Re: Sloppy writing, sloppy thinking

Subject: Re: Sloppy writing, sloppy thinking
From: Bruce Byfield <bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 28 May 2003 19:00:32 -0700

Michael West wrote:

Now here's something that interests me. Can writing
be both "perfectly intelligible" and "ambiguous and
potentially misleading" at the same time?

I wish I could quote a sample or two of what I mean, but that wouldn't be ethical.

So, let me try to explain. When I said that the sentences were "perfectly intelligible, part of what I meant was that the sentences were all perfectly correct by fairly exacting prescriptive standards. So, perhaps I should have said "grammatical and not obviously awkward." I'd make an analogy to the verse that someone - Samuel Johnson - once wrote to make the point that you can write a piece of verse that scans, but makes miserable poetry. The verse was something like:

I put my hat upon my head
And walked out on the Strand
And there I met another man
With his hat in his hand.

But I also mean to say that, if you knew nothing about the topic at all, you might think that they gave you a good understanding of what was being discussed. However, when you look closely, with the software and hardware in front of you, you soon see that the writing isn't as clear as it seems. Also, while it isn't exactly wrong, it's at a very high level of generality, so that the uninitiated could easily come away with the wrong ideas about the relations between the parts and how the whole worked. I think that this quality explains why the material slipped past its reviewers: they obviously didn't validate wha tthe were reviewing because it seemed plausible at a moderately superficial level.

Obviously, the writer was waffling, but with some skill. It took some knowledge to be aware of the fact, which is somewhat unusual. As Michael says, it's usually more evident.

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

"I denounce the heresy of Creationism
that would dismiss my mourning as sentimental
and allege a unique sentience divided us;
evolution would alow our parallel minds to meet
if love alone could not."


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Re: You're SUPPOSED to have good communication skills if you're a tech writer: From: Jan Henning
Re: You're SUPPOSED to have good communication skills if you're a tech writer: From: Bruce Byfield
Sloppy writing, sloppy thinking: From: Michael West

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