Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A Tip for Writers: Why Word Order Matters

In the course of randomly surfing the 'Net, free-associating as I am wont to do in the course of learning about my company, its products and its customers, I found myself wandering through material about Microsoft as the target of criticism for its business practices and strategies.

As I work for a company that has developed useful products through both in-house effort and through the acquisition of other companies' technologies, the subject is of more than trivial relevance. But in the course of reading a spirited defense of Microsoft on the Center for the Advancement of Capitalism's Web site, I ran across a passage that I thought weakened the excellent point it made merely by a word that belonged somewhere other than where it was. See if you can spot the misplaced word in the passage below:

It is true that Microsoft itself did not invent the graphical user
interface or the web browser or a number of other features it has
since incorporated into Windows. But innovation does not mean using only those ideas developed by a company's own designers. It does not mean embracing the "not invented here" syndrome—the stagnant refusal to accept anything not produced by a firm's in-house engineers. Innovation means recognizing a good idea when you see it and matching it with one's own best efforts.

Can't find it? Try reading the following and see if it stands out:

It is true that Microsoft itself did not invent the graphical user interface or the web browser or a number of other features it has since incorporated into Windows. But innovation does not mean using only those ideas developed by a company's own designers. It does mean not embracing the "not invented here" syndrome—the stagnant refusal to accept anything not produced by a firm's in-house engineers. Innovation means recognizing a good idea when you see it and
matching it with one's own best efforts.

The two paragraphs differ in only one respect: I've moved the first "not" in the sentence about the "not invented here" syndrome from before the word "mean" to after it. Note how that one shift changes the tone, emphasis, and even meaning of the sentence completely? It's been changed from a negative to a positive statement, and thus heightens the contrast with the preceding sentence; in the original wording, that contrast was absent.

Just some food for thought from a writing professional on why every word matters.

4 comments:

Arlynda said...

Well written article.

Brazen Raisin said...

I agree with what you wrote--good insight. But I was distracted by another word that seemed out of place. In the last sentence the the second person "you" and third person "one" are used for the same referent. -Derek, COL 97

Sandy Smith said...

Good catch, Brazen. I'm currently editing a manuscript by a person who has serious problems with person shifts and overuse of the second person -- his material usually reads as if he's talking with or to the person rather than writing about him or her. That last trait is not in itself inappropriate in writing for a general audience, but this person overdoes it.

Anonymous said...

Yes indeed, in some moments I can bruit about that I approve of with you, but you may be considering other options.
to the article there is still a without question as you did in the decrease publication of this beg www.google.com/ie?as_q=guitar method in the style ?
I noticed the phrase you suffer with not used. Or you functioning the dark methods of development of the resource. I take a week and do necheg