Re: Comma, comma, coma[,] and Uncle Ralph

Subject: Re: Comma, comma, coma[,] and Uncle Ralph
From: Loren Castro <lfc -at- SOL -dot- CHINALAKE -dot- NAVY -dot- MIL>
Date: Fri, 12 May 1995 07:16:54 -0700

Here is a quote from a recent post:

> While I was perusing this ongoing comma discussion that
> seems to never die, Uncle Ralph picked up on the issue
> and asked me,

> "What's the point?"

> "Oh, you know--picking nits and like that. Our business
> lives from this sort of thing", I replied.

End of quote.

I am indebted to R. Lano, whose thoughtful description of a
specification I found somewhere a few years ago. I quote a few of the
words that he (or maybe she) used, cute Uncle Ralph stories
notwithstanding, to describe a good specification: correct, clear,
simple, concise, understandable, specific, unambiguous, complete,
consistent, organized, and traceable.

Part of my job is to review a contractor's software documents for those
qualities and for compliance with DOD standards. (I'm talking about
the big defense contractors here, not you independents.)

I want to see a device identified consistently. I don't want to see
"IR signal processor" one place, "DSP" another place, and "host missile
computer" yet another place.

I want to see "that" and "which" used correctly to avoid confusion
about number. If many DIO cards exist, I want to see "that" to
identify the one in question. If only one DIO card exists, I want to
see "<comma> which" to identify it.

I want to see the final series comma used consistently to clarify
grouping. I don't want any confusion about which items in a series go

I want to see "shall" used consistently for provisions that are
contractually binding.

I never want to see the ambiguous "and/or" in a specification. The
customer who allows "and/or" forfeits the right to choose.

I never want to see the non-specific "etc." in a specification. I want
all elements listed explicitly.

This list is not exhaustive. It's part of the effort to save money
(your money, really) for my boss, the Government. We all know that
enough money gets wasted already.

When Uncle Ralph writes a Software Requirements Specification to
DOD-STD-2167A, maybe I'll reconsider. Until then, am I a nit-picker?

lfc -at- sol -dot- chinalake -dot- navy -dot- mil

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