PDA

View Full Version : Writing style question: [SDMB users are pedantic] v. [The users of the SDMB are pedantic]


Rhythmdvl
12-02-2014, 11:58 AM
The text is a 100-page formal, published report (in-house style guides are silent on this issue). Target audience is made up of professionals, policy makers, government officials, advocates and stakeholders. The report is in British English, but a large segment of the audience is made up of non-native speakers.

The question is about a style preference between the prepositional “of the” form and the possessive/adjective form:

“The shoe store owners used the Ministry of Silly Walks report to justify their parade permit application.”

Or

“The owners of the shoe stores used the report of the Ministry of Silly Walks to justify their application for a parade permit.”


The main issues discussed are the relative tightness of the former versus the ease of understanding of the latter (particularly for foreign readers). Nothing is absolute, of course, sometimes sentence flow or other reasons favour one or the other; this question is about the general treatment.

In deciding which to go with, I need to justify it to the review team beyond “I like it this way,” so I turn to the Boards for better rationale than I can come up with. Thoughts?

Thanks,

Rhythm

Tim@T-Bonham.net
12-02-2014, 04:13 PM
“The shoe store owners used the report from the Ministry of Silly Walks to justify their application for a parade permit.”I would change 'of' to 'from', to clarify that the report came from the Ministry -- "of the Ministry" could be read as a report about the Ministry.

njtt
12-02-2014, 06:03 PM
“The shoe store owners used the Ministry of Silly Walks report to justify their parade permit application.”

Well, you need an apostrophe in there somewhere, and, in this particular case that is problematic, because, not only is the "owner" a multi-word phrase, but it ends in an s (and, worse than that, a plural s that, nevertheless, does not render the whole phrase plural). "The Ministry of Silly Walks' report" is not very clear, and "the Ministry of Silly Walks's report" is hellish ugly and awkward.

Thus, in this case, I would certainly go with the other option, although I agree with t-bonham@scc.net that "from" is much better than "of".

In other cases, though, when you haven't got to deal with multi-word phrases (that won't nicely hyphenate), and you haven't got an s ending (or even, quite often, when you have), it is often (not invariably) better to use the possessive apostrophe, for succinctness.

Rhythmdvl
12-02-2014, 11:49 PM
Ach, my example distracted from the question.

It's not quite a particular sentence that's in question, it's an overall approach. Adjust the example sentence so it's highlighting the 'of the' constructions, something like:

"Viewers of television like the sketches of Monty Python" versus "television viewers like Monty Python sketches."


That's not quite fair as it's a bit skewed to the more familiar "television viewers" than "viewers of television," but I hope it illustrates the core of the question a bit better--I'm not asking about a particular sentence, I'm asking about a particular style/approach. The approach is a strong preference for either the prepositional form (is there a better word/phrase for this?), where it's (X of Y) or (X of the Y) in most cases, or an approach where it's mostly the adjectival/possessive form of (Y X) or (Y's X).


Or to be a bit more specific, I did a quick search on "of the" in the document to find instances where there's a question:


Income of the individual
Characteristics of the individual
Size of the household
Answers of the men
Results of the survey
Variables of the survey
Employment of the private sector
Rationale of the programme

versus

Individual income
Individual characteristics
Household size
Men's answers
Survey results
Survey variables
Private-sector employment
Programme rationale




And to repeat a bit, this is an in general kind of question, not an absolute.


Also, the question of possessive got a bit of accidental attention. There are times when it should be possessive, but that's a different question. For a bit of background, the style guide does address that issue when it comes to acronyms. They strongly preferred the adjectival "WTO programmes" over the possessive "WTO's programmes."

UDS
12-03-2014, 12:10 AM
Also I'd suggest that "parade permit application" is at some risk of causing people - especiallly non-native speakers - to stumble. It's a string of nouns, with the users left to supply the connecting prepositions for themselves. And, just to make things hard, none of the missing prepositions is "of". The phrase in fact refers to an application for a permit for a parade (or to conduct a parade). I think it would help if you made at least one of the prepositions explicit ("their application for a parade permit").

Nava
12-03-2014, 12:49 AM
Some of your pairs have different meanings.

The adjectival form is... more "everyday English". The other forms sound like the kind of things I'd expect in academic or pseudo academic contexts (even more in pseudo academic ones, from people who think that the more baroque construction sounds more "important"*), and which I find very often from foreign speakers whose own languages do not even have that adjectival form.


* Spanish has a word for this, importancioso. That which tries to seem important. Pompousness incurred with the specific purpose of making something seem more important, relevant, or someone more learned, than they are.

njtt
12-03-2014, 02:12 AM
Ach, my example distracted from the question.

