How to Avoid Mistakes|
June 28th, 2003
This editorial is written partially from personal review but also from observation. When I read some editorials written a couple of years back I cringe at them, not so much the content but the way they were written. Here I will go through some small points I have picked up, not at all suggesting I have any real experience in this field, simply trying to prevent some mistakes others and I have made.
One of the great things about the internet is the sense of equality there is on the most part. However, people can become resentful of what they feel is snobbery, even when it is not meant. But, in contrast, using really lax language any reasoned point can be undermined. A balance needs to be reached here. It is not simply a case of not using bad grammar or spelling; it runs far deeper:
- Are contractions (e.g. can't, shouldn't) appropriate?
- Does whom sound too posh?
- Are older English word like 'whither', 'smite' and 'wherefore' or more commonly 'hence' and 'therefore', for lack of a better word, appropriate for use on the modern internet?
- On a similar thread, do common Latin and foreign words such as 'urgo' (therefore) alienate people?
- Is the indefinite pronoun, 'one' outdated and condescending?
Here are my thoughts:
- In articles and the like contractions can take away the sense that this has actually been thought over rather than just spontaneously written. However, on discussion boards their use is completely appropriate as it is intended to be a discussion, in which people would use such contractions.
- 'Whom' is to me a perfectly good word and useful as it can clear up any doubt as to what is being referred to, whether it is a subject or an object. For those that are doubtful, I feel this might sway you: it is used in 'Tales of Redwall' and so cannot be too posh, for if it were it would not be used. However, do not let me make you feel like you should use it; do so only if it feels natural to you.
- In my opinion, constructed argument without the use of such pivotal words as 'hence' and 'therefore' would have to fall back on clumps of smaller words that would just sound clumsy and convoluted. As to the other words I feel the argument is similar to that of 'whom': they can be effective for eloquent and precise writing but are not essential, so you should not feel in the wrong if you cannot or have no will to use them.
- I think I need to be careful here and to show my view and the distinction clearly. I think foreign phrases are fine so long as they do not become tools for people to feel or act superior to others. The ROC has quite a spectrum of ages within itself and on the most part there is good harmony, but as soon as a tone of condescension is used this harmony is broken and resentment can form. I would guess we should simply use such phrases with care and also respect for your audience.
- To me condescension is also the biggest danger with the use of the pronoun 'one'. I see it as a very useful pronoun, especially when analysing things, but there are two ways that it could become demeaning, condescending or offensive as it has in the past:
a.. In telling others what to do as if the speaker's point of view is the only one that matters, as can be shown in such phrases as "one should" and "one must always".
b.. In generalising everybody, as if they are not individuals.
I hope these points will be helpful.
This is a mistake I have made in previous editorials: when showing evidence for what I propose I tend to quote huge chunks; a simple hyperlink to a page already containing this text would be far better as it allows those who have already seen it to pass over it more easily. There are, of course, situations where this is not possible, but over quoting is still avoidable: if it is, for example, a passage from a "Tale of Redwall", then either a summary or perhaps the first and last few words and a chapter reference would be completely adequate.
This may seem pretty hard to muck up, but it is easier than you might think, particularly for younger members of the ROC, as they would not have 1st hand experience of being an older member and know how they would interpret what they say. Though of course it should not and does not really make a great deal of difference to how people treat you, it feels a bit odd if people get it wrong. I speak here from one firsthand experience. I believe I have pinpointed the phrase that I used a couple of years ago in an editorial that may have caused them to think I was female, though it was actually simply a phrase someone else had used and I did not have the wit to see the impression it would give when I adapted it; it actually taught me another lesson: to not trying to use phrases that I considered witty, just to try and get that wit to rub off onto me. I will not quote the example as mentioning it once was more than enough. To prevent this kind of situation occurring I look out for such phrases when I proofread what I have written.
It is debateable whether it is appropriate to use other books, television programmes and the like when talking about Redwall, particularly if they are distinctly of a different genre. Some might argue for it: the internet is not only for discussion but also for actual human interaction and friendship and personal tastes are part of oneself; they may be appropriate to illustrate or reinforce a point; there is a whole cultural world beyond Redwall and that other works deserve discussion. However, others might disagree: the difference in personal taste can lead to, at its least destructive, minor distraction from the discussion and at worse a rift based on taste between persons. I simply reckon that it depends on purpose and the intended audience and should be a personal decision.
This may sound like a slight contradiction of what I have said before, but it is something that I, when writing, sometimes suffer from: insecurity as to how the audience perceive you can lead to you over explaining and being repetitive. You may ask whether this is in complete opposition to what I have said throughout the rest of the editorial, but it is not; it is simply a cautionary note not to go too far.
Do not let yourself be troubled overly much by what the reader thinks of you or your view; so long as you are clear and not offensive, then it is not your problem. If you see the reader as being potentially critical then apologising for yourself, trying to cover your tracks as you go along gets you nowhere. If anything, it can weaken your persuasive power. But, from what I see the [ROC] is not populated by hypercritics, so you have no need to worry anyway. What I have said in previous sections was simply aimed to encourage this sense of openness and clarity, which I believe is there.
Writing this editorial feels very strange, as I am well aware of many of the mistakes I have made, but remember, as it is often said: it is a wise man that learns from somebody else's mistakes.
In conclusion, this editorial might sound negative, but I wish to leave you with a challenge to participate in the ROC if you do not so already. There is no reason to be apprehensive; over the years I have made many mistakes, yet people have been very supportive and encouraging as they will be for you aswell.