Why Your Writing Needs to be Accurate

rogersgeorge on August 16th, 2017

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!

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My Favorite Non-science Blogger Writes about Grammar!

rogersgeorge on August 12th, 2017

(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:

 

They call it Clutter, I call it Fluff

rogersgeorge on July 28th, 2017

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.

 

Prepositions are Tricky

rogersgeorge on July 26th, 2017

This probably seems a minor quibble, but the first panel in this comic has the wrong preposition. It should be “on” or “about.”

On the Fastrack - 07/25/2017

You pretty much need to be a native speaker of the language to get prepositions right all the time (and even then, you can find geographical differences, say, between the US and UK).

I don’t have a good solution, either. Maybe try googling phrases like “preposition for thesis topic.” Or ask a curmudgeon.

Two Harrumpfs

rogersgeorge on July 24th, 2017

No comic today, but something to think about.

My second gold rule of writing is to be correct. This from This Day in History for July 20:

In December of the same year, Apollo 8 took three astronauts to the dark side of the moon and back, and in March 1969 Apollo 9 tested the lunar module for the first time while in Earth orbit.

The whole moon is dark half the time! They went to the FAR side of the moon! I know, “dark” is a synonym for “unknown,” and I presume they were using a professional writer who decided to write, um, informally. Still, why not be accurate?

While I’m at it, here’s another example of bad writing from the same article:

After traveling 240,000 miles in 76 hoursApollo 11 entered into a lunar orbit on July 19.

“Into” is unnecessary. (It’s redundant. “Entering” includes the idea of going into.) I call this kind of mistake “fluff.” It goes against my third rule, to be concise. If you don’t need a word, don’t use it.

Double harrumpf.