Avoid the semicolon in tech writing? (Take II)

Subject: Avoid the semicolon in tech writing? (Take II)
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "'Techwr-L (E-mail)'" <TECHWR-L -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 18 Aug 2003 16:06:05 -0400

One of the things that interests me about this discussion is how fast it's
slid downhill into nitpicking and angry exchanges. Would tempers rise as
fast over other tricks of the trade? To wit:

If the semi-colon is suspect, shouldn't we <ahem> eliminate colons too?

How about parentheses--can we rely on people who don't understand semicolons
to recognize a parenthetical comment when they see one? If so, would they
recognize square brackets and brace brackets as parentheses?

Let's get rid of those pesky apostrophes too--nobody except us seems to know
how to use them correctly, so let's stop using possessives right away.

While we're purging apostrophes, best get rid of articles too. Foreign
readers simply can't master them, so why make them try? (I base this on
nearly 2 decades of working with Japanese and Chinese authors writing in
English as their second language.)

Let's not even mention italics and boldface. They never taught me those
things in grade school, so how am I supposed to figure out what they mean?

Okay, a touch less sarcasm. Folks, at some point we have to relax and trust
our readers to have basic competence in their own language. If they don't,
it's not our job to provide that competence. By no means does this justify
deliberately using all the obscure grammatical and punctuation rules and
complex syntax that English permits. But neither should we treat our readers
like idiots or avoid useful grammar and punctuation out of fear that our
readers are idiots. Some of them undoubtedly are, but we're not writing for

--Geoff Hart, geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
(try ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca if you get no response)
Forest Engineering Research Institute of Canada
580 boul. St-Jean
Pointe-Claire, Que., H9R 3J9 Canada

"Wisdom is one of the few things that look bigger the further away it
is."--Terry Pratchett

Previous by Author: Automatic file downloading?
Next by Author: Fun interview stories?
Previous by Thread: Re: Section 508 Compliance and Online Help
Next by Thread: Re: Avoid the semicolon in tech writing? (Take II)

What this post helpful? Share it with friends and colleagues:

Sponsored Ads