The Question of Approach: One vs Many

The Question of Approach: One vs Many

Last week, for our internal communicator’s club meeting, I presented some Tips for Effective Writing. Those who attended the session were mostly developers. And, that’s why it was even more useful for them. To help understand the core need for communication, we used a picture quiz, which you and I will discuss through this post.

Look at the following pictures (courtesy: Internet). The first picture is of Lotus Temple, New Delhi, and not of Sydney’s Opera House. The other picture is a multi-utility tool, also called Swiss knife. Here’s a question for you:

How do you think the two pictures contrast?

Before you begin answering the question, here’s a little built up for it:

As a seeker of information, I am like every other “user” or “audience” – I am like YOU, dear reader. I prefer to take the shortest or quickest path to the resolution. Much like you, I get petrified when I can’t find the shortest route. Much like you, I get petrified when I see unorganized or insufficient information. It’s as simple as that. This puts a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of technical communicators and user experience (UX) designers. Sadly, there is still no guarantee that we, the information seekers, would access the right information tidbit at the right time; or even if we do, we get to use it correctly. This means, despite all efforts by technical communicators and UX designers, the communication remains incomplete if the seekers can’t get to – or comprehend – the right information or the right tool at the right time.

Given that background, look at the first picture.

 

Lotus-Temple-Aerial-View

The Lotus Temple, New Delhi

 

Here is the message from the technical communicator within me to the information seeker within me: those who seek answers to oneness and peace, go to Lotus Temple. Don’t drift: the name is indicative. So you can take any temple, mosque, church, or even faith. Seekers like you might have a lot of questions, but each of those questions will lead to only one answer: of realizing the seeker’s true self. So, there may be numerous problems that might lead to just one solution. This resembles the Sanskrit hymn, Ekam sat vipra bahudha vadanti, which largely translates to “That which exists is One. Brahmin (Sages) call it by various names.” Rather than seeking the solution, seek for what you wish to solve – the need. That’s how even I have organized the content for you.

Look at the second picture.

 

victorinox_mountaineer_lg

Multi-utility tool

 

Here is the message from the technical communicator within me to the information seeker within me: those who wish to complete a task or resolve their issues will seek such a tool. A tool, which has one unique solution for every problem. A tool, which can do a lot, but only dedicatedly. Seek, if you must, the need. The tool is still only a medium to accomplish; it’s a means to achieve, not the end.

But before talking about contrast, let us take a minute to discuss a little about what’s common for both the pictures. The only common thing is the need. The need to discover, resolve, and accomplish; the need to get things done; and the need to get questions answered.

So, here’s the contrast: the contrast is in having one universal solution versus a unique solution for every problem. The contrast is also in stressing the presence of the right information tidbit and of the right tool both at the same time. For the seeker’s shortest route to the resolution is the one that contains a quick and unique solution to their problems; the one that addresses the need.

What’s the lesson for the seekers and technical communicators?

The rules of grammar stand true and remain unchanged. However, there still are different ways in which we can compose, express the same information. Similarly, even though there are style guides and standards, there are hundreds of scenarios that we can count as exceptions. Probably, that’s why we see the Microsoft’s Manual of Style, fourth edition, mention “Microsoft” and “Not Microsoft” ways of creating content, unlike the “correct” and “incorrect” ways in their third edition of the book.

We should choose based on what’s needed, required from the content. There lies harmony where both technical communicators’ and information seekers’ needs meet.

To Article or Not to Article

To Article or Not to Article

Throughout my projects and writing schedules, I deal with numerous situations when I get stuck between choosing to use or not to use the definite or the indefinite articles. This post contains a handy list of situations when I am supposed to NOT use the articles:

The Definite Article

Do not use the when:

  • Naming holidays: for example, “I went home for Holi.”
  • Naming seasons: for example, “Winter has arrived.”
  • Referring to geographical locations: for example, “Next month, I’ll be in New Zealand”, or “He provides consultancy to banks and hospitals.” Note that I did not use the definite article for banks and hospitals, too, which qualify as geographical locations. Unless specified, do not use the definite article in such cases. For example, “We visited The Central Business Park last week.”
  • Referring to sports: for example, “Rohan played Cricket until last year.”
  • Referring to things in general or when using the plural nouns: for example, “I love dogs” or “Marathis love to dance”, or “we love listening to music.” Of course, the usage will differ based on countable, uncountable, or countless nouns (dogs, Marathis, and music all are pluralized), but we will discuss that some other day.
  • Talking about languages: for example, “Shambhavi can speak Sanskrit.”
  • Using names (or nouns): for example, “Shailaja works for Microsoft” or “Anil is an alumnus of Devi Ahilya University.

