Hello, Failure

Of all the enemies of literature, success is the most insidious

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Failure of the Day: Human to Human Communications Engineer

I love my work. It’s engaging and satisfying and rewarding. I look forward to continuing to work as an editor/proofreader for the rest of my life.

There’s just one thing: the authors. Oh, dear god, the puffed up, self-important, rude, and almost without exception, vastly unskilled authors. I don’t mean to suggest that these are ignorant men (and let’s face it, except for Tarin, they pretty much are all men). No, they are clearly the go-to guys when you need to learn the various things one can do in Visual Basic or upgrade the operation systems of 1000 computers simultaneously. What they are not good at though, is explaining how to perform those tasks in anything like standard English.

I understand that developers like to read books written by other developers who have all that much-touted “real-world” experience (although I’ve yet to meet anyone with fake-world experience, but again, I nit-pick). I further understand that developers have to focus on learning the machine’s language instead of their human language. What I don’t understand is how or why those guys think that not only is it perfectly acceptable to write books without bothering to so much as brush up on grammar and punctuation, it is perfectly acceptable to turn in manuscripts without even running spell check.

I was recently chastised for “over editing” a ms; I was editing out the author voice, he said. This from a guy who places a semicolon after almost every clause. He includes only random other punctuation marks…a comma here, every once in a great while a period, but colons and semicolons everywhere. I have to do a separate pass on his documents just to make sure I’ve deleted them all. One of the chapters in this book was so poorly written that it had had to be returned to the dev editor for a complete re-write—and that never happens. And he’s worried about author voice?

(Hey buddy? If it weren’t for the editors that you rage at in rude and condescending comments, your book would be published sounding like it was written by a learning-disabled 13 year old. That’s your author voice.)

Recently, a different author wanted to speak with me on the phone to explain how he wanted a set of documents edited. I asked him to just send the stylesheet and any other guidelines to me in an email, which is the standard way of doing business. He told me he’d prefer to do it on the phone because he wasn’t sure he could explain it in an email. Now, maybe it’s just me, but one wonders how a guy who feels himself incapable of clearly expressing himself in writing was contracted and agreed to, y’know…write a book.

Like I say, I love my work. I might just love other people’s work a little less.


  • At November 09, 2005 4:33 PM, Blogger Don said…

    As an engineer, I have been made to feel as though it is a liability to know how to use English well. For many of those people, their illiteracy is a point of pride. Those who are not native English speakers have a different attitude, but unfortunately they are learning to be indifferent to perfecting their fluency. Never surrender. You are the Sea Bee of technical writing, creating vital landing strips under enemy fire.

  • At November 09, 2005 10:48 PM, Blogger Nancy said…

    It disturbs me greatly that an industry would promote a culture in which any kind of proficiency is a liability. I’ve long suspected it boils down to Math majors getting their revenge on the more-popular-with-the-ladies English majors. So now that we’re in an era when technology rules, I guess all nouns really ARE verbs now: the techies who architected the language say so. I need to go aspirin myself.

  • At November 14, 2005 8:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    This is my world too. Where I work, each VP or high level exec is assigned a "communicator" to write for them. My job entails, basically, taking their notes, removing the whining and the finger pointing and the repeated pleas to understand how much their life sucks, and turn it into a meaningful business communication. I'm with ya, Nance.


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