Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Getting Good Directions

 When I was a freshman in high school, my art teacher inspired me to be a writer. He probably didn't mean to, but that's what happened when he began our class by teaching from the book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. It introduced me to the idea that the left- and right-hemispheres of our brains handle different things, or (more accurately) handle things differently.

At first, I was dumbstruck to find that I could draw something that looked remotely realistic. I just followed the book's directions and ta-da! That head actually seemed to fit on that body!

Before we finished with the book, I had learned two important things: I have no artistic talent, and by following the author's directions I could draw better.

I still love good directions, and I think writing them is something of an art. If my words can inspire you to assemble a shelf without dissembling the room where you're working, well, isn't that a beautiful thing? I know things can get ugly when I follow bad directions.
Still developing my artistic side.

Recently, I tried to enter a photography contest. (Guess I'm still developing my artistic side.) I was confused by the entry rules,  requested and got clarification, ultimately deciding the entry process was more trouble than it was worth. Apparently, I wasn't the only one who felt that way: The contest was cancelled due to lack of entries.

Directions matter. Marketing efforts and customer service initiatives can fail because of bad directions. Businesses can be sued because of bad directions. (Think of the poor DIY-er surrounded by the tools and pieces/parts of that shelf assembly. Misleading directions + a hammer = a lawsuit waiting to happen)

Directions seem pretty mundane, I know. Directions don't have to inspire, but they should - at least - direct. The next time you encounter crystal-clear, helpful, easy-to-read directions, I hope you'll think kindly of the person who wrote them. And whenever you find yourself in a nasty spot because of some bad directions, please, put down the hammer.

Question for my freelance/technical writer friends: have you ever gotten a job because you pointed out the inaccuracies in an organization's directions? 

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