Posted by: Jack Henry | January 14, 2020

Editor’s Corner: And/Or

Hello, dear readers! I was just catching up on the monthly Q&A from the Chicago Manual of Style, and one of the questions touched on something I can get a bit peeved about: the use of and/or in writing. Here is the question and answer from CMOS:

Q. I am editing a brief in which the author has used “and/or” multiple times. I know that this term should be avoided, but I’m not exactly sure why. Is it because it’s confusing and ambiguous? What is The Chicago Manual of Style’s stance?

A. CMOS, in chapter 5, says to “avoid this Janus-faced term”. Janus-faced means duplicitous—in other words, appearing to say two contradictory things simultaneously. The problem is the slash, which is potentially ambiguous; for example, readers might choose to interpret “x and/or y” as meaning either x and y or just y—but not x alone. In fact, “x and/or y” is usually intended to mean “x or y, or both,” and where that is the case, section 5.250 recommends writing exactly that (take a sleeping pill or a warm drink, or both). In many cases, however, “or” alone would make the meaning perfectly clear. For example, “no cats or dogs allowed” means that no combination of cats or dogs—or cats and dogs—is allowed. In formal prose, including legal writing, such considerations of the precisely intended meaning are important. In casual prose, “and/or” can occasionally serve as a useful shorthand: bring your own beer and/or wine. No one will fail to understand the meaning of that.

Okay, so first: we are not generally writing casual material here for inviting people over for a booze-fest. If you want to be ambiguous and unclear about your party, be my guest. But when you are writing technical documentation or addressing clients, it is best to be as clear as possible. Don’t get lazy—a slash (/) may save you a few keystrokes, but it can also muddy the waters of your documentation.

If you write “Click the Koala icon and/or use the menu to navigate” I’m not sure if you want me to click the icon and then use the menu to navigate to something, or if you are offering me a choice—to navigate using the Koala icon or navigate using the menu. When a reader is looking at our instructions, we don’t want them to get confused or ask, “Huh?” while they’re reading. If you aren’t sure about the topic, find the answers first and then get more specific. Should it be and, or, or as they mention above, both? Be specific, stay away from slashes, and keep those koalas safe!

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

Symitar Documentation Services

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: