Re: Editor Please vs. Bottom Line

Subject: Re: Editor Please vs. Bottom Line
From: Gwen Thomas <gthomas -at- PAYSYS -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 1 Jul 1999 13:25:15 -0500

In this thread participants have argued that their jobs are to follow grammatical rules, make new rules, protect the English Language, protect their user's abilities to understand what they need to know, and even to make it easier for the users to go home and ride rollercoasters and stuff. (I love the imagery of that one!)

But I've never had such a job.

These things have often been goals. However, every time I've worked in a commercial organization, I have ALWAYS been employed to either:
- help the business owners make money, or
- help the business owners not spend money.

Writing doc usually falls in both categories. You can't sell product unless it's at least minimally documented. You'll spend way too much money on support (and lose future sales) if it's not documented well. The decision of how much time/money to spend on quantity and quality of doc has ALWAYS been a bottom-line business decision made at the highest of levels.

Sometimes part of how the business made money was by being known for the highest of quality, so I was directed to spare no expense in creating quality language-based products. (The measurement of quality, such as King's English vs. slang, traditional U.S. punctuation vs. casual approach, was ALWAYS clearly spelled out, because if it wasn't at first, I made sure it was.)

I've also done work for at least one corporation that was struggling financially but continued to spend thousands of manhours on editing issues that not 1 in 20 users would recognize, and not 1 in 100 would care about. Can you imaging the response if you went to the CEO of that company and said, "I realize that you can't afford to upgrade all your employee's computers from Word 6 on Win 3.1, but we need to hire 2 contractors for 6 months to change upper case words to lower case and to change our editorial conventions regarding periods, parentheses, and quotation marks?"

In the Knowledge Management projects I'm doing now, I work closely with the Call Center folks and read the calls as they come in and are resolved. The cost to the company of unclear communication is very obvious.

So I would have to say (warning - pronouncement approaching):

IF any commercially-employed writer faces an editing convention
that could potentially confuse users/programmers/translators
enough to result in mistakes and therefore
result in cost to the user or to the company,
by definition the writer OWES it to their employer
to do everything they can to keep this from happening.

the obvious solution to the problem
conflicts with the company's value proposition
regarding perception of quality
presents potential confusion in other areas (such as translation),
the writer owes it to the employer
to come up with a creative solution
(such as some typological approaches suggested in this thread).

I doubt that most CEOs would agree to pay their writers to protect English grammar and usage from erosion/evolution.

Gwen Thomas
Knowledge Management Consultant
CIBER Information Services, Inc.

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