Re: Terminology nitpicking (was: Positive feedback...)

Subject: Re: Terminology nitpicking (was: Positive feedback...)
From: Arlen P Walker <Arlen -dot- P -dot- Walker -at- jci -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
Date: Wed, 15 Sep 1999 16:35 -0500

Sounds like someone needs a bunion removed. ;{>}

We're seeing a classic case of jargon obfuscating communication. One definition
of feedback is used in the original post ("an evaluative response" -- go ahead,
look it up, I'll wait; Webster's and American Heritage both list it) and
another is used in the reply.

The original post used "positive feedback" to mean a positive evaluative
response, while one reply immediately leaped to the other, more scientific,
meaning of the phrase. Understandable, as this *is* a technical writing forum
after all. Still, the clues were there in the context which could have
forestalled the leap.

This should serve as an object lesson to us all that we need to make sure our
audience is on the same metaphoric page as we are when we write for them, and
that we should make some effort to align ourselves with the writer when we are

How could we have avoided trouble in this case? Be aware of the varied uses
words are put to. Context is everything. When we write, make sure we're clear,
and stop to explain any terms which might be potentially confusing due to
multiple meanings. Sometimes people will choose meanings we wouldn't have
thought possible; at times they will be being unreasonable while at other times
we will be being unreasonable by assuming they wouldn't. Look for the land
mines in our own words and evalute how likely it is one will be set off.
Provide warning signs for the unwary.

Likewise when we read, we should be aware of the baggage we bring to the table,
and make sure we're not overlooking contextual clues which would make ambiguity
disappear. Sometimes we, through our specialized knowledge, will be aware of
alternatives the writer is not; because of that we will sometimes need to
engage our own sensibilities to try and determine what the writer had in mind.

It would be wonderful if somehow writer and reader would be automagically
synchronized when the pages (electrons, whatever) pass from one to the other.
But then, if such were the general case, I suspect most of us would be
unemployed. :{>}

<The foregoing was produced in an attempt to prove the old axiom that there is
no such thing as a total loss. If nothing else, we can always serve as An
Example To Others.>

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

Arlen -dot- P -dot- Walker -at- JCI -dot- Com
In God we trust; all others must provide data.
Opinions expressed are mine and mine alone.
If JCI had an opinion on this, they'd hire someone else to deliver it.

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