acceptable error rates

Subject: acceptable error rates
From: "Peter Ring, PRC" <prc -at- PIP -dot- DKNET -dot- DK>
Date: Sat, 26 Oct 1996 17:00:21 +1

> Our company is presently developing a list of goals for our tech
> writers. One area that they would like to have better defined is
> the industry standard for the acceptable rate of typographical
> errors in a document.

> Can anyone direct me to a source of information which might
> address this issue?

I agree with all the previous writers, that typos are _in principle_
unacceptable. I also agree, that all typos found must be corrected.

However, this was the idealistic answer, not the practical answer.

The reality is, unfortunately, that a few techwriters (even on this
list) are not-100%-perfect human beings from Planet Earth, The Solar
System, Milky Way, The Universe. I admit to be one of them.

Such techwriters sometimes make a typo which pass our own proofreading
system. The question is now: how harmful is a typo, and at what typo
rate does it start to be serious? Let's look at the users:

To a lot of people, a typo is not very harmful. In fact, their own
spelling is probably worse, so if it is not harming the meaning of
the sentence, they probably won't notice it! Then there is another
big group of people, who will notice the typo, try to find out what
the sentence means, and continue reading. As long as the typo rate
is low, no real harm is done, except maybe, that some of them will
let your company loose a tiny bit of image per typo.

But to a few per cent of the readers, any typo is a catastrophe. I
call them "typo hunters". Their educational background is typically
school teacher or a university degree in the actual language. When a
typo hunter finds a typo, his or her brain immediately blocks. They
feel a deep despise for the document and its author, and at the same
time a deep satisfaction, that they would never have made such an
error themselves. In fact, to them you should immediately hire
him/her as a writer or proofreader to get rid of these stinking
linguistic atomic bombs, which are polluting their beautiful Xxx
(e.g. English) language. This distracts them so much, that they
completely forget what they were reading. And then they don't receive
the information you tried to communicate.

If you are not a typo hunter, but a mortal homo sapiens writer from
Planet Earth: give up! You can _never_ satisfy the typo hunters. Do
it as perfect as you can and concentrate on _the rest of the
readers_. And to them, as long as the typo rate (checked by sampling)
is less than one typo per 10-20,000 characters (5-10 pages of text),
the damage to the understanding of the document is normally so small
that they can live with it. But the less typos, the better. This is
not a standard. If there were a standard, it would have said ZERO
typos. But it may be the guideline, you were looking for.

However, if you think about setting acceptable-typo-rate standards
for the _techwriters_ and not the final result, try this thought:
What will give the users the best manuals _in the end_, A or B:

A: A techwriter with a slightly sloppy spelling, but with a good
communication capability, checked by a good proofreader.

B: A techwriter with a perfect spelling, but with a bad communication
capability, checked a good proofreader.

MY personal answer: Because of the good proofreader, the final typo
rate will be the same. Consequently, I will go for combination A.
Conclusion: the core qualification for a good techwriter is not
spelling, it is his/her communication capability.

Greetings from Denmark

Peter Ring
PRC (Peter Ring Consultants)
- specialists in user friendly manuals and audits on manuals.
prc -at- pip -dot- dknet -dot- dk
- the "User Friendly Manuals" website with links, bibliography,
list of prof. associations, and tips for technical writers.

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