. They have an audio device that lets you listen to the guide at all times, tour guides have clearly marked color-coded signs, and meeting points are easy to find.
  • Alcohol is always available on the ship, if you like to drink on your vacations.
  • Want to just sit and watch the castles go by in the Rhine Gorge? You can do that all you want up on the sun deck.
  • Need an umbrella? Or anything else for that matter? It will be provided for you.
  • They arrange transportation for you at the beginning and end of the cruise (you pay for your own transportation but they set it up for you).

Part of The Enchanting Rhine river cruise itinerary.
From https://www.amawaterways.com/destination/europe-river-cruises/2017/the-enchanting-rhine

Con – River Cruises Do Everything for You

For a planning and research guy like me, relinquishing control of my vacation to the river cruise people was a critical issue and I found it a little difficult to adjust to this at first. Even though I learned to go with the flow of the cruise and enjoy it, there were some negatives:

  • You either went on a tour or you stayed on the ship. There were limited options if you didn’t like the excursion that day.
  • There often wasn’t a lot of time on the tours to stop and chat with locals.
  • There weren’t really any tours for very small groups of people; each tour guide had a busload. This wasn’t really a problem but you were dependent on the quality of your specific tour guide for the interesting cultural or historical information.
  • There wasn’t time built in to just go off the ship and do your own thing since excursion schedules were tightly controlled (often influenced by the docking requirements of the ship).
  • Some excursions were boring (Rudesheim wine tasting) and, though our last village Riquewihr in France was absolutely charming and beautiful, after a while it all seemed designed to separate tourists from their money. Shopping was everywhere.
  • Limited vegetarian food options. My wife is a vegetarian and while there was something yummy for her to eat at each meal, she felt that the choices were limited.
  • It would have been nice to be able to see more castles. On one day, we sailed through the Rhine Gorge without a land stop and there were dozens of beautiful old and newer castles on the hills as we sailed by. We only toured one castle, the one in the Heidelberg, Germany excursion.

If you are like me and enjoy researching and planning your own vacations, a river cruise may not be the best vacation choice for you, unless you also have the ability to let somebody else run your vacation.

Pro – River Cruises Visit Places You Probably Would Never Visit On Your Own

There was a land-based excursion every day and there were versions for different activity levels (gentle, moderate and active). There were bike tours and hiking for the more active people. If you didn’t like biking or hiking, you went on a faster-paced tour.

We toured the great cathedrals in Cologne and Strasbourg. In Strasbourg, we marveled at the colorful charm of Petite France. We watched the castles go by on the Rhine. We enjoyed a very large beer at a cafe after touring the great castle in Heidelberg. We sailed past the bridge at Remagen, sight of a critical battle in World War II. Riquewihr was a colorful little village right out of medieval Europe. We did a wine-tasting and went to a fun little musical museum  in Rudesheim. Germany.

The river cruise took us to some very cool places that I probably never would have thought to visit on my own.

Petite France, Strasbourg, France

Con – River Cruises Offer Limited Activities Outside of Planned Excursions

In addition to the planned excursions, which never took up an entire day, there was at least one day spent entirely on the river and other stretches of several hours sailing from port to port. In other words, there was extra time on to fill on the boat.

Only a couple of tours took place in the evening, and they had some form of entertainment every night in the lounge. The idea was that nightly entertainment represented the country or region in which we  were sailing. So in France they brought an accordion player with a woman singing French style. On another night, they had an ABBA tribute act. You get the idea. I thought the entertainment was okay, a little hokey but not great.

Other than that entertainment, there really wasn’t much to do on the boat. The weather in late September to early October was too cold for swimming in the little heated pool up on the deck, although there was one day that was warm enough for it. There was a small exercise room with a couple of treadmills and a very modern-looking workout machine, and there was a little spa for massages.

Some of our fellow passengers made a few good suggestions, including small cooking classes on board with the highly skilled chefs, other classes in arts and crafts of each region, lectures and more music.

I understand that they can only do so much on a 7-day river cruise, but this is definitely an area that could be improved. Of course, you could be the type of person who likes a fair amount of down time for reading or other solitary activity, in which case you probably won’t mind the lack of extra activities.

