Posted by: Jack Henry | May 26, 2016

Editor’s Corner: Write Positively

The editors often talk about ways to avoid ambiguity in your writing. One way to do that is to write positively. Negative words can make sentences difficult for readers to understand.

Here are some examples:

Original sentence:

· Do not install the software until you check that your computer does not have conflicting programs.

This sentence contains the negative word not in both clauses and can confuse readers.

Revised sentence:

· Before you install the software, check your computer for conflicting programs.

The revised sentence removes the negative words from both clauses and opens up the dialog so you can provide information on what to do if the user’s computer has conflicting programs.

Original sentence:

· The Due Day 2 field cannot have a value on or before the value in the Due Day 1 field.

This sentence focuses on what the field cannot be set to.

Revised sentence:

· The value in the Due Day 2 field must be greater than the value in the Due Day 1 field.

The revised sentence clearly states what the field must be set to.

Use positive terms when possible (JHA folks, using positive language is a standard in the JHA Style Guide for Technical Communication and Training). Keep in mind that some negative terms are necessary to be effective. For example, “Do not talk on your cell phone while driving; you will crash your beautiful station wagon.”

Jackie Solano | Technical Editor | Symitar®

8985 Balboa Ave. | San Diego, CA 92123 | Ph. 619.542.6711 | Extension: 766711

Symitar Documentation Services

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