Thursday, December 22, 2005

before you begin--oops, too late!

Here is email to first time users of an online course, with instructions on how to get started:
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
You have been enrolled at OnlineExpert. You may log on at http://computer.expert.com
Your logon e-mail address is: xxx@xxx.com
Your password is: xxxx

For first time users, before logging onto your course, please do the following:
This.
That.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------

This drives me bananas. Put the thing you have to do first, first. Here is the correct sequence:

------------------------------------------------------------------------------
You have been enrolled at OnlineExpert. First time users, please do the following:
This.
That.
Then, log in at http://computer.expert.com/
Your logon e-mail address is: xxx@xxx.com
Your password is: xxxx
------------------------------------------------------------------------------

In the first, stupid case, I start to log in assuming that the first thing they tell me to do is the thing that I should do first. Then I get to the next step, which says to do something else before doing the first thing.

This mail is generated when you register. It's only of any use the first time, when you need to do the extra steps. If I'm not a first time user, the mail is old and doesn't contain any steps I must do--it just holds the access info.

Asking the reader to skip ahead past an unnecessary step is okay. Asking the reader to go backwards to do a step before they have already done a step is not okay.

This is a variation on the inane Before You Begin syndrome. If I'm reading your Before You Begin, it's too late, I've already begun. Name it something else.

Before I began, I was in the kitchen eating a peanut butter sandwich.

It's as if they were writing the steps then somebody said ooh wait, they have to do this first. No wait, they have to do this too, and this! And the writer didn't make the effort to rename the steps. Writing by afterthought. Thus:

1. Before the Before the Before You Begin
2. Before the Before You Begin
3. Before You Begin
4. Begin
5. Do this before beginning
6. Do this step first.

Do not put anything before the beginning. Before the beginning there is nothing, by definition.

Begin at the beginning, and nowhere else.

1 comment:

nickensr said...

Automated phone menu:

Press one for English
Press two for Spanish

Not good...

Press one for Engilsh
Prensa dos para el español.

better...

Prensa dos para el español.

The best way.

English should be the default, not an option. Are the people who write the automated phone menu scripts the same people who wrote your automated email?