Thursday, March 15, 2012

Introduction to Me

No sailing under false colors; I’m selling something here.

“Engaging”; “funny in a thoughtful way”; “subtly persuasive”; OR,  opinionated, carping, and florid – whatever way you find it, the intent of the blog is to advertise my writing business.  And it’s not just SEO articles. I write every way from technical to whimsical. I do documents you inform, instruct, and win business with, and written stuff you sell with. I write company and executive profiles for trade publications. Outside-the-box resumes. A novel, even, if any agents or publishers are listening.  Edging into online “content.”  Samples available. I also edit. I’ve done it for aerospace engineers, so I can do it for anyone. End commercial.

Segue-ing smoothly into Speaking of Engineers – I worked a number of years for Boeing, collaborating with engineers as an editor, on contract. The subject was new business proposals in response to Department of Defense Requests for Proposals for airplanes and similar military hardware.

The specifications you’re expected to write to for these things are prescribed at length, down to the type size for the callouts in your illustrations.  They’re huge documents, written under forced draft, usually on 45-  or, if you’re lucky, 60-day turnaround. Members of the team assembled to do it may never have worked a proposal before and can be scattered across the continent. That’s the good news. The other news – no offense, guys -- is that engineers are writing it.      

For starters, engineers (big generalization follows here) are inveterate improvers and will go on tweaking their answers for as long as they can. (It’s an attribute I fight against myself, but you can see where it would conflict with one of the requirements above.)

More to the point for someone who has to edit engineers’ work – they have a (big diplomatic euphemism follows here) unique style. Either it’s taught that way in engineering school and they all learn it there, or it’s a kind of virus passed from one to another on the job. The rules, near as I can codify them, seem to be (1) use lots of words, (2) use passive voice a lot, (3) use jargon a lot, (4) use acronyms, (5) use LOTS of acronyms, and (6) use them incorrectly.

Some editors are fanatically against passive voice, but I’m not; and I can live with jargon, in moderation. These devices serve real purposes: jargon can be a way of expressing an idea quickly, in few words, which I’m certainly in favor of; and passive voice deflects responsibility for an action from any specific actor – a valuable mechanism for those occasions when the test results don’t go the way you’d hoped.

Prolix verbosity is the origin of the most egregious inexplicabilities, but it can be cleared up with English.  That leaves only the subject of acronyms to deal with, and you don’t want to be around when I get started on that. 

That’s my next post, though, so if anyone is following this (!) you’ve been warned.