Issue 31, 3 February 2000
In this issue...
Chapter 2 of Editing Online Help now available for comment
What's wrong with this sentence?
What layout program is best for technical writing?
Editing for a range of browsers and international users
Tip: Saving a PDF, not opening it, from a browser
Follow up: Editorial ethical dilemmas
Follow up: Sex and gender
Mastering FrameMaker 5 book
Conference announcement: AODC 2000
Advertisement: Electronic editing book
In issue 28 of this newsletter, I made available for comment an early draft of the first chapter in a book I'm writing on editing online help.
Now I'm making Chapter 2 available as a PDF file to anyone who would like to read and comment on it. Just send me a note requesting a copy. All I ask is that you return some comments to me. (People who commented on Chapter 1 should have already received their copy of Chapter 2; if yours didn't arrive, please let me know.)
Chapter 1 is still available for comment, too.
A few weeks ago, Tim Trese email@example.com posed a "puzzler" to the Technical Writers' list (TECHWR-L) list; he asked what's wrong with this sentence and how would you change it, noting that there were six problems with the sentence.
The article below is taken from Tim's summation to the list, and is used with his permission and the permission of the people he quotes.
The original sentence,
"Irregardless, as technical writers, we should all be orientated toward more perfect and economical utilization of the English language."
should read something more like,
"Regardless, as technical writers, we should be oriented toward more nearly perfect and economical use of English."
That's still a far cry from Pulitzer material. I've just transliterated, not done a complete rewrite, to show the absence of what I was considering mistakes. Hopefully, none of us would ever even conceive a sentence this bad unless we were trying. The rationale for the changes:
- IRREGARDLESS is bad, but not utterly incorrect. Irregardless [sic] of
what your dictionary says, the word does appear in my Miriam-Webster New
Collegiate Dictionary, 1976 ed. It does note, however, that the word is
nonstandard usage, and synonymous with "regardless," so "regardless" is
definitely the better choice for professional communications. The dictionary
suggests a merger of "irrespective" and "regardless" as one possible etymology
for this bizarre word. That's a stretch, IMHO, but let's push the "faith
in reference books" button and move forward.
- The word ALL is extraneous. Is it an adjective modifying the pronoun
"we" and meaning "as a collection of people," or is it an adverb modifying
the verb "should be orientated" and synonymous with "collectively?" Who
knows, and who cares? If you can't tell what function it serves in the sentence,
that flags it as suspect. Indeed, it turns out that the meaning of the sentence
is totally unchanged without it. "All" is strong language, an absolute term
like "every" or "never." Writers are probably tempted to use it to increase
the emphatic tone of a sentence. What they produce is logorrhea.
- ORIENTATED is just plain wrong. "Orientate" is a real word, but it means
"to face or turn to the east." I think the origin of this very common misusage
is the word "orientation," a presentation you might attend when hired for
employment. But unless the orientor's podium is east of you at such an event,
you get "oriented," and not "orientated."
- Also totally incorrect is MORE PERFECT. Things can't get any more perfect
than perfect, which is by definition absolute. "More nearly perfect" is
the correct phrase, the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution notwithstanding.
With due respect for the visionary American statesmen of 1787, any tenth
grade English teacher worth his salt will point out that it is impossible
to "form a more perfect union."
- UTILIZATION, though correct, is ridiculous. The synonymous noun "use"
suffices just fine, just as "utilize" seems silly when the verb "use" is
perfectly adequate. I think its rampant utilization [sic] today stems from
the very human urge to impress others by pretending erudition. The term
"utilization" is probably totally a legitimate word; I'd make an educated
guess that it has special technical meanings for economists or others. Don't
ask me what the technical definitions are, my dictionary doesn't go there.
If somebody does know a special definition of the word, please enlighten
me. If you don't need the technical term, my advice is to avoid it. My friends
and I have a running joke of laughing at "utilizers" behind their backs.
- THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE is not wrong, but redundant. It should be fairly obvious from the context of the sentence that we're not talking about the kind of English you use when playing billiards.
Very Honorable Mention and my humble congratulations and thanks go to those of you who offered a correction to the puzzler that I missed, or suggested what I willingly concede was a better perspective on the mistakes:
Most copyeditors would delete the comma following _writers_, because of the brevity of the phrase. It is not incorrect as it stands, though.
The passive voice should be replaced and the whole sentence recast as follows:
"As technical writers we should strive for better, more economical English usage."
- Dick Margulis firstname.lastname@example.org
[Anyone who missed the passive voice, myself included, may now slap themselves. Nice catch, Dick.]
"Regardless" means "without regard for." With no object (that is, without regard for what?), it is meaningless.
