Re: Compressed ("telegraphic") technical writing

Subject: Re: Compressed ("telegraphic") technical writing
From: Dee Shellhorn Long <dee_long -at- HP0800 -dot- DESK -dot- HP -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 4 Oct 1993 18:23:31 GMT

"S.North" says:

>As far as this affects software error messages and such, I would strongly
>agree with dropping pronouns, adverbs, articles and so on. But, let me raise
>one consideration: that of non-native English readers. For this audience, to
>write in telegraphic style is one of the most unfriendly things you could
>possibly do.

>While this applies specifically to non-native English readers, I do have a
>research report. . . that confirms an old suspicion of mine that these 'extra'
>words also improve the comprehension level for 'normal' readers. From memory;
>they aid in providing a certain amount of redundancy and they identify the key
>syntactic elements of the sentence.

As a technical editor, one of my bette noires is the use of telegraphic writing
style, or "telegraphese," according to John Kirkman. Almost always,
telegraphic writing--involving the absence of "essential words"--causes
readers to make inferences about the subject matter. As technical
communicators, we should always be striving to _reduce_ inferences,
never impose them.

It's my experience that while native speakers of English skim documents--
and these are advanced readers I'm referring to--the loss of essential words
actually slows down this "skimming." The absence of essential words,
like articles, prepositional phrases, and transitions, can force the eye and
mind to stop reading, and to make the reader re-read the information.

For a little more reading on this, please see the following:

Brusaw, C.T., Alred, G.J., and Oliu, W. E. Handbook of Technical Writing,
4th ed. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1993. ISBN 0-312-05733-4

Kirkman, J., and Turk, C. Effective Writing, 2nd ed. London: E. & F.N. Spon,
1989. ISBN 0-419-14660-1

===============Dee Shellhorn Long=================================
Hewlett-Packard Company (719) 590 - 3502
1900 Garden of the Gods Rd. dee_long -at- hp0800 -dot- desk -dot- hp -dot- com
Colorado Springs, CO 80907

"What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure."

-- Samuel Johnson

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