The world's most frequently read instructions

Subject: The world's most frequently read instructions
From: Peter <pnewman1 -at- home -dot- com>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 31 Aug 2000 18:18:46 -0400

What I would think are probably the most read and followed instructions
in this world are: ambiguously written and grammatically incorrect.
For example: if I want to read a book about Visual Basic I will pick up
a book with the words "Visual Basic" in the title. A book with the words
"Prominent Women in Sports" in the Title would not normally be expected
to be about prominent male athletes. If I go to a department store and
wish to buy a new shirt I would look for a sign that says "Shirts." Yet,
the instructions identifying the room for me to use to answer a call of
nature, will only say something like "Man." Conversely, the bathroom in
a public place that is intended for my wife's use will only say
something like "Women," or a cute variation thereof. In either case, the
instructions cannot possibly be more concise than one word. In both
cases when the word is taken out of context the meaning is ambiguous.
Does the sign "Men" indicate that the room is intended to be a place
where I can find a man? Or, does it mean it is for the use of men. The
one word by itself would be considered grammatically incorrect by some
and I can imagine some editor putting red ink on this sign to the point
where it looks as if it had the measles. The point of this rant is to
remind the group that while we may carry on about good grammar vs. bad
grammar the purpose for technical writing is to effectively communicate
information. If the communication can be done with one word the meaning
of which is generally understood by its intended audience, then the
writer has done his/her job effectively.

"When a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a
minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute-and it's
longer than any hour. That's relativity," - Einstein-

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