Re: Periods After Whole Numbers etc.

Subject: Re: Periods After Whole Numbers etc.
From: Ian White <ian -at- IFWTECH -dot- DEMON -dot- CO -dot- UK>
Date: Tue, 24 Sep 1996 14:24:50 +0100

WRONECKI Frederic DG wrote:
>Ian White wrote :

>> The original purpose of the rigid IF...THEN construction is
>> to ensure that even a machine can understand it. But we human readers
>> react badly to writing that is mechanical and never varies, especially
>> if there's a lot of it.

>Ian, I'm afraid you're indulging into a "literary" vision of technical
>writing : we're not writing poetry, but efficience.
>A technical document must be thought of not as a "work of art", but as a
>"device" which enacts the reader to perform an action. Thus the goal is not
>to please the reader, but to have the lowest "error rate" when (s)he
>performs the action.

I'm certainly not aiming for "art", or even aiming to please the reader.
My aim as a technical writer is to communicate accurate information to
the reader. But communication to a human reader includes style as well
as content, because humans aren't machines; they have additional needs.

The real difference between technical writing and 'literary' writing is
that good technical writing is completely 'transparent'. It aims to
communicate information without drawing any attention to itself.

That's why I objected to the rigid use of stuctures such as "if...
then", or indeed to any other habit of writing style. Initially it's a
feature; on repetition it becomes a noticeable feature; and eventually
the reader pays more attention to that than to the information.
And that's bad technical writing.

Ian White | IFW Technical Services, Abingdon, England
| Clear English for high-technology companies

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