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Subject:RE: Bite your tongue? From:Jean Weber <jean -at- wrevenge -dot- com -dot- au> To:Technical Writers List <TECHWR-L -at- LISTS -dot- RAYCOMM -dot- COM> Date:Sat, 18 Dec 1999 07:49:27 +1000
Early in my career, I worked in a science laboratory. Part of my job was to
edit the scientists' papers before they were sent to scholarly journals. My
boss required everyone else to submit their papers to me for editing, but
he never gave any of his own to me. He was, in fact, a very good writer,
and also somewhat pedantic about grammar.
One day a few months after I arrived, I was kibbitzing in his secretary's
office and, out of curiousity about his research, I was reading some pages
of a manuscript that his secretary was typing. I found an obscure point of
grammar -- what he had written didn't agree with the book we were supposed
to be following (Fowler's, I think). I checked the book, saw that I was
right (and put a bookmark in the spot), and wrote him a polite note about
it, asking whether this was perhaps an oversight on his part. (Never
suggest they're ignorant, only that perhaps this time they accidentally
made a mistake; after all, anyone can and everyone does.)
A bit later he came charging into my office, loudly proclaiming that I was
an interfering fool (or some such). I picked up the reference book, opened
it to the correct page, and handed it to him. He stomped off with the book,
returned a short time later, slammed the book on my desk, and stomped off
again. He also changed what he'd written. And every paper he wrote after
that came across my desk for editing.
His scientific assistant told me later that I'd done exactly the right
thing, and that the boss now respected me and my abilities. He loathed
wimps who didn't stick up for their own professional area of expertise, but
just did what they were told, right or wrong.
Of course, a different person might have reacted quite differently. And if
I hadn't had a third party expert to back me up, I might have lost face as
well as the argument. Some points of grammar and punctuation are
conventions of usage that vary from place to place. In this case, I wasn't
saying "I'm right and you're wrong," but rather "you told us to follow
Fowler, but you haven't."