Like most editors, CEE News editors see writers assault — and sometimes pepper — the English language every which way they possibly can. I guess we should be thankful. If articles and press releases came to us only in plain, understandable English, who'd need us?
The way I see it, editors have three main functions in life:
Decide what information is important to readers.
Decipher that important information so it doesn't slip from the straight, true track of reason and into a bewildering swamp of overgrown verbiage.
Delight in our delineated roles as nerdy know-it-all grammarians.
Most of the product press releases that we receive fill our needs to a tee. The really good manufacturers (or their public relations agencies) make it easy for us to write about their products. They even e-mail us press releases and photos.
We spend an awful lot of time trying to make sense of the rest of the bunch, which fall into two broad categories: corporate double-talk and techno-speak (or geek).
Corporate double-talk is the easiest to edit: read it once and throw it out — or at least cut 90%. Most double-talk repeats the same tired, canned clichés, including such meaningless adjectives as “cutting edge” “pioneering,” state-of-the-art,” “next-generation” and “ new paradigm.” (On an episode of “The Simpsons,” a writer in a corporate meeting says, “Excuse me, but ‘proactive’ and ‘paradigm’? Aren't these just buzzwords that dumb people use to sound important? Not that I'm accusing you of anything like that. [pause] I'm fired, aren't I?”)
We also get tired of reading about “team players,” “win-win” situations and about employees being a corporation's most valuable assets. As opposed to what — trained chimps and used cargo vans? Besides, it's no secret that money is a corporation's most valuable asset — unless it's a small family business. Worst of the bunch are releases that have little or nothing of interest to report, but spend a great of paper, ink and postage telling us about it anyway.
Company product press releases indiscriminately label electronic-boxes, calling them units, systems or my favorite, “solutions.” For my money, don't call a product a solution unless you also clearly state what the problem is and then describe how only your product can solve it. Also, for some reason “solution” always reminds me of Sherlock Holmes' The “Seven-Percent Solution” — the wrong image for any non-pharmaceutical product.
We also tend to be suspicious of — and routinely discard — articles called “white papers ” because we've never figured out who and what white papers are for. I've written them and still don't know. Also on the suspicion list: any market-research report that features “an executive summary” and every electronics market “research” study that forecasts a market to increase a pat, stable and unrealistic 15% a year over the next 10 years.
Techno-speak is harder to edit because it often contains grains of valuable information buried somewhere deep within its layers of technical minutia. But writing that's rife with jargony buzzwords fails to communicate what's most important — a big, clear picture. Basically, readers and editors alike want to know the same three things: what a product is, what it does and how it saves time and money compared to similar products. Period. Every other detail is superfluous. Every trade has its own “code,” its own particularly precise language, but it's amazing many press releases can't be deciphered.
To be fair, some manufacturer technical coinage is cool (do kids still say cool 50 years after some Greenwich Village beatnik popularized the expression? Awesome! I was like…whatever.) Seriously, what better way to describe the ground space a generator or transformer covers than “footprint.” I suspect some grunt in the Sea Bees coined “footprint” — probably a guy with a really big boot size.
Electrical contractors, maybe because they deal with tangible equipment, tangible deadlines and tangible satisfactions, tend to communicate better than most corporate “players” simply because they have to. They have to use concrete language to get concrete things done every day. Contractors don't have the time to muddy their language with confusing phrases. And it's not so easy to cover your tracks when you're dealing with tangibility.
Still, I see some corporate vagueness creeping into the electrical contracting trade, particularly through the datacom-installation window. Datacom cable installers are now called system integrators and designers, custom installers, custom designers and home systems integrators. For the record, my money's still on Electrical Contractor and Master Electrician. They both sound more impressive than most job titles I can think of — with the possible exceptions of rock star, movie star, astronaut, ambassador to France and retired millionaire adventurer.
When most residential customers want information about electrical work, they look for an electrical contractor in the yellow pages, which actually list them under Electric Contractors. That's why it's a good idea to keep “electric” in your company's name and on your van and buildings. Potential customers will know immediately who you are and what you do. Then you can tell them exactly how you'll save them time and money.
Like to write an End Note article — or rebut this one? E-mail your electrical industry topic ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org