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Subject:Re: Geez, can I take a break... From:CHRISTINE ANAMEIER <CANAMEIE -at- email -dot- usps -dot- gov> To:"TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com> Date:Wed, 13 Feb 2002 16:06:59 -0500
Andrew Plato wrote:
> It makes your brain ache reading text that is poorly written.
> However, most people are very attached to their words. They
> think what they say is pure genius. Its the hallmark of an
> amateur writer. They won't let go of their words, regardless
> of how poorly they communicate an idea.
That's true of some people, but not all. I've met people who balk if you change
anything at all, but I've also run across people who barely notice if you
rewrite their stuff--as long as the meaning is the same (or they same as what
they *meant* to say), the way it's worded isn't important to them.
Most people I've worked with have been somewhere in the middle--receptive to
changes if they're presented *tactfully.* Don't mark up their stuff with a red
pen as if you're their high school English teacher. Write up an alternative and
show it to them: "How about this?" An awful lot of non-writers can recognize
decent writing when they see it.
The other day a SME edited my "Because my cat hates kibble, he knocked over the
bowl" to "My cat hates kibble, therefore he knocked over the bowl" (well, the
actual words were different). I winced twice--once for the comma fault, once for
the hunch that he chose "therefore" because it sounded genteel. Then I went and
asked him what it was about that sentence that bothered him. Turned out he felt
the cause-effect relationship wasn't explained enough, although obviously his
edit didn't fix that. We wound up rewriting the paragraph to provide more
In the passive-voice example that started this thread, I'd go to the person and
ask gently what she was trying to fix with those changes. She was probably
taught that writing was supposed to be stiff, formal, and impersonal (or
else--less likely--there's a legitimate reason for obscuring the agent of the
actions being described). Explain the advantages of active voice--and show her
what you mean by it. As the in-house writing expert, reassure her that active
voice is perfectly professional and correct. If all else fails, appeal to her
conformist side: point out that the passive-voice stuff doesn't match the rest
of the document.
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