Re: Semicolons

Subject: Re: Semicolons
From: "Robert Plamondon" <robert -at- plamondon -dot- com>
To: <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Sun, 17 Aug 2003 01:13:05 -0700

Bruce writes:

> From my experience as a university instructor, I
> feel confident in saying that most people - even most educated people -
> don't know how to use it. If they don't know how to use it, how likely
> are they are know how to read it?

I give up. How likely are they?

The general case in the argument, "people can't read what they can't write,"
is obviously false. People who are incompetent at writing, spelling, and
punctuation are often perfectly capable of reading.

The basic argument about semicolons seems to be based partly on whether such
punctuation is beyond that writer's abilities -- a topic which no doubt
varies with the writer -- and partly on whether the readers are capable of
reading a long sentence like this one without going into a coma (which is
like a comma, but indicates a longer pause).

The issue of whether there exists a class of writer that deserves to draw a
paycheck but should be prevented from using semicolons is something I leave
as an exercise to the student. I confess that when I ran a technical
writing department, keeping punctuation out of the hands of my writers never
occurred to me.

Remember, reading level reflects the subject matter more than it reflects
your writing abilities -- unless you are extraordinarily good or
extraordinarily bad. The operating manual for a high-end network router is
not likely to have the same reading level as the user's manual for a

To reach an arbitrary reading-level score, the key technique is to forget
about dinking with your sentences. Instead, prune out all the difficult
concepts! This will automatically shorten your average sentence length and
improve the other metrics, too. And because it throws baby out with the
bathwater all at once, rather than incrementally, it's more efficient!

-- Robert

Robert Plamondon
President, High-Tech Technical Writing
robert -at- plamondon -dot- com
(541) 453-5841
"We're Looking for a Few Good Clients"


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