Re: [Fwd: Re: Avoid the Semicolon in Tech Writing?]

Subject: Re: [Fwd: Re: Avoid the Semicolon in Tech Writing?]
From: "Chuck Martin" <cm -at- writeforyou -dot- com>
To: techwr-l
Date: Mon, 18 Aug 2003 13:40:12 -0700

<eric -dot- dunn -at- ca -dot- transport -dot- bombardier -dot- com> wrote in message
news:209635 -at- techwr-l -dot- -dot- -dot-
> "Anameier, Christine A - Eagan, MN" <christine -dot- a -dot- anameier -at- usps -dot- gov> wrote
> on 08/18/2003 01:46:51 PM:
> > Sure, some of the subtleties may be lost on *some*
> > readers, but not all
> > readers--and those who don't get the subtle nudges surely
> > aren't going
> > to stop and stare at the semicolon. I don't see how they
> > can be both (a)
> > ignorant of the meaning of punctuation and (b) fixated on
> > the meaning of
> > punctuation, to the point where they're derailed by an
> > unfamiliar mark.
> You've completely failed to convince me. You have even pushed me solidly
> over into the ALWAYS avoid semi-colon territory. While all of this makes
> for great theoretical discussion and allows many to show-off their more
> arcane language skills, what does it really mean in the case of technical
> documentation.

I'm troubled by both the use of an absolute ("always," and in all caps no
less) and the inference that the use of semicolons in "arcane."

No one who ever enjoyed Victor Borge would assert the latter.

> In the example given, what kind of self respecting documentation would use
> such a construct? Flow charts, organigrams, tables, or bulleted lists will
> get the reader to the information they need, when they need it. The
> semicolon constructs seem suited to long-winded novel length descriptive
> text. The average user does not want to infer the relationships. They want
> to be told point blank what the relationships and functions are.

Semicolons are used for, among other reasons, to tie together two closely
related statements, to indicate that relationship more clearly that a period
could. While I can't imagine its use often in procedural text, I can see it
used in conceptual text.

I would maintain that competent technical communicators will (a) know their
audience and (b) know when using a semicolon construction will result in the
clearest communication for said audience.

Good carpenters use all their tools when the situation applies; they do not
leave good tools designed for specific tasks in the toolbox and just use a
hammer. Good writers should use all available tools when necessary as well..

Chuck Martin

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