On Writing

On Writing – Please Don’t Say Please

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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.

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.