River Cruise Tip – Extend the Cruise On Your Own

Because I simply could not give up control of the entire trip, and because our schedules allowed it, my wife and I extended our trip at the front and back ends with two days in Amsterdam on our own and a day and a half in Lucerne, Switzerland at the end. We were really happy we did this, and the extra travel hassles were worth enduring.

We really loved Amsterdam, and because our river cruise started there with a daytime activity, we really had three days in that great city. At the end of the trip, we took a train to Lucerne and stayed in a hotel on Lake Lucerne, with the Swiss Alps in the distance behind the lake. We took a day trip up to Mt. Pilatus via cogwheel train. The views were incredible and so was our impromptu hike down part of the mountain. That day turned out to be a highlight of our entire vacation.

So if you would like to do a river cruise but still want to reserve some vacation to doing your own thing, consider extending your cruise on your own.

River Cruise Summary

A river cruise is without a doubt a fun way to see a different part of the world without a lot of the hassles, and a cruise on a luxury or high-end cruise line offers a level of service that’s worth the money.

All in all, I enjoyed our river cruise a lot. When we returned home, my wife and I looked at each other and said “I would take another river cruise.” If we do decide to take another river cruise, we both agree that will look for a cruise that attracts a younger crowd. And we will extend the cruise with a couple of days at the front or back end on our own.

For More Information About River Cruises

If a river cruise sounds appealing to you, you really can’t go wrong with an Ama Waterways cruise. Here are some links to their different cruises:

There are other high-end cruise lines that get consistently good reviews. Here are links to river cruise review sites that I found helpful in my own research:

5 Positive Changes Writers May Notice after Moving from Employee to Freelance Writer

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I recently transitioned from corporate-employed writer to self-employed freelance writer and I’ve noticed some expected and unexpected positive changes. This is a move that many writers who work as full-time employees have thought about at least a hundred times and many have actually made the jump. There is a lot of information available on the Internet about moving from employee to freelance writer, so I won’t repeat what is already available.

Instead, I present five changes that I’ve noticed in my personal journey as a writer that you may want to keep in mind if you are a writer considering making a similar move.

1 – I Was in a Writing Rut

As an employee for the same company for nearly ten years, I adapted my writing to the requirements of the company. I got into a writing rut. In hindsight, this seems to have been a common, practical approach designed to help ensure success in a corporate environment. Every writer has an editor, and if you work for a company with a demanding, authoritarian culture like I did, upper management is the ultimate editor. I learned to adapt to management’s preferred style, and ended up writing to appease the bosses’ desires. I never noticed it until I freed myself but now I see that over time, my writing got stale.

Without the presence of an upper management editing function with its own ideas and preferences, I no longer have to write in a prescribed style to please my bosses. I am free to write the way I think is best for each piece or project.

2 – I Want to Write Again

This change came as surprise to me.

As an employee, I regularly worked nine-hour days on top of a commute in heavy traffic. Every day. Then it was constant rounds of changes and revisions at the whims of upper management amid an emotionally draining environment. I had many fine coworkers and friends on the job, but the politics and culture of the company had an overall negative effect on my daily life. The net effect was that at the end of the day, I wanted nothing to do with writing. I was burnt out.

Now that I am the master of my own schedule, with no grinding commute or daily corporate stresses, I have discovered new motivation to write. I actually want to write again and the grinding burnout has evaporated.

3 – New Ideas

This is another pleasant surprise.

As result of escaping the corporate rut and rediscovering the urge to write, I am coming up with new ideas. The ideas arrive easily and more frequently, and I find myself eager to jot down thoughts and ideas as I get them about different subjects. After years of being closed down, my idea factory has been reopened.

4 – Clients Treat Me with Respect

Many freelance writers will attest to this change – I’m treated like the expert instead of a flunky. I am respected and my skills are respected. I’m no longer expected to kowtow to the whims of upper management, blindly obeying the bosses’ decrees. Okay, I’ll admit that I was never one who enjoyed being told how to write by managers who could not write. I can tell you that I got into frequent arguments with my boss about written content. Now if I disagree with something, my clients take my opinion seriously. Even if they do not agree with me, they listen.

If you work for a company with top-notch management and they respect your skills and contributions as a writer, you are very fortunate indeed. Of course everybody’s experience is different. But I noticed this change right away.

5 – Less Stress!

