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How to Frustrate Readers

In our office and home, we just changed Internet Service Providers (ISPs). Going through the grueling process of understanding the new screen and procedures, I am reminded of three ways to frustrate readers:

  1. Avoid telling readers how to do the essential tasks of their lives. For example, don’t tell them how to delete email. Keep time-saving steps (such as how to log on automatically) a secret.
  2. Do not label icons. Let readers guess what checkmarks and asterisks indicate.
  3. Provide lots of advertisements just in case readers want to go shopping while they are using your service. Be sure the ads flash so that readers can’t miss them.

I’m looking forward to satisfaction with the new ISP once I can use it efficiently. But I would definitely get there faster if it focused on me–the user–and my needs.

Have you experienced frustrations as a reader, especially online? Please share your comments.

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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.