Grammar Girl delivers a podcast to assist improvement-focused but potentially snarky commenters

I’ll admit it. I have Grammar Girl on my podcast list. I decided to listen to it to help improve my grammar and spelling, as it can be poor at times. The fact that my son was a journalism major in college and is now a high school English teacher-in-waiting also caused me to want to stay a step ahead of his corrections and to learn a bit of theory behind the grammar.
This blog started as a way to raise awareness of the errors that I see on a daily basis. One of the issues is that pointing out errors, especially in long-lived public documents or presentations, can be as socially difficult as pointing out embarrassing items such as an unzipped fly or a major bit of food lodged in a stranger’s front teeth.

I wrestle with this whenever I point issues out to people. I hope that these are appreciated, as I believe that we should all be focused on continuous improvement; most people don’t even know when they have been habitually incorrect. And I appreciate every comment that I receive from others.

Please take a look at the transcript of the podcast or listen on your own; she has multiple links on the webpage. And you may want to join me in gently pointing out issues to people when it is appropriate.

Creative Customer Engagement that Delights

I met a new and fascinating person through LinkedIn this week. He works for a major telecommunications supplier and is focused on customer experience. At one point, the discussion turned to creative techniques to reach customers. We each shared an example that stuck us as truly creative ways to deliver a message. These happened a few years ago, so they faded from memory a bit. That conversation brought them both back to each of us as we shared. It’s worthwhile to raise awareness of them again, as they are both truly creative methods to educate and persuade.

Photoshop: Have you listened to dry tutorials or evangelistic videos when trying to learn tools like Photoshop? There is an award-winning video series called You suck at Photoshop, launched in 2008. It is hilarious. The key item is that it introduces concepts in Photoshop in a very digestible form and shows plausible use cases. The videos do all this in an incredibly humorous, albeit politically incorrect, fashion. I have two favorite episodes. The first is cloning techniques as he retouches a photo to remove a wedding ring. The second is paths and masks as a wedding ring is prepared for auction. Almost everyone I know who has watched these videos has learned new functionality from it.
Google Chrome: Chrome launched in 2008. But it was the way that it launched that was most interesting: they described the architecture of a browser in a comic book. The comic went viral as it explained complex technology in a compelling and engaging fashion. The author’s story and links within it tell much more.We all aspire to deliver information and reach our audience. It’s difficult to cut through the clutter and noise of out everyday lives. These two efforts certainly achieved that, even if “You suck” was not a vendor-driven effort.

I started this post a few days ago, but have since discovered a new book that talks about little things that make a significant difference with customers. The book is “What’s Your Purple Goldfish?“, with its associated website and blog. The first line of the book description is “How do you stand out in a sea of sameness?”. The two examples above certainly broke through the barrier of sameness to stand out.

I’m going to listen to his seminar next week, buy the book and consider how to stand out in the future.

Down and out punctuation: the apostrophe

A friend shared this photo in twitter yesterday. Of course, the main issue is the furor over Waterstone’s dropping the apostrophe from their name. For the record, I have no problem with their decision. But the dejected apostrophe has issues of overuse in other areas. Note that the sign lists two uses: contractions and possession. It does not list plurals.

Technical presenters often mess up acronyms. It is common to find sentences such as “SA’s are now included in the product” or “New signs were put on all the ATM’s.” Apostrophes are for possession, and the SA and ATM in the sentences above are not possessing anything. The appropriate usage is “SAs” and “ATMs.”

Detail below: skip if you understand the issue already.

I found two web references that discuss the plural issue in detail. The articles are long, so I’ve included just the relevant portions. The key to both of these references is that an acronym is treated as a word and is made plural by adding an “s” to it. There are a few exceptions, but they are rare.

From the Guide to Grammar and Writing: When an abbreviation can be used to refer to a singular thing — a run batted in, a meal ready-to-eat, a prisoner of war — it’s surely a good idea to form the plural by adding “s” to the abbreviation: RBIs, MREs, POWs.

Notice, furthermore, that we do not use an apostrophe to create plurals in the following:

  • The 1890s in Europe are widely regarded as years of social decadence.
  • I have prepared 1099s for the entire staff.
  • Rosa and her brother have identical IQs, and they both have PhDs from Harvard.
  • SAs will be supported in the next product release.

You can also use Wikipedia’s Acronym page. Be warned that there is much more there than you’d think possible on such a small topic.

I have posted two grammar graphics recently. They seem to work, so please send me more when you find them. The images make the blog more fun and gives me clear topics.

Introducing Grammarly, my automated proofreader

What’s wrong with the text below?

Bad Hyphen – when grammar goes bad, or how to see some humor and learn from the one’s mistakes
This sentence appeared in my main blog, RandomRoutes, a few days ago. And what’s wrong with it? I had a superfluous “the” near the end of the sentence. I did not catch it as I read it out loud to myself. And my proofreaders did not catch it.How did I find it, you may ask? I tried Grammarly, the automated proofreader and your personal grammar coach. This was the first error it pointed out. I looked at the screen in disbelief, but it was true.I do not agree with everything that Grammarly suggests. For example, it suggested that the line “my position was eliminated” should not have been in the passive voice. But I had intentionally used the passive voice. Many other items, including better word choice, were excellent suggestions.

I’ll be using Grammarly user for my future blog posts.

My most memorable customer voice – the power of bad news

Quarterly business unit meetings, otherwise known as “all hands meetings,” were part of the regular schedule at Adobe. Many of them focused on upcoming products and their new technology, revenue success or recognizing key contributors in the organization; they were useful, but blur together in retrospect.
But the meetings that stood out were those in which key stakeholders from installed and deployed customers came to describe their experience with our product and company. One memorable session was with Applied Materials; they had been the first customer to implement our product in a new use case (note that this is a software engineering and requirements term). The implementation had its hiccups along the way, but the customer worked closely with us and we resolved the issues. This often took some assertive behavior from the customer, but we all ended up with a better product and they solved their business problem well. What made this memorable was when the speaker told us that vocal advocacy of issues was part of the company culture from their founder, which could be summed up in the following sentence

Good news is no news,
no news is bad news,
and bad news is good news.

He went on to explain this quote, and I’ll paraphrase from the book Agile Business for Fragile TimesGood news is no news because it tells you what you already know; you’re on track. Everyone likes good news, and it is essential to keeping a team motivated. However, it is insufficient to drive change or precipitate action. No news is bad news, as people fill in their own information. But even more importantly, you don’t know if a quiet customer is very successful and happy or that they have given up on your software in disgust and have purchased a competitive product; you may not know until support renewal comes and they drop support. Bad news is good news because when times are tough you want to hear the worst as quickly as possible so that you can be aware, prepared, and take action.

I later learned that this quote from James Morgan, CEO of Applied Materials, has one extra phrase on action. The complete quote is even better.

Good news is no news,
no news is bad news,
and bad news is good news if you do something about it.

After I heard and read this, I looked back on the customers I’ve known over the years. The ones that had the most impact were those who brought up issues and problems and openly discussed them. We had many difficult conversations, but in the end I learned much more about their problem and they learned about the technology that could be brought to bear to solve their business problem. My best product designs and architectures came from the open dialog with these customers.

Nobody likes bad news, especially if the perception is that you’re bringing just that negative information. But taking this as a launching point for action and improvement is the best path. Better product and customer experiences come from listening to and acting upon the bad news.