Re: content vs. style

Subject: Re: content vs. style
From: Jim Purcell <jimpur -at- MICROSOFT -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 3 Mar 1997 11:16:14 -0800

Thom Remington observes:

>A recent post argued that technical content must take
precendence over
> >style. After all, we're technical writers, not poets. Well.....
> >
> >I agree, but I think that you have to be very careful. Any time that
> writing
> >style gets in the way, it becomes a problem. When you have to read a
> >sentence twice (or more!) to understand it, you lose focus. When the
> writing
> >style is hard to get through, the reader is likely to start to focus
> on the
> >writing, not on the content.
>
> <amusing rewrite of proverb deleted>
>
> Who could argue with this? Not I. Willfully writing opaque prose is,
> as they say, an interesting career move. In the real world, content
> and style are hardly ever in direct opposition. The question for the
> writer is not "Shall I write turgid prose today," but "How well can I
> write in the time I have available."
>
> Here's an extreme but realistic example. You are assigned to create a
> help file for a couple of hundred new programming interface functions
> by next Friday. (If you document GUIs, substitute an unreasonable
> number of new features here.) You've never seen these functions
> before. You are e-mailed a specification file that, while long on
> content, is short on readability. The prudent writer rejoices that at
> least there is content and goes to work formatting that content as
> pages in a help file. She will then verify the accuracy of everything
> she can check and spot ambiguities where she can. If there is any time
> left at the end (there usually isn't), she will work on improving the
> prose. More likely she will defer the prose cleanup to the next
> product release, hoping that another crisis won't erupt until this
> task is done.
>
> She takes this approach because she knows that when she has to do
> triage, content comes first. She doesn't like bad writing any more
> than you or I, but when forced to choose she knows what is most
> important to her readers.
>
> Jim Purcell
> jimpur -at- microsoft -dot- com
> My opinions, not Microsoft's

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