Why Your Writing Needs to be Accurate

A few years back I wrote an article about how important it is to write responsible documentation. It’s here: https://ezinearticles.com/?Writing-Good-Instructions—Sometimes-a-Matter-of-Life-Or-Death&id=2640549

The article is about some tech writing in the apollo program that was careful work and made a material contribution to the rescue of the Apollo 13 astronauts.

Here’s an example of someone who didn’t do quite as well:

Three years ago, according to a former D.O.E. official, a federal contractor in Los Alamos, having been told to pack the barrels with “inorganic kitty litter,” had scribbled down “an organic kitty litter.” The barrel with organic kitty litter in it had burst and spread waste inside the cavern. The site was closed for three years, significantly backing up nuclear-waste disposal in the United States and costing $500 million to clean, while the contractor claimed the company was merely following procedures given to it by Los Alamos.

Shall I repeat my mantra?

PROOFREAD!

I’ve Mentioned Fluff Before

Actually several times over the past several years. (Search on redundan or fluff to see more.) Extra words go contrary to my rule about good expository writing, to be concise. So I suppose I don’t really need to mention it again, but this Wrong Hands comic has some good examples of what not to do. Besides, repetition is the mother of learning, right?

My Favorite Non-science Blogger Writes about Grammar!

(Another shameless plug for someone else)

Mike Peterson is a journalist who writes a blog named Comic Strip of the Day. Usually he uses comics as starters for political and social commentary. (Mike, if you see this, I hope you think that’s a fair description.) I frequently use comics too, but to make points about grammar and writing, mostly expository writing.

This time he started with a Non Sequitur comic that fits well here (see below) and he writes about grammar! Go read the whole post; it’s good, though I don’t know the rule he refers to regarding “may” and “might.”

Here’s the comic:

 

Someone Gets Fewer and Less Right!

It’s even in the punchline, so you can read the whole Pajama Diaries comic with a clear conscience!

Remember the rule? With things you measure, you use “less” and with things you count, you use “fewer.”

Pajama Diaries - 08/07/2017

About Asterisks

Another quickie. I generally stay out of politics, but the other day I made a comment and asked a question about asterisks (still don’t have the answer), and today I saw another asterisk. So here it is. I still think the usual number is five or six.

I once or twice made comments about what the rest of the symbols mean, too.

A Word of Advice about Being Right

The word “right” has at least three reasonably unrelated meanings, though they share a derivation. Right can refer to your political leanings, it can mean the opposite of left, and it is a synonym for being correct. (the shared derivation is not etymological but cultural in the case of politics, which used to refer to the right-hand side of the aisle.) And then there’s pun-fodder in the homonym “rite.”

Here’s an example of confusing right and left from good old Gasoline Alley:

So we have a situation ripe for ambiguity, which is the enemy of good expository writing. In spoken language you can get away with it (ahem, usually) because you have the aid of tone of voice, but when you’re writing, here’s my advice:

When that’s what you mean, always write “correct” instead of “right.”

I remember watching a John Cleese movie that ended with a scene of a (humorous) almost-car crash because the driver and passenger confused the meaning of “right.”

Maybe you should always use “correct” when that’s what you mean.

Visual Puns

Good old Bob Thaves, the master of puns. Here’s his latest:

Now a too-simple quiz: Why are those two letters an F and an E?

By the way, most asterisks have five or six pedals, not eight. They are called pedals, right?

Two Biblical Ellipses

The Bible is often misquoted. I ran into a common misquote recently from a fellow who experienced a motorcycle mishap that demonstrated the wisdom of wearing “all the gear all the time,” as we responsible motorcyclists say. He ended his misadventure with

Pride goeth before the fall.

The actual verse is

Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.

Leaving out that part in the middle is called ellipsis. Ellipsis isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I recommend you be careful with it.

And that reminds me of one of my dad’s favorite Biblical misquotes, also an ellipsis. The verse is

For the love of money is the root of all evil:

My dad says

Money is the root of all evil, and a man needs roots!

Do you have a favorite Biblical misquote? Share in the comments.

Bring and Take

Here’s a quickie. In English, “bring” and “take” are from the point of view of the speaker, not the point of view of the carrier. “Bring” is toward the speaker, “take” is away from the speaker. This is a rather mushy rule, but this Ben comic, in which the kid gets it wrong, definitely feels wrong to a native speaker, so it should help you remember how to use those two words.

They call it Clutter, I call it Fluff

Here’s the headline to a pretty good article about writing.

Clutter

How to remove extra words that make you sound boring

I quoted it because they jimmied up the graphics to make it hard to copy and paste, so you’ll have to follow the link in my first line to see what the formatting looks like.

The article is a pretty good read, even with an incorrect adverb in the first line of the first paragraph. I agree with what the writer says we should do when we write, but the motivation I offer is not about being boring (that’s egotistical), but about whether the reader can absorb the content of the writing without thinking about the writing itself. That’s getting the job done. Here are a few places where I mentioned this concept before: here, here, here, and here.