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Fred's Views


The Queen's English

I've just been visiting a web site located here in Ontario as well as reading some documentation for what appears to be an extremely useful product for web masters. (Once I give it a workout, I'll report my findings on FoDOweb.) Although both appeared to be the work of people for whom English is their native language, I could not stop cringing at some of the glaring errors. It is, of course, possible that the web site is the work of a French-speaking Ontarian (if that's the right word).

Few, if any, of us are immune to the occasional error (I can NEVER remember how to spell "occasional" correctly, for example), and, even when I proofread and spell check (which I always try to do, but sometimes forget) they still slip through. But I hope the errors you find here are few and far between. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, of course, but nothing destroys the look and feel of "professionalism" so quickly as bad grammar and spelling.

The web site I visited was actually promoting a web site-building business. The experts tell us that "surfers" may spend as few as ten seconds at a site before moving on. If the site doesn't load fast or doesn't look appealing, the "surfer" moves on. To be brutally honest, if I were in the market for a web-designer, I wouldn't choose the designer of the site I visited. The opening page had a black background (which I personally do not like unless it is there for a specific purpose. I used black for pic365.com, for instance, because "old" photo albums used black paper and black seems to make the photos stand out more.) The main logo was eye-catching, but somehow confusing. But all of the rest of the graphics seemed rather poorly done. Some were almost impossible to read. They seemed to be "scrunched up" as if they had been resized to a narrower width. Even the photographs (on their "About Us" page) seemed out of proportion. But what really hit me were the numerous spelling and grammar errors. Only two come to mind, at the moment, the use of "are" instead of "our". and "too" instead of "to". Okay, easy mistakes to make. I think even I typed "are" once when I meant "our". I caught it, eventually, in proof reading. But the overall effect was negative. I simply would not want this person designing my site. Granted, this business is in a fairly small, remote community, so he may be the "only game in town", but if he were my only choice, I might decide that no web site would be preferable.

The software I've installed but, so far, have not really used is a tool for synchronizing the web site I build on my local computer with the site on the server that you get to see. Not only do I have to write this column, but I have to remember to up load it from my computer to the server - or you'll never get to see it. I also have to make changes to a couple of other files or you won't see it either. It's not too hard to remember to up load a column, but sometimes I forget about the other files that I have updated. This program promises to take care of all this automatically.

From what I've seen so far (excepting the documentation), the program and the web site look professional enough. I'm really hoping the program performs as advertised. I'd also like to point out that the cost of the program is very reasonable. More than that, I can have a licence for up to ten computers for just $5US more than a single licence! Now that's a deal! Even though I don't need to install the program on more than one computer, I'll probably opt for the 10 computer licence, assuming the program lives up to expectation, just because it is so reasonable. Microsoft could sure take a page out of these guys' play book. (Look! Look! I managed to slip Microsoft into another column!)

And now for the bad news. The documentation (the Help files) reminds me of the directions for assembling something that was "Made in Japan" - or China. Broken English so bad that sometimes you can't even figure out what they meant to say. I managed to figure out most of the documentation, but it was hard sledding. It really upsets me to read something so badly written.

One of the great strengths of the Internet, of course, is the fact that anyone, even I, can construct and post his or her own web site. We can get our message out to the world for only pennies a day - or even less. (Of course, the world still has to find us, somehow.) But this unprecedented "Freedom of Speech" has its down side. The message can get hidden, watered down, or even turned upside down, by other factors. These include bad page designs, bad color or font choices, bad graphics, and bad English (or whatever language your site is written in). If you want your message to be effective, you have to give the appearance of professionalism. Here are a few thoughts:

Now, this wasn't supposed to be a tutorial on web page design. And it isn't. What I've said here applies to anything you do to promote yourself. First impressions really do count. And while neat hair and a good suit may get you in the door, bad language will close that door just as quickly. Someone said something to the effect that "A man cannot speak but he judges himself". Others judge us by our use of language. Do everything you can to improve your speaking and writing skills - if you want to succeed.

Copyright © 2003 by Fred Oldfield. All rights reserved.


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