- David M. Brown email@example.com
"Orientate" DOES appear in most dictionaries purporting standard use of (believe it or not) UK English. Apparently it has become acceptable in the Land of the Mother Tongue
your later spelling of "utilise" with a "z" (zed, that is) seems to indicate a convention of US English rather than UK as your Language of Choice
any use of the term would, of necessity, be incorrect.
- Kevin Smith KevinSmith@acer.com.tw
[I must apologise [sic] for my insensitivity to our international readers. I failed to specify US English in the original Puzzler.]
Final count after the contributions of others is not six, but 10, problems with the sentence!
Last year someone asked on the Technical Writers' list, "I need to do some technical writing for one of my projects. I have Microsoft Publisher. Since there is a lot of layout and strict placement of text...is there a better layout [program]?
This was my answer (slightly amended here).
The short answer is: yes, there are better layout programs. The REAL question, however, is: what's the best choice for your particular project? You haven't told us enough to know whether Publisher is suitable or not.
If you rarely need to produce this sort of document (you didn't say what sort it is or if it's a one-off or an ongoing requirement), then spending the relatively large sum of money to buy [for example] FrameMaker, and putting in the relatively large amount of time to learn to use it, is not necessarily the most appropriate choice.
There's no need to buy a Lear Jet when a small car will get you where you want to go -- especially if you have to learn to fly the Lear Jet before you can go anywhere.
If you already have Publisher 98 or 2000 and know how to use it, you might as well continue to use it unless you discover that it won't do what you want. It will in fact do quite complicated layout and is often used for newsletters and similar layout-intensive projects -- far more than the "invitations, banners, posters" that many people associate with the software.
While I agree there are better tools, and I certainly wouldn't recommend (or even consider) Publisher for a documentation department, I think it could be quite adequate for many jobs involving strict layout. As, indeed, is Word.
On the other hand, if you know (or expect) that you'll be doing a lot of technical publishing, or if whatever you're writing is likely to need to be reused for other purposes, spending the time and money to get and learn a robust package like FrameMaker is definitely the better choice -- unless your clients insist on getting files from you in Word or some other package.
And if you're just looking for a good excuse to move up to FrameMaker, ignore my comments and use others' arguments to press your case.
Recently I mentioned on a list that I was going to be taking my business on the road this year, where I would be accessing the internet through a laptop (and, quite probably) a slow link. (We're looking into getting a satellite telephone, but haven't found one yet with a price tag we're willing to consider.) Among other things, I said,
"Those of you who are on development teams for products intended to be sold world-wide (into small business and home situations, especially) would do well to nag your superiors into taking a serious look at the way the rest of the world uses computers... often old ones, with old software and small monitors (or older laptops), often with graphics turned off when using the Internet because of bandwidth or speed problems. There's a BIG market for Web pages, for example, that don't require a browser with every modern bell-and- whistle, and don't require a long wait for pages to load."
One reader wrote,
"Thank you for saying that! Thank you! I think this whole high school attitude of 'your browser isn't cool enough to read my website' is unprofessional and self-defeating, but every time I say it, I get treated like a Luddite."
A related article appears in the December 1999 issue of Intercom, the STC magazine. Titled "Web Design for International Audiences", it looks at various issues, including cultural approaches to computer, Internet and Web use and preferences for long, printable pages instead of many short pages, using Japanese work groups as specific examples.
If you've been caught like I have waiting for a PDF to open in your browser, when you wanted to save it to your hard disk instead, here's a tip (which I keep forgetting!) --
Click the *right* mouse button, not the left, on the link. This should open a Save As dialog box. Left-clicking tells your browser to open the PDF file using Acrobat.
In response to an anonymous reader's question,
"What would you think of [a writer] who says "The Podunk Times says bla blah blahh blahhh blahhhh" and the original text in the Podunk Times was "blaa blah blahh blahhh blahhhh". That is, my writer has lifted a very high proportion of the original text, changed it ever so slightly, points out where it comes from but doesn't quote it?"
Another anonymous reader responded,
"I sometimes face the same dilemma in my work, as engineers seeking to explain a system or theory quote large slabs without indicating they are direct quotes, and think this is OK because they begin by saying that 'Joe Bloggs's theory is ...'
"I think this practice is wrong and misleading, and I always take such sections back to the author and ask them to check the quote, put in the quote marks where necessary, and give a proper reference, including a page number. (They hate it, because they've long since closed the book.)
"On your correspondent's other point, I also think editors have a duty to point out where an argument appears weak or specious. I've never lost a job because of it, but I've also had plenty of authors who agree but don't change their document. Still, I feel that my conscience is clear because I have raised the issue."
Chuck Brandstater firstname.lastname@example.org was more succinct:
"Unless the writer encloses it in quotes, and identifies every alteration, it's plagiarism IMO."
