On Wed, 2004-08-11 at 06:27, Andrew Suffield wrote:
> Have you ever heard of somebody writing a style guide to say that
> "Actually, it doesn't matter which way you do it"? Can you see why the
> notion of somebody doing this is absurd? That's a built-in bias. Style
> guides will only be written by the people who will say that it *does*
> matter; the people who will say that it doesn't have been excluded
> from the sample because they don't see any reason to write it down.
And later, Andrew also wrote:
> Every piece of text *must* be read with a critical and analytical
> mind. Otherwise even basic comprehension is impossible - you will read
> something that was not written. Like in this case. And you can't blame
> the author for it.
Alright. Professional author weighing in. This will be brief, and those
who don't care about style guides and professional-quality writing can
please skip to the next message.
Only the interested people left? Good.
Andrew, you're wrong.
(You just knew I was going to say that.)
A _professional_ writer's task is to write in such a way that his or her
audience is not left guessing.
(Professional fiction writers, especially mystery writers, have
additional leeway there. Even so, professional fiction writers have a
duty to their audience not to actually be ambiguous.)
Yes, everyone can find plenty of examples to contradict me. This is
because not every professional is perfect. It remains part of the JOB to
not be ambiguous. No electrician wants to be reading a standards manual
and trying to figure out whether they're supposed to be connecting the
black wire or the red one.
Most writing is not that critical, but all professional writers should
aspire to be able to write clearly, concisely, and unambiguously.
Preferably also entertainingly, or at least not too 'dry'ly.
A style guide is an essential tool for writing unambiguously. On a gross
level, it tells you how to punctuate a phrase like 'eats roots and
leaves' or 'do you want to eat Rich'.
On a more subtle level, it helps a publisher achieve consistency. When
you pick up an O'Reilly book, for instance, on a subconscious level you
know that sequences will be punctuated like this:
alpha, beta, gamma, delta, and epsilon
not like this:
alpha, beta, gamma, delta and epsilon
I know you're about to say 'it doesn't matter', but it does matter to
your subconscious mind. Consistency in such matters lets the writing
style become invisible, and lets you concentrate on the content. Without
that consistency, you as the reader have to do just what you said: 'read
with a critical and analytical mind'.
I don't mind you criticising and analysing my content - that's what it's
But when writing professional-quality, fully-edited work, I should not
expect you to have to criticise and analyse my writing style. I should
not allow any ambiguities to enter my professional-grade work.
And THAT is why there are style guides, and why they matter. And that,
ALSO, is why 'he' vs 'he or she' vs 'they' matters. Because using only a
gendered pronoun gratuitiously introduces ambiguity.
(No, this email is not professional grade work.)
"Do you ever wonder if there's a whole section of geek culture
you miss out on by being a geek?" - Dancer.
My book 'Essential CVS': published by O'Reilly in June 2003.