It's not quite a particular sentence that's in question, it's an overall approach. Adjust the example sentence so it's highlighting the 'of the' constructions, something like:

"Viewers of television like the sketches of Monty Python" versus "television viewers like Monty Python sketches."


That's not quite fair as it's a bit skewed to the more familiar "television viewers" than "viewers of television," but I hope it illustrates the core of the question a bit better--I'm not asking about a particular sentence, I'm asking about a particular style/approach. The approach is a strong preference for either the prepositional form (is there a better word/phrase for this?), where it's (X of Y) or (X of the Y) in most cases, or an approach where it's mostly the adjectival/possessive form of (Y X) or (Y's X).


Or to be a bit more specific, I did a quick search on "of the" in the document to find instances where there's a question:


Income of the individual
Characteristics of the individual
Size of the household
Answers of the men
Results of the survey
Variables of the survey
Employment of the private sector
Rationale of the programme

versus

Individual income
Individual characteristics
Household size
Men's answers
Survey results
Survey variables
Private-sector employment
Programme rationale


I would say that, other things being equal, all the examples in the second list are better than those in the first. But, of course, all things never are equal. Context is all. (Also, surely, some of the items in the second list, especially the last one, would be better with an apostrophe s in many or even most contexts.)

UDS
12-03-2014, 02:34 AM
[QUOTE=Rhythmdvl;17945361]Or to be a bit more specific, I did a quick search on "of the" in the document to find instances where there's a question:


Income of the individual
Characteristics of the individual
Size of the household
Answers of the men
Results of the survey
Variables of the survey
Employment of the private sector
Rationale of the programme

versus

Individual income
Individual characteristics
Household size
Men's answers
Survey results
Survey variables
Private-sector employment
Programme rationale

These phrases are not all equivalent. "Individual characterstics" does not normally mean the same things as "characteristics of the individual"; it means the characteristics (of anything), considered individually rather than collectively. The same goes for "individual characteristics". And "private sector employment" usually refers to employment in the private sector, rather than the employment of the private sector.

In short, you need to think before contracting an "of" phrase in this way.

Horatio Hellpop
12-03-2014, 02:43 AM
I like to err on the side of fewer words and no passive verbs. "SDMB employs a pedantic tone."

Donnerwetter
12-03-2014, 03:02 AM
Also I'd suggest that "parade permit application" is at some risk of causing people - especiallly non-native speakers - to stumble. It's a string of nouns, with the users left to supply the connecting prepositions for themselves.
[...]



Germans aren't scared of strings of nouns. Quite the opposite ;)

bob++
12-03-2014, 06:20 AM
Surely the important thing is clarity. I have written many reports over the years and quickly learned that I am not a great judge of my own work. Fortunately I have a great editor/critic at home and once I have what I consider to be a clear and concise document, I can rely on her to point out any pomposity, ambiguity or just plain bad grammar.

My advice is to not get bogged down in the minutia of grammatical form but to find someone who approximates to your target audience and ask them to tear it apart.

SMB users are pedantic but they are not always correct.

LynnM
12-04-2014, 07:20 AM
The editorial question involves concision vs ease of understanding.

Adjectival/possessive:
More concise, but requires the reader to mentally unpack stacks of nouns; in worst case, slows reader's comprehension.

Prepositional:
Can be easier to understand or mentally parse; but wordier and in worst case, blathery and sing-songy.

There's no "rule" to apply; it's a matter of writing/editing judgement. Context should suggest the optimal point on the continuum between concision vs ease-of-parsing.

Ruken
12-04-2014, 08:04 AM
Well, you need an apostrophe in there somewhereWhy? The Ministry report is fine. I was just discussing an EPA report yesterday, not EPA's report.

dba Fred
12-08-2014, 02:27 AM
The SDMB posters are pedantic; we know not of the pedanticisty of the non-posting SDMB users.

BigT
12-08-2014, 02:43 AM
The only "rule" I have is that you shouldn't chain more than two nouns together. Don't say "the shoe store owner," say "the owners of the shoe store." Also don't chain possessives. Don't say "The king's bodyguard's wife," but "the wife of the king's bodyguard."

commasense
12-08-2014, 08:56 AM
Professional editor here. I think it would be a mistake to establish a hard style rule about this, or any other similarly trivial issue of composition. Good writing generally depends on variety and flexibility, and a rule that required one or the other of these options every time would yield prose that was stilted and monotonous. The "rule" would also almost certainly generate errors when it was applied inappropriately, as other posters have pointed out.

Save style rules for important things, like the serial comma.

Send questions for Cecil Adams to: cecil@straightdope.com

Send comments about this website to: webmaster@straightdope.com

Terms of Use / Privacy Policy

Advertise on the Straight Dope!
(Your direct line to thousands of the smartest, hippest people on the planet, plus a few total dipsticks.)

Copyright © 2018 STM Reader, LLC.