February 22, 2010

Unsung Heros Who Make Your (Reading) Life So Much Easier

I know the words “government report” and “clear, stylish, and delightful” aren’t usually put together, but I’ve recently discovered just that. The USGS Suggestions to Authors (STA) of the Reports of the United States Geological Survey (seventh edition, 1991) is a fabulous document. It includes sections on naming of aquifers and mineralogic terminology, but it also contains sections such as “Duties, ethics, and professional writing practices” and “Suggestions as to expression.” It is the most well-written technical style guide I’ve ever read.

Here are some excerpts.

“Countless books and pamphlets have been published in recent years to alert aspiring authors to the need for clarity and precision in technical writing. … If the prime objective of technical writing is precise communication, what could be more pathetic than a failure to communicate.”

“Personal contacts take place between authors and many other contributors throughout the Survey publication process. Ideally, these contacts are harmonious and mutually beneficial. Interpersonal frictions sometimes arise, but even strong personal differences can yield positive results when everyone observes courtesy, good will, and professional respect.”

“Your reward for proofreading ~ however tedious the task may seem ~ is the satisfaction of an error-free publication.”

Wow. This is Strunk and White’s recommendations to the tee.

Technical writing and editing are unsung arts. All you technical writers and editors out there ~ I salute you!

What I’m Reading Today: I finished Carrie Fisher’s Wishful Drinking for book club. It has some very funny lines and some very traumatic material, but craft-wise it aspires to be so much more than it ultimately achieves. A nice light read.

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