Archive for the ‘Technical Writing’ Category

PerfectIt by Intelligent Editing : Product review

May 28, 2009

PerfectIt Product Shot

Title: PerfectIt
Developed by: Intelligent Editing
Price: 1 License ($90); Bundle of 5 licenses ($250); Bundle of 20 licenses ($650); Site license ($1,490)
Website: http://www.intelligentediting.com/default.aspx
Reviewer: Eddie Gear

PerfectIt is an excellent tool for users of the Microsoft Office Word application especially writers, editors, and others who are in the field of authoring and who need an easy-to-use proof reading tool. Although PerfectIt does not offer spell check or grammar check options, it includes several key tests that help you to create professional looking documents. PerfectIt can be easily installed in MS 2000, 2003, XP and 2007 as add-ins.

The main focus of this tool is checking for inconsistencies in documents. You can apply all the tests that are available in the tool, choose a test, or customize the test settings to suit your needs.

System Requirements

Microsoft Office Word 2000, 2003, XP or 2007

User Interface

The interface has a simple layout and easy-to-use buttons that helps you to perform tasks quickly and efficiently. A balloon notification guides you through the proof reading process when required.

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The PerfectIt dialog box comprises the Menu bar, an instructions section, and a Settings section. The Menu bar provides file saving options, testing options and Help options. The Settings section allows you to save documents before starting the test, select notifications on tips, and choose the tests you want to apply to your document. Once you hit the Start button, PerfectIt will run tests based on certain criteria and display the inconsistencies in the document. You can then choose to fix the errors or move on to the next item.

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On clicking the Start button, the user interface displays four sections.

Section 1: Displays the test that is currently running.

Section 2: Displays a brief description of the error.

Section 3: Displays preferred forms of the error.

Section 4: Displays the locations of the errors in the Word document.

A description at the bottom of the PerfectIt dialog box displays a note or cautionary message. There are also a series of buttons that help you perform tasks related to the error which are described in the following table.

Button

Function

Next Moves to the next criteria that are to be tested
Help Displays the PerfectIt Help window explaining the rules related to the test or criteria
Fix Fixes the error
Undo Reverses the error that was fixed in the earlier instance
Fix All Fixes all instances of the error related to a particular criteria

Final Tasks

On successful completion of the tests, the PerfectIt dialog box displays a note informing you that all the tests are complete and performs a series of finalization tasks. The tasks include:

  • Generating a table of abbreviations
  • Accepting all tracked changes
  • Removing comment boxes
  • Updating the table of contents
  • Updating cross-references

These additional tasks help you create a clean and professional looking document.

Tests Used By PerfectIt

PerfectIt proof reads documents based on certain tests. Brief descriptions of the different tests run using this tool are described in the following table.

Test Type

Description

Phrases with hyphens/dashes Checks if hyphenated phrases or words appear consistently throughout the document.
Language version Identifies instances where there is inconsistent usage of British and U.S. English.
Numbers Checks if there is consistency in using numbers between words in a sentence.
Usage of compound words Checks if compound words of a similar type appear consistently.
Abbreviations Checks for consistency issues when using abbreviations including if abbreviations:

  • Are used for in two forms
  • Are defined in two ways
  • Are used before a definition
  • Appear twice
  • Appear without definition( provides options to add a definition if without one)
  • Are not used
Capitalization Identifies areas where capitalization is not followed consistently in:

  • Headings
  • Phrases
  • Bullet lists
  • Numbered lists
  • Titles in tables
Punctuation Identifies missing or inconsistent usage of punctuation in:

  • Bullet lists
  • Numbered lists
  • Tables
Tables Highlights consistency issues in tables including:

  • Labels in table headings
  • Labels in Boxes/ figures
  • Figure captions
  • Sequential numbering of tables
  • Missing table headings
  • Missing Figures/boxes

Customizing Settings

PerfectIt allows you to apply settings to customize the tests to suit your writing needs. The Customise Test menu includes options to select preferences for a particular word or never find a specific word. Advanced customizing options include options to select phrases that PerfectIt never finds, phrases that PerfectIt always finds, and applying settings for lists numbers and compound words. You can also add, delete or modify the custom settings as per requirements.

