Tech writers, please learn to write

I frequently encounter tech articles containing vulgar and obscene language. Such language adds nothing to the article, it only diminishes the author’s credibility. When I encounter gratuitous obscene or vulgar language in a tech article I immediately stop reading. If the tech writer is not willing to take the time to write an article using good vocabulary then I am not going to take time to read it.

More common than vulgarities and obscenities is poor grammar in tech articles. I am not a grammar Nazi and I make grammatical errors :slight_smile: but I find far too many tech articles replete with poor grammar. Here is a sample title reflecting poor grammar, “World’s Most Strongest iPhone Lightning Cable On Sale…” All of us make grammatical mistakes but titles like that undermine the credibility of the author.

This is my first and last rant for the year. :slight_smile:

12 Likes

@Bmosbacker, I couldn’t agree with you more. I haven’t noticed a lot of vulgar or obscene language, but the grammar is generally awful. I read the MacWorld newsletter daily and the grammatical errors are numerous. Much like you, I find that the errors take away from the content. My small brain gets hung up on the grammar and I lose the impact of what was being said.

And it’s not just the tech media. It is really the media in general. I see it in publications all the time—not just web blogs. You even hear it on the evening news! One of my pet peeves is the improper use of “myself” these days. As in “if you have any questions you can send an email to myself.” Or “Bill and myself went to the conference together.” Drives me nuts! And if you listen, you will hear it in both local and national news broadcasts as well as print.

I know I sound old fashioned, but I always think journalists should know the language, editors should do their jobs and EDIT, and perhaps most naively that journalists and authors should be protectors or defenders of the language. Much like professional athletes or Presidents, they are role models whether they recognize that or asked to be one… They set the example or standard that others will follow.

Like you, I’ve never claimed to be an expert on grammar or the English language—and there are probably errors in the above prose—but thankfully, writing is not what pays for my shoes, to steal a line from Mr. Sparks. Perhaps we’ll hear from some writers…

I’m 100% behind you on this.

3 Likes

I chalk a lot of grammatical foibles up to living in a global society where English is a second, (third, fourth,) language for a lot of people. If people have something to say, I just try to extract the content and meaning from their writing.

I understand the use of, and need for, swearing, but if just thrown in as an attempt to be edgy, it doesn’t work on me. Similarly, there is a trend to use some form of a censored swear word on book covers as of late (example, example), and I just assume the author’s writing can’t stand on its own merit. I bought both of those books linked, and it turns out to be true.

2 Likes

I understand why authors may choose to use profanity to reflect a character’s situation or state of mind, although some of the best classical literature in the world is able to do so without profanity and obscenities. That said, I read the links you provided. One of the authors made this statement, “ So we’re training kids, socially, that these words are powerful.” They are powerful but that is hardly an adequate argument for profanity and obscenities. Evil is also powerful but I would not sanction it.

1 Like

Precisely the opposite: We’re training kids that these words are weak, fit for use in everyday conversation.

1 Like

Yes and no. They are powerful in that those with some sense of civility will react negatively. They are weak in that our culture is becoming completely immune to the words and their constant use reflects a lack of a good vocabulary, not to mention a lack of character—at least in so far as language is concerned.

Vulgarities and obscenities are used gratuitously in daily conversation and obnoxiously so in streaming services such as Netflix. If I had the stomach and the time (I have neither) I would go through a series and count the number of times that the F word is used in many of the shows. It is as if the writers have no vocabulary. Perhaps their writing reflects their daily language, which if true, is a profoundly sad commentary on their character and lack of a good vocabulary.

The fact that so few are bothered by such language reflects not tolerance and sophistication but rather numbness born from the proverbial frog in the kettle syndrome. After hearing such language for so long and so frequently, many no longer even notice or care, reflecting a declining civility at both the personal and the cultural levels.

Anyway, enough said probably on this topic. :slight_smile: My point primarily was that tech writers would do themselves and their readers a service by using better grammar and a better vocabulary. I don’t wish to digress too far into a topic not suited to this forum. :slight_smile:

2 Likes

You guys realize there’s almost no money in writing now, right? It’s not “these kids today”, it’s “this economy today”…
They don’t get paid enough to do a proper job, because no one is willing to pay them to do it properly!

Oh, and “vulgarity” as a concept is disappearing internationally. The US is pretty behind the curves on this one, but both the UK and Australia are quite ahead with realizing language isn’t anything sacred.

