I was perusing Chris Brogan’s blog, and a little kerfufle arose between some commentators, where the one fellow commented about some grammatical issues in Chris’ posting, and another guy took issue, and they went round and round a bit. At that point, its often useful to see where the different players are coming from, so I checked out their sites. Most fascinating!
In a nutshell, we have 2 folks coming from quite different backgrounds. One fellow is very careful, deliberate, and seems to put a lot of work into his communications, albeit the content is on the lighter side. The other fellow is gung ho, lets go get things done, and focuses on content depth, but not so much on the content presentation. Its a setup for a interesting situation when the two worlds meet.
One of the guys then took matters into his own hands, and wrote a post entitled Quality writing matters To some extent he is correct, details matter, albeit I would take issue with the part that writing does in all situations. Certainly if one is writing a legal brief, policy statement, or even addressing some type of literacy organization, writing quality most definitely matters. On the other hand, in the tech domain, I am not so sure, especially when one is communicating with world wide audience, where many are not all that skilled in a specific language, but may be exceedingly gifted in any number of technical areas.
This had been on my mind a bit, as anyone who has read IG for a while knows my blog writing quality sucks; I’m more concerned with quickly deciminating ideas, than being accurate from a prose pov, and secondly, I dont have an editor at hand. And yes, an editor makes a world of difference, whether one is shooting for prose or speed, it really can help, to say nothing of the ability to bounce ideas back and forth to ensure ones writing matches what one intends. I’ve written everything from mag articles to tech standards to product manuals, to political and policy… but in each case where writing quality mattered, I not only had an assistant/editor/reviewer at my side, but also had a panel of reviewers to double check, or even triple check. There is nothing more fun than doing a new policy dump to many thousands of people, and having it come across wrong… and then spending weeks dealing with the collateral damage. NOT! And yes, that can happen even with an editor and review panel on board, but the probability of trouble is reduced significantly.
This is not to say that blog writing quality doesnt matter, or that the audience is unimportant, but that it is a more informal, off the cuff type of communications, than say a editorial, a tech manual, or trade publication. And by the same token, the expectations are different as well. I do not expect a blog entry to fall into the domain where the socratic method can be applied, although it may happen. Perhaps a few folks will read it, some will comment, most wont and thats fine. Perhaps some will read it, and say, whoa I dont want to hire this guy, and thats cool, as others will say, this is what I want, and thats fine too.
Some time back in 2005, I talked about customer filtering using blogs. Ie, its key to avoid the wrong customer, perhaps even more so than getting a ton of the right customers plus 1 bad one, as that solitary bad one can suck up so many resources, the others suffer. The key is early screening to get the right ones, and filter out the bad ones. A blog, and ones writing style and branding is one of many ways to do said early screening. Its not that one group of customers is good and another is bad, its just that not all are suited to all types and styles of businesses.
Getting back on topic, just last week, a young fellow was asking questions in text speak. While not the exact question, it was similiar to Wht opamp wld wrk bst 4 msring thrmocuplz. Its completely understandable, but not very conventional, and some of the guys took issue with it… “Egads, the kid is probably using a keyboard, why does he have to write in textspeak?” I said, its some youngster, lets not dampen his enthusiasm, its how many of them communicate… if he is young and is interested in thermocouples, lets just help him out. Well it still agravated the older guys, so we said “hey, could yall wait until you get to an ASCII keyboard, the text speak is a challenge for us.” Sure enough, an answer came back in perfect prose where he apologized. He just ran into confusing mess of op amp selection, wanted an answer, and whipped out a quick question using his everyday communications style. As much as such would aggravate others, I think such is completely reasonable.. not for a thesis or whitepaper of course, but even for a conversational blog, it might be just fine. Bearing in mind ones audience…. ie the older guys in my group would be unlikely to read it, and that may be just fine. I’ve struggled through poor translations of German papers for years… the struggle is well worth the headache, as the content is often times right on the mark. Of course, I could always pay for a good translator, or learn German, but instead I make the call to dig, the poor translation is enough to get me rolling.
Where I do have a huge beef, is technical accuracy…. ie, the science behind any type of communication better be rock solid, or if leading edge, at least presented as such. About 3 weeks ago, I was reading a paper on capacitor reliability. Likely it was written in China, based upon the authors info, but was translated into Englsh by an individual that had neither a command of the specific Chinese dialog used, nor English. What an absolute mess of rabbit trails and conflicting science. The grammatical and spelling errors I could deal with… violations of the basic laws of thermodynamics combined with translation rabbit trails were another matter indeed. The same also occurs in non translated material… there is the cartoon about the guy who told his wife to wait, as he just found an error on the internet. I’d like it if just once, for an entire week I could read a technical articles without coming across glaring tech errors and omissions, or worse, more formal papers with errant bibliography. How long can it take to make sure the journal you cite really exists? How long can it take to make sure you are not violating Ohm’s law? This is a matter of content depth… blow the depth, the meat of what you are trying to communicate, and the whole thing is now suspicious.
I guess in fairness, the same could be said for written prose of the lack there of. When glaring grammatical errors,and or spelling errors occur it does detract and make for an issue of credibility… and how long does it take to check? Not long really, at least on new PC’s which have spelling and grammatical check capability within the editor, or even older ones where one could use a wordprocessor’s toolset for a quick check. (I write almost everything on a vintage thinkpad, it has a nice keyboard, but has no power for much anything else… thus I do spell and grammer checks on a periodic basis, but obviously that doesnt catch them all, and certainly doesnt go justice to the newest entries.