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“Mainly dry for most”: compulsive hedging language in weather forecasting

One thing is certain about the British weather: its uncertainty.

That uncertainty will only increase over time as the polar ice melts, sea levels rise, the jetstream gets further disrupted, and one-in-a-thousand-year events start to occur annually.

Pity then the intrepid British forecasters whose every word is hung onto nightly by farmers, fishermen, event organisers, sportspeople, families and dog walkers – and insurers.

Coming up with the right scenario from hundreds of computer-modelled scenarios is hard enough in itself. Finding the right language to describe the selected outcome – to deliver with airy reassurance, grim precision or obvious glee – is even harder.

So it’s hardly surprising that forecasters are inclined to be not very definitive in their predictions. The risk to reputation is one thing. More than thirty years on people still chuckle at poor Michael Fish and his quote, inevitably taken out of context, from the afternoon of 15th October 1987.

The economic risk to the farmers and fishermen is another thing. The weather matters meaningfully to many. Livelihoods and even lives are at stake: best to not get it wrong.

Still, couldn’t the forecasters be a bit less – well – vague?

Clear Business Writing For Editors: #SfEP2018 Workshop

Despite their facility with language, professional editors and proofreaders sometimes find it hard to translate their editorial skills into their own business writing.

Many editors are brilliant writers in their own right; hardly surprising given the close read-across between the disciplines. Still, editors – being editors – are also prone to insecurity about their writing: even some of the best, in my experience.

The workshop I led at the #SfEP2018 annual conference at Lancaster University aimed to give editors some guidelines and tools to improve their business writing confidence: whether they’re writing emails, letters, CVs, reports, reviews, summaries, websites, blogs, articles, policies or other documents.

Impact and engagement are at the heart of all business writing: we want to avoid our reader ‘swiping left’ on our content, sending it forever to the virtual dustbin. We want our writing to have an impact, an effect, to get someone to do something or think in a particular way. It’s not necessarily to educate or entertain. We have an objective, an aim, in every piece we write.

That’s what distinguishes business writing from other forms of writing. And we are actively trying to avoid disengagement as well as achieve more positive impact.

He Said It Himself: Pronouns Are Tricky

Pronouns in English are tricky – perhaps one of the trickiest things to get to grips with – and that applies to both native and non-native English writers.

It’s not so much the pure grammar, which is relatively straightforward. It’s the usage – when to and when not to – and how to ensure they fit into your sentence construction with clear meaning.

This blog looks at both – grammar and usage – and sets out simple guidelines to check against, especially when you’re editing or reviewing your own work.

A Capital Choice: The Joys and Nuances of Capitalisation

There are lots of good articles out there on capitalisation including this one by my friend and professional colleague Julian Maynard-Smith.

Why make room for another in the packed internet content stall?

The answer is that, of all the style conundrums, whether or not to capitalise is one of the trickiest and most intractable, especially in the grey areas.

And one that is evolving rapidly. Internet anyone? Only a short while ago capital ‘I’ was the norm: no longer.

So I have no shame adding the Prism-Clarity view to the capitalisation fray. There are so many idiosyncrasies that it might be empowering to know that we can in some circumstances even if others don’t or we feel we shouldn’t.

I will follow the approach I have used for other style conundrums: Always Never Sometimes.