Issue 32, 17 February 2000
In this issue...
What works and what doesn't on business web sites
The three biggest problems technical editors face
Follow up: Puzzler sentence word choice
Follow up: Puzzler sentence passive voice
Follow up: Readability indexes
iUniverse.com has an editorial services notice board
Correction to address for ordering Mastering FrameMaker 5 book
Next issue of this newsletter will be late
Advertisement: Electronic editing book
In January, the Web zine CONTENTIOUS had a special feature on some of the best and worst content on business Web sites today. This is relevant and very helpful for any editors working on Web pages and Web sites, especially if you need to have some "authoritative" backup for arguments you're making to your manager or clients. Here are the URLs:
- Fluff, Major corporation: SWATCH
...A severe case of "Flashturbation."
- Contender, Major corporation: IBM
...If "Big Blue" doesn't need a stiff, stuffy Web site, why would anyone else?
- Fluff, Medium-sized company: CENTIGRAM
...A Web site that doesn't communicate well isn't good for business, especially if you're in the communications industry.
- Contender, Medium-sized company: DIAMOND SCHMITT
...This Canadian architecture firm offers a site with substance, structure, and style.
- Fluff, Small business: COOK-HAUPTMAN ASSOCIATES
...Featuring several of the most common (but correctable) content-related problems that plague business sites today.
- Contender, Small business: PATRICK LEVINS, TATTOO ARTIST
...This ultra-small business offers a content-rich site that helps attract new customers.
Someone wrote to me awhile ago, asking what I thought were the three biggest problems that technical editors face. Here is my reply. Please tell me what you think the biggest problems are, if you don't agree with my list.
I think the biggest problems that editors face are all management issues.
- Misunderstanding of editor's role. Clients, managers and co-workers don't
understand what technical editors can contribute to a project, or how valuable
that contribution can be. Even worse, other people may have a clear idea
of what editors do, but that idea is limited and out of date.
- Lack of editorial authority and status. Editors often do not have an appropriate
level of authority to go with their responsibilities, or their status is
not high enough for them to be able to negotiate with writers, subject-matter
experts, and others as a peer.
- Late involvement in projects. As a consequence of items 1 and 2, project planners often don't get editors involved early enough, so an editor's contribution is limited by lack of time to do the job properly, and writers may not have time to make many improvements that might arise from the editor's comments. Often something that could have been done right the first time (if the editor had been consulted earlier) takes much longer to correct later in a project.
These problems are not unique to technical editors; technical writers often face them too.
Jon Beckton Jon.Beckton@asml.nl wrote, regarding "orient" and "orientate":
"Webster's New World College Dictionary, 4th Edition gives the 'turn to the east' meaning for both words. For both 'orient' and 'orientate' it's given as the first meaning. The sense of 'acquaint with a situation' is given as the 4th meaning (of 4) for 'orient' and the 2nd (of 2) for 'orientate'. So, it seems you pays yer money and you takes yer choice! Personally, I prefer 'oriented', maybe because it's a shorter word!
"The same dictionary defines 'utilize' as 'to make practical or profitable use of'. As opposed, I guess, to simply using the thing willy-nilly."
Michelle Hallett firstname.lastname@example.org wrote,
"I wanted to address one comment in your last [newsletter] regarding the 'puzzler' sentence. This had to do with the passive voice. While I think that sentence is better expressed in active voice, I'm curious as to why it should be considered wrong to use passive voice. I notice, for example, that the grammar checker in Word considers all use of the passive voice as wrong (or needing to be changed) and I've also heard people say that the passive voice should not be used in documentation.
"To my mind the passive voice is a grammatical structure in English just like other English sentence structures. I find that some people use it incorrectly, or excessively, especially when they want to impress people with their skill at writing English. However, if used correctly, what's wrong with and why do people keep commenting on it or considering it something that needs to be corrected?"
My answer to Michelle:
The main reason people keep commenting is that passive voice is so often misused, in the sense that it obscures the meaning of the sentence or makes it unclear who's supposed to be doing what. (That is, a passive sentence may be grammatically correct, but its meaning is often unclear.) Many people were taught to use passive as a means of showing "objectivity" -- the facts rather than the interpreter. In procedural text (which is a lot of techwriting, though certainly not all), passive voice usually gets in the way of clear writing.
Sometimes passive voice is appropriate and should be deliberately chosen.
For example, the agent or actor is unknown, understood, or irrelevant, and
the emphasis should be on the recipient of the action (the subject of the
sentence) rather than on the actor. Some examples:
"Computer chips are made of silicon."
"Your proposal has been accepted."
"The computer was damaged at the conference."
"The documents were delivered by 4 p.m."
In some cases, it's a matter of opinion what is the most important part of the sentence and how it should be emphasised. For example, consider these two sentences:
"Style affects a reader's comprehension. Readers may be distracted by a style that is inconsistent with their expectations."
The intended emphasis in the second sentence is on the *readers*, rather than the style. If the sentence were rewritten to active voice, the emphasis would be quite different. Neither is "right" or "wrong" except in terms of the meaning the writer intends to convey.
Grammar checkers, of course, can't tell the difference between appropriate and inappropriate use of passive, so they flag all of them.
Cheryl Stephens email@example.com has an article on readability at: http://plainlanguage.com/Resources/readability.html
Editor's note December 2000: This link failed, and plainlanguage.com showed an uninformative message on the supposed home page. This may be a transient error.
Nick Bogaty wrote in January,
"iUniverse.com just launched a service which I think you may be very interested in. Essentially it is a board where editors, copyeditors, and book publicists can post their services to our authors (iUniverse.com is an on-demand publisher backed, in part, by Barnes & Noble). Editors will post services and authors will contract editors directly from the board. It is currently live on our site at:
(October 2001: This site has changed several times since I orginally published this notice, and the address given here is no longer valid.)
You can post your information immediately for approval by iUniverse.com.
Last issue I included an announcement from Tom Neuburger, the author of Mastering FrameMaker 5, that his book has now (due to popular demand) been reprinted. Unfortunately, Tom had his ZIP code listed incorrectly. The correct address is:
8127 NW Hazeltine Street
Portland OR 97229
(I have corrected the web version of last issue's newsletter.)
This issue is early, because I'm leaving tomorrow on a 3-1/2 week trip to the USA. I don't expect to have easy access to the Internet most of the time on the trip, so the next issue will be late. You can expect it in a month, instead of the usual two weeks.
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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