With genuine respect, I have a different perspective. First, writing well should be a matter of character—doing one’s best—not merely a function of one’s pay. Writing well or poorly reflects more on the character and skill of the writer and less on how much they are paid. Perhaps they would be paid more if they learned to write better? :slight_smile:

Second, contrary to your premise that “ The US is pretty behind the curves on this one,” because the UK and Australia “are quite ahead in realizing language isn’t anything sacred,” I’d argue that the US just hasn’t slide as far down in recognizing the value of language and words. In that regard, the US is ahead, not behind—but declining quickly. Language is one of the most important distinguishing characteristics of being human—it is worth treating with respect and care.

6 Likes

I don’t think I need to explain why I am linking to this:

4 Likes

You’re right, using Nazi as I did can cheapen it. I stand corrected.

4 Likes

A lot of writing suffers from a lack of editors and proofreaders. Too many people try to proofread their own work which doesn’t work. You’re too close to your own work to catch small errors.

4 Likes

Agreed, which means part of the problem is that the publishers are not doing their job.

We all proof some of our work. I’ve found having Siri read the text helps me catch errors.

2 Likes

Vulgarity has no place in polite conversation. Perhaps there is a place when trying to express a certain emotion. This emotion does not need to be expressed in a technical article or podcasts for the sake of appearing “cool”, “edgy”. Prominent placement on book cover is a signal of a lack of talent or imagination of the writer.

As for language not being sacred. There is nothing sacred about language. However language is the build blocks of thought. Careful and precise communication should be the goal of every writer. Where language gets abused and cheapened is in government or societal doublespeak - untermenshen of Nazi germany, “cockroaches” of Rawanda, the characterization and treatment of immigrants …

Because language plays such a crucial role in our thoughts and emotions, it is no small thing to be mindful of words and speech and the thoughts that it generates.

2 Likes

That’s not an answer. It’s an excuse. This never would have flown with my parents. We should always strive to do our best—after all our produce is a direct reflection on our skill set and our respect for our work. If one is not being paid enough, time to focus on something else. Cutting the quality of one’s work isn’t an answer.

Edit: I answered this before I read this from @Bmosbacker: “With genuine respect, I have a different perspective. First, writing well should be a matter of character—doing one’s best—not merely a function of one’s pay. Writing well or poorly reflects more on the character and skill of the writer and less on how much they are paid.”

Exactly what I was driving at. Maybe @Bmosbacker and I are brothers from different mothers…

4 Likes

Sadly, editors are missing or overworked at these publications.

I appreciate the exhortation to uphold quality! I’m glad there are more options to directly support the work of individuals doing good tech and business writing today.

1 Like

Does this have anything to do with Mac Power Users?

6 Likes

Eh. I think you’re both taking the convenient interpretation of @Shruggie here.

Obviously people aren’t abandoning the quality of their work because their per-hour rate of pay doesn’t make them feel good. “Not getting paid enough” means that they have to do too much work in too short a time to get the pay they need. It also means (as other people have pointed out) that they (or their publication) haven’t invested enough in editing. Either way, a lack of investment leads to a lack of refinement, reducing quality.

Complaints about overall decline in a system should be directed at the system. The whole “I never do that”/“my parents would never do that” thing is bullshit (swearing intended) and illustrates a lack of empathetic (systemic) perspective.

I see the OPs point in general. In a world with Grammarly there’s little excuse for stupid mistakes. Still, good writing is a practiced thing, and if people can’t get the practice/support they need because of system conditions, the people aren’t to blame.

A redirection, then: how do we support individuals and groups to invest in this? As others have pointed out, Patreon and its parallels have given some writers more leeway. Perhaps we should list those somewhere so that others who want to pitch in can do so?

4 Likes

Phew, so much to unpack here, so I thought I’d drop in my many thoughts on the matter.

But then @ryanjamurphy summarised my main point so I’ll leave it at that, plus this on the other aspect:

Having spent time working with people who were absolutely lovely and kind and who used the f word in every …ing sentence, I think that this language is part of the modern vernacular in some instances. Do I want to see it in articles I read? Not at all. But I have no problem with it existing as I can go elsewhere. (It should probably come with an advisory note though).

I couldn’t agree more. I stop reading badly written articles online all the time for these same reasons.

It’s why I still subscribe to 6 magazines (not all Mac related!), which I much prefer reading over online articles because of the quality of writing and the use of civilised language. I find Mac Format and Mac Life in particular to be very well written.

My first job was as a freelance journalist (for print magazines in the 1990s) and I hate seeing the Internet ruining the experience of reading. The majority of writers have in recent years have become lazy and crude.

4 Likes

All of us must be brothers and sisters in promoting justice and decency. :slight_smile: