Saturday, March 13, 2010

ISA HK/China --- Incoming Mail (Any change in your English?)

Dear xxx,

I reply with pleasure for your sharp observation that Station Mail of ISA HK/China in the past few weeks have been written with a evolving style of English. This is because I myself have been obsessed with modern English writing which focuses on precision, clarity & simplicity ever since I was introduced to it a few months ago. I thought I was good for the past 35 years in my English language, until I met this group of Technical Writers in North America who had completely swept me off my feet to point out the many errors in my communication skills. I was reluctant to swallow my pride in the beginning; but as I learned gradually from them, I had to admit that I was behind.

Without disclosing what I have dangerously dived myself into at present, since I am still several months from graduation or may not graduate at all, I can only say that my British English is no longer following international trend. First of all, we must set aside any national pride ever conceived in this matter. I learned practically all my English from Cambridge scholars during my school days in Britain. I do not think I can ever shake that off no matter what new style which I am now trying to imitate. British English will always be the back bone on my communication & it is in my blood.

However, we have to be pragmatic to look at where the biggest population is speaking English nowadays. Without doubt it has to be North America, with their movies, TV's & other forms of media in their hundreds of millions to spread all over the world. And do not think American English is just full of buzzwords & slangs. Wrong! Their technical writing especially legal documents, are full of old time English, that I could not read without a dictionary on hand. Some good old British words which do not appear in England anymore are still used in America. Bravo to the Yanks for flying the British flags!

I learned this 'contemporary' English primarily for the sake of Report Writing & Presentation. Modern Report Writing requires clarity, readability, simplicity, precision & must be error free. Bad spelling, incorrect grammar, excessive wording with irrelevance & bureaucratic jargons will make the report unprofessional, unreadable & unusable. Then what's the point of having a useless piece of work right from the start?

Most of my reports today are not written for bureaucrats in formal language. In fact, bureaucratic language which may stumble you on every step is hated by so many, that their work is hardly transited unless forced. Complicated sentences with excessive gratification will tire the reader very soon. This is not a good strategy for pleasing my clients.

Before one is to learn effective Report Writing, one must first master the English language in every step. This is like knowing where all your jigsaws are before learning how to put the puzzle together. If your English basics are poor, you can never build it high up. As for myself, I have to learn from the very beginning the use of grammar (nouns, pronouns, adjectives, adverbs), sentence structure (simple, complex, tenses, conjunctions), paragraph length, style (colloquial, formal, bureaucratic, personal, legal) & tone (emphasis, exaggeration, emotion). I also have to learn word economy, acronyms, abbreviations, citations & page formatting. Then I have to put all these together in logical thinking, persuasion, simplicity & clarity. I can tell you that this is no easy task for someone who is used to writing formal, bureaucratic languages for 35 years. To write simple, precise & clear is actually much harder.

I can give you some examples:

"There appears to be indication that the product heretofore referred to may be lacking substantial qualitative consummation, suggesting it may be incommensurate with the standards previously established by this department" --- simply means "This product doesn't work with our departmental standards." Then which is an easier sentence to read & understand?

Another example:

"Just as a musician has to be a master of his or her instrument, a writer is at his or her best when he or she has mastered his or her linguistic tools." --- can be re-written as "Mastery of words is as important to a writer as mastery of an instrument is to a musician."

Then how about:

"Upon the arrival of this arborist to the site located at 12345 Repulse Bay, browning of the Ficus could be seen throughout the canopies of trees along the hillside for as far as the eye could see." --- can be re-written as "I arrived at 12345 Repulse Bay & saw extensive browning of the foliage of the Ficus trees in the canopies along the hillside."

It is interesting to discuss the use of language to sharpen it to favour our work. As English is the business & technical language in HK especially for Report Writing, I intend to learn it the latest way to help my own work for projects & Court presentation. This is in line with the forever-learning principle of a Practicing Arborist.

Thank you again for giving me this interesting conversation. I hope I have not got out of the way to reply you in unnecessary length.

best regards,

Sammy Au
Station Manager

----- Original Message -----
Sent: Saturday, March 13, 2010 3:51 PM
Subject: Change in your writing style?
Dear Station Manager,

I am an English teacher and I have been following your 'Station Mail' for some time. I think it is well written and I use it in my classes for secondary school pupils for language learning.

Lately in the past few months, I have noticed that there seemed to be a change of style and tone in your messages. Long, complicated sentences seemed to be replaced by simple words.

For my academic interest, am I right in assuming that you are changing your writing style? I shall be pleased if you can enlighten me.

Thank you very much and keep up the good work!




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