Taken together, these changes have had the happiest effect of all: less stress. I no longer have to deal with daily traffic jams, corporate politics, a demanding culture, crushed emotional investments in projects, demanding bosses. I have both a happier professional existence and a happier life.

I won’t deny that there are stresses related to the financial aspects of writing as a freelancer. You have to earn enough money to live and pay your bills and find affordable medical insurance. The hours you work as a freelance writer are no longer tied to a 9-5 (or 8-6!) job and you work when you must to deliver the goods to your clients, at any time of day. These are real issues, and are often difficult to solve.

Fortunately I am one of the lucky ones, having prepared myself financially for this day and with access to medical insurance. Even so, if I were struggling to make a living as a free agent, I would still enjoy the work a lot more.

As a writer, the move from full-time employee to self-employed writer has been a very positive change.

Help for Mobile Apps – ArtStudio on My Cell Phone

Posted by | mobile user assistance, online help, Online Help Writer, Software User Assistance, technical documentation in Greenwich CT, technical writing | No Comments

Now that I’m back from vacation, I’m continuing my investigation into the online help/user assistance for some of my favorite apps on my Apple iPhone 4S. In my previous post, I looked at the user assistance for my banking app. In this post, I’m taking a look at my favorite art creation/editing app – ArtStudio by Lucky Clan.

ArtStudio advertises itself as a “comprehensive, sketching, painting and photo editing tool,” and it is certainly that. You can create pictures from scratch or import them from the photos on your phone. The app includes numerous image creation and modification tools that you would normally expect in such an application, including the ability to vary brush sizes, color, create different layers, adjust different characteristics of an image, and much more. It really is a great little app.

But how does the online help stack up? Once again, I’m asking the following questions:

  • When using the app, when do I need help?
  • How do I find the help?
  • When I find it, does it actually help me?

The answer to the first question, when do I need help, depends on how much experience I already have using art applications. Somebody who has experience using programs such as Adobe Photoshop on their computer will likely be familiar with many of the tools and features in ArtStudio and will know why they might want to use them when creating and modifying images. For example, I already know what a layer is, and I know why I would need to vary the size of a brush or other similar tool, and my beginner-to-intermediate Photoshop experience lets me quickly identify many of the tools available in ArtStudio. Still, using these tools on my iPhone or even on a tablet for that matter is different because of the smaller workspace available on these devices. Yes, I will still need help, but mostly with finding tools and options in the user interface.

A beginner will not only need help finding tools and options in the user interface but will also need to learn how to use them.

So where is the help in ArtStudio?

Like many new cell phone apps, this one conforms to some modern default behavior. Most everything you might be looking for is located in a menu, and the menus are easily accessed by tapping the familiar three horizontal lines symbol located in the upper left corner of the screen. From the main menu, there is no Help item, but there IS an item called ArtStudio. Lo and behold, when you tap ArtStudio in the menu, you get another menu, and this one has several items related to user assistance. So two taps got me to a menu with links to the User’s Manual, FAQs and Tutorials. That’s not too bad, although a less inquisitive user might not think to look in ArtStudio on the main menu.

artstudio1

And now we get to the third question: when I find the help, does it actually help me? Again, the answer depends somewhat on what kind of user I am.

A beginner with little or no experience using a image creation program would be tempted to go straight to the Tutorials. So I tapped Tutorials on the menu and a tutorial index page opened in my cell phone browser.

artstudio2

The Tutorials seem a little peculiar to me in that I expected to see some basic tasks presented, but not all the tutorials are labeled as such. There are a couple of video tutorials that show you how to create a caricature; when you click the tutorial link, a YouTube video launches. If you like learning by video, this is a good choice as the video does demonstrate how to complete several basic tasks. However, the person in the video is using the tablet version of ArtStudio and is also using a tablet pen. A keen observer might be able to transfer the information presented in the video to his or her cell phone app, but that’s a bit of a stretch. Personally, I don’t like video tutorials because I like to work along with the tutorial, and you can’t really do that with a video unless you constantly start and stop. But that may just be my own preference.

The other tutorials are not videos but are fairly useful combinations of screenshots and procedure steps. Unfortunately, these ArtStudio tutorials do not cover many of the basics of using the application, and I feel that they are lacking in this regard.

artstudio3

So the Tutorials are less than ideally useful on my cell phone.

