21 Words That Make Technical Writers Look Dumb

You need to be careful when writing user guides, design documents, and specifications as ‘false’ words give the wrong impression and undermine the quality of your material.

Mr. Krabs: Hurry up! What do you think I’m paying you for?

SpongeBob: You don’t pay me. You don’t even exist. We’re just a clever visual metaphor used to personify the abstract concept of thought.

Mr. Krabs: One more crack like that and you’re outta here!

SpongeBob: No, please! I have three kids!

We both know that a Microsoft Exchange Server doesn’t have feelings, hopes and desires. But when we write technical documents, these type of human feelings can creep in.

21 Words That Trip Up Technical Writers

When writing about hardware, software, and technical systems be careful when you apply these human characteristics.

The Microsoft Style Guide for Technical Documentation reminds us that, ‘Programming documentation lends itself to some anthropomorphic treatment.. It’s acceptable that programs and commands do things, but avoid words that convey emotions (refuses), behavior (forces), and intellect (knows) rather than more straightforward actions.’

It lists the following verbs as acceptable in the right context:

  1. answer
  2. assume
  3. behave
  4. capture
  5. decide
  6. demand
  7. deny
  8. discard
  9. ignore
  10. impersonate
  11. inherit
  12. know
  13. own
  14. persist
  15. prevent
  16. realize recognize
  17. refuse
  18. remember
  19. think
  20. understand
  21. wait

Some are these are appropriate when writing technical documentation – others need to be removed to avoid embarrassment.

What others would you add to this list?