Andrea Balinson email@example.com wrote,
"A comment on the "comment on sex and gender" (in Technical Editors' Eyrie Newsletter No. 30, 21 January 2000) by Martin H. Heisrath, who wrote:
" 'The only addition I would suggest (although it may be off- topic) is the typically improper use of the word gender. Gender is properly used only for addressing concerns of grammer. Sex applies to everything else.'
"In addition to use in discussions of *grammar*, the word 'gender' is also properly used in the context of sexual identity. Here are definitions from one online glossary (the Sexual Identity and Gender Identity Glossary (http://eserver.org/feminism/sexual-gender-identity.txt):
"Sex: _Male_ or _female_, depending on one's _primary sex organs_.
"Gender (identity): A psychological _gender role_. _Masculine_ or _feminine_.
"For instance, transsexuals (people who have sex changes) were born with nonmatching sex and gender--they feel that they are women in men's bodies, or vice versa--and so have surgery to make the two match. This issue may not come up much in the world of technical editing, but editors should be aware of it. I would also like to note that Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (10th edition) lists 'sex' as definition 2a in the entry for 'gender'; regardless of whether Mr. Heisrath likes it, it's not going away."
On the same topic, Geoff Hart firstname.lastname@example.org wrote,
"Martin is certainly correct that 'sex' is the wrong term for describing the grammatical gender of words, and that 'gender' is most commonly a grammatical term in the types of discussions we editors engage in. However, he's not correct that its use should be restricted to grammar. My old Webster's (early 1960s vintage) shows that at least as far back as the 1960s, 'sex' was the primary definition for the word 'gender', with the grammatical meaning being the second (less commonly used) definition.
"Nowadays, 'gender' includes a broad variety of sociopolitical connotations, and whatever its original denotation was, the word's connotation has long since entered common usage as a sexual descriptor. Consider, for example, the widespread turmoil over the many sexual identities found among humans: gay vs. heterosexual vs. bisexual vs. transexual vs. intergender (what used to be called "hermaphrodytic"). There's a large and growing body of writing that treats 'gender identity' as something more complex than whether you have an XX chromosome structure or an XY chromosome structure; even that definition is simplistic, as research (see the latest issue of _Discover_ for a good discussion of this) has shown a surprisingly high frequency of what the author called 'XO' chromosome structures (people who are primarily and overtly of one sex, but who nonetheless have a large number of chromosome pairs from the oppposite sex). Acknowledging these usage issues is not knee-jerk political correctness; it's a recognition that humanity at large (and not editors) controls how words get used, and that as editors, we must recognize and adapt to widespread changes in usage. As always when we're dealing with human issues, language included, nothing's ever simple."
For those of you who haven't seen this announcement elsewhere, but who know that a widely-recommended book on FrameMaker has been out of print for awhile, Tom Neuburger, the author of Mastering FrameMaker 5, has now (due to popular demand) organised a reprint. Here's an excerpt from his note:
25 January 2000. We'll have books in hand in just a few weeks. The quality should be close to that of the original, same size and perfect-bound.
So if you wish to order Mastering FrameMaker 5, you can do so now.
How to Order
Cost: $50.00 US per book + 5.00 postage/handling per order
Please email Tom for prices on orders of 10 or more.
Make check or money order out to "Thomas Neuburger".
Send your payment, email address or phone number, and "ship to" location to:
Books will be sent First Class mail unless requested otherwise.
If you email me that your order is coming, I'll watch for it. This will also help to size future print runs. email@example.com
Note -- I hope soon to make copies available via the Web, and also through Amazon. I'll send more information on these avenues as I have it.
Jean's comment: I assume the postage above is for US orders. If you're having it sent elsewhere, you might email Tom to find out how much extra postage applies. I have no association with Tom, nor any financial interest in sales of this book.
The 3nd Annual Australasian Online Documentation Conference will be held at the Brisbane Sheraton in Australia from 12th to 14th April, 2000.
The Conference features speakers from the US and UK, as well as local experts, and is a must for people involved in creating online procedures, manuals, intranet content, or help systems. Cost is $995.
I'm looking for people to contribute some articles, or tips, or short notes about almost anything related to editing, to this newsletter. If you have something relevant to share, please send it to me! I'm sure the readers would appreciate some contributions about different working styles, materials and clients.
Electronic editing: Editing in the computer age
by Jean Hollis Weber
Published by WeberWoman's Wrevenge
A quick start guide for editing students, experienced editors making the switch from paper to online, and anyone who needs to write or edit electronically.
Available in both downloadable electronic (PDF) and printed forms. For details
on ordering a copy, see
or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
If you have a product or service of interest to editors, I'll be happy to consider including a short advertisement, for a modest fee. Contact me for details.
© Copyright 2000, Jean Hollis Weber. All rights reserved.
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