Archive for May, 2014


Who did what to whom

May 30, 2014

Some sentences just don’t work. Take this first sentence of an article from my local newspaper, for example:


First sentences of newspaper articles are meant to grab the reader’s attention so that they can decide whether to continue reading or not, and if not, should succinctly summarize the article so that the reader can move on.

So what’s wrong with the sentence above? Well, the writer has succinctly stated a who/what/when/where/how situation in fewer than 30 words, which is quite a remarkable achievement. But I don’t believe that the writer has stated the situation clearly enough for a reader to understand on first reading. Why? Because they haven’t put like things together, and they haven’t used commas or other punctuation to separate independent ideas.

As a result, on first reading it appears that the liquor store was armed with a sawn-off rifle and took $800!

How could the writer have still achieved the 30-word goal, while making this sentence easier to read? By switching words around and by adding relevant punctuation.

Here are my suggestions for a rewrite — I think all are a little clearer than the original, and each took me no more than a minute to write:

Two men, who allegedly used a sawn-off rifle to steal $800 from two elderly women and a liquor store on Saturday, have been remanded in custody. (<30 words)

Two men have been remanded in custody after allegedly holding up two elderly women and a liquor store on Saturday. The men were armed with a sawn-off rifle and took $800. (just over 30 words)

On Saturday, two men armed with a sawn-off rifle allegedly held up two elderly women and a liquor store, taking $800. They have been remanded in custody. (<30 words)

Aside: The power of a word to imply helplessness

While writing these alternatives to make the sentence clearer, I realized that I kept writing ‘two women’ to parallel the ‘two men’. And then I had to add in ‘elderly’ as per the original , which made me wonder why it was necessary for the journalist to use ‘elderly’ in the original article. How does that change anything? The approximate ages of the men aren’t listed, so why are the women referred to as ‘elderly’? Is there some sort of gender/age bias happening here?

What constitutes ‘elderly’ anyway? Over 50, over 60, over 70, over 80, over 90? Something else? Was the journalist trying to elicit sympathy or empathy or even rage from the reader? Perhaps anger that this should happen to an ‘elderly woman’? I know plenty of women over 60, 70, 80 etc. who are feisty, fit, independent, and live life to the full*, and would hate to be referred to as ‘elderly’ as that word carries so many connotations of frailty and an inability to look out for oneself. Put ‘elderly’ in front of ‘woman’ and now there’s a not-so-subtle message than these women were somehow helpless and that we should feel sorry for them as innocent victims in this situation. Would we feel the same if the journalist had written ‘elderly men’? What does the age or even the gender of the victim have to do with how the crime is reported? The fact that two people were allegedly robbed at gunpoint should be enough to elicit rage, sympathy etc.

We don’t know if these women were robbed (the rest of the article wasn’t clear as to whether the women were customers in the liquor store or separate from it, whether it was the women or the liquor store that had $800 taken from them or a combination of both). We don’t know if these women fought back physically or verbally, though it’s unlikely anyone of any gender or age would fight back against someone who is armed.

What I do know is that on analyzing this single sentence, I got into a rant on the use of one word (‘elderly’) to imply a diminished physical and mental state, when it’s possible that neither woman was in that state, no matter what their age. I’m not sure that describing victims in this way helps anybody. In my opinion, the newspaper editor should have picked up on both the awkwardness of this first sentence AND the gratuitous use of a word that can imply so much more than just age, and made the journalist rewrite it.

* My Mum is in her mid-80s. She rides her bike about 15 km almost every day, she swims, she walks, she reads voraciously, she uses a computer, she has a Kindle and a tablet and a smartphone, she travels overseas regularly, she drives, she is socially active, and she’s hardly ever been sick in her life. And she’s still married to my Dad who shares all these activities with her. She’s very far removed from the ‘elderly woman’ implied in this article.


Help right when and where you need it

May 27, 2014

I used a Bernina 750 QE sewing machine on the weekend when I was demonstrating some quilting at quilt exhibition. I’d never used this machine before, and although I was a Bernina owner for many decades, my ancient Bernina looked and played nothing like this new one. So when it came to winding and changing the bobbin I was a bit lost. No-one else on the stand could help me as none of them used Berninas (or if they did, they were much older models). So I was left to my own devices.

The supplier who lent this machine for our use at the exhibition had also supplied the manuals, but I couldn’t find them, so instead I pressed the book icon on the touchscreen display and found a world of information waiting for me!


I didn’t even think to take photos at the time, so the photo above is from one of Bernina’s YouTube videos. The book icon is on the lower (black) menu section.

When I clicked it, I was shown several boxed sections for the major functions I might want to do. I touched the box for Bobbins, then drilled down to the section I needed, which was how to remove the bobbin initially, then wind it, then thread it, then put it back in the machine. Each of these subsections had clear instructions, color photos, close-ups of the pertinent bits, and everything was scrollable by touch, just like on a smartphone or tablet. It was brilliant and I was able to solve all my problems without calling the technician over from another stand.

Help at the point of need, and for what you need… all without opening the manual.

That’s what I call helpful!

Thank you to the technical writers at Bernina who realised that getting out a manual and hunting an index takes us away from what we’re trying to so.



