A Technical Editor’s Blacklist

Howard Silcock   © 2020

This list is based on work originally carried out with fellow technical writers Barbara Jones and Diana Muzrimas.
We started out by collecting phrases that we corrected often enough to feel they should go onto a ‘blacklist’. Now I’ve added some additional ‘usage guidance’ as well.

Disclaimer. The list’s recommendations come with no guarantee.

A B–C D E F–H I–K L–M N O P–Q R–T U V–Z

Blacklisted Phrases

Examples and Alternatives

able, ability

Avoid

users are able to customise the toolbar

Preferred

users can customise the toolbar

See also capable, capability

actionable

Avoid if possible, unless it means ‘could be the subject of a legal action’

adjacent to

Avoid

the code is printed on a label adjacent to the power button

Preferred

the code is printed on a label next to the power button

all of the …

Avoid

check that all of the details

Preferred

check that all details …

or

check that the details …

allowed to, not

Avoid

account holders are not allowed to allocate …

Preferred

account holders must not allocate …

and/or

Avoid unless necessary to avoid ambiguity

as a consequence of

Preferred

because

at the end of the day

Omit

at the present time, at this point in time

Use now or just omit

Avoid

at this point in time no decision has been taken

Preferred

no decision has been taken

or (better)

we haven’t decided

aware of

Avoid

site staff are aware of the new communication port settings

Preferred

site staff know the new communication port settings

basically

Omit (almost always)

basis

See on a daily/weekly/monthly/…/regular/… basis

below

The word below is not an adjective, so if you write ‘the below table’ you run the risk of being criticised for being ungrammatical. You can say ‘below the table’, using below as a preposition (like ‘under’)—though the meaning, of course, is quite different—or ‘the table below’, using below as an adverb (more or less like ‘down there’). (Strangely, though, grammarians are starting to recognise above as an adjective, so you can get away with the exactly parallel phrase ‘the above passage’, though that was once similarly disputed.)

Avoid

See the below table/figure/…

Preferred

See the table/figure/… below

capable, capability

Avoid

the system is capable of handling up to ten requests

the system has capability to handle up to ten requests

provides the user with the capability to set preferences

Preferred

the system can handle up to ten requests

allows the user to set preferences

See also:   able, ability

comprises of, is comprised of

Avoid

the programme is comprised of the following projects

Preferred

the programme comprises the following projects

consequence

See as a consequence of

degradation in response time

Avoid

the system exhibits a degradation in response time

Preferred

the system responses are slower or the system is slower

(Used as verbs or as adjectives)

double click

right click

right hand

left hand

left click

Preferred

double-click

right-click

right-hand

left-hand

left-click or just click

 

(The Microsoft Style Guide recommends using ‘click’ and ‘right-click’—even when, for a left-hander, ‘right-clicking’ may actually be done with the left mouse button!)

Double Negatives

not until

not illegal

not unless

not unreasonable

Avoid

it is not unreasonable to expect …

Preferred

it is reasonable to expect …

e.g.

Use only where space is limited (for example, in a table).

Preferred

for example

event

See in the event of

exist(s)

Keep this word for philosophical discussions about ontology and the meaning of life.

Avoid

a second server exists to provide back-up

Preferred

there is a second server to provide back-up,

or just

a second server provides back-up

experience

Almost always to be avoided (long-winded and pretentious!):

Avoid

delays in service may be experienced

our aim is to provide an enhanced user experience

during the system upgrade users may experience a degradation in response time

deliver a positive client experience

Preferred

there may be delays

our aim is to improve our user interface or to make our system easier to use

the system may be slower during upgrade

satisfy the client

following

Preferred

after

going forward

Avoid at all costs.

Preferred

in the future or from now on

iaw

Write in full

Preferred

in accordance with

i.e.

Use only where space is limited (for example, in a table).

Preferred

that is

information

All technical documents provide information or instructions. It’s tedious to keep using the word ‘information’.

