Writing vs. ??? TECHNICAL writing

Subject: Writing vs. ??? TECHNICAL writing
From: Joanna Sheldon <cjs10 -at- CORNELL -dot- EDU>
Date: Thu, 3 Oct 1996 19:04:36 -0400

I responded at some length to a question about the use of "since" versus
"because" and "which" versus "that".

Sanford Carr's response was:

>>>PLEASE!
>>>
>>>TECHNICAL writing. Not grammar, not software, not ...
>>>
>>>Sanford
>>

And I said:

>>Yes, of course, Sanford. Good grammar and a solid knowledge of accepted
>>usage has nothing to do with good writing, I forgot.


...after which Eric J.Ray pointed out:

>I think his point was TECHNICAL writing.

>My previous comments about appropriate topics still stand.

>I'll be happy to send you a copy of the what to
>post/what not to post message if you'd like.

>Eric


Thanks, Eric.

Techwhirlers? Are we to believe what a couple of techwriters and our list
owner are telling us, either directly or indirectly -- that the question of
whether or not the word "since" is acceptable in technical writing is not an
appropriate topic for discussion among techwriters? That the question of
_what makes good writing_ has nothing to do with _what makes good TECHNICAL
writing_?

If we sit back and take those wacko, outrageous implied or direct statements
as perfectly acceptable, then we are not doing our job as practitioners of
written communication.

Some of the most communicative, instructive, _useful_ techwriting is the
kind that Tim Altom has so eloquently praised, lately. And it's the kind of
writing that uses all the instruments made available by the English language
to bring an idea across. For that very reason it is good TECHNICAL writing.
There is ample room for more formal techwriting than the
leaning-over-your-shoulder type, but the best of the more formal writing is
written by people who have read a great deal, who have a strong feel for the
language, who make sure they have the entire length and breadth of English
at their disposal when they write TECHNICAL documentation.

Mind you, I don't use the word "since" a lot in the course of writing
technical manuals. Can't remember the last time I used "because" either,
but that's neither here nor there. The point is there is no justifiable
_rule_ against the use of "since" in a TECHNICAL document. If it's used
correctly and in an appropriate sentence it can be used to good effect.
This business of insisting that we limit our palette to a few pale greys and
browns, that we be drones and hacks, that our writing should have as little
aesthetic value as possible, drives me to distraction. No wonder so many
of the manuals I read are unreadable! Remember -- your readers are human
beings.

You who believe in such rules: lighten up! And then, read some good writing
-- and listen to it. Enliven your documents with a little real English!
This will not infect your content with imprecision. On the contrary.

We have been told:

>James J. Kilpatrick insists in both _The Writer's Art_ and _Fine Print_
>that the reader never has to question what "because" means in a
>sentence, whereas the reader does have to think about the meaning of
>"since" when used instead of "because" in reference to an event or
>matter of fact.

Oh does he, now. And since James J. Kilpatrick is an Authority we're
supposed to believe what he says, even if what he says contradicts lived
experience.

Did you stumble when you passed over the "since" in that sentence?

Joanna


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