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?


Subscribe to this blog's RSS feed

Why you need a Proofreader

rogersgeorge on June 16th, 2017

I saw a version of this back in the 1960’s in Readers Digest.


Why you need an editor

rogersgeorge on March 30th, 2017

—Or at least proofread a lot. These obvious mistakes, from the same article, were caused by nothing less than carelessness, and if you write, it’s pretty close to inexcusable.

Our universe almost certainly made of more dimensions the four we have historically identified.

Kaku is the He’s the co-founder of string field theory (a branch of string theory).

Don’t do this! Getting another pair of eyes on your work works wonders for finding goofs, especially embarrassing ones like these. If you can’t get someone to look at your work, at least set it aside for a day or more, and read it with your own fresh eyes. Harrumpf.
I even re-read my text messages.

Correctness 101

rogersgeorge on September 21st, 2016

My second rule for good writing is to be correct. Because of the vagaries of English, this means two things, and both are servants of the first rule, being clear. The first kind of correctness in writing is getting the mechanics right. Here are some examples of not doing so, taken from real messages. I won’t identify anyone to avoid embarrassing them.

Poor English:

Understand the existing documents & update as per the changes implemented in the release.
…your availability for the below position

Bad English:

 I have below requirement for one of the client Sunrise, FL
Xduce Corporation is Oracle premium partner specializes infrastructure.

Careless English (aka typos):

atteniton instead of attention, hte instead of the, mabye instead of maybe, [the list goes on]
…copy of your resume in MS Word format.If this position does not match your background
Although TOM cannot get passed the tests without Ava’s help, he otherwise displays many of the hallmarks of consciousness.
The seeds of the newspaper chart explosion at the end of the 20th century were sewn in the offices of IBM and Bell Labs decades earlier.

I don’t even know what to call this one. Doofus English?

You must initially login at least once within 7 day(s), by: 09/19/2016

Sigh. “Initially” can happen only once, period. What does “at least once” even mean here? 7 should be written out. Seven days is always plural; no need for the parentheses, or the colon.

I don’t generally flag typos in my posts because they are mere slips of the finger (and a sign of poor proofreading). But you need to learn not to trust your spellchecker. Homonyms are too common. The BC comic is handwritten, I think, but this is still a good example of the don’t-trust-your-spell-checker rule:


The readers who made comments had a heyday with that one.

Next post: Correctness 102

In which I bemoan the state of editing in…

rogersgeorge on January 3rd, 2012

The New York Times, of all places. This newspaper, whatever you say about its politics, used to be the standard of good and correct writing to which any writer of non-fiction could aspire. Now I must say Beware of imitating how the NYT is written.

I’m in the middle of a photo article that reviews 2011 with 365 photographs. It’s an interesting article, and here’s the link: http://lightbox.time.com/2011/12/31/lightbox-365-a-year-in-photographs.

Photo 57, dated February 26 has a nice NASA photo of the ISS and the space shuttle with the earth in the background. “Backdrop,” even when used as a verb, is one word, folks.

“In this handout image provided by NASA, back dropped by a blue and white part of Earth, space shuttle Discovery approaches the International Space Station during STS-133 rendezvous and docking operations in Space.”

Photo 131, for May 11, has, and I quote, shuddering,

“A young Afghan boy who was shot in the stomach lays on a stretcher as he is taken to hospital in a medevac helicopter in the volatile Helmand Province of southern Afghanistan.”

I’m not trivializing the human tragedy here by mentioning bad grammar.  Reporters and editors doing sloppy work do the trivializing. I discussed this verb a while back, here and here. The NYT should know better. (Full disclosure: they got the verb right in the Sept 13 photo.)

Photo 191, dated July 10, has this monument to carelessness:

A female passerby adjust her hair using the glass in the front door of the temporary residence of Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Anne Sinclair in the Tribeca neighborhood of New York City.

Third person singular present tense of “adjust” is “adjusts.”  But you knew that.

Photo 221, dated August 9:

A malnourished sick with TB is being washed by his mother in Banadir hospital.

A malnourished what?

The Sept 14 photo caption has “a police” where they mean “a policeman.” The Sept 20 caption says the people in the picture have their heads bowed in prayer.  They are standing, heads up, with their hands over their chests in the posture customarily taken when pledging allegiance.

Come on, you professionals at the NYT. Read my previous post.

To end on a cheerier note, here’s a NASA photo similar to the one in the NYT article.

Our Earth is the backdrop!