Let’s get back to our ArtStudio menu and take a look at the User’s Manual. When you click the Users’ Manual menu, a 45-page PDF file opens in my cell phone browser.

artstudio4

Now here’s the good part – the entire manual is 100% graphic-based instruction based on task and consist of images with callouts. I had to enlarge the page to be able to really see the images on my phone, but I find this type of instruction the most useful. (Note that you can also view it the User’s Manual PDF on your desktop computer or tablet on lucky clan’s website for a larger, more readable view.)

artstudio5

Now here’s the bad part – this guide was created for the tablet version of ArtStudio, NOT the cell phone version. The images depict the program’s menus along the top of the screen, but in the cell phone app, the menus are vertically arranged on the left side of the screen. But how bad is this really? The phone app works pretty much the same way as the tablet app, and the menus are identical except for their location. The dialogs and controls are the same between the two versions.

I really like the User’s Manual because it is entirely image-based, but it doesn’t really teach you how to use the program, it just familiarizes you with the tools and options that are available and how to access them. Once again, for a person like me who has used this type of program before, that’s really all I need. For a beginner, it would not be enough. Still, I wish all software programs included this kind of documentation.

To summarize, the help for ArtStudio is better for more experienced users and is really designed for the tablet version of the app. The company obviously did not feel it necessary to produce a cell phone-specific user’s manual, and given the fact that this type of program is better suited to the larger screen size of a tablet than a cell phone, this may not have been a bad choice.

Help for Mobile Apps – The Banking App on My Cell Phone

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Smart mobile phones are truly a wonderful invention. They’ve made almost every aspect of our daily lives more convenient (and isolating, but that’s a different subject), and have put enormous amounts of both useful and (useless) information at our fingertips. There are now mobile phone applications – apps – for virtually everything. There are apps for banking and investing, apps for creating art and editing photos, apps for all kinds of games, apps for news and information, apps for creating music, apps for traveling, apps for finding restaurants, apps for buying movie tickets, and of course apps for dating. And the list goes on. Whew!

As a writer of information designed to help end users have the best possible experience using a software program and as a user myself, I am keenly interested in how to get assistance when using mobile apps. To that end, I’ve taken a look at some of my favorite apps on my own phone, an Apple iPhone 4S, to see how the online help or user assistance stacks up. I wasn’t sure what I would find out, but it turned out to be a very interesting investigation.

My Online Banking App

I’ll admit it – I hate waiting in lines, especially at my bank. Just drives me crazy. The advent of online banking has really been a positive force in my life as it allows me to avoid those dreaded Saturday morning lines.

The first app that I looked at on my phone was the online banking app for my own bank. As part of my investigation into the user assistance for my banking app, I asked myself the following questions:

  • When using the app, when do I need online help?

  • How do I find the online help?

  • When I find the online help, does it actually help me?

My own bank’s mobile app allows me to do many things, including check my account balances and recent transactions, transfer funds between accounts, pay bills online, arrange for a check deposit and even find locations of different branches. Pretty basic stuff.

The answer to the first question, when do I need help, is simple – not very often. This app is simple to use and conforms to most of the de facto user interface standards for mobile apps. For example, after I log into my account from the opening screen, I get a summary of my account balances (which I won’t show you here because it’s frankly none of your business). On that screen, I see a now familiar three horizontal lines symbol.  I’ve seen this symbol everywhere in mobile apps so by now, I suspect that tapping on it will display something, probably a menu. I tap the symbol and voila!  A menu slides in from the left.

image_3
The menu gives me access to all the different functions available in the app, and even includes a link to Help, thereby answering my second question, how do I find the online help. I tap Help on the menu.

image_1

Ah, now here’s some useful information. Apparently I can get help about any screen in the app simply by tapping the screen title. The instruction for this is simple and to the point. There are no images, nor are there any really necessary, in my opinion.

I have two complaints about this. One, I have to know to tap Help on the side menu to learn this trick. Two, I subsequently discovered that this is the ONLY help available from the side menu. You actually DO have to tap a screen title to get help for that screen. It’s the only way to get context-sensitive help. I would never have thought to tap the page title as that is not quite standard mobile user interface behavior. But in this case, this help topic available on the menu does teach me how to get help in the rest of the app and so is quite useful. The answer to my third question –  when I find help, does it help me? – would have to be yes.

