Word Choice

Subject: Word Choice
From: Steve Owens <uso01%eagle -at- UNIDATA -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 14 Feb 1994 11:46:08 +0700

> What is the purpose of your document? To entertain or to instruct? I
> think that the overuse of a thesaurus (in a technical document) will
> confuse the reader. Use simple and concise language. Using the same
> terms over and over again to express the same thing avoids confusion.

> I think EXPENSIVE is stretching it in that instance!

Depends upon your audience. Programmers have a tendency to
stretch the language, use metaphors, anthropomorphosize, and generally
break the rules. "Expensive" is a rather mild case. I've often heard
programmers describe a program as "CPU-hungry" or "memory-hungry" or
even as a "CPU hog", indicating it not only likes a lot of CPU, it
will take it and hold onto it!

To change "expensive" or not? It's a figure of speech.
Decide on your audience - for other programmers in an informal forum,
then I'd just leave it that way. For a more formal situation where
I'm still talking to programmers, I'd make the phrase a little clearer,
indicating what the cost is in - memory, cpu, storage space, runtime -
"Expensive in terms of storage space."

For non-programmers, I'd definitely change it to "uses a lot
of computer resources". Note, however, that this isn't completely
accurate. "Expensive" indicates a relative cost - the programmer may
be referring to the program as CPU or memory "expensive" in comparison
to other standard UNIX workstation applications, or may be referring
to a compression algorithm as "expensive" in CPU compared to most
other compression algorithms. If utter clarity is important for your
target audience, it's time for some followup interviewing.

Steven J. Owens
uso01 -at- unidata -dot- com

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