Tuesday, April 6, 2010

To ENTER or not to ENTER, that is the question

I write instructions--tell people how to use their software programs, the custom ones we create where I work. It’s a fairly easy job for me, low stress, occasionally challenging, rarely overly-taxing. I’ve been doing this in some form almost continuously since 1981. I’ll be happy to do this until I retire.

For the most part people like my work results and thank me for the help it gives them. But every now and then there’s a bump in the road. Like yesterday.

A young woman involved with one of my projects decided that we must never say ENTER when instructing someone to put data into a field; we must say TYPE. She quoted for her source the Microsoft Style Guide:

Correct: Type your password.
Incorrect: Enter your password.

Sadly, the young woman is somewhat new to the corporate world, and she did what we all know is sure to escalate the matter and extend the discussion: she copied her supervisor and mine in her email.

Thinking to nip this in the bud, I diplomatically replied that there is some disagreement in the technical writing world over this usage, and I have chosen in my own writing to use ENTER as it is well understood by our users and is already used throughout the company. Clarity, I said, is my objective in my writing (copy to both supervisors).

Some huffiness ensued and then a flurry of emails ending (I learned today) with forwards to executives in the company. I surely have not heard the end of this.

My, but people take their rules seriously.

One co-worker forwarded to me a snippet from the UMASS technical writing style guide, also thought to be the definitive authority in the industry, to wit:

Correct: Enter your password.
Incorrect: Type your password.

Yes, they specifically give opposite instructions in this usage. What’s a technical writer to do?

I’ve been exposed to a few style guides in my time, and they each have their own take on all sorts of things. Being of independent spirit, I pick and choose what I like and discard others. It suits me. I'll split an infinitive, write incomplete sentences, I'll even start a sentence with AND.

And let me emphasize, I love language and its correct usage as far as that can be determined. I never confuse AFFECT and EFFECT. I insist that subject and verb agree. But I know the rules about ENTER and TYPE are blurry at best, and it is entirely within my purview to choose how I use them. And so I do.

The young woman’s supervisor did not like my response nor follow-ups from my supervisor, and kicked the matter upstairs to the execs. Good lord, the execs need to think about the usage of ENTER vs TYPE. I can’t wait to hear the outcome.

I’ll be sure to let you know.


Nicholas V. said...

Hi Becky, I can so identify with what you have experienced. A trivial issue which could have been handled effectively locally in a consultative manner has been blown out of proportion by someone who has assumed a "guardian" status.

I have had to deal with a similar issue where the location and name of a folder in a shared drive were questioned and the CEO became involved necessitating useless meetings, numerous changes to name and location of the folder only to end up in the same place and called something very similar. What a waste of everyone's time!

Regarding the "TYPE" or "ENTER" debate. I prefer "ENTER", as type is too proscriptive. I may choose to enter through a stylus and a touch sensitive screen, or enter via a keyboard (i.e. type), or enter via a touch sensitive and gesture recognising iPad screen, etc. :-)

Becky Stauffer said...

Yes, I learned early on to avoid engaging such people whenever possible. You have to wonder what it must be like to be them and always be so tied up in knots over miniscule things.

Jacqui Binford-Bell said...

Rule one: You never skip over the chain of command and the people that loathe this the most are those at the top. Those below them are a filtering system. If your "new to the corporate world" bunny does not learn this she better start her own company and now before she is fired.

Two: Enter your password implies that not only do I type it but a hit the enter button to actually get me into the system. The tech person I am talking to wants me where I can follow her instructions and type your password leaves me one step away.

Three: we are dealing with a decade or more of language with computers and ENTER is used and accepted and TYPE isn't and would only confuse everyone.

Becky Stauffer said...

I should add, I do try to follow conventions and I also strive for consistency in usage.

I'm reminded of the old instruction everyone used "Hit Enter". Technical writers finally figured out we needed to say "Press Enter" so as not to encourage users to abuse their keyboards.