English Technical Writing Exercise!

G.B. Shaw’s famous quip that England and America are two countries separated by a common language seems to be as true today as ever. This becomes even more evident for people who have business connections (or connexions, if you prefer) in the UK or with people who learned UK English.

It’s not just that we spell some words differently. Few people would be confused by color vs. color or cheque vs. check, or that there are different names for things. Most of us know that a lorry is a truck and braces are suspenders.

Where the problem can arise is when the same word is understood differently at opposite ends of communication – when you mean one thing, and your audience understands something else.

For this exercise, we’ll use some e-mails between a company’s office in Regent’s Park, London, and it’s Grand Rapids office in Michigan as examples of possible misunderstandings. Your task is to determine how each statement is intended to be understood by the sender and how each could potentially be misunderstood by the recipient.

E-mails from the Grand Rapids office to the London office:

E-mail #1

Objective: Report on a proposal for a project important to both parties

The email reads: “Just heard. Our proposal will get tabled at the Board meeting today.”

US sender means: _____________________________________________________

UK reader understands: __________________________________________________

E-mail #2

Objective: Regarding the result of a meeting about a proposed merger:

The email reads: “The negotiations would have gone better if the Chairman hadn’t got totally pissed.”

US sender means: _______________________________________________________

UK reader understands: ___________________________________________________

E-mail #3

Objective: Regarding an effort to expand the company’s markets:

Email reads: “Need to think seriously about the directive that all divisions must work harder in the Asian market.”

US sender means: ________________________________________________________

UK reader understands: __________________________________________________

E-mails from the London office to the Grand Rapids office:

E-mail #4

Objective: In reference to concern about fleet maintenance at the London facility:

The email reads: “We simply must go to a larger depot.”

UK sender means: ________________________________________________________

US reader understands: ___________________________________________________

E-mail #5

Objective: Regarding arrangements for a video the company is going to shoot in London:

The email reads: “Permission has been granted to block the entire pavement for the event.”

UK sender means: ________________________________________________________

US reader understands: ___________________________________________________

E-mail #6

Objective: Regarding the result of a presentation to an important client:

The email reads: “The presentation was made and Clifford really bombed. Next steps?”

UK sender means: ________________________________________________________

US reader understands: __________________________________________________

When you’re done check the solution below.

Your task was to determine how each statement is intended to be understood by the sender and how each could potentially be misunderstood by the recipient.

E-mails from the Grand Rapids office to the London office:

E-mail #1

Objective: Report on a proposal for a project important to both individuals:

The email reads: “Just heard. Our proposal will get tabled at the Board meeting today.”

US sender means: “The Board is going to put off discussing our proposal.”

UK reader understands: “The Board will be discussing our proposal today.”

Reason for potential misunderstanding: In the US, being tabled means being postponed. In the UK, when something is tabled, it’s brought up for discussion.

Email #2

Objective: Regarding the result of a meeting about a proposed merger:

The email reads: “The negotiations would have gone better if the Chairman hadn’t got totally pissed.”

US sender means: “It went badly because the Chairman got really angry about something.”

UK reader understands: “It didn’t go well because the Chairman was very drunk.”

Reason for potential misunderstanding: In the US, pissed is short for pissed off and means angry. In the UK, pissed means drunk.

E-mail #3

Objective: Regarding an effort to expand the company’s markets:

The email reads: “Need to think seriously about the directive that all divisions must work harder in the Asian market.”

US sender means: “We should think about the ramifications of doing more business in China and Japan.”

UK reader understands: “We should think about the ramifications of doing more business in India and Pakistan.”

Reason for potential misunderstanding: In the US, Asia is usually thought of as “the far east” including China, Korea, and Japan. In the UK, Asia includes what Americans think of as “the near east” and begins with India.

E-mail #4

Objective: In reference to concern about fleet maintenance at the London facility:

The email reads: “We simply must go to a larger depot.”

UK sender means: “We must provide more space in the garage where the company’s lorries are stored and serviced.”

US reader understands: “They want to go to a bigger railroad station.”

Reason for potential misunderstanding: In the UK, a depot is a space where lorries are stored and maintained. In the US, a depot is where one board a train.

E-mail #5

Objective: Regarding arrangements for a video the company is going to shoot in London:

The email reads: ” Permission has been granted to block the entire pavement for the event.”

UK sender means: “We’ve been given only the space between the building and the edge of the sidewalk.”

US reader understands: “They have permission to block off the whole street.”

Reason for potential misunderstanding: In the UK, pavement is any paved surface and frequently means the sidewalk. In the US, the pavement normally means only the street where vehicles drive.

E-mail #6

Objective: Regarding the result of a presentation to an important client:

The email reads: “The presentation was made and Clifford really bombed. Next steps?”

UK sender means: “Clifford did a really great job with the presentation, and we’re ready to proceed.”

US reader understands: “Clifford really did badly, and we need to start damage control.”

Reason for potential misunderstanding: In the UK, bombed means went off “with a blast,” i.e., succeeded. In the US, bombed means failed.

When writing for a non-US English-speaking audience, it is necessary to remember that words don’t always mean the same thing on both sides of the Pond even though we speak the same language. So, when an Englishman asks you, in exasperation, “Don’t you know the Queen’s English?” Simply reply, “Of course she is,” and then try to figure out what’s got his knickers in a knot.

If you can write a simple sentence and organize your thoughts then technical writing may be a rewarding field. You can easily make it a second income stream in your spare time.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the average salary for technical writers is $60,380. Freelance technical writers can make from $30 to $70 per hour.

The field of technical writing is like a golden city. It’s filled with wealth, rewards, and opportunities. After learning technical writing you can branch out into business writing, marketing writing, and communications writing. All of these can become additional income streams.

But to succeed you must learn how to market yourself to clients. You have to prove to them that you are an invaluable asset. That’s where ProTech – Your Fast Track to Becoming a Successful Technical Writer can help. It’s a technical writing course that does two equally important things:

1. It teaches you the skills to become a technical writer in the shortest time frame. You’ll learn to create manuals, procedures, tutorials, processes, proposals, spec sheets, and other documents that businesses need.

2. It shows you how to market yourself to clients so you can start your income stream as soon as possible.

In fact, you’ll get a complete marketing toolkit that has templates and technical writing job sites to get started immediately!

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