Re: Technical adj. stack question

Subject: Re: Technical adj. stack question
From: "Walker, Arlen P" <Arlen -dot- P -dot- Walker -at- JCI -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 31 Mar 1997 08:47:25 -0500

Arlen P Walker
03/31/97 08:47 AM



Objects are stored in a multi-tiered, dynamically hashed, persistent
storage susbsystem.

Now this phrase conveys some specific and important information about
our product to a technical audience. However, it breaks all the
rules about clear, accessible writing. If this were an exercise in a
tech writing class, I'd probably be instructed to rewrite it as such:

Objects are stored in a persistent subsystem that is structured in
multiple tiers and uses dynamic hashing to provide fast scalable
access to data.

My congratulations. You've come up with a perfect example of what can be
wrong with classroom work.

Your first sentence *doesn't* break "all the rules about clear, accessible
writing." Did you notice, for example, that your phrase "clear, accessible
writing" also contains an adjective stack? I suspect the audience you're
aiming at would be just as familiar with the first set of adjectives as you
are with the second, so the first stack would cause them no more trouble
than the second causes you.

The best rule for TW is "know your audience." To be honest, when I read
your first example sentence, I thought I was reading a marketing phrase.
It's aimed at your audience (assuming always that your audience understands
what "multi-tiered," "Dynamically hashed" and "persistent" mean) not the
average joe, and communicates clearly and effectively to them what's up.

As has been noted, the proposed rewrite adds nothing (it doesn't explain
what any of those terms mean, and provides only minimally more contextual
clues) except volume. And the suits that might be reading the words would
prefer the first, as well, because it sounds more impressive and they
wouldn't have a clue what either sentence actually meant.

While I still quarrel with the notion that techies know what all other
techies want, in this case I'll side with the techie; the sentence as
written is clear and effective writing for that particular audience. (Now
if the object of the document is to instruct someone unfamiliar with the
territory, both sentences fail miserably.)


Have fun,
Arlen
Chief Managing Director In Charge, Department of Redundancy Department
DNRC 224

Arlen -dot- P -dot- Walker -at- JCI -dot- Com
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