Why grammar/spelling/style matters (Was: (Zachary) tayloring (Ran t/Long))

Subject: Why grammar/spelling/style matters (Was: (Zachary) tayloring (Ran t/Long))
From: Roy Jacobsen <rjacobse -at- GREATPLAINS -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 8 Mar 1999 13:25:39 -0600

Huber, Mike [mailto:mrhuber -at- SOFTWARE -dot- ROCKWELL -dot- COM] writes:
>Let me point something out right at the top: correct spelling is A Good

And why is it A Good Thing? Because we are about communicating meaning as
clearly as possible, and incorrect spellings get in the way of clear

>We are not, as a profession, ready to be respected. First, we need to be
less despised.
>A glitch in spelling or grammar makes them laugh at us.

I'm used to being laughed at, and it doesn't bother me. But this goes deeper
than that. Glitches in spelling or grammar get in the way of communicating
meaning as clearly as possible. Knowing grammar is knowing how best to
communicate meaning. I'm not talking about the ability to follow a set of
commandments by rote. I'm talking about _knowing_ grammar, knowing how
people grasp meaning in a sentence or paragraph, based on its construction.
And that matters for what we do. I'm sure you know that, Mike, but you
appear to be giving grammar, spelling, design, etc., short shrift in your

>What makes them curse us is our
>failure to provide the answers.

Sometimes. Sometimes they curse us because they can't tell if the answers
are there because they are cleverly concealed in a camouflage net of
misspelled words, unclear grammar, and inconsistent style.

>We don't suffer from a perception that we can't write. We suffer from a
perception that
>we care more about what font we use or whether that was the pluperfect
future negative
>impersonal tense than we do about whatever material we a writing about.

Actually, I think we _do_ suffer--at least partially--from a perception that
we can't write. Why else do we hear the constant refrain that "technical
documentation (user's guides, online help, the instructions that came with
my VCR) sucks"? Partially because many of those things are full of grammar
and spelling errors, partially because many don't provide the right answers.

As far as your allegation of "a perception that we care more about what
font we use," I haven't encountered that one.


>The grammar that goes into technical
>documentation is simple. The creative challenge to express complex ideas in
simple form is
>substantial. But there is no room for advanced constructions in mainstream
>communication. If it wasn't covered by 6th grade (for those of you who went
to sixth
>grade, I didn't) you probably shouldn't be using it anyway. You may be that
literate, but how
>many of you have any reason to assume your reader is?

I haven't seen anybody advocating using advanced constructions. That
choice--as do so many others--depends entirely on the level of your
audience. What I see people advocating is that we get the constructions we
choose to use right.

>When we obsess on the simple stuff, we give the impression that THAT is
what the
>profession is about. And if the profession is about not making the simple
mistakes, then we
>are overpaid.

If you're talking about obsessing on the simple stuff WITHOUT talking about
the deeper issues, then I agree. But I will insist that we have to get the
fundamentals right.

Roy M. Jacobsen
Great Plains
rjacobse -at- greatplains -dot- com

Read and revise, reread and revise, keep reading and revising until your
text seems adequate to your thought. -- Jacques Barzun

From ??? -at- ??? Sun Jan 00 00:00:00 0000=

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