About Grammar on TECHWR-L

Subject: About Grammar on TECHWR-L
From: "Eric J. Ray" <ejray -at- RAYCOMM -dot- COM>
Date: Sun, 6 Oct 1996 06:47:17 PDT

About grammar -- I've obviously not been as clear as I'd like
to be, so I'm trying again. Please bear with. This is kinda

My original statement was something to the effect of
>>Grammar topics that do not pertain directly to technical
communication are not acceptable. <<

Perhaps I should have stated it in the positive:
Grammar topics that do pertain directly to technical
communication are acceptable.

--- On Sat, 5 Oct 1996 07:23:09 +0100 Ian White <ian -at- IFWTECH -dot- DEMON -dot- CO -dot- UK> wrote:
>I support the view that Eric is being over-restrictive about discussions
>of grammar and usage. Technical writing is a specialized form of
>language and has its own special needs.

>We know there are other lists and newsgroups on those subjects. But if
>we discussed the same questions in those more general forums, we'd be
>swamped by contributions and opinions that are not relevant to technical

Precisely! I agree completely. The "special needs" of technical
writing are exactly what SHOULD be discussed on TECHWR-L. However,
the rest should not. That an issue relates to technical
communication and is a "special need" is all that I ask.

However ...

, 6 Oct 1996 09:27:46 +-200 Rebecca Phillips <rebecca -at- QRONUS -dot- CO -dot- IL> wrote:
>One of the problems with the grammar and usage debates is that you
>end up having a hundred e-mails discussing the use of the comma. While
>I don't think we should censor, I also think people need to use better
>judgment before posting on a topic which has been completely covered.

Yes! Comma usage, or octothropes, or whatever, don't tend to
be terribly good fodder for discussion. Or, as Stuart said:

--- On Sun, 6 Oct 1996 16:34:40 +0800 Stuart Burnfield <slb -at- FS -dot- COM -dot- AU> wrote:
>I read the posts in favour of grammar and usage threads on techwr, and
>they make good theoretical sense. Then I recall the grammar and usage
>threads we actually get, and. . .

>There is rarely a right answer to these brain-teasers. There are usually
>wrong or incomplete answers, and these *always* get posted, confidently,
>triumphantly, every time.

>The signal-to-noise ratio in these threads is astonishingly low,
>considering this is a list aimed at working writers.

>After all the right and wrong answers, the best, the most useful answer,
>is the one that says "find some references you respect and use them".
>Look up the easy stuff in books and let's discuss the hard stuff.

>It's indisputable that good writing is a prerequisite for good technical
>writing, but writing should be the ground on which we stand, not the fog
>through which we. . . well, I'm still working on that metaphor.

EXACTLY! And that, in a nutshell, is my problem with
most grammar threads on TECHWR-L.

TECHWR-L would be OK for discussion of using a serial
comma in a list of three materials for assembly of
something. (More appropriate ways of doing the same
thing notwithstanding.) It's related to a technical
communication need. No problem.

This is NOT the correct forum for discussions of
the historical reasons for serial commas, for
arguments about the "correctness" of using
serial commas (it's a style issue), or for other
grammar discussions that aren't DIRECTLY --
not theoretically -- related to technical
communication. Generic grammar issues should be
addressed through reference books, alt.usage.english,
or other forums.

Similarly, I don't think that TECHWR-L is a replacement
for reference books or libraries. Discussions such as
"octothorpe" aren't nearly as appropriate or useful as
they might be. Much of the problem with grammar discussions
and similar threads on TECHWR-L is, as Stuart noted,
the inaccuracy.

For example: I was just upbraided (offline) for my "incorrect"
use of "flaunting" as in "flaunting the rules". According to
my dictionary, it's OK. According to my audience (some of
whom suspected an error), it isn't. As a technical communicator,
I now know that I shouldn't have used it, even though it's
accurate by my chosen reference, because it led to confusion.
In general, on TECHWR-L, it'd be nice if dictionaries and
reference works could be consulted *BEFORE* an authoritative
post to the list.

In Summary:
Grammar posts that are related to technical communication
are, as always, appropriate. Grammar posts about grammar
for its own sake are not.

I'm wide open to suggestions, off-line, about the best
ways to communicate this concept (as this message isn't
quite the most concise way to do so).


Eric J. Ray ejray -at- raycomm -dot- com
TECHWR-L Listowner

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