I don’t have a single, long thought to share with you this week. However, I have a few shorter ones related to technical editing that you might find of value. Or not. Stranger things have happened.
Use vs. Utilize
I learned something new on Wednesday, thanks to Grammarist:
Use the word utilize when you are using something beyond its original and intended purpose. You may use a bat to play baseball, but you can utilize it as a self-defence tool.
There are other meanings for utilize. It can also mean to convert to use or to turn into account. It is also defined as to make useful. For example, you may utilize a ballpen as a bookmark when you’re reading.
Use means to engage with something to accomplish a task, achieve a goal, or take advantage.
That was one of the more useful things that came to me this week.
Even Style Enforcers Are Arbitrary
Yes, yes…there is a certain form of English that is considered “proper.” And much of what editors like me do on the job is enforce that properness upon heathens who fell asleep in English class. But someone had to make the original decisions for what constituted the standard. The ugly truth is that the standards for English were most likely set by the upper classes–the people with power, authority, and learning. After that the rules were turned over to linguists, professors, or (angels and ministers of grace defend us!) popular culture figures.
In corporate offices, the in-house style is often determined by the style guide the original public relations or corporate communications person used in school. This is how you can find yourself at the mercy of the Government Publishing Office (GPO) Style, Chicago Manual of Style, MLA Style Guide, Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, or my nemesis, the Associated Press (AP) Style Guide, depending on where you worked.
And beyond writing style, there are those little in-house tics that belong to a particular industry or organization. Disney has its own nomenclature, for example. It’s not “Disney” or “Disney World” in their print copy, for example; it’s the Walt Disney World Resort. Or there’s NASA’s in-house style, which is a mishmash of GPO, Chicago, AP, and even APA, depending on your department. For one program, I developed a 48-page acronym guide. NASA also likes to mess with your head by doing things like:
Space Shuttle Program
space shuttle Atlantis
Someone made that decision.
And then there are graphic elements. Someone had to decide exactly which Pantone color your corporate logo would use. Eastern Airlines, I recall, used a lovely “Ionosphere Blue” for its stylized falcon emblem in the 1970s-1990s. A past employer of mine used a curious glyph with PMS# 355U as its primary color.
If you’re an editor at an established company, odds are that you didn’t establish the rules by which corporate communications are put out into the public domain; you are, however, the unlucky soul who has to enforce those rules. You might not even agree with the in-house stylistic tics (some organizations, for example, are allergic to the Oxford Comma), but editing pays better than working at a hotel front desk, so you make the best of it.
Do Contractors Have Any Authority?
Related to the style-enforcer riff above, I have been putting off this rant because, quite frankly, I haven’t found a resolution to the issue yet. I know: you folks would like to think that my life as a contractor is fantastic and friction free. And while grocery shopping at 10 a.m. on Tuesdays or taking a nap when I feel like it are indeed fantastic perks, my freelance career is not friction free. My healthcare premiums have tripled in the past 8 years. I can have random moments of loneliness working from home. And there are more occasions than I’d care to admit when people just don’t listen to me.
In one of my editorial jobs, the content creators are supposed to focus on–oddly enough–the content. By content, I mean the words. The in-house style sheets are already set: Colors. Fonts. Presentation bullet shapes and colors. All the content creators need to do is write. Easy, right? Ah, but they aren’t doing that. Despite the corporate style already being established, they go off the radar and change things. Like, damn near everything.
I have no authority in my position, except the authority to mark up or change the content creators’ work. Depending on how creative they’re feeling, a formatting edit can take anywhere from an hour to a full 8-hour day. I made my displeasure known to the guy in charge, who told the creators to follow the templates. Theoretically, the problem should have been solved. Alas, the difference between theory and practice, is that, in theory, there should be no difference between theory and practice, but in practice, there is.
So I don’t know how to get these folks (fellow contractors) to follow the templates and save themselves time and effort (never mind me). Suggestions are welcome.
Open to Suggestions
Do you have technical writing or tech writing career issues you’d like to see me address? I’m open to suggestions and requests. Pass them on!