Yale N. Patt
I remember a quote, attributed to Thornton Jenkins, the original Headmaster of the public high school I attended. I guess they felt calling the Principal a Headmaster would in some way compensate for everything that was wrong with the place. "What a man (today we would say man or woman) knows or what a man thinks is lost if he can not express it through oratory or writing."
Although I usually focus on how computers work and what we can do to make them work more effectively in the future, I recognize the importance of writing to getting our ideas across. Unfortunately, too many of us were taught too many bad "rules" along the way that need to be unlearned. In that light, and as a start, I offer the following:
- Technical writing is for the benefit of the reader, not the writer. As a writer, it is worth taking the time to focus first on what your readers will bring to the table when they try to read what you write. If you keep your readers always in mind while you are writing, they will have a better chance of understanding what you have to say.
- Short sentences are better than long.
- Small words are better than big. The only 5 syllable word I use is "delicatessen."
- The verb is the most important word in the sentence.
- There are plenty of good, usable, legitimate verbs already out there. It is not not necessary to stick "ize" at the end of any random noun and invent a new one.
- Active is better than passive.
- It is okay to end a sentence with a preposition. Better that than an awkward sentence. Better still to rework the sentence so it does not come out awkward and does not end with a preposition.
- It is okay to use the same word again in the same paragraph. A thesaurus can be put to better use propping up the small leg of a four-legged table than providing a word that means almost the same thing as the word you really want to use for the second time in that paragraph.
- It is not okay to make spelling mistakes. A pocket dictionary next to your desk is an absolute must. If the word is not in the pocket dictionary, you probably shouldn't be using it in the first place. Spellcheck will not ketch awl mistakes.