Tell Users to Select, Not to Click or Tap

GreenCheckMarkIn our mobile first world, where we’re first developing sites, applications, and user assistance for mobile devices, telling users to select something is probably a better choice than telling them to click. Since more and more people are navigating with their fingers (on all kinds of devices), they’re generally selecting something rather than clicking something with the mouse.

Is Select Ambiguous or Inclusive?

Select is inclusive, and yes maybe a bit ambiguous, of all the methods users might use to…well, select something. There might be a click or clicking noise involved, but we as developers don’t know what device the user might be using, or what some upgrade might do to its behavior vis-a-vis a click. And we don’t know if they have clicking/selecting noises turned on.

Users may be selecting something in a drop-down menu, a radio button, a check box, or a date in a calendar widget.

Click on, Click off

If you’re still telling users to click something, my preferred construction is to write click without the on. So, I never write Click on the icon. Just say Click the icon. Users know what this means. And it saves an unnecessary word. Of course there are exceptions. And if you’ve read the above, you’ll undoubtedly say Select …

Four User Assistance Publishing Platform Types

User Assistance in the CloudBefore creating user assistance (user guides, articles, videos, online help, classes, courses, curricula, certifications, assessments, etc.), part of the process of planning it is understanding how, where, and by whom this information is used. When you understand this, you know what platform type is best for your situation. Here are the four general types of platforms to consider. Keep in mind that you can publish pretty much all types of user assistance (file types) to each of these. The differences are; how closely integrated the information is with your system, and how much control you have over access and editing. The four platforms are not listed in any particular order. There’s a fifth publishing type; printing hard copy. For the purposes of this article however, I won’t describe printing.

Learning Management System (LMS)

An LMS is traditionally where we publish learning events such as classes, courses, curricula, certifications, assessments, and documents. LMSs allow significant customization in look and feel, catalogs, categorization, curricula, notifications, and reporting. Here are some of the key characteristics.

  • generally controlled viewing access
  • integrate externally-authored courseware
  • roster management
  • scheduling (ILT, vILT, and eLearning)
  • generate and send custom notifications (email, text)
  • track completions and scores
  • standard and custom reports
  • integrate with your directory service, such as Active Directory, for single sign-on (SSO)
  • AICC, SCORM, Tin Can compatibility
  • both a push and a pull system

Learning Content Management System (LCMS)

An LCMS is similar to an LMS although an LCMS is generally geared more toward hosting documentation (user guides), than classes, courses, and curricula. Companies may use their intranet, SharePoint, Wiki, or other system to host and manage their LCMS.

  • generally controlled viewing access
  • check in, check out
  • scheduled publishing
  • authoring templates
  • integrate with your directory service, such as Active Directory, for single sign-on (SSO)
  • generally a pull system


This could be your company’s public web site or a whole host of Internet platforms such as social sites (facebook, Twitter, etc.), or video hosting sites (Vimeo, youtube, etc.). Companies may publish their more sensitive or proprietary information on a closed/access controlled system (LMS, LCMS), but also publish their more public information to sites that are accessible to the general public, and prospective clients.

  • open viewing access
  • marketing/business development purposes
  • wider audience targeting

Your System or Application

Your user assistance can be integrated and published with, and on the same platform as, your system or application. The authoring of the user assistance may be part of the process to create the system or application, and/or standard third-party authoring tools can be used. For example, your development team uses Visual Studio 2013 to build a system, while also integrating user assistance into the development/build process. In addition, instructional designers use other tools, for example RoboHelp or Camtasia, to create additional user assistance that is also integrated into the build/publishing process.

  • publishing sync’d with releases
  • content on same platform as system
  • context-sensitivity
  • content potentially closest to point of use

Three Words I Always Look for When Editing (need, which, utilize)

Want versus Need imageThere are three words that I search for (and often edit) when reviewing a document. Even before skimming or reading a document, I often search for these words to get a flavor of the quality, tone, grammar, and formality of the writing. If you read, write, listen, or edit, you probably see, hear, or edit these three words quite a bit.

The three dirty words are:

1. Need, Excessive Neediness

Need is probably the most tortured and abused word in the English language. It’s dropped almost everywhere. And dropped inappropriately, I must add. I call it Excessive Neediness. There are two rules that I follow when looking at need.

  1. Only animate objects have needs. Non-living objects cannot possibly have needs.
  2. Political or emotional use. Used as an emotional or pleading-type of appeal.

A poorly crafted email message says that this project needs to be completed by the end of the week. Interesting. Projects have needs. Didn’t know that!

A biased newspaper article may explain that a certain agency of the government needs more of our money in the form of higher taxes in order to…

2. Which Versus That

My experience is that writers and speakers often use which when they should use that as the relative pronoun. In section 5.202 of my Chicago Manual of Style, I find that that is “used restrictively to narrow a category or to identify an item.” “Which is used non-restrictively – not to narrow a class or identify an item – but to add something to an item. “Which should be used restrictively only when it is preceded by a preposition (e.g., the situation in which we find ourselves). Otherwise it is almost always preceded by a comma, a parenthesis, or a dash.” The confusion usually arises when which or that are used as relative pronouns to introduce adjective (or relative) clauses. The rule of thumb, is that which clauses are nonrestrictive (nonessential to the meaning of the sentence) while that clauses are restrictive (essential to the meaning). Note that rules and customs in British English may be different.

