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Roy Komack and Peter Norton Win 2005 Writing Contest (Marketing Memo, February, 2006)

Roy Komack, President of Family Financial Architects, and Peter Norton, webmaster for NMS, Inc. have submitted winning entries to the 2005 Bad Writing Contest. Here are their entries, plus some tips on writing more clearly.

Roy Komack's entry consisted of five "murky" steps for assembling a frying pan cover with five pieces and a screw. A diagram and a warning accompany the directions. Here is step one of the process:

Lead screw through the opening/aperture of the pane which has to be put under.

When writing about a process, such as a product demo, make sure that you:

--- Include all steps in the correct sequence.
--- Use standard terminology and short, crisp sentences.
--- Give modifiers something to modify (e.g., "which has to be put under" the cover).
--- Provide a clearly labeled diagram or map whenever possible.
--- Ask someone to test all directions. Have a native speaker test translated versions for accuracy and idiomatic usage (e.g., reword expressions, such as "assemble screw only fingerlight").

Peter Norton's entry is the title of an advisory about limits to an operating system patch or fix:

Microsoft Internet Explorer JavaScript OnLoad Handler Remote Code Execution Vulnerability

Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) is vulnerable when it executes a "JavaScript 'OnLoad' Handler" if a "'window' JavaScript function" is "improperly initialized."

Nine words modify the noun "vulnerability." While "remote" is an adjective, the other eight words are nouns. This is "nounspeak," or "the overuse of nouns."*

Readers cannot process multiple concepts simultaneously. The writer could have focused on either what is vulnerable (JavaScript OnLoad Handler) or when it is vulnerable (during "remote code execution"). The full article is the place for additional details. To avoid "nounspeak":

• Strip away unnecessary nouns-use "outcome" not "final outcome."

• Use forceful verbs, rather than lifeless nouns-use "execute," not "execution."

• Retain participles and possessives that convey how one word relates to another--use "execution of remote code" not "remote code execution."

• Replace jargon with everyday words whenever possible.


*"Noun Overuse Phenomenon Article" by Bruce D. Price appeared in Verbatim, Feb.,1976 and also in Verbatim's best-of anthology, 2001. (Verbatim, the Language Quarterly, www.VerbatimMag.com).

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