Re: Another Subjective View

Subject: Re: Another Subjective View
From: Bruce Byfield <bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 27 Jun 2002 16:40:50 -0700

Mike West wrote:

Bruce Byfield quotes an amusing anecdote involving
Thos Jefferson and Ben Franklin, and then remarks:

When I was teaching first year composition at a university, I used this story to point out that, while editing is valuable, there's also a possibility of editing past the point of any meaningful advantage.

Is that what it says to you? My impression is that
the hatter's message was considerably improved by those "mutilations." The purpose of a shop sign is to get warm bodies into the shop -- not to explain the
business policies and practices of the shopkeeper.

Look at the start of the anecdote. Franklin cites the story as an example of why he tries to avoid having his writing edited by a group. Clearly, he doesn't think that the sign was improved.

Remember, too, that, by modern standards, the eighteenth century's accepted style was verbose. What might seem an improvement to a modern ear like yours might strike an eighteen century ear as rudely abrupt.

Also, the sign was painted for someone who has just finished his apprenticeship and is setting up business for himself. The original version of the sign indicates his pride in having reached this level in his craft, and assures customers of his expertise. All that is gone in the revised sign, although it might also help to draw customers.

Then, step back and think: even if the final version is an improvement in the sense that it is shorter, was the improvement worth the effort? Probably not.
In fact, you could take the whole process further. Why bother with the name, since people want to buy, not know the name? Then, why bother with the picture at all, since in a small town such as Boston or Philadelphia was at the time (I'm not sure which is the locale for the story), everyone would know where the hatter's shop is anyway? So, in the end, why have a sign at all?

I'm a perfectionist by nature, but I've been writing professionally long enough to know that, sometimes, perfectionism is not only not needed, but a hindrance. As hard as the lesson has been, I've learned that, sometimes, good enough is good enough - especially if you're going to meet a deadline. Instead, I try to confine my perfectionism to places where it will make a difference.

Bruce Byfield bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com 604.421.7177

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RE: Another Subjective View: From: Mike West

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