ADMIN: Writing Errors -- read this message

Subject: ADMIN: Writing Errors -- read this message
From: "Eric J. Ray" <ejray -at- raycomm -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Sun, 21 Jan 2001 05:47:47 -0700

--- "Roger L. Boyell" <boyell -at- ieee -dot- org> wrote:
> One would hope that technical writers observe
> conventional English spelling, punctuation, and word
> choice. This List continually provides
> counterexamples. Some recently noted are:
> Of course I never make such mistakes. I thought I
> had made an error once, but I was wrong. :-)

Yes, you did make a error. The most recent was your
failure to read the list rules, which specifically
prohibit this kind of nitpicking, retail or wholesale.

This list is NOT the appropriate forum for
copyediting other people's postings--typos,
thinkos, and simple oopses are explicitly
ALLOWED. If you cannot look past such errors
(especially in messages which are both informal and
often written in haste), keep your consternation
to yourself.

Far worse for this community than typos is the often
hostile climate for members, as evidenced by your posting.
How does it possibly benefit you to point out errors
that are obvious to all--given time/opportunity to
copyedit and proofread.

If I write a message to this list asking for help on
a specific issue (or worse, offering help on a specific
issue), it should be taken in the spirit in which it was
offered, and not criticized on trivial grounds. Yes,
if postings to this list were polished pieces of professional
communication (proposals, manuals, articles, etc.),
one could expect a nearer shot at perfection. But,
they're not intended to be polished or near perfect,
are they?

A while back, someone posted a question to this list.
A long-time list member (who occasionally answers on list
and often answers privately) provided a URL to a personal site
with a thorough response to the question asked. Good so
far, right? Then, the original poster noted a typo and
suggested additional copyediting services. No
"thanks for the help", no "I really appreciate it",
no "boy, it sure was nice of you to write this up
and post it on the web so I could use it"--just an
ungrateful and rude response.

Certainly, there's nothing wrong with constructive
criticism, but there's an old saying about looking
a gift horse in the mouth. Using someone's volunteered
time and effort as a chance to plug your editorial
expertise is beyond rude, and in this audience
and community, downright insulting.

What was the outcome? The person who posted the question
got the information he was looking for, the Web site
was taken offline permanently, and the person who answered
the question signed off the list. No more Web site, no more
answers, no more help. As he said to me in email,
"Why should I bother even trying to help? I donate my time
and energy and effort, and get this kind of crap every
time I answer anything on your damn list. I'm done."

Who wins? The person who asked the question, who got an
answer. Who loses? Everyone else on the list, everyone
who might have visited the site, everyone who might be
looking for information that this former member would
have been able to share.

What's wrong with this picture? I'll leave that as an
exercise to the reader.

Now, if this were an isolated instance, it'd be one thing,
but I hear about this kind of thing every couple of weeks,
if not more frequently, and the frequency is increasing.

How long will it take for this kind of behavior to kill
a community? I dunno, but it looks like we're going to
find out.

What to do about it? I dunno that either. I'd like to think
that I have better things to do with my time than to
police the tone of messages, but I've certainly considered
just permanently removing everyone I get complaints about
from the list. Why? Because I simply don't think that having
a really thick skin and a streak of masochism should be
required to actively participate in this list.

Time to return to the topic of technical
communication. Do not continue this discussion on list.
Contact me directly with questions.

ejray -at- raycomm -dot- com
TECHWR-L Listowner

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