Wilson & Associates Monthly Newsletter, April 2017
Why Attention to Detail is a Vital Skill
By: Laura Kilgore
One slip of the finger and a significant word is misspelled. One forgotten step in a project, one skip of the eyes over a word in an email, and I’m left embarrassed and feeling the need to prove my competency. We’ve all been there. We’ve all asked ourselves ‘how did I miss that?’ Especially for those of us working in detail-oriented roles, it is imperative that we hone our ability to catch these mistakes.
While my experience with detail-awareness comes from working as a Technical Writer and Editor, this vital skill is applicable in every industry, especially those in which human and environmental safety can be at stake. There are several reasons we should all learn to slow down and take a second, or even third look before we call a job done.
First, and most important, a keen eye for details improves accuracy and reduces risk, preventing potential injuries and destruction of property. A paratrooper about to jump out of an airplane is going to carefully check every detail of his parachute since he’ll be entrusting his life to it. The same goes for operations on an oil rig, where accidents can occur if someone overlooks some policy or skips over one little detail in a procedural step. These accidents can result in injury, property damage, or much worse.
On a slightly less-significant level, a poorly read or written email can lead to misunderstandings. These misunderstandings can affect office relationships, team projects and timelines, and even the entire business process. Reviewing a memo before sending it out can prevent confusion or the replication of faulty information.
On the positive side, carefully edited information has the power to improve overall company efficiency. By removing confusing factors in verbal or written communication, projects will flow more efficiently and deadlines will be more easily met. Office relationships can also benefit from clearly expressed thoughts and ideas.
It is universally acknowledged that correct grammar and spelling are necessary when publishing a professional document. Content, too, is key, as wrong information can put the audience completely off-track. Further, consistency in formatting is just as necessary as ensuring that the document is grammatically sound and has accurate content. If a document contains numerous different fonts, different font sizes, and erratic organization, the audience can become confused and unsure of the main points. Grammar, content, and formatting are the three main aspects of a document that require acute attention to detail.
Just as wearing mismatched socks on a date can leave a bad impression, maintaining a detail-oriented mindset will give off an aura of organization and competence. If a client or supervisor sees that mistakes are repeatedly being made, they’re likely going to lose their confidence in the overall quality of the work. Maintain their good opinion by focusing on the finer points. Impress them further by empathizing with them to determine which details affect their jobs directly and are important to them.
So, what are some ways to improve attention to detail? A good place to start is to slow down. Even those who naturally re-check their work can benefit by walking away from it for a while. After a break, the eye will easily catch mistakes that were previously overlooked. Get organized and limit distractions. Checklists and schedules can keep little things from slipping through the cracks. Last but not least, find a second pair of sharp eyes. Find a colleague who can double-check work, and with a written communication, a Technical Writer/Editor can help verify the clarity and organization of your document.
By Laura Kilgore
Technical writing, contrary to popular assumption, is not a one-dimensional role. When I first became a Technical Writer, I pictured myself poring over hard-copy documents, red pen in hand, making good use of the secret hieroglyphics of Editors that I had learned so proudly in college. Green eyeshades and a clacking printing press may have also been featured in my imagination, but I was a bit idealistic. Yes, I do always print out the draft I get of a new document, and there is something empowering (and self-validating) about filling in the margins with notes and adding my proofreading marks to the lines of text, but really, this is only a fraction of a Technical Writer’s role.
So what do we do?
Know the content
I was surprised to find, in my first freelance project in the aerospace industry, that a good Editor does not need to understand the content of a document in order to effectively edit it. Any skilled Technical Writer can tell instinctively if a sentence is grammatically correct. I wasn’t going to learn enough rocket science to catch the full meaning of the document, but, over time, the ideas in the text did become more familiar.
That being said, it is better to know the content, and a good Technical Writer will make the effort. I will always pick up on more and deeper problems in a document when I understand what I’m reading. One of the first things I learned when I started working with engineers is that they enjoy explaining their subject. Since then, many a word-smithing session has transformed into a useful lesson, complete with dry-erase diagrams and a plethora of information.
There have also been times when I turned to Google for information. “Christmas Tree” was high on the list of confusing terms in the oil and gas industry, but brainstorming sessions with authors took on a whole new meaning when I discovered exactly what it was. My eyes were further opened when I saw a real-life Christmas Tree or ‘X-tree’ in Wiess Energy Hall at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. So while it’s not absolutely necessary to be an expert in the topic, Technical Writers do make a concerted effort to understand the basics.
Edit the content
And then, of course, there’s the actual editing.
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File Transfer Sites
One issue many of our clients often face is how to transfer files – transfer large amounts of files, transfer files that are too large to email, or transfer company internal files to approved external business partners.
The following Tips & Tricks can assist you with this type of collaboration while also helping protect company information and systems.
Do your research; not all file transfer sites are created equal. Even popular third-party, Internet-based vendors, such as fileleave.com, dropbox.com, rapidshare.com, and megafiles.com could contain malware that has the potential to mine company confidential information, cripple communications, or plant viruses onto your computer, all of which are costly and time consuming to remediate.
Don’t let an innocent attempt at efficiency reduce your Office NPT. Try the following tricks:
- Check with your company’s external compliance team (or similar) to see which file transfer sites or solutions are approved for use by the company.
- Do you research to see which sites are highly rated for protecting information.
- Think twice before transferring classified data. Verify approved protocols with the proper group in your company.
These same Tips & Tricks can also be applied to surveys. Did you know that the popular third-party, internet-based vendor Survey Monkey can mine company data from the survey results? SharePoint surveys are a safe and easy way to gather the same information in a fire-wall protected environment.
Get more Tips & Tricks in the online archive on our website as they are added with each new newsletter.