Short Instructions Can Be Just As Confusing As Long Instructions by Melinda Anderson


Recently, we decided to have a pizza night but couldn’t afford more than some frozen Red Baron pizzas. I heated up the oven, put the pizzas on a tray, put the pizzas in the oven, and set the timer. This is where the problem started.

According to the directions, the oven needed to heated to 450 degrees with a cook time of 22 minutes; depending on the type of pizza. Needless to say, our pizzas were slightly crunchy. I could not figure out what I had done wrong.

I made myself one pizza for lunch the next day. However, I only cooked it for 15 minutes at 450 degrees and it was still crunchy. I know oven temps vary but this was ridiculous.

That night, my son decided he wanted to have two pizzas for dinner. He never reads the directions and just sort of muddles through on his own. He did preheat the oven to 450 and he watched them like a hawk hatching her eggs.  Meanwhile, I decided to focus on the instructions to figure out what I had done wrong.

Apparently, I had read the wrong instructions. However, the instructions I did read seem to be for the oven not the microwave. Let me demonstrate:

Microwave oven (1100) Then Oven

Preheat oven to 450 F.  Preheat baking sheet on center rack.

This is generally where I stop reading and skip to the time.  Notice the issue. My microwave oven does not have a specific temp control nor does it have a center rack. My microwave has high, medium, and low heat settings and a plate that spins in a circle for even heating.

From the above directions, I had assumed that these directions were for an oven not a microwave. I assumed that somebody had merely confused the headers, microwave for conventional. There was no cross referencing at all.

The directions should have said:

Microwave or Toaster Oven
(For a conventional oven, see the bottom panel)

I did find the conventional oven instructions on the bottom panel of the box. I did have the right cook time but I had been using the wrong temperature setting.

Even, the shortest of instructions need to be edited to avoid confusing customers.

By Melinda Anderson

Editing isn’t important….right? by Melinda Anderson

I have just spent three hours helping my husband to study for a General Painting Contractors License to cover certain states in the midwest. The experience has been highly entertaining and informative. In fact, it has been so entertaining that I have chosen to share a few of the questions from the practice tests he has been studying. Let’s start with something very basic such as extra words.

“What should aluminum be wiped with what after weathering?”

Now, you might have quickly read this question and your eyes may have stumbled but you got the gist of the question. You might have even read it agin just to make sure. However, let’s pretend for five minutes that you have a reading disability. You might read this question like this:

“What should aluminum be wiped with what? After weathering.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I have made several errors just like this one. Writing is not perfect, however, the author of this question could have taken at least 5 seconds to read the question thereby discovering the extra word.

Most of the questions are the standard multiple choice with one or two answers. This next example is confusing because the sentence has blank spaces for two answers but only one is needed.

“A HEPA sanding abatement method removes _____________ and _________________ coating.”

( ) lead based
( ) epoxy based
( ) primer based
( ) none of the above”

I read this and I automatically assumed that two answers are needed because there are two blank spaces. I quickly scanned my choices looking for one with two answers. I expected something like ( ) lead and epoxy based or ( ) both 1 and 2.  As you can see, there is not a selection with two answers. I reread the question and looked at the answers again. I quickly realized that someone had made a mistake and no one had caught it.

I don’t want this post to be longer than necessary so let me sum up the rest of the errors really quick, missing articles, misused prepositions, conflicting information, and misused punctuation. These are just the common errors that I, a lowly technical writer, discovered in three hours while helping my husband study.

These materials are supposed to be designed to help a student learn. However, errors like these only confuse a student and make the learning process even more difficult.

I guess whoever wrote these materials did not consider the student’s need. After all, why bother editing if you don’t care about your audience.

By Melinda Anderson