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Re: seminars and english

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First let me state that English is my second language. Please correct me if
there is anything wrong with the sentence rearranged as follows.
Without using quality concrete, the parking deck slab would likely present
problems even though steps were all taken for other quality care.
----- Original Message -----
Sent: Friday, September 05, 2003 7:55 AM
Subject: seminars and english

Since I have a sister with a degree in English, I thought I?d pose her this question.  I gave her the sentence, and asked her to tell me what she thought it meant.  By the way, she now works editing technical documents, so I figured her opinion was awfully relevant.  I would hope you all would take special care to note the last portion.  So, although I think Gail has chosen a tiny thing to squabble about ? its fair to say that the sentence is poorly written.  Frankly, I would put five (5) bucks down on a bet that the person who wrote the sentence learned English as a second language (lawyers being excepted). 




"In building a slab system, if care is used in all steps except the use of high-quality concrete, the parking deck slab will present a problem."

First rule of editing: When in doubt, reword (e.g., can't figure out if it should be "who" or "whom"? don't make that pronoun an object, and bam, no problem).

So, three alternative wordings:

The parking deck slab will present a problem if high-quality concrete is not used.
The parking deck slab will present a problem if high-quality concrete is not used when building the slab.
When building the parking deck slab, the use of less-than-high-quality concrete will present a problem.

(I prefer the first.)

The original sentence has a couple of problems. First, "use of high-quality concrete" is not really a step, right? Pouring concrete is a step. Using high-quality concrete is a choice. Plus it's subjective (unless you have industry standard measurements that delineate low-quality and high-quality concrete). Secondly, it's wordy; there is no need for the initial clause "In building a slab system" -- by the time you get to this sentence, people should know you're talking about building a slab; neither is there need to say that "if care is used" in all other steps, because it doesn't seem like it matter if you use care or not, using crap concrete will cause problems. Plus why say "if you use care"? It would be like saying in Genentech documentation, "if you don't spit in the vial." You're supposed to use care, right? You get sued if you don't. So why say it?

Thirdly, it isn't speaking to its audience. Engineers like exactitude. That's why they're engineers, not politicians. I think most technical or manufacturing people like their information succinct and to the point, like code: If X, then Y. No need to get all flowery about it.





Christopher S. Campbell
O'Connor Freeman & Assoc., Inc.
225 30th Street, Suite 201
Sacramento, CA  95816
916.441.5721     fax 916.441.5697