Re: Responsible use of Obviously

Subject: Re: Responsible use of Obviously
From: Len Olszewski <saslpo -at- UNX -dot- SAS -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 12 Oct 1993 12:51:49 -0500

Steve Barnet writes about the use and misuse of "obviously":


> 1) It's illogical and wordy - If it's obvious, why are you writing it?

> 2) It's psychologically hard on the reader - It's irritating to think
> hard about something the writer considers obviuos.

Obviously, you are correct 8-).

Beyond simple condescension, using the term "obviously" is unnecessary
and insulting, as Steve points out. I don't think writing about obvious
topics is bad, but pointing out they are obvious, which is essentially a
subjective call, certainly is quite irritating to the reader.

I have a number of irritating things I read in technical documents of
all kinds that really grate me. I try to avoid using them, and counsel
others (when it is appropriate, such as in peer review) to avoid using
them also. Somebody posted about the inherent ambiguity of the phrase
"as well as". I hate to see passive constructions of any kind in
technical material. I am guilty of using the very weak "There is" or
"There are" to introduce lists, and I have to fight hard to phrase my
list introductions more actively.

On the other hand, many readers who are accustomed to either scholarly
or academic writing sometimes discount the validity of clearly written
technical material merely because they *expect* confusing sentences, and
find reassurance in the repetition of (what I think are) annoying (but
to them, comfortable) phrases. I recall several war stories from this
list wherein somebody "improved" somebody else's writing by replacing
all the "as"'s with "in the context of"'s. Some folks identify those
annoying phrases with "serious" technical writing, and will accept no
substitutes. They usually wind up on your list of reviewers. Or on mine.

I'm sure everybody has a pet irritating phrase or constructions, right?
I gave a couple of mine already. Technical writing that contains the
word "irregardless" yanks my chain. So does the use of the future tense
in reference material (I do this in first drafts *blush*), and I also
cannot stand inaccurate or missing capitalizations. More?

BTW, the recent thread on quotations about writing has provided more
fodder for my .sig rotation. Since I am a shameless thief of quotations,
obviously you should all prepare yourselves for incremental deja vu. 8-)

|Len Olszewski, Technical Writer | "White space never lies." |
|saslpo -at- unx -dot- sas -dot- com|Cary, NC, USA| - William Horton |
| Opinions this ludicrous are mine. Reasonable opinions will cost you.|

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