Comma splices and cultural differences

The craft of crochet is fundamentally the same, but the stitch names are different in the UK  and the US. The same stitches have different names. A single crochet (sc) in America is a double crochet (dc) in England. You have to be very aware of the origin of your pattern before you start.

And knitting comes in English and Continental style flavours. The same fundamental concept, just that you hold the yarn and needles differently.

Same same, but different

Regional writing differences

At a previous workplace I worked in a team of writers, one of whom was an American who was travelling through Australia. It constantly surprised me that, although we were very similar in many ways, we were also very different. It was so subtle as to be unnoticeable, but then it would hit you like a sledgehammer when a difference cropped up.

Little things like idioms and slang. I remember a funny day we had to urban-dictionary “tweaking” – who knew it was a drug reference!

One day she was peer-reviewing something I wrote and she sent me this in an email:

splicecommalogotrans3

We had a good laugh about it. I can’t remember the exact sentence but we worked for a software company, so complex, noun-heavy phrases were difficult to avoid.

Go with your gut but remember your audience

I stuck to my guns and said that my spliced comma should stand. Luckily my Aussie colleague backed me up. I was taught in school to use a comma in long sentences where you would naturally take a breath if you were speaking. I have since learned that some Americans are very anti- comma splicing.

I’m not going to debate grammar rules here, but I learnt two things: stand up for what you believe in, and go with your gut (but remember your audience).

My Aussie colleague would confidently tell me that she would often end sentences with a preposition so long as it felt right. Our audience was primarily Australian so these decisions were acceptable.

I have always been of the belief that as a tech writer:

you’re allowed to break the rules so long as you understand what rule you’re breaking

And it’s all about effective communication of information to your audience.

You do what feels natural and it all comes back to your audience, or in the craft sense, what is right for the project.

Takeaways

  • Always peer review – editing is a Good Thing
  • Don’t be sensitive
  • Be open to other ideas of “correctness
  • Remember regional differences
  • Discuss with colleagues, get consensus then be consistent
Advertisements

Lifelines in writing and knitting

Being able to reclaim work is very important as a writer and a crafter.

If you make a mistake in your knitting, you can tink – that is “knit” backwards. Basically you undo stitches one by one by reversing your actions to get back to a point in time. In tech writing terms, a bit like Ctrl+Z.

More drastically you can frog your knitting, which means you take the stitches off the needles and unravel big time, past the point of your mistake. Kind of like restoring from backup: you’re not really sure where you’re going to end up, and it’s probably further back than you’d like.

The most reliable way to recover from a mistake is to use a lifeline. A lifeline is a strand of yarn that you thread through the stitches on the needle and it acts as a place marker. You can confidently return to a known point in time and the stitches won’t unravel past your lifeline. This is as safe as source control.

20140608-095858-35938417.jpg

Tech writing lifeline

Source control is a lifeline in tech writing.

In the lace knit scarf I’m working on, the pattern is made up of 8 repeated rows. Every time I reach a perfectly completed set of 8 rows, I move the lifeline up.

In writing, this is akin to using a source control system to regularly check-in files or label a version of completed work.

Just like the second cup of tea is never as good as the first, I can never quite recapture the perfection of a phrase I have written when I have to reconstruct it from memory.

With source control, you don’t have to recall artful phrases from memory or reconstruct lost work.

Know how it works

Most authoring tools these days integrate with source control software. I recommend that you become familiar with the nuts and bolts of how your source control system behaves.

  • Where are the files actually stored?
  • How does branching and versioning work?
  • How can you retrieve an older version?
  • Does it allow multiple checkouts of the same file? If so, test what happens upon checking-in.

Be aware of the flexibility and limitations of your source control software – it might just save your life.

20140608-095859-35939207.jpgFind out more about fixing your knitting mistakes.