RE: [BULK] RE: The New Communication (was Formality going Bye, Bye)

Subject: RE: [BULK] RE: The New Communication (was Formality going Bye, Bye)
From: "Phillip Gochenour" <pgochenour -at- loansoft -dot- com>
To: <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 13 Feb 2006 10:06:58 -0800

>And an editor would respond that when you deviate from correct English,
>(1) draw attention to your idiosyncratic use of the language and (b)
>an opportunity for your reader to stumble. Far from being economical,
>nonstandard use of English causes your audience to experience time and
>energy losses. The objection to nonstandard English is not made
>because the usage is nonstandard; after all, nonstandard usage is
>how the language changes. But changing the language is not something a
>technical writer ought to be doing. Challenging the understanding of
the >useof the language is a task for creative writers, not technical
>Nonstandard usage draws attention to the writer, not the message.

But what constitutes the "standard," English as it is spoken by most
people (which is full of grammatical errors, in a strict sense), or the
version of English codified in Strunk and White? I think that, for most
readers, there is no stumble when they see "then" used without an "and"
as a conjunction. I find it far more problematic to be reading
instructional text or a manual where the language is so formal and
strict that it calls attention to itself in that regard, rather than
using language in a fashion that is clear and direct. For example,
technical writing is full of superfluous subjunctive usage ("may wish
to" is one of my enduring peeves), which, while correct, is read by most
users as being overly formal, and causes an interruption in the flow of
reading and understanding.

(And, of course, Gene just beat me to the punch on this point - I need
to write faster, too, obviously).

I'm sure most readers of this list are familiar with the tension between
English as it is formalized through dictionaries and grammars, and the
way that it evolves in common usage. Online and interactive media have
certainly played a role in that evolution, and I would simply argue
that, as people who work in those media, we need to be more attuned to
the linguistic changes that are present within them. What readers care
about, ultimately, is not whether the instructions are grammatically
correct, but whether they serve purpose of helping them complete a task
or achieve a goal. In those situations, getting to the "then" may be
more important than the "and" that is supposed to precede it.



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