I think that writers want to be more formal, or appear to have given their writing more thought. They think that which lends their writing a little more formality.

This article from Get it write online gives a good explanation and a few examples. There are certainly many examples…

3. Utilize Versus Use

Utilize is a fussy non-word in my book. It doesn’t add anything to a sentence that use doesn’t already handle. Instead of utilize use use, or better yet, an even more descriptive and accurate verb or sentence structure.

Performance Analysis and Instructional Design in Five Phases

Performance Analysis Instructional System Design Nine Events of Instruction ADDIEThe five phases below describe how we might go from determining that training is the appropriate intervention through the process of actually designing and building training materials, particularly eLearning. I plan to discuss these five phases in greater detail in additional comments, but I want to put the five phases together and in perspective, relative to one another.

1. Performance Analysis (Mager & Pipe)

The process of performance analysis informs us of the symptoms (if we don’t already know them) and more importantly the causes of a performance gap. After we know the cause then we can design appropriate interventions. Managers sometimes jump to the conclusion that more training, or refresher training, is the answer to a performance gap. The research of Mager and Pipe, and others shows us that this may not be the case. Before designing an intervention, we must look into the cause of the performance gap. The Mager and Pipe Analyzing Performance Problems model is an excellent starting point in that discovery process. In the case of training for new processes or training of newly hired associates, there won’t be a performance gap that we have to analyze. This is because we already know the performance gap. However, Performance Analysis is still the first thing we should consider.

2. Instructional System Design (Dick & Carey)

After we’ve determined that instruction is the way, or one of the ways, to close a performance gap, we map the instructional strategy by following the steps in the Dick and the Carey Systems Approach Model for Designing Instruction. The core of this model is to develop instructional goals based upon the performance goals within the context of the learners and an instructional analysis. The instructional analysis tells us what our learners have to know in order to perform the tasks we want them to perform. After determining the objectives, we develop how we’re going to assess how well learners meet the objectives (pretests, post-tests, practice, etc.,). From there we can develop and test materials in an iterative process.

3. Nine Events of Instruction (Gagné)

Robert Gagné provides us with a useful outline and organization of what should be included in a course. Here are his nine steps, or events of instruction.

  1. Get their attention. Why is this important to the learner?
  2. Objectives: What will the learner/performer gain from the instruction?
  3. Integrate with existing knowledge: Ask for recall of existing relevant knowledge.
  4. Provide content
  5. Guide learners
  6. Elicit performance: Learners respond to demonstrate knowledge.
  7. Provide feedback
  8. Assess performance
  9. Enhance retention and transfer to other contexts

4. Develop Materials (PADDIEM)

After completing the analysis and planning in the three phases above, we’re ready to put pen to paper and design our materials. We may start with a title and an outline, or just the outline and work out the title later. From the outline, we flesh out the content. We basically write a script, then a storyboard, then go to the authoring tools. We could use whatever project management (PM) methodology that makes sense. A PM process depends upon the size and scope of the project. Larger projects probably require more rigorous PM. The ADDIE model is often mentioned as a basic foundation for PM. We get PADDIEM when we add project management, the P, and maintenance, the M, to the ADDIE model. Who developed the ADDIE model? Good Question. No one seems to know.

5. Testing, Evaluation, Maintenance

Although the ADDIE (or PADDIEM) model includes implementation, evaluation and maintenance, I think these items deserve to be on the same level with the other four phases. Depending upon what we develop, we are going to have to test it at various stages and from various perspectives. We have to test publishing and implementing in whatever platform we use for that purpose. We also have to evaluate its effectiveness at changing behavior. This however, may have to wait until the eLearning is deployed. And after we have deployed our eLearning (or other intervention), it may require some maintenance. The project may have to be updated due to; the audience in the LMS, content, or technology (or all of these!).

Leave the Unnecessary Out, Out of Your Writing

Get the out outToo frequently, the word out is used with certain verbs when it is completely unnecessary, and in fact grammatically incorrect. Here are some examples:

  • Coupons will be emailed out in December
  • Please print out the documents before the meeting
  • Send out an email to staff to tell them about the changes
  • Separate them out
  • Please fill out all required fields

Check a dictionary

If you check a dictionary you’ll find that these verbs do not carry the bonus out at the end:

  • To print out
  • To send out
  • To separate out
  • To mail out
  • To clean out
  • To rent out
  • To empty out
  • To tweet out

Emphasis should be on the root

When your read or hear someone say send out, you may notice that the emphasis seems to be on the word out. The emphasis should be on the root verb, send. Isn’t the construction so much better without the out? Most writers and editors know this. I wish all writers would catch on.