So now that I’ve learned how to access help in the rest of the app, I was eager to try it out. I tapped the three horizontal lines symbol again to display the menu, and then I tapped Transfers.

On the Transfers screen, I tapped the screen title and lo and behold, a help topic opened.

image_2
As shown in the above screen, the help is very simple. It’s written with a fair minimum of text. While I could scroll down within the help screen, there was no reason to do so because there was only the simple content shown above.

In terms of writing style, I personally would advocate less text. First, I would have omitted the lead-in sentence “In the Transfer form….” because the Transfers screen only HAS the single form. It’s extra words that I don’t need. And if I wanted to get really picky, I would have omitted “the” from bullet text. You can get away with “Enter transfer amount.” without the article “the” although the Transfer From and Transfer To bullet text seems clunky without the article.

Finally, I can easily close the help screen by tapping the encircled X symbol, another standard of user interface design.

That concludes my investigation into the mobile online help for my own banking app. The next article will take a look at the online help for a mobile art app that I use. Why not take a look at the mobile user assistance for your own banking app and see how it stacks up?

Editing and Proofreading from CohenWrite in Greenwich CT

Posted by | editing, freelance technical writer, mobile user assistance, Online Help Writer, proofreading, Software User Assistance, technical documentation in Greenwich CT, technical writing | No Comments

In today’s business environment, urgency is often the primary motivator behind new product releases, especially in the software and mobile application development realms. In the rush to be the first to market with the latest and greatest, important steps are often skipped in the process. Editing and proofreading of written supporting material such as end user documentation, marketing copy and even press releases are steps that I’ve seen skipped or at best, hurried through. The result is a product that might look unfinished to many, and that’s no way to hit the market with your great new product.

CohenWrite offers more than 25 years of experience proofreading and editing, and we always deliver when you need it. Let us put that professional final touch onto your written material, including technical documentation, web content, software user assistance, mobile user assistance and more.

Writing for Mobile Apps in Greenwich, CT – The Importance of Great Online Help for Mobile Apps

Posted by | mobile user assistance, Online Help Writer, Software User Assistance, technical documentation in Greenwich CT, writing services in Greenwich CT | No Comments

It’s no secret that the world has moved to mobile communications in a big way. This not only includes telephone and text messaging, but also an growing variety of applications from gaming and social media to productivity and shopping. Like their older cousins in the desktop and web-based universes, these new apps have been captivating the public and will continue to do so. And just like traditional software applications, the importance of user assistance cannot be overstated.

How popular and widespread is mobile usage? Consider the following data:

  • Out of more than seven billion people living on the planet, there are now estimated to be over six billion people with mobile subscriptions. 
  • 50% of the average global mobile web users now use their mobile devices as their primary means of getting online.
  • The average person actively uses 6.5 apps in a 30-day period.
  • 80% of mobile time is spent using apps.

Those are pretty amazing numbers. They point to very logical conclusion that mobile apps aren’t going away. In fact, their use will only increase as the technology becomes more advanced and visually dazzling.

However, as the use of mobile apps continues to increase, the need for on-the-spot, efficient and useful user assistance  will also increase. So people will continue to need help using these new and wonderful mobile apps, whether for phone or tablet.

I’ve taken a good look at the help available for the apps that I use on my own mobile devices and I’ve found them mostly wanting. Generally it seems to me that mobile help is often an afterthought. In the rush to go “mobile” and be early to market, companies typically consider mobile help last, if at all. Interestingly, we never seem to learn from the past; when software applications first appeared on desktop computers, the help was often lacking in completeness, accessibility and usability.

So what’s wrong with today’s mobile help?

  • A lot of is not specifically designed for mobile use. Help authoring tools are now offering export features that allow existing online help, designed for desktop or web-based applications, to be ported to a format that can be displayed on a mobile device.
  • It’s not visual enough. There’s too much text-based help, and mobile apps are visual beasts.
  • There’s either not enough information or there’s too much information.
  • A lot of apps make it difficult to find the help, often forcing the user to go to a separate screen to get help.

The best mobile apps are, like their older desktop and web-based applications, designed with user assistance integrated into the app itself. But these seem to be few and far between. Again, software companies are often under pressure to deliver an app to market as quickly as possible, and in that rush, it’s the documentation that often suffers.

