“I started at midnight last night. Do you know what I did the moment I woke up? Turned on my light and resumed reading. I am enjoying every word—and rolling on the floor laughing.” — Carolyn Kelley Klinger, president of the Society for Technical Communication, Washington DC chapter
I’ve been thinking about that. T-h-a-t. A handier word you’ll never find. Yet English speakers often omit it. That is left out. Suppressed, grammarians say. Implied.
Suppressing that doesn’t necessarily get you in trouble. Sometimes you can safely omit that when it follows a noun. Take shoes. Few misunderstand when you say the shoes you’re wearing instead of the shoes that you’re wearing.
Still, even following nouns, consider keeping your thats out in the open, especially if you write for those wonder workers we call translators or for people who struggle with English. Our language poses enough challenges when all the words are visible.
When it comes to verbs, though, don’t let that go without saying.
Kudos to the Vancouver Community Library in Vancouver, Washington, for this brilliant example of delivering the right words to the right people at the right place and the right time. Good, old-fashioned content strategy. Who needs a map with a navigation aid like this? Continue reading →
What is a part of speech? You might not believe how much disagreement and nuanced analysis surrounds that question.
This essay ventures into some philosophical questions—What does it mean to classify a word, and how and why have those classifications changed?—before emerging with a bit of writerly advice. I find this excursion invigorating, like a deep‑sea search for treasure. Come along, and we’ll share the spoils.
According to one modern school of linguistic thought, only four word types—nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs—now qualify as parts of speech. Four. The nerve! … Continue reading →
A few posts ago (see What Brand R U?), I invited all XML-inclined readers to take a break from their hard slogging and have a little fun by concocting recipes for a drink I call the XMLonball Splash. My one taker—Scott Abel, THE Content Wrangler—submitted such a witty, creative recipe that no one else dared to even attempt to compete. Made the judging easy.
I’ve tried a variation on this delicious recipe (with who-knows-what substituted for the cactus juice liqueur), and I have to warn you: don’t drink this and drive.
Below are two versions of the recipe, one with and one without XML tags. According to Scott, any code abuse you might notice—that is, any shenanigans within the brackets—is intentional.
Thanks for playing along, Scott. You make the wranglin’ world go ’round.
For all you professional writers who struggle with managing mountains of information at work—whether you write technical manuals, marketing literature, training materials, service guides, online help, or what have you—the new edition of Ann Rockley’s classic book, Managing Enterprise Content: A Unified Content Strategy, coauthored with Charles Cooper, calls to you.
The illustrations alone make this second edition worth picking up (especially if your boss springs for it). For example, one glance at the beer-can-chicken recipe as it appears in a printed book, on an eReader display, on a nice big monitor, and on a smartphone—and suddenly the abstract discussions of “information modeling” make sense.
The case studies sprinkled throughout this edition also bring the realities of content management to life, most tellingly the last study: the “lesson in failure” due to “lack of ongoing oversight.” Short-term budgeters, beware! (In this case, three years is a short term.)
Rockley and Cooper, along with the many folks who contributed to this book, did an impressively thorough job covering all aspects of content management. Some sentences leave me wishing that the book had gone through another round of editing. (“Structured writing is the way elements in a component are written.” Huh?) But the book’s overall value compensates for its occasional lack of clarity. This book represents a bright light of encouragement and insight for anyone with the courage to follow its authors into content management’s daunting new world.
Do you need the hyphen here? Most authorities say no. Don’t hyphenate a compound modifier when it follows a noun. Before a noun, yes (Thisis a long-term job),but after, no (Thisjob is long term).
Most authorities also point out exceptions. They say that some compounds (razor-sharp, risk-averse, time-sensitive, blue-green) need a hyphen even when they follow a noun. Uh-oh. Not so fast. I just checked the latest edition of TheChicago Manual of Style. When I wasn’t looking, the authorities behind this heavyweight guide changed their minds about the hyphenation of color compounds, like blue-green: “Compound adjectives formed with color words … now … remain open when they follow the noun.”
So much for blue-green—I mean blue green—needing a hyphen after a noun.
So much for “the” right answer.
Happily, I’m seeking not a right answer but a right question. Most authorities don’t tell you that if you ask “Do I need a hyphen here?” after a noun, you’re almost always asking the wrong question … Continue reading →
A definition is where you say what something means. Or is it?
Is where. What an unuseful, unsatisfying phrase. I’m talking about definitions like these:
A gravy train is where someone makes lots of money without doing much for it.
A retweet is where you forward a tweet.
Horticulture is where people grow plants.
If you wanted to understand gravy trains, retweets, and horticulture, these half-clarifications would leave you wondering what types of things these things are. Surely a gravy train has nothing to do with gravy or trains, does it? What exactly is a retweet before it gets forwarded? If horticulture is where people grow plants, does that make it a plot of ground? You might reread the definitions, suspecting that you missed something. You might feel vaguely cheated, left behind with the most basic of questions unanswered.