Posts Tagged ‘Accuracy

Meet two of my pet peeves in word usage: trooper and trouper

I am currently on a linguistic rampage about how to distinguish one from the other, because lately I’ve noticed an outbreak of misuse and misunderstanding involving these two words. Whenever I come across such an unfortunate lapse, it causes me to raise one eyebrow in dismay while staring at the offending noun through gimlet eyes.

The guilty know who they are (or, worse, maybe not).


Trooper - State Police

Are you a trooper? (Click image for credit and source)



Troop refers to a throng, crowd, herd or group. For example:

  • a troop of State Police officers
  • a troop (group) of friends
  • a troop (flock) of birds



Trooper typically designates a member of a military unit or a police force, or a member of a Girl Scout or Boy Scout troop.

Webster’s Third New International Unabridged Dictionary lists the following as examples of troopers:

  • enlisted cavalryman
  • paratrooper or soldier
  • mounted policeman
  • one of a body of State police, usually using motorized vehicles
  • Girl Scout or Boy Scout

By extension, “to be a real trooper” has come to mean “to show bravery and courage, especially in the face of adversity while on duty.”


Trouper - Member of a Theatrical Company

Are you a trouper? (Click image for credit and source)



Troupe refers to a company or group of performers on the stage: a company of actors and actresses; a theatrical troupe.



Trouper typically designates someone who is a member of a troupe, that is, an actor or an actress who belongs to a particular acting company.

By extension, “to be a real trouper” has come to mean knowing “the show must go on,” whatever it takes. Thus, a “real trouper” is a professional you can count on to help achieve the group’s goal, especially when the going gets rough. “Real troupers” will come through for you, no matter what, because they are committed, reliable and tenacious.

Once more then: Are you a trooper or a trouper?

Now it’s your turn: What are your pet “word pair” peeves? What sorts of homonymic misusage get under your skin, prompting you to think that civilization is irreversibly in decline? What confusions of meaning goad you into reaching for your red pen? What sorts of linguistic pratfalls provoke your inner editor to sally forth? Tell all in your comments – thanks!  Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write Ideas


In recent decades, technical writing has been particularly associated with engineering, computer hardware and software, and scientific fields in general.

However, we all know that technical content may appear in many other types of writing, such as science fiction. Newspapers, magazines and other media may also publish articles or videos that deal with technical subjects. Should we include those in the category of “technical writing”?

And what about the earliest cuneiform tablets unearthed in Sumeria (now part of Iraq) that document agricultural information, astronomical knowledge, medical procedures and business practices? Are those 6,000-year-old clay tablets examples of technical writing?

Consider the plans for the vast harbor-works of Pharos, the lighthouse island off what eventually became Alexandria (Egypt), which were drawn up by Cretan and Phoenician marine architects near the end of the third millennium BCE. Do those count as “technical writing”?

Or do we insist that “technical writing” has only become a valid practice since the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, when the modern scientific revolution began?

If we define technical writing as follows, then I think, as the examples above suggest, we could argue that technical writing has existed since writing was invented:

  • Focuses on the technical details of any field or subject
  • Has a specific purpose, which informs the entire document
  • Addresses a well-defined audience
  • Contains content worth reading
  • Gears the content to the particular audience
  • Values facts (which can be verified) and accuracy
  • Uses a simple but varied style
  • Has a consistent logical organization
  • Maintains an objective, impartial tone

Would you agree with this definition? Would you add anything? Must all of these attributes be present for material to be labeled as “technical writing”?

I’d like to hear what you think.  Elizabeth Lexleigh  The Write Ideas  LexPower

Somewhere along the way in nearly every person’s life, there comes a time when it is necessary to write a letter of complaint to someone. A time when you feel you have exhausted all other reasonable avenues, yet still cannot get the offending party — merchant? neighbor? government agency? family member? colleague? — to cooperate and work toward a satisfactory resolution.

Now, assuming you truly wish to find a workable solution to your dilemma, let me share with you the most important secret you need to know and absolutely must use in writing your letter: Avoid emotionalism.