I will provide some examples of good and bad mobile help in future articles. For now, take a look at your own mobile apps and see how your own user assistance stacks up. CohenWrite of Greenwich, CT can help.

Sources:

http://thenextweb.com/insider/2014/01/08/worldwide-internet-social-media-and-mobile-statistics-dig-into-183-pages-of-data/

http://www.digitalbuzzblog.com/infographic-2013-mobile-growth-statistics/

Report from the  International Telecommunication Union (ITU)

 

 

API Documentation in Greenwich CT

Posted by | API documentation, freelance technical writer, technical documentation in Greenwich CT, technical writing, Uncategorized, writing services in Greenwich CT | No Comments

Having worked in the software industry for oh, forever, I’ve worked with a lot of software developers. And there is a universal truth in the realm of software development: Programmers hate to write documentation. Even those developers who begin a project with the best of intentions end of stumbling somewhere along the way, and the code that is ultimately produced contains little or no useful documentation. But ironically, software developers LOVE good API documentation.

Well, of course they do. Good API documentation leads a programmer by the hand through the jungle of functions, methods, events, parameters and yes, the dreaded best practices. The best API documentation should include the following elements:

  • Completeness. Every aspect of an API should be documented.
  • Examples. This is very important.
  • Sample applications, if available.
  • Ease of use and accessibility. API Documentation is best presented in an online format with lots of related links, easily accessible to the busy, impatient programmer.
  • Coverage of multiple languages, if applicable and practical.
  • Documentation of error codes.

CohenWrite has a lot of experience working with software developers and API documentation. Let us help you help your developers.

Webinar Planning and Scripting from Technical Writer in Greenwich, CT

Posted by | freelance technical writer, Online Help Writer, Software User Assistance, technical documentation in Greenwich CT, technical writing, Web-based user assistance, webinar planning and scripting, writing services in Greenwich CT | No Comments

By now we’ve all heard of web conferencing, that ubiquitous service that allows conferencing events to be shared with remote locations over the Internet. The modern term for this service is Webinar, and they have become both popular and quite useful for customers of all kinds of companies.

Webinars are often presented as a combination of software demonstration and PowerPoint presentations, and frequently provide some form of take-away document at the end. The take-away document can be the actual PowerPoint presentation, which can be problematic if the presentation is too wordy, too vague, or doesn’t have enough meaningful images; or an additional document specifically designed for this purpose. One of the most popular webinar services is Webex, which is a proprietary service from Cisco.

Some web conferencing solutions require that additional software be installed by the presenter and participants. Some web conferencing vendors provide a complete solution while others just enhance existing technologies. Participants can be individuals or a group. The best webinar systems allow individuals to interact with the presenter by means of a chat panel, in which the attendees can ask questions that are seen live by the presenter. Many webinar vendors provide either a recorded copy of an event, or a means for a subscriber to record an event. In my experience, the majority of people who register for a webinar end up not attending but going back later and watching or downloading the recording of the event. So the ability to record webinars is very important.

Of course the most important aspect of a webinar is the actual presentation. Is it focused on a single piece of software or logical group of software functions? Is there a demonstration of the software? If there are slides to present, are they useful and capture the attention of the attendees?

Webinars can be a very cool way to impart important information to your customers about what your product does, how it works, and how to use it. Shorter webinars are usually more effective than longer webinars because quite honestly, most people are busy, multi-tasking, or simply lose focus after too much time. Of courser, a good writer can provide webinar planning and scripting, and some, this author included, can even do justice to the presentation.

Useful and Interesting Stuff Around the Web: from Technical Writer in Greenwich CT

Posted by | Content Strategy, freelance technical writer, Online Help Writer, Software User Assistance, technical documentation in Greenwich CT, technical writing, writing services in Greenwich CT | No Comments

There’s a lot of useful and interesting stuff floating around the web these days on a variety of topics, particularly those of interest to businesses who are thinking about how to present information to their customers. Unfortunately, there’s so much lousy and wasteful content out there, most people give up trying to find the good content.

Here then, are a few links to some articles and blog posts that I found useful and interesting, and I hope you do too:

A collective thanks to the authors of the aforementioned articles.