Re: Avoid the Semicolon in Tech Writing?

Subject: Re: Avoid the Semicolon in Tech Writing?
From: "Chuck Martin" <cm -at- writeforyou -dot- com>
To: techwr-l
Date: Mon, 18 Aug 2003 10:15:00 -0700

<kcronin -at- daleen -dot- com> wrote in message news:209544 -at- techwr-l -dot- -dot- -dot-
> However, even I can see where a "no semicolons" rule could be useful in
> tech writing. Most readers (and, sadly, many writers) don't really
> understand the correct usage of semicolons. And in the "just the facts,
> ma'am" syntax used in most tech writing, I really do think you can direct
> or instruct the reader effectively without them.
> I could see how barring the semicolon could add consistency to a team's
> writing by simplifying the rules, and could enhance clarity for readers to
> whom the purpose of semicolons is not intuitive.
I see the first few entries in this thread, and then this, and I immediately
ask myself: Why *don't* professional writers understand the correct use of

Are we being apologists for people in or trade who do not have adequate
English skills? I hope not.

Way back when, in my Style in Technical Writing class, we spend a lot of
time on grammar rules--and what are not grammar rules. One interesting issue
emerged: many of use learned "rules' in our primary and secondary school
English classes not because such "rules" exist, but because it was easier to
teach English that way.

To make a rule "no semicolons allowed" is sort of like amputating the arm
for a splinter in the finger. (Sorry, that's not the greatest analogy, but
it occurred to me over the weekend when I was considering another issue, how
Microsoft often reacts when it creates patches for security issues in its
products, and I can't get it out of my head to think of another one.) Fix
the problem.

Like cuss words, semicolons are a legitimate part of the English language,
and used correctly, will go unnoticed in clear communications. And unlike
cuss words, they are a tool entirely appropriate in well-written technical

Chuck Martin

P.S. The canard "Never begin a sentence with the word 'And'" is one of those
"rules" that is often taught in those primary and secondary English classes.
Not only is that not a "rule," as you can see in the last paragraph above,
it is a construct that is both legitimate and quite useful.

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