RE: Correct punctuation for bulleted lists

Subject: RE: Correct punctuation for bulleted lists
From: Bruce Byfield <bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
Date: Thu, 23 Mar 2000 21:31:38 -0800

The amount of space on this list given to a request for
grammatical or design rules, or to quoting grammatical
authorities always surprises me. In my worse moments, it makes me
despair.

Many subscribers are writing for a living. Therefore, I would
expect that most of them would:

- understand that grammar and design have guidelines, not firm
rules.

- have long ago figured out what sub-set of the existing
standards they preferred.

- realize that part of their job is to make a decision about the
standards they use.

When experts speak about the conventions that they follow, they
are usually worth listening to, because they are summarizing the
results of long practice, both by them and by the experts they
learned from. Read George Orwell on language, or Robert
Bringhurst on typography, and you can tap into this expertise.

However, grammar authorities are another matter. Grammar is only
a summary of how a language is used in a certain culture at a
certain time, and any claim to authority has to examined
carefully.

To start with, is the summary descriptive or prescriptive?

If it is descriptive, it is only summarizing how most people are
using the language. After reading a descriptive grammar, you may
have a clearer idea of the range of choices you can use, but you
are still left to make a choice.

If it is prescriptive, it is choosing a standard for you. Nothing
wrong with that, I suppose, if you want to duck your
responsibility as a writer. However, prescriptive authorities
almost always prefer the usage of several decades ago. They may
decide that the proper standard is one of a country or a region
far from your own; for example, the French of Paris may be
preferred over the French of Quebec. They may have a political
agenda, such as Noah Webster did, when he imposed American norms
for syllabic stress and for spelling. If you follow a
prescriptive grammar, you not only risk being out of touch with
your audience, but also buying into a whole range of assumptions
that you disagree with.

In short, these guides are useful as summaries, but far from
definitive. As the questions on this list show, the guides often
can't even agree with each other.

In the end, quoting is useless. You still have to make a choice,
and all the discussion in the world can't change the
responsibility.

--
Bruce Byfield, Outlaw Communications
Vancouver, BC, Canada
bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com (604.421.7189)

"So fall in, lads, behind the drum,
Our Colours blazing like the sun,
Along the road to come-what-may,
Over the hills and far away."
- Marching song of the British Light Division, 19th century






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