The Indefinite Articles

Do not use either a or an:

  • With adjectives that modify something that’s contextually understood or imperative: for example, “Spruha is intelligent.” However, when the sentence contains information about what the adjective modifies, then include the indefinite article: for example, “Spruha is an intelligent kid.” In this sentence, the italicized fragment refers to the kid’s intelligence.
  • With plural and uncountable nouns: for example, “Apples are apples and oranges are oranges.”

Happy writing.

The Writer’s Chronicles – Episode 4

The CAPITAList

For full resolution, visit: https://Pixton.com/ic:jh8g0sn1

Author Interview in LangLit

My first author interview was published in LangLit, an international peer-reviewed open-access journal, on September 5, 2017. Please click here to read the full interview.

Good versus Well

Good versus Well

Much like the previous post, in which we discussed the differences between the usage of I and Me, this post, too, discusses something that people find confusing: the use of good versus well. I’ve fallen prey to it on a few occasions (in the past) and so have most of my friends.

What’s the difference?

The thing is, our mental ears have always known (or is it registered?) the difference. So, none of us will ever, EVER say, “You did a well job”, while all we wish to do is praise the other person for their efforts. However, things get a little tricky for some of us who might happen to say, “Hey, you look good, buddy!” I’ve often used that in the past, and some of those who I know still use it.

Good is an adjective; it is a property of the subject of the sentence; it describes the subject. When I say, “You look good, buddy”, I mean that the “buddy”, or the subject of the sentence, has good eyes or, perhaps, vision because the word good describes buddy’s look. The sentence really means I am telling my buddy that they are actively using their eyes well. And, that isn’t what I intend to say. All I wish is to remark is that my buddy is looking hale and hearty. And, I must say what I intend to.

Well, as you rightly guessed, is an adverb; it describes the verb that relates to the subject of the sentence. So, instead of “You look good, buddy”, I should say, “You look you are doing well, buddy.” Yes, I might sound odd. But, I would choose to sound one rather than end up being one.

Are there any rules?

Yes. A rather simple one to remember: if you are referring to your or other’s health, use well. For example, “I heard he is doing/recovering well after the surgery.” Another advice: keep listening to your mental ear.

But, wait! There’s a catch!

First answer this: is it OK to say, “I’m good?” Good, based on what we just discussed, is an adjective. And, because it describes something, it should be incorrect to say…

WAIT, right there, for here lies the catch. I’d like you to read about linking verbs, which I covered in my previous post. The linking verb, “am” in the sentence, “I’m good”, connects the subject to the property of being good. So, it is OK to say, “I’m good.” However, you still can’t use good as an adverb. So, never say, “you did good”. Instead, say, “you did well.”

Happy writing.

I versus Me

I versus Me

Kindly excuse me for the click bait title. But this post is about one of the everyday challenges that writers face when writing about themselves: choosing between when to use I and when to use Me.

What is I or Me?

Both I and Me are singular forms of first person pronouns. So, if you are referring to yourself, you can use either of those. In fact, you might just use both in one sentence – depending on the place value (For example, I thought Shyam was going to accompany me for today’s Cricket match.)

Let me ask this to you: when you knock someone’s door and they ask, “Who is it,” what do you answer? Most of you will say, “It’s me” because that’s what’s used mostly so it SOUNDS acceptable. However, the correct answer is “It’s I.” See, “It’s I” is a fragmented version of the complete sentence, “It is I who am knocking the door.”

Here, choose what’s correct:

Ram took Shyam and I/Me to the Cricket match.

Quickly; this one is easy: Ram took Shyam and me to the Cricket match. You are right!

Let us now reverse the sentence and choose what’s correct:

Shyam and I/Me went to the Cricket match with Ram.

For those who wish to know the rule, these are cases of the linking verb. A linking verb is a verb that connects the subject with its predicate without expressing any action. In the following sentence “is” is the linking verb, “Ravana is dead.” Any verb that gives the sense of “to be” (Remember these are non-action verbs.) is a linking verb, so you should be able to spot that quickly. By the rule, if your pronoun follows the linking verb, use I, or the other forms, such as she, we, or they.

The correct answer to the question is, therefore, “Shyam and I went to the Cricket match with Ram.”

A simple way around, just in case you confuse the use of I versus Me is to remove the extra person from the conversation. Let us look at the examples we discussed by removing the extra person from the conversation:

  • Ram took I/Me to the Cricket match.
  • I/Me went to the Cricket match with Ram.

Here’s an alternative method to remember when to use what:

  • When you are the subject, use I.
  • When you are the object, use Me.

You can apply the rule similarly for we versus us, she versus her, and they versus them. Hope this helps. Happy writing.