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You can also maintain the same custom settings when you work on different computers by copying the files CustomFindLists and CustomExclusionLists from the location where the application is stored. For example, if you have saved the application on your C drive, the location will be C:\Program Files\ PerfectIt.

Likes

PerfectIt is a very useful tool especially when working with large complex documents. Most technical papers and documents have consistency issues and having a simple add-on tool such as PerfectIt saves time and increases efficiency in proof reading.

  • Easy to install and use
  • Quickly locates discrepancies
  • Especially useful in tracking inconsistencies when document is prepared by multiple authors
  • Checks inconsistencies in hyphenations, abbreviations, capitalization, tables, language version, use of numbers and punctuation
  • Fixes errors at the click of a button or allows you to manually fix errors
  • Saves time
  • Helps to generate a table of acronyms and update the Table of Contents
  • Good reference documentation in PerfectIt Help
  • Customizable to suit your business\industry requirements

Dislikes

PerfectIt is not the perfect proof reading tool. Just as with any proof reading tool you cannot take it for granted and assume that all errors in the English language are identified and eliminated. You still need to exercise due discretion and judgment before making fixes.

  • Does not provide a spell check option
  • Grammar check option is not available
  • Based on specific tests, so does not identify other types of errors

Conclusion

PerfectIt is the answer for writers who have time bound projects or who run on tight schedules and who need quick proof reading solutions. It’s user-friendly interface and features, make it a worthy tool for all those in need of proofing solutions. The fact that PerfectIt is customizable for your specific writing needs makes it a must buy item. Although you still have to apply your judgment before making the changes to your document, this tool will definitely go a long way in ensuring the highest standards of writing and creating a professional looking documents that will impress your clients and customers.

I give this tool a rating of 7 out of 10

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A few good ways to improve your writing

May 12, 2009

Writing is one of the most effective tools of communication. But how well do we communicate our thoughts to others? A good writer is one who uses simple lucid language, is able to convey ideas clearly, grab the reader’s attention and keep him coming back for more. Sometimes in our eagerness to write concisely, we overdo things, with the result that we end up with a poor draft. In this article, we will have a look at some of the areas where we can improve our writing skills.

Convey Ideas Using Short Paragraphs

A paragraph consists of one or more sentences that convey an idea, thought or expression. Topic Sentence, the first sentence in the paragraph, should list the main idea that is to be discussed. Supporting sentences, such as examples should describe and lend support to the main idea, and finally the closing sentence should re-emphasize the importance of the main idea.

Tips

  • Keep your paragraphs short. Long rambling paragraphs will make the reader lose interest quickly. Similarly, a paragraph with a single sentence will not convey the desired information clearly.
  • Make sure that there is a logical flow of information from one sentence to another. An ideal paragraph should be 5 to 6 sentences long.

Use Active Voice, Avoid Passive Verbs

Active voice is used in sentences where the subject performs an action on the object.

Example: The boy hit the dog.

Boy = Subject
Hit = Verb
Dog = Object.

Passive voice is used in sentences where an action is being performed on the subject.

Example: The dog was hit by the boy.

Boy = Subject
Hit = Verb
Dog = Object.

Tips

  • Use active voice as often as possible as they are short and convey ideas clearly.
  • Use passive voice when you do not want the reader to know who is performing the action.
  • Avoid using too many passive sentences. This might create confusion in the mind of the reader as to who is performing the action.
  • Avoid shifting the voice mid-sentence. Maintain the same voice throughout the sentence.

Avoid Redundancy

Redundancy is simply repeating the same information over and over again. Sometimes, just to emphasize an idea we end up explaining that idea in different ways. This makes for uninteresting reading.

