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Even if the writing at a website isn't geeky and inconsistent, it may still be careless and awkward -in a word, sloppy. When use of the Internet and Web began to explode in the mid-1990s, some pundits predicted a renaissance of writing skills, as more and more people began writing emails, participating in chat rooms, creating Web pages, and so on. Instead, we seem to be seeing how many people and companies are willing to show the entire world how quasi-literate and careless they are.
One example comes from ValcoElectronics.com's FAQ page (Figure 6.33[A]). For the moment, ignore the page's odd, hard-to-scan formatting. Notice instead the ungrammatical run-on sentences in the fourth, fifth, and sixth questions, such as, "I live in the US do I have to pay sales tax on my order?" Notice the misspelling in the answer to question five: "Only persons living in Louisiana or [sic] subject to sales tax." A product page at the same site contains a blatant spelling error (Figure 6.33[B]).
Whatever language or languages a website targets, the text in it should be written-or at least edited-by skilled writers of that language. Since Valco is clearly targeting English-speaking customers, text in its site should have been written or checked by people trained to write well in English.
Poor writing can also be seen at Connectix.com. The site's instructions for upgrading Connectix' product Virtual PC from Windows 95 to Windows 98 contain several grammatical and typographical errors (Figure 6.34), such as "more then suggested." Connectix may use technical writers and copy editors to write software manuals, but it apparently does not use them to write website text.
It would not be surprising to find sloppy writing on someone's personal website of baby pictures or vacation stories. What is surprising is poorly proofread, poorly written text on websites of well-known companies, organizations, and institutions. Even the prestigious U.S. National Academies, which includes the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and National Research Council, is not immune (Figure 6.35).
Sloppy writing at a website is a surface-level blooper that is usually caused by two deeper bloopers:
Management blooper: assigning the job of writing website text to people unskilled at writing in the target language
Process blooper: failing to proofread and edit all text in the site: content, button labels, links, tool-tips, menu items, error messages-all text
To avoid committing the "sloppy writing" blooper, make sure your organization doesn't commit the underlying management and process bloopers. Assign the job of writing website text to people who are trained to write well: technical writers and editors. Then leave time to review and improve the text before putting the site up on the Web.
If the writing on your website is sloppy, people will notice it, and the impression they will have of your company or organization won't be good. That's why you want to pay attention to this. If the writing on the site is good, your reward will be that people won't notice it.
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