BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now as part of our ongoing salute to execrable writing we bring you the award winners of the Second Annual Worst Manual Contest. Technical Standards Inc is the San Diego-based company that confers that honor. Jim Desmond is the CEO. So Jim, what are the principal characteristics of a truly terrible manual?
JIM DESMOND: Well, most of our entries had them all. A lot of 'em are mixed up graphics, graphics that don't match, just poor grammar, misspelled words.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:The winner of your contest this year was an employee training manual, and in this case the manual offers Rules of Conduct at the very beginning, and it begins by saying "Any infraction of the following rules can get you fired." There are 32 of them. This seems to be a manual which just made you want to quit your first day on the job!
JIM DESMOND: Well, and if you, if you look at it, it says "It's suggested that you read and follow these rules." Well Rule 3 is: Failure or refusing to do assigned work. Well "follow these rules." Poor workmanship, stealing. It's just a list of all the things that would probably get you fired.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Many of the award recipients we saw were clearly victims of a bad translator. For instance reading from the Manual for the Sliding Bicycle which we Americans might call the Razor Scooter -- here's a quote: "Make sure all the levers have been shut off again and again before using it. Operate it on the loosened conditions of the levers without confirmation can cause the handle pole bent can cause incident. Be careful not to let your fingers got squeezed when installation and discharge." [LAUGHS]
JIM DESMOND: It is a lot of loss in translation from some of the countries that are just hiring someone with a very limited English or knowledge in English as far as writing this. One was for a piece of exercise equipment -- this was last year's winning entry--: "If you feel vomitive, dizzy or uncomfortable condition during exercise, stop exercising immediately." [LAUGHTER] The-- another one of our entries from this year that wasn't concerning translation was the -- we got one for a Rubik's Cube, I guess to solve the Cube, and it's - the cube most of us are familiar with is about 6 different colors, and the directions are in black and white. [LAUGHTER]
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Well that reminds me of another honorable mention on How to Change a Knife Blade, but the illustration [LAUGHS] if you look at it shows a line drawing of a wrist, and it fails to show the key part of the process. You don't see the knife or the blade!
JIM DESMOND: Yeah. I mean even if someone's, you know, writing these things, you, you would think at least someone else would proof them or look them over at least once. I mean that would be caught right away that you can't even see the, the product itself that they're trying to explain.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Are there any cliches in the manual world? I mean phrases that tend to recur over and over again?
JIM DESMOND:Well, attention symbols or warnings or flags that come up on, on some of the manuals. One of our entries this year was for a gas fire log. Installing this gas fire log into your fireplace. And the first two pages are nothing but warnings, safety instructions, do not do this, important information for your safety, and they're all -- the pages are screaming at you almost as if my gosh, I don't want to touch this thing because it's so scary. But a lot of that, you know, the li-- with our litigious society today has to be included, but-- that's a case where it could be overdone. You know don't use this ladder while you're in the bathtub or you know silly things like that you, you'll come across. Someone told me about a hair dryer once that was-- [LAUGHTER] Do Not Operate While Sleeping [LAUGHTER] I think was the, was the warning on there.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So is, is "rinse, lather, repeat" the "Call me Ishmael" of your world?
JIM DESMOND:That would be a great cliche. That'd be a great one for the-- for the techni-- yeah, rinse, lather and repeat - yes. That's a pretty good one.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Jim Desmond is CEO of Technical Standards, Inc.