Re: pronouns and portfolios

Subject: Re: pronouns and portfolios
From: "Richard G. Combs" <richard -dot- combs -at- voyanttech -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 6 Apr 2001 18:17:14 -0600

OK, everyone else on the list is saying "This is really inappropriate, and
after I've weighed in, we really should drop the subject." So I can't resist
doing the same thing. <vbg>

<Christine -dot- Anameier -at- seagate -dot- com> wrote in message news:100147 -at- techwr-l -dot- -dot- -dot-
> Janice Gelb recast Geoff Hart's excerpt...
> > <snip>
> > if the writer is blaming Word, sit down with them and watch them
> > write--assuming they'll let you do this. Maybe they're simply
> > using the software the wrong way, and observing them will reveal
> > this so you can explain the problem and help them to solve it.
> > </snip>
> ....this way:
> > "You may want to sit down and watch how a writer blaming Word
> > is using the product -- assuming that's acceptable. Perhaps
> > the software is being used incorrectly and you can explain the
> > the problem and help solve it."
> My overall objection to the rewrite is this: it blurs the picture.
> The original paragraph is about coaching a frustrated writer. The original
> keeps that writer in your mind's eye, mentioning (___insert pronoun of
> choice here___) seven times. The rewrite virtually erases the writer from
> the picture, takes the concepts out of logical order, introduces vagueness
> and passive voice, all to avoid using the singular "they." In my opinion,
> this is not an improvement.
> I'm not trying to cast aspersions on Janice's writing. I think at least
> some of these pitfalls are unavoidable if you recast this paragraph to
> avoid the singular "they." I seriously doubt that I could do any better.
> previous posts I advocated recasting sentences to avoid the pronoun, but
> this case, the writing suffers for it. IMO, the singular "they" is a small
> price to pay for the clarity and directness of Geoff's original paragraph.

I agree with Christine that the rewrite "blurs the picture" for all the
reasons she cites. And I'm not adamently opposed to a singular "they"
(although I try hard to avoid it). But I think a much simpler rewrite
eliminates the problem without blurring the picture:

"If _writers are_ blaming Word, sit down with them... Maybe they're simply
using the software the wrong way, and observing them..."

I'll bet that 90% of the time you can avoid a singular they/them by making
its antecedent noun plural. "Everyone is entitled to his/her/their opinion"
becomes "We're all entitled to our opinions." And this is mine. <g>

Much earlier in this thread, Bryan Westbrook asked:
> BTW, does anybody know the quote, "The problem with common [?] is that
> just so common."? I tried to find it, but I didn't have any luck.

I can't recall the source, but the missing word [?] is "sense."

Happy weekend, all!

Richard G. Combs
Senior Technical Writer
Voyant Technologies, Inc.
richard -dot- combs -at- voyanttech -dot- com
rgcombs -at- free-market -dot- net


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