Emotional words are loaded words. They can be loaded with accusations, expressions of anger or hatred, insinuation, libel, spite, self-righteousness, sarcasm, condescension, sneering, blaming, and name-calling. They can be loaded with assumptions and indignation. They can be loaded with fact-free imaginings and derogatory statements.

Think such an emotional approach will help you win your argument? Surmount the problem? Resolve the issue? Enlighten the other person and help them see the error of their ways? Make them realize you are not someone to trifle with? No. Rudeness will only decrease the other party’s sympathy for you and reduce your chances of success. The road to disaster is often paved with emotionalism.

So before you pen the REAL letter, sit down and write the I-Accuse-You-Horrible-Person-Rant-Cant-Whack-‘Em-Smack-‘Em-You’ll-Never-Forget-This-Letter missive. Take out your verbal flame-thrower and scorch the earth. Discharge all your roiling emotions, so that your mind will be free to deal with the facts of the case in a cool, calm and equable manner.

Now, place another sheet of paper before you, and write the real letter, the one in which you methodically and logically state your case in a polite and businesslike way:

  • Explain the problem clearly.
  • Get to the point.
  • Be as brief as possible (save the over-wrought narrative, and do not go into excessive detail).
  • Use objective, neutral words to present the facts as you see them.
  • Stick to the issues.
  • Be honest in your descriptions.
  • Be clear in your objective. What action do you want your reader to take?

Keep the letter overnight, and review it the next day. Delete any shred of emotionalism. Remember, you want to win, and loaded words will not help you achieve your goal.  Elizabeth Lexleigh  The Write Ideas   lexpower

Recently someone asked me what readers look for in a document. You know: are there any special “must-haves” or “sure-would-be-nice” features that make reading and using documents easier and more enjoyable? Over the years I’ve thought about this topic, researched it and have also discussed it with other writers. Here are some major themes, which apply especially to user, reference and training manuals, and other long documents:

Make information easy to find. Include all kinds of navigational aids: for starters, a table of contents, list of figures, list of tables, and an index. In some documents, you may want multiple versions of each kind. Take the index, for example. In some cases, it might make sense to have an index of features, an index of tasks, an index of commands, and so on. The upshot is this: do not bury important information. This takes some careful thought and planning.

Make information easy to understand. Know your audience. Do not make assumptions: do your homework. If there is more than one audience, make sure the document accommodates all of them, or split the document into two or more parts, and target each part to a particular set of readers. For example, you may need to account for both beginners and experienced users, and so you have to find a way to do that effectively.

Make information accurate. At the very least, your audience deserves this. Your information should also be complete and current.

Include artwork. An adequate number of screens, drawings, photos and tables will help people learn more easily and remember what they learned. Most people learn best when text and artwork complement each other.

Include tutorials and lots of examples. This is true especially if you are writing a training document. You must show your audience how to use your company’s product to perform certain tasks.

Define all terms in a glossary. Is there anything more irritating than not being able to find out the meaning of a term or its usage? Worse, that little gap in understanding can impede learning. Too many such little gaps typically give users a poor impression of a product and its manufacturer.

Balance task-oriented and reference material. Depending on the amount of material, both types might fit in one document. On the other hand, consider whether two separate documents would better serve your audience.

Streamline the document. In other words, don’t be wordy. Say something once, then cross-reference it as necessary. Organize the document tightly. To streamline, you must plan carefully and work from your outline.

So there you have it — the secret wish list of your readers. That’s what they say they want, but is that what they get when they read your documents?  Elizabeth Lexleigh  The Write Ideas

Make the content of your document as true and accurate as possible. This means you must know your subject matter, follow your outline, and gather correct information. Errors cost time, money and customer goodwill. In some cases, they can create a liability for the company.

Further, writers have a moral obligation to give their readers factual information. Accuracy is the least your audience should expect from your work. Without accuracy, the rest of the document is useless.

This principle of good business and technical writing will help you communicate. As with the other principles of good writing, learn it well and practice it daily, and you will improve your writing style.

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