RE: Technical writing in a higher ed environment

Subject: RE: Technical writing in a higher ed environment
From: kcronin -at- daleen -dot- com
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 19 Mar 2004 14:29:35 -0700

Wendy wrote:

> Here's one example of how AP falls short. At one time or another we
> have all had to consider the "rules" for when to use figures and when to
> write out numbers. AP style says: "Spell out whole numbers below 10, use
> figures for 10 and above." Seems simple enough. Until you need to use
> multiple numbers (all of the same category or context) in one sentence.
> AP gives the following example of appropriate use: "They had 10 dogs,
> six cats and 97 hamsters." Doesn't that make the you cringe?

I guess my cringe threshold is set a little higher than yours. And I can't
see how that will cause a user to find your product less useful or your
documentation less clear.

> Technical writers are trained to honor consistency above all else.

By *your* definition. Me, I honor communication above all else.
Consistency can help in that respect, but I'm more concerned with getting
my point across than in whether or not I always do it in exactly the same

> Chicago says not to use numerals for some and spell out others within a
> sentence or even a series of paragraphs. For consistency's sake, it
> directs us to use numerals for all in this situation.

A perfectly good but arbitrary rule. And that's all these guides are:
rules, which are by their very nature arbitrary. But these rules simplify
our job, letting us focus on the meatier aspect of the job: telling
somebody how something works. They're just rules. Follow 'em. Whether it's
Chicago, AP, Microsoft, or whatever, I'm not that bothered. Tell me to
type two spaces after a sentence and I'll do it. Then pay me. Or tell me
to use one space. No problemo. Pay up.

Sorry, but you've yet to convince me that following the AP guide will
actually hurt your doc. I understand that you don't like it, but I'm not
yet persuaded that this issue focuses on anything other than personal
tastes. And in this crappy market, I really feel most managers will take a
dim view of writers who choose to obsess about this stuff. YMMV.

Keith Cronin
Tech writers. Always the first to get voted off the island.


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