Tips

  • Don’t explain the same idea twice.
  • Read through your text, look for repetitive text and remove them.
  • Trim your phrases. For example, instead of saying “place emphasis on” just say “emphasize”.
  • If possible, modify your clauses to phrases.
  • Avoid using puffed up words that don’t add meaning to your sentence.

Construct and Maintain Parallel Sentences

Parallel construction is used to express two or more ideas that carry an equal weight or importance in a sentence. They add more clarity to a sentence.

Example: Maria is clever, charming and pleasing.

Non Example: Maria is clever, charming and she has a pleasing personality.

Tips

  • Ensure that you use the same structure for expressions that are closely related. Example: We thought the program was both knowledgeable and entertaining. Non Example: The program was both knowledgeable for us, and entertaining.
  • When writing a series or list of items, use articles or prepositions, for each item, or only for the first item. Example: We were thrilled to see the monuments, tombs and the ruins of ancient Rome.
    Non Example: We were thrilled to see the monuments, the tombs and the ruins of ancient Rome.
  • When writing sentences identify and maintain a pattern and take it to its conclusion.

Writing Style

You may write on varied subjects and for different audiences. When you have a consistent writing style or pattern you can effectively reach out to your audience and hold their attention.

Tips

  • Avoid using stiff formal expressions. Example: Take due care to turn off the lights when you leave the room. Non Example: Ensure that you turn off the lights when you leave the room.
  • Avoid language that is overly descriptive and poetic.
  • Do not use colloquial expressions or slang.
  • Do not use repetitive words or phrases. This will make your content too conventional.
  • Avoid ambiguity. Vague sentence structures will only confuse the reader.
  • Write cohesively. Remove words or phrases that are irrelevant and that add no meaning to the content.

Conclusion:

I have briefly touched upon some areas that can help improve your writing skills. Although this is not an exhaustive list, following these guidelines will give you a strong foundation and help you make your mark in the world of professional writing.

Creating styles in Microsoft Word 2003

April 28, 2009

You can create styles by formatting text and base a style on the formatted text. If you want a higher degree of control over style creation, you might want to consider creating styles using the New Style dialog box. By using the New Style dialog box, you can easily incorporate alignment, paragraph spacing, indents, line spacing, font colors, and many more into your style.

To create a new style using the New Style dialog box, follow the steps below:

  1. Click the Styles and Formatting button on the Formatting toolbar to display the Styles and Formatting task pane or select Format a Styles and Formatting, and then click the New Style button from the styles and formatting task pane. The New Style dialog box appears.
  2. In the New Style dialog box, type a name for your new style in the Name box. Think clearly when you consider names to associate with styles—the more vivid your style names are, the easier it will be for you and others to identify each style’s purpose and apply the proper style within documents.
  3. In the Style Type list box, specify whether your style will be a paragraph, character, table, or list. (Most styles are paragraph styles)
  4. In the Formatting section, configure your style’s properties using the Font and Size list boxes as well as the formatting, alignment, spacing, above and below spacing, and indent buttons.

When you are done configuring the formatting options, click OK. The newly created style will appear in the Styles and Formatting task pane as well as in the Style list box. You can use and modify your new styles just as if they were built-in styles. Furthermore, unlike built-in styles, custom styles are easy to delete when you no longer need them.

Formatting your client-friendly proposal

April 28, 2009

After extensive research and analysis of your proposal, you have just completed one of your best writing ever. Now its time to make sure that your proposal is well formatted. Formatting is an essential and key aspect of every client proposal. Your clients will appreciate and read a proposal that is presented in a visually pleasing manner before they try to read a proposal that looks cluttered or unorganized.

There are four guidelines you should follow in order to make your proposal visually pleasing. You should use headings and subheadings, an easily readable typeface, consistent margins, and consecutive page numbers.

