Best Practice Round-Up

Earnsy (rhymes with Guernsey) successfully completed the GDID (Graduate Diploma in Information Design, Ara) in 2017. She’s interested in many aspects of information design and is partial to flat whites. In her quarterly TechCommWire column, she looks for evidence (not just opinions) to help you manage the daily conundrums we face in our profession.

  • What's the evidence? Do grammar checkers improve writing? October 2023 (to be published shortly)
    Do grammar checkers help you write better over time or are they one-off quick fixes? After poring over a heap of non-paywalled journal articles, I reckon grammar checkers have their place — but seem to make an alarming number of mistakes.

  • What's the evidence? Does onboarding work? September 2021
    You get a new app and all these tips pop up. Do people engage with this stuff? Is it useful?
    As far as I can tell, the jury’s still out on this. There’s research and plenty of advice, but no convincing evidence.
  • What's the evidence? A penny for your thoughts April 2021
    Do you speak to yourself? Mutter under your breath, cuss, and swear even? You do? I wonder if you’d make a good candidate for think-aloud research. I’m thinking of the think-aloud protocol, where usability researchers ask you to speak your thoughts.
  • How much do we read on our phones? March 2019
  • Alas, despite trawling through screeds of articles and reports, I don’t know how much users read on their phones. I can’t tell you that typical mobile phone users spend X min a day or Y per cent of their time reading. But hey, don’t go! Let me explain why I don’t have an answer (it depends what you call reading) and make it up to you with other interesting, related findings. Tell you what: I’ll even mention sex, love, and Kamasutra. (Don’t worry if you’re at work — it’s safe to keep reading.)
  • When should we use visuals? November 2018
  • To assemble that chair, start by inserting screw a6 into b1 while holding down c. Got that? No? Why not? It’s a short sentence (15 words) and there are no big words. Would visuals help? When are they a good idea, when not? What do users prefer? Let’s look at the evidence on the use of visuals, compare text and visuals, peek at a comic-style employment contract, and finish with some tips.
  • Asking about Gender August 2018

    Do technical communicators need to think about gender? I think so. We may be asked to review wording in forms or surveys, we may need to develop personas, and we need to ensure our writing doesn’t alienate readers and give them a bad user experience.

  • Deciding between words and tables May 2018

    Looked at the Super Rugby results lately? A bus timetable, perhaps, or the TechCommNZ subscription rates? Chances are, you’d have looked at a table. How should technical communicators decide when to use one?