Don’t Install PC-Craptastic Crapware, Instead Re-install Windows

PC Craptastic BoxIn the free advice department, let me suggest that you not install additional, questionable software to fix your buggy, slow, infected Windows computer. Over time you may have installed and uninstalled various (free, trial, bloatware) applications, clicked links you shouldn’t have, opened email, downloaded, and shared files you shouldn’t have, etc.

The answer to a slow and infected machine is not to install even more dubious software. Instead, the answer is the opposite.

Re-install Windows, Have a Plan

Format the hard drive, and re-install Windows and only the applications you really trust and use. I do this about once a year on my main desktop. It’s not too tough but you have to have time, a plan, and a few things on hand. I have multiple computers, including warm/cold spares, tablets and smartphones, so I’m not lacking for backup communication devices during the time it takes to rebuild my main computer. I also rebuild my spares and test machines, but these rebuilds are not as time-sensitive as rebuilding my main workstation.

Completely Erase or even Replace the Hard Drive

Recently, I’ve begun using Darik’s Boot And Nuke (DBAN, to completely erase/delete the contents of the hard disk before formatting, partitioning and installing an operating system. Since I have multiple computers, and some of them are several years old, I may have had several version of Windows, or even Linux, on them. Fully wiping the hard drive with something similar to DBAN helps ensure that residual files do not interfere with your fresh install. If your hard drive is reaching the end of its expected life, you could replace it.

Installation Media & License

There are some complications to re-installing Windows of course. Since Windows was most likely installed by the OEM, you may not have the installation media (DVD), or the Windows license key. I keep a copy of the operating systems that I install (Windows XP Pro, 7 Pro, 8.1 Pro) as well as Microsoft Office on DVD. I also keep applications on my shared drive. You can extract the embedded OEM Windows license key using a tool such as Belarc Advisor. Your OEM machine probably has multiple partitions including a recovery partition. Before proceeding with flattening the machine, decide if you want to keep these partitions and the OEM method of recovering/fixing your computer. For example, you may not want to wipe out the recovery partition while the computer is under warranty.

Before re-installing Windows, you might want to create a partition for backups/recovery. After installing Windows and additional apps and updates, you can create a custom recovery image and save it to this partition.

Open the Desktop Box

If you have a desktop versus a laptop, now is good time to verify that all of the fans are working. You can also open the box and use a small shop vac to remove dust and spider webs. This is also a good time to replace the CMOS battery, the video card, memory… you get the idea.


  1. Obviously, you have to fully backup all files that you want to keep on something such as a USB thumb drive. Take your time on this step.
  2. Wipe/format the drive(s) with something aggressive such as DBAN
  3. Install Windows
  4. Install other applications such as Office 2013, Adobe Creative Suite, Google Chrome
  5. Connect to the Internet to download and install updates


Before performing any of the steps in the post, do your own research into the process. Consult a trusted friend. There are risks and you have to fully understand them before you follow the comments in this post. This process requires that you have a plan, have various resources on hand, and have the time to complete it. Although it’s a lot easier to simply install some random crapware/ransomware…don’t do it!

Localize the Content After Translation

Flags of several nationsLocalization is what technical editors do to your document after it’s been translated. They localize the writing. Localization is the process of polishing the writing so that it is comprehensible to your audience without your audience having to spend additional time analyzing the writing. Localization may be accomplished by machines but it is often performed by people.

Translated + Localized = Reader Bliss

Obviously, translated and localized text is going to have a greater impact on your audience versus text that isn’t translated, or isn’t localized. Only highly motivated readers are going to take the time to use a translation service or tool, such as then take the extra step of deconstructing and reconstructing the not-so-great translation so it makes sense to them. The question you should ask is “is it worth the effort to provide my audience with a well translated and localized text?” In other words, will the effort to produce a better quality translation mean more sales, fewer customer support contacts, higher customer satisfaction, and higher review scores on social sites?

Non-informative, Misleading, Irritating, or Just Plain Funny?

Poor translations/localizations can range from not-helpful, to wrong and misleading, to highly irritating. It can inhibit your customer’s efforts to use your product or service. This can reduce sales and increase customer service contacts. If your users/customers find your documentation to be of low quality, will that same feeling translate to how they feel about your product or service? In general, you want all aspects of your product (web site, web application, email, contacts, support, packaging, documentation, etc.) to reflect positively on its quality. Poor translations can also be funny. Here are some examples:

Product Inserts, Online Documentation

Many physical products include one or more paper inserts or provide online documentation on the company site or mobile application. This material should serve a purpose. The purpose is often; installation, configuration, maintenance, troubleshooting, or getting support. These materials should effectively answer the common questions your users/customer have. If they don’t, you may have wasted the time and effort to produce them.

Cutting Costs

Before deciding to ship a product with or without documentation, you should analyze the need for and use of the documentation. Does the audience need it in order to properly use your product or service? If so, it may be worth the extra cost to provide information they can use. I wrote a little bit about audience, purpose, and context here.