Microspeak: Informing a product


Microspeak is not always about changing a word from a verb to a noun or changing a noun to a verb or even changing a noun into a verb and then back into a noun. Sometimes it's about data compression.

This testing won't inform RC, but we'll need it to inform an RTM release.

First, you need to familiarize yourself with a less-used sense of the verb to inform, namely to guide or direct. A typical use would be something like "This data will inform the decision whether to continue with the original plan in Product Q." In other words, this data will be used to help decide whether to continue with the original plan.

But of course, at Microsoft, it's all rush rush hurry hurry no time for slow sentences just get to the point. So we drop out a few words from the sentence and instead of informing a decision about something, we just inform the thing itself: "This data will inform Product Q."

Therefore, the sentence at the start of this article is shorthand for "This testing won't inform [some sort of decision regarding] RC, but we'll need it to inform [that same decision in] an RTM release." In other words, the result of this testing won't have any effect on the release candidate, but it will be used to help make some sort of decision regarding the RTM release.

Another citation, taken from an executive slide deck:

  • Other take-aways
    • What learnings can we get today to inform the release?

I like how that brief snippet combines three pieces of Microspeak: take-away, learnings, and inform.

Comments (11)
  1. Joshua Ganes says:

    My first reading of your example phrase left me confused. If someone were speaking like that in a satirical way, I would be amused. If anyone were to take himself seriously while using this kind of phrase, I would quickly learn to avoid him. The world can wait 30 seconds for you to compose a clearly worded sentence. It is not right to simultaneously demolish the English language and to make oneself less understandable.

  2. Gabe says:

    I'm sure that if the executive had just a few more seconds of precious time, it would have been "Net net, what learnings can we get today to inform the release?"

  3. kewt168 says:

    Some things are never informed. Poor users have to discover them. I wish Microsoft did a better job of informing new and gone features.

  4. Morten says:

    I'm beginning to suspect that MS is heavily infiltrated by the cult created by a bad science fiction writer last century. I've read some of their papers and they're similarily infected by strange neologisms to confound outsiders. Please tell me that this isn't so…? ;-)

  5. mike says:

    It's interesting to me that the tenor of any post about Microspeak is that a priori it's bad. Why is that? Is Microspeak "ruining the language"? Not.

    [I happen to believe in clear writing. If there is already a simple, easy-to-understand way of saying something, why substitute jargon that requires a special Microspeak dictionary to decode? You took a clear message and made it muddy. -Raymond]
  6. Rick C says:

    For extra amusement value, you could've said "First, you need to inform yourself of a less-used sense of the verb to inform, namely to guide or direct."

  7. Mike Dunn says:

    Microspeak: It's almost, but not quite, entirely unlike English.

  8. Karellen says:

    Sounds like a redundant synonym for "impact", in the relatively common meaning of "have an effect on", to me.

    e.g. "This testing won't impact [the] RC, but it will impact an RTM release." or "This data will impact the decision whether to continue with the original plan in Product Q." or "This data will impact Product Q."

    As I understand it, the last abomination could be written in English as follows: "What can we learn today which will impact the release?". It even uses the same number of words.

    ["Impact" is not quite the same here. "Impact" carries a negative connotation. "Inform" implies that this is an information-gathering exercise. -Raymond]
  9. Gechurch says:

    Removing words started in newspaper headlines. Fair enough – you have very limited space to convey a lot. Cutting out an 'and' or 'does' in this situation I can handle.

    I can't believe it's done in spoken language though. How long does it take to say an extra word or two mid-sentence? Maybe a second. Maybe. It's ludicrous to take something understandable and make it confusing to save a second here and there.

    As I grew up I noticed the local TV news reporters doing this. At first I found it amusing that people who's job it is to convey important information clearly started breaking grammar rules I learnt in grade 2. It's lost its lustre very quickly though. Now I can't stand to watch. Sometimes I have to sit and think hard, only to realise that they completely changed topic mid-sentence and were now talking about something totally different!

  10. Ben says:

    > If there is already a simple, easy-to-understand way of saying something, why substitute jargon that requires a special Microspeak dictionary to decode?

    If that's your point of view, then why bother with this whole "Modern English" business? We already had æltæwe áwiht gewrit.

    [You're arguing that jargon is simpler and easier to understand? -Raymond]
  11. Ben says:

    In a way, yes, that is what I'm arguing(although that's a bit of a leap from my post, in which I only meant to imply that it was of equal understanding): The jargon in question is understood by the people involved, and there isn't really a good word to describe this sense: as you point out, it's a shorthand for about 5 more words (quite a lot when it comes to discussion in a meeting).

    [Actually, it wasn't understood by everybody involved. I was asked to decode it. -Raymond]

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