Posts filed under “Books & Literature”

PEN, INK, PAPER.

More than one reader has mentioned the question of matching pen and paper to writer, referring to a certain celebrated novel in which the question forms an essential part of the plot. (If you have not yet read The Crimes of Galahad and are wondering whether it can possibly maintain that level of excitement throughout, let Dr. Boli assure you that it is even more exciting than that.) Here, for those readers and enyone else who cares to profit by it, is a short essay on that subject.

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THE TECHNICAL WRITER’S BAD DAY.

Technical writers are unappreciated for most of their careers, but the corollary to that lack of appreciation is a lack of interference. They spend most of the day doing a thankless job that no one cares about, and thus they work in peace.

But sometimes a marketer suddenly pops into the room and declares that there is a Requirement. This ruins the technical writer’s day.

We can tell that this is just what happened about seventy years ago to the poor unnamed technical writer who was working on the instruction manual for the Smith-Corona line of portable typewriters. Everything was going well, and the work was easy and pleasant. And then came the marketer with a Requirement.

“There has to be a section about our newly designed space bar.”

“Space bar?” says the writer. “It makes spaces! What in blazes am I going to tell them about a space bar?”

And the marketer says, “You’re the writer. That’s what you get paid for.”

Under the circumstances, the writer did about as well as we could expect:

Space Bar (Fig. 8)

The space bar is a very important part of your keyboard. But first notice how beautifully it blends into the general contours of the machine instead of sticking out like a necessary evil. Here again you have the latest plastic engineering. Do not forget the all important stroke on the space bar for that space so necessary between each word.

FORMAL WRITING.

We have mentioned once before the “AI assistant” that works in Zoho Writer to give you “grammar, readability, and style suggestions to further polish your piece.” If you begin a sentence with the word “But,” here is the advice you get:

But → However

Conjunction at the beginning of a sentence

Though not grammatically incor­rect, using conjunc­tions like and, or, or but at the beginning of a sentence is not recommended in formal writing. It tends to make sentences sound more dramatic.

We have acci­dentally come across the golden key that opens up “formal writing” as a style. Beginning sentences with con­junc­tions is not recom­mended because it sounds more dramatic. Formal writing, then, must be writing whose purpose is specif­ically not to engage the reader’s atten­tion. It is very impolite to wake up your readers with a jolt while they pass over your words with un­focused eyes. We use “formal” style specif­ically to prevent com­muni­cation from happening. Substitute “however” for “but” and let your readers get back to their naps.

If, however, Zia the AI assistant were really on the ball, she would point out that “however” also ought not to begin a sentence if we wish to main­tain a strictly formal style.