Re: forbidden to apostrophize

Subject: Re: forbidden to apostrophize
From: "Susan W. Gallagher" <sgallagher -at- EXPERSOFT -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 16 Jul 1996 11:12:55 -0700

At 02:23 PM 7/16/96 +0200, Michal Lastman wrote:
>My editor wants me to remove every apostrophe from my manual. This means
>replacing not only all contractions (something I could deal with) but also
>recasting any sentence that uses an apostrophe to form the possessive.

>This involves a lot of work and will most likely make many sentences longer
>and unnecessarily complex.

Well, Michal, I agree and disagree with your editor and your boss.

On the issue of apostrophes in your work. Whether or not you use
contractions strongly depends on the type of writing you're doing
and the target audience you're writing to. Most writers agree that
if the tone is *formal* or the information *highly technical* (e.g.,
an annual report or a programming reference manual) contractions
should be used sparingly or not at all. Also, some contractions,
particularly those that contract "not" (e.g., shouldn't, can't)
can be misunderstood, mostly because there's atendency to gloss over
the end of the word and miss the negative.

And, notice that I said they're not particularly good in formal
writing. Most user manuals, installation guides, tutorials, and
so on benefit from a slightly less formal tone -- and contractions
-- used sparingly -- can actually *help* to achieve this.

On the issue of possessives, often the word that is possessive is the
product name, and that's a no-no. No trademark should ever be used in
the possessive -- it's a matter of safeguarding your product name.
Your editor may feel uncomfortable about allowing inannimate objects
to possess something, but I see no reason to disallow phrases like
"the user's needs" or "the programmer's preferences".

It sounds to me like you guys need to hammer out a style sheet so that
peeves or preferences don't clash at delivery/crunch time and so that
everyone has a clear idea of what their aiming at.

Whatever you all decide, I'd seriously question the business savvy of a
manager who'd demand that all previous work be elevated to these
standards before you continue. The return on investment just isn't

Sue Gallagher
sgallagher -at- expersoft -dot- com
-- The _Guide_ is definitive.
Reality is frequently inaccurate.

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