Use headings and sub-headings

It will be easier for the client to differentiate between the various items you need to discuss in your proposal if you visually separate them. Headings and subheadings clearly indicate what topic is about to be discussed and help keep the client oriented throughout the proposal. Differentiate your headings from your sub-headings by using Italics for your sub-heading and a smaller font size when compared to your headings.

Use an easily readable typeface

Use a typeface that is easy for the client to read. Choose a classic style that is familiar to most people. Unique or creative fonts may not be read as quickly as other, fonts like “Courier” or “Arial” or “Times”

Use consistent margins

Make sure you use consistent margins throughout the proposal. Having an ample amount of white space around the text in your proposal will keep the document from looking crowded and give it a neat appearance. Usually a 1” or a 1.25” would give your proposal a good and neat look.

Use consecutive page numbers

Number the pages of your proposal consecutively to help the client locate the information more easily. Some clients are inclined to number of pages starting at “1” at the beginning of each new section within the proposal. However, doing so creates confusion for the client when you refer to a page number in the proposal that appears more than once. This is important when writing formal proposals since they are longer and include more sections. Avoid other forms of page numberings such as Roman letters which might not be very easy to read and follow.

Writing client-friendly proposals

April 13, 2009

Writing client-friendly proposals can be tricky if you don’t do it right. There are various aspects involved in proposal writing and when it is focused to a particular client it is important that all your client needs are addressed. Let’s take a look at the points that you will need to consider while writing a client-friendly proposal.

Starting off with a quick introduction, what is a proposal and what is its purpose?

What is a proposal?

A proposal is a document that is written to offer a service or product to a client. Proposals are powerful marketing tools that can help you position your company’s product or service as having superior ability to meet a need or solve the problem. The basic purpose of the proposal is to sell your product or service.

Purpose of the proposal

The purpose of a proposal is to demonstrate to a client that you are the best company/service provider to answer their need/requirements or solve their problem. If this is the first time you are writing a proposal you should also know the key aspects and components of a proposal.

Evaluating the proposal

To write an effective proposal, you must understand your client requirements. The way that the client uses the proposal is to compare vendors and determine which one has the superior product or service and is best-suited for the job. The key to writing a client-friendly proposal is to align your competitive edge with your client’s organizational goals. Show the client your service or product will meet their needs on various levels, such as value and quality.

Study your clients requirements

By understanding how clients evaluate proposals, you can prepare one that will meet their expectations. The important factor on which a proposal is evaluated is whether the proposal writer has created the proposal with the clients needs in mind.

Request For Proposal (RFP) requirements

The client will be most concerned about determining if you have truly understood their specific needs. If you are responding to an RFP, the client will study whether you have addressed each of the requirements outlined in the RFP.

Your company’s ability

In addition to your responsiveness to their needs, the client will also take into consideration whether your organization has the ability to complete the job successfully. They will examine factors such as the competencies of your personnel, your history with similar projects, and the capabilities of your facilities.

Value for Money

Finally, if your company can satisfy the client’s expectations regarding these factors, the issue of value will be considered. The client will want to be sure that they are paying a reasonable and fair price for your services.

Be direct

It is important to be direct and to the point in your proposals. Keep your writing simple and let the client know your point up-front. The client does not want to waste a lot of time trying to discover your main point.

Be concise

Every client will appreciate a concise proposal. If the client is faced with two proposals, they will be more likely to read the shorter one first. A Short, clear proposal is more attractive than a lengthy one. Try and convey one point per paragraph and use subheads to make your proposals look neat and well organized. Remember that your client’s time is valuable, and they do not want to spend more time than necessary reading your proposal.

Avoid jargon

Generally, jargon should be left out of proposals. However, some jargon may be appropriate when discussing technical details within the body of the proposal. If jargon is used of this purpose, you must be certain that the client is familiar with the term, or you should define the word for them. It is advisable to to use a glossary for all jargons and technical terms used within the document and always remember to point the reader to the glossary for a definition.