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GUIs and messages provoke lively SIG session
2002, Q1 (June 20, 2007)
In a lively roundtable session of the Carolina Chapter Technical Editing SIG, held at EMC on January 17, Sue Kocher and David Heath took SIG members on a guided tour of unhelpful error messagesand confusing, illogical, and timewasting graphical user interfaces. The meeting served as a call to action for editors to get more involved in contributing their skills to these key areas of technical communication.

Among the examples discussed by the group were error messages that provided no explanation of the error or the actions required, dialog boxes with command buttons that were unrelated to the dialog, redundant information such as explanations that merely repeated the text of the error message, and vague, inconsistent terminology.

Poor design is costly

Rick Taliaferro explained some of the time-consuming problems involved in becoming proficient using writing tools when the user interface is poorly organized and unintuitive. And as Michelle Corbin pointed out, the cost of user education is also substantially higher for such user interfaces. Anne Tice summed up the situation by stressing that poorly designed and written GUIs and error messages come with a substantial price tag for everything from expensive user education and low productivity to high technical support costs. Technical editors have the right skills to identify and resolve many of these problems, and it’s important that they get involved.

On February 21, the topic was “Tools and Tips for Online Editing,” led by Anne Tice. Anne shared her experiences using Microsoft Word, Adobe Acrobat, e-mail, and other electronic means to edit content for local and remote writers. She included her own recommendations for communicating changes and comments clearly and appropriately.

On March 21, the topic will be “Technical Editing as Quality Assurance,” presented by Mike Boyd, Michelle Corbin, and Pat Moell. This will be a dry run of the upcoming STC conference presentation. After considering the traditional levels-of-edit systems, the presenters will discuss the trend toward content editing as a quality assurance process. They will compare technical editing processes to software testing processes, after providing a brief overview of those software testing processes. They will describe several different content editing activities in the context of three traditional types of editing: comprehensive editing, usability editing, and copy editing. Finally, they will issue a call to arms to technical editors to become quality assurance professionals, similar to software testing professionals.

Whether you are a technical editor, a writer who edits, or someone who is simply interested, this group is for you. If you cannot attend the meetings, you are invited to join the techedit listserv or to take advantage of any resources that the SIG has to offer. End of article.

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