Re: John Galt: Lover of Standards

Subject: Re: John Galt: Lover of Standards
From: "Elna Tymes" <etymes -at- lts -dot- com>
To: "Eric J. Ray" <ejray -at- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 25 Oct 1999 07:51:33 -0700

Andrew Plato wrote:

> > Good writers figure out what it is they are writing about FIRST. SECOND they
> > write the document. Then THIRD they make sure it conforms to appropriate
> > standards or bend the existing ones to fit the current situation. Applying a
> > standard to a document about a product (science, concept, idea, design, etc.)
> > you do not understand is like putting a bow on Pandora's Box. Sure it looks
> > pretty, but you still have no idea what's inside the box.

and then Eric J. Ray wrote:

> I disagree. SECOND, they set up their working assumptions (computer literate
> users, expecting API documentation, don't care about spaces after a period or
> punctuation within quotes, using this process or style guide or whatever).
> THIRD, they write the document in accordance with the assumptions they've made
> (or, to return to fighting words, they write the document in accordance
> with the standards they use).

And I agree with Eric. Only I'll call the "working assumption" part to be "audience
definition." And I consider that part to be crucial to the whole process of writing.
But I agree that writing to standards is part of the whole issue of writing to the
audience you've identified. Most companies create a style guide, sooner or later,
because there is, among other things, a sense of caring about the corporate image.
Just how that caring is expressed is part of these standards or rules - and grammar
and punctuation happen to be one of the parts that technical writers care about. The
standards tend to evolve because people know their audiences tend to expect certain
things - adhering to the Chicago Manual of Style's rules tends to imply that you are
a professional writer, for example. Granted, some company rules can get a little
silly, but the bad rules tend to disappear after a time.

I happen to have a real hot button about the term "alright," which as any good
dictionary will tell you is NOT an acceptable word. "all right" is OK, and "already"
is legitimate, but a lot of people out there seem to feel that the hybrid "alright"
is acceptable. Not in my workspace! Am I just being starchy about something,
expecting the rest of the world to bow to my wishes? Not at all, especially when I
can point to a number of widely-accepted standards that say it's not an acceptable
word. Here's a case where I'm accepting - and using - a "widely-accepted" standard.
Good thing, too.

Elna Tymes
Los Trancos Systems





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