When spellcheck just doesn’t work…

May 21, 2014

Another oopsie! that shows that spellcheckers need to be used with caution and supplemented by real eyes attached to a real brain. Otherwise, legitimate, but erroneous, words get through.

A 2013 album by Robben Ford (Bringing it back home) has these tracks (note the title for #4):

  1. Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky (4:55)
  2. Birds Nest Bound (5:51)
  3. Fair Child (4:24)
  4. Oh, Virginia (4:18)
  5. Slick Capers Blues (3:50)
  6. On That Morning (7:14)
  7. Traveler’s Waltz (3:34)
  8. Most Likely You Can Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine (4:57)
  9. Trick Bag (4:06)
  10. Fool’s Paradise (5:37)

However, Barnes and Noble’s website has the tracks listed as:

B&N Oopsy[Thanks to my DH who spotted this one]



Monitor color differences

May 20, 2014

I was editing a document and noticed how the same color was displayed quite differently between my two monitors. Both monitors are exactly the same — same brand, same size, bought at the same time. But obviously they aren’t calibrated exactly the same, as evidenced by how this mid-gray table header row shading displays on each. On the left monitor, it looks almost blue, and on the right it’s more the gray that it should be.

I took the photo with my phone camera as a screen shot adjusts them to be the same and you can’t see the difference. Guess I need to calibrate my monitors…




Word: Macro to replace some hyphens with en dashes

May 16, 2014

I run several find/replace routines on most of the documents I edit. One is to replace <space><hyphen><space> with <space><en dash><space>, and another is to find any number range separated by a hyphen not an en dash (e.g. 2013-2014 or p35-47), and replace the hyphen with an en dash (e.g. 2013–2014, p35–47).

So I decided to automate this process by recording a macro for each find/replace routine, then I combined those macros into one. I could assign a keystroke combination to it, but as I only run it once on each document, there’s probably not a lot of value in doing that. The whole process takes just a few seconds, even on a long document.

CAUTION: If you have numbers legitimately separated by hyphens (e.g. document numbers like 1234-567-890) this macro will replace the hyphens in those numbers with en dashes too, which may not be what you want. A workaround if you only have a few numbers of this type is to run this macro, and then manually change those few it replaced incorrectly.

Here’s the macro:

Sub ReplaceHyphenWithEnDash()
' ReplaceHyphenWithEnDash Macro
' The first part of this macro replaces space hyphen space
' with space en dash space
    With Selection.Find
        .Text = " - "
        .Replacement.Text = " ^= "
        .Forward = True
        .Wrap = wdFindContinue
        .Format = False
        .MatchCase = False
        .MatchWholeWord = False
        .MatchWildcards = False
        .MatchSoundsLike = False
        .MatchAllWordForms = False
    End With
    Selection.Find.Execute Replace:=wdReplaceAll
' The second part of this macro finds a number range separated 
' by a hyphen and replaces the hyphen with an en dash
    With Selection.Find
        .Text = "([0-9])(-)([0-9])"
        .Replacement.Text = "\1^=\3"
        .Forward = True
        .Wrap = wdFindContinue
        .Format = False
        .MatchCase = False
        .MatchWholeWord = False
        .MatchAllWordForms = False
        .MatchSoundsLike = False
        .MatchWildcards = True
    End With
    Selection.Find.Execute Replace:=wdReplaceAll
End Sub

There may be a simpler way to write this macro, but as I’m not a VBA developer and as this worked for me, I’ll leave it as it is!


Troublesome words

May 1, 2014

Based on a Writing Tip I wrote recently for my team.


I cover two word variations in this week’s Writing Tip:

  • Should you use ‘oriented’ or ‘orientated’ when referring to a (geographic/compass) position?
  • When should you use ‘any more’ or ‘anymore’?


The Macquarie Dictionary is clear on the use of these two words in Australian English—in the context of a geographic/compass position, you use ‘orientate’ or its variations:

oriented (adjective)

  1. inclined (in a specified way): politically oriented.
  2. directed (in a specified way): customer oriented; oriented towards the common reader.

orientate (verb) (orientated, orientating)

  1. –verb (t) to place so as to face the east, especially to build (a church) with the chief altar to the east and the chief entrance to the west.
  2. to place in any definite position with reference to the points of the compass or other points: Get out your map, orientate it and examine it carefully for clues as to where you are –Paddy Pallin, 1959.
  3. to adjust with relation to, or bring into due relation to, surroundings, circumstances, facts, etc.: This would have been the first weekend of the school holidays and would have given people a good opportunity to orientate themselves with the new rail network –AAP News, 2000.
  4. Surveying to turn a map or plane table sheet so that the north direction on the map is parallel to the north direction on the ground.
  5. –verb (i) to turn towards the east or in specified direction.

[backformation from orientation]

Anymore/any more

Jeanne Purdue discusses when to use ‘any more’ versus ‘anymore’ in her recent blog post:

In essence: Anymore and any more have distinct differences in meaning and should be used accordingly:

  • Anymore means any longer or nowadays. In this usage, ‘anymore’ relates to time. Example: ‘Let’s not do this anymore.’; ‘We’re not doing this anymore.’
  • Any more means something additional or further. In this usage, ‘any’ qualifies the word ‘more’. Example: ‘I don’t want any more wine or cheese.’

[Links last checked April 2014]