Re: Politeness

Subject: Re: Politeness
From: Jim Walsh <jimw -at- TENNESSEE -dot- SC -dot- TI -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 12 Apr 1994 14:58:54 CDT

* Comments: cc: Technical Writers List <TECHWR-L -at- VM1 -dot- ucc -dot- okstate -dot- edu>
* To: Multiple recipients of list TECHWR-L <TECHWR-L -at- OSUVM1 -dot- BITNET>

* This is all very interesting. At a previous job, I finally convinced
* the programmers to use less threatening language when referring
* to errors (fatal, abort, illegal, etc.) I remember attending a
* workshop at the STC conference in New York (I think) on writing
* error messages. One thing that was stressed was making error
* messages less scary.

* I know that 'Abort' is pretty scary to me (especially when there
* is usually no help available when you get that message).

* We changed our error messages to say 'terminated' instead of
* 'abort' and just removed the usage of 'fatal' altogether.

* For example, 'fatal error' became 'system error' (or whatever it
* was). We also added some help into the error message telling the
* user what might have caused the problem and how to fix it (reinput,
* call customer support, etc.)

* It wasn't really a matter of politeness, rather of just removing
* a stress level for the customer when using the product.

* Caryn Rizell
* Tech Writing Contractor
* caryn -at- hpptc44 -dot- rose -dot- hp -dot- com

Hi: One thing more important than any message that pops up (Abort, System
Error, Fatal Error) is the explanation of the message. The screen message is
usually brief; thus, somewhere there has to be a more detailed explanation with
possible options for correction. If this latter is provided, then I don't
really care what you had called it -- I'm only interested at that juncture on
how to get started again. And the faster the better.

But, if there isn't a good explanation of what (possibly) occurred and what
to do, then you've got a very unhappy camper (no matter how PC your message

Regards -- Jim Walsh jimw -at- tennessee -dot- sc -dot- ti -dot- com

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