Clear and to the Point

6 September, 2011

Consistency is key

Filed under: accuracy,editing — monado @ 12:50
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As an editor, you don’t always need to be an expert to know that something is wrong.

The owl family

If a piece contains internal contradictions, query it.

Strigi- or Stringi- ?

Often you can just check public references to find the correct form.

The "Strigis" have it

“”Strix” was the Latin word for owl. Ironically, it comes from the Greek word “strinx,” or screecher.


11 August, 2011

Who’s shooting whom?

Filed under: accuracy,communication,editing,writing — monado @ 10:47
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It’s important in technical documentation to be clear about who does what. It’s also important in news reporting. One of my pet peeves is this kind of headline from the Montreal Gazette:

Headline from Montreal Gazette, 'Bystander among two dead in Montreal police shooting.'

The headline is ambiguous; but this is the first article about the crime, so you can read the first paragraph to find out that the police were the ones who fired carelessly into a public street and killed someone who was merely walking to work.

News article with marked phrases 'Montreal police shooting' and 'Two men were shot by an officer'

In later articles, the phrase “police shooting” will appear again and it will be harder to find out if the crime is shooting of police or by police. This kind of writing should be outlawed!

4 July, 2011

Say what?

Filed under: accuracy,communication,editing — monado @ 00:22

Part of checking your work is reading it over one last time before it’s published—or you can get something like this!

Picture of a whale's tale with story about whale vs. fisherman. Headline is 'Whale knocks out 13-year-old Drew Hall fishing Australian boy with tail'

Incoherent headline

“Whale knocks out 13-year-old Drew Hall fishing Australian boy with tail.” There’s a string of unorganized details here.  I’m not even sure whom the tail belongs to, grammatically.

This looks as if some text might have been dragged out of place by cursor. I always try to disable drag-and-drop text editing: it’s too easy to do by accident.

27 June, 2011

Lulled by the familiar

Filed under: accuracy,editing — monado @ 17:24

One of the pitfalls of editing is to use the wrong word because it’s familiar and so, to us, it looks right. This one leaped out at me right away.

Web page with list of films and schedule for shows

List of films in Cosmic Cinema Film Series

So I checked the details….

Web page: Picture of a galaxy and description of showing of for Carl Sagan film

A Carl Sagan film!

What’s wrong with that description?

For the answer, see below the fold.


28 September, 2010

Beware overstuffed sentences

Filed under: editing — monado @ 07:21

If you’re writing to be understood, one of your most powerful techniques is to put one idea into each sentence. Here’s an overstuffed sentence explaining how stalagmites in caves can be used to calculate the ages of the caves and more. The introductory fact is, “Like trees, stalagmite contain seasonal growth lines, which vary in thickness according to the amount of water available.” But then comes this information overload:

The oxygen and carbon isotope ratios locked into the crystalline structure of calcites in each growth line also provide evidence for the prevalent temperature and the proportion of trees versus grasses in the local environment, respectively.

“Respectively” tells the reader, “You sort it out.” Here’s what I’d rather read:

Each growth line represents a year. The isotope ratios in the calcite crystal structure tell us more about that year. Oxygen isotopes (O16:O18) show the temperature. Carbon isotopes (C13:C14) show the proportion of trees to grasses in the local environment.

If you want someone to read and understand, sort out the ideas and make them flow.

9 September, 2010

Beware too many words

Filed under: editing,plain language,technical communication,writing — monado @ 13:25

Here’s a sentence from a job ad:

The successful candidate must be available to commence the duties of this position as soon as the selection process has been made.

I prefer the usual form:

You must be able to start immediately.

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