RE: Tina the Techwriter Reopens the Great Debate

Subject: RE: Tina the Techwriter Reopens the Great Debate
From: <Daniel_Hall -at- trendmicro -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 15 Jun 2004 07:06:00 -0700

Just to throw a little more oil on the fire...

Several folks have mentioned how common it is for people to communicate verbally in incomplete sentences, fragments, and other grammatically incorrect forms. The implication seems to be that because this type of verbal communication can be effective, written material in the same format is equally effective. I respectfully disagree. :-)

One important thing to remember is that in verbal communication, you are constantly adjusting your thoughts, and thus your words, to fit the context of the conversation. Verbal communication is interactive. If you see your listener looking puzzled, you can rephrase, restate, use an analogy, try something else. Your message is constantly being tailored to fit the context based on what you see (body language, facial expression, etc.) and other considerations (environmental variables like noise, location, and so on). There's so much more to verbal communication than the mere words that it seems inappropriate to compare it to writing as if there is a one-to-one correspondence.

When writing, you only get _one_ chance to convey the information. You can't "adjust" the text in real-time (at least, not yet) if your reader doesn't get it the first time. You must write clearly and concisely. You have to get it exactly right: There's no opportunity to watch them put tab B in slot C and say "No, not _that_ slot" or to adjust your volume to suit the environment, or your tone to their apparent level of understanding. There are no "do-overs" in writing. In my opinion, complete thoughts are less likely to be ambiguous or open to interpretation than fragments.

Imagine someone trying to give you verbal instructions, and when you reach a step that isn't clear, they simply repeat the same unclear instruction over and over. (Louder, if they're an American :-> )

I'm not necessarily arguing for prescriptive grammar. I'm just pointing out that in a situation where you're only going to get one chance to communicate, it's best not to rely on a pattern of communication that is based on interactivity.


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