Avoid

this document provides information regarding …

for more information regarding xxx, see …

this document provides information on how to …

Preferred

this document is about …

for more on xxx, see …

this document tells you how to … or this document explains how to …

in order to

Avoid

a new processor was installed, in order to improve execution time

Preferred

a new processor was installed to improve execution time

in terms of

Reword—there’s almost always a simpler way to say it

in the event of, in the event that

Avoid

in the event of an unexpected system shutdown

Preferred

if the system shuts down unexpectedly

in view of the fact that

Preferred

because

inserted in

Preferred

in     (not in all cases—use judgement)

issue

In software environments, often thought to be a more ‘elegant’ word for problem or error. But it actually makes the meaning more obscure.

Avoid

Users should report any issues with the new release to the Help desk

Preferred

Users should report any problems with the new release to the Help desk

it’s, its

Incorrect

within the majority of it’s networks

when its appropriate …

when its been decided …

Correct

within the majority of its networks

when it’s appropriate …  or    when it is appropriate …

when it’s been decided … or   when it has been decided …

-ize

Preferred

-ise

left hand

See double click

leverage, leveraged

Although these words are appropriate in certain contexts, don't use them simply as fancy substitutes for use and used, unless you want your documents to read like advertising guff.

Preferred

use or used (generally says it better)

located in/on/under/ …

Omit located

Preferred

in/on/under/

(as verbs)
login, logon, logout, logoff
setup, set-up
shutdown, shut-down
startup, start-up
timeout, time-out

Using a hyphen or running the two words together is correct and easier to read when you use one of these phrases as an adjective or a noun (eg 'set-up procedure' or 'a timeout of one minute'). But when you use the phrase as a verb, it should follow the pattern of 'shut up', 'sit down', 'hold on', and so on.

Avoid

Users are required to login

Next you must set-up your profile

Preferred

Users are required to log in

Next you must set up your profile

multiple

Avoid

where multiple users share a printer

Preferred

where more than one user/several/a number of users share a printer

Nominalisations
(nouns from verbs)

implementation

termination

activities

reinstallation

Nominalisation is forming nouns from other parts of speech, particularly verbs—eg “implementation“ from “implement“. It’s very common in technical and business writing, and chokes the life out many sentences. A verb usually depicts something happening—“data flows”, “a window closes“ or “a computer crashes“—and therefore evokes a vivid mental image. A noun, on the other hand, usually labels a thing and evokes a more static image of something that’s just “there“. If you nominalise a verb, the mental image becomes less vivid and you drain the sentence of some of its life. When a piece of writing befuddles your brain, check out the verbs. Often you’ll find that the author’s nominalised all the strong, active ones and pieced them together with weaker ones like “is“, “has“, “proceeds“, “occurs“, and so on.

Avoid

responsible for the implementation of the package

following the termination of the program

monitoring activities undertaken by users of Tivoli

the contractor was tasked to undertake reinstallation of the package (or to take carriage of the reinstallation of the package)

Preferred

responsible for implementing the package

after the program ends [or, if you must, terminates]

monitoring what Tivoli users do

we asked the contractor to install the package again

not able to be

This awkward phrase is often a signal that someone’s trying to evade responsibility for something that happened by making it seem as if it was caused by a shortcoming in some inanimate object

Avoid

the fault was not able to be found

the deadline was not able to be met

Preferred

we couldn’t find the fault

we didn’t meet the deadline or—just maybe!— the deadline was unrealistic

on a daily/weekly/monthly/
…/regular/… basis

on a cost-benefit basis

Avoid

passwords are changed on a monthly basis

funding for travel is provided on a cost-benefit basis

Preferred

passwords are changed monthly

funding for travel is provided when benefits justify the cost

order

See in order to

prerequisites required

Preferred

prerequisites

presented

Avoid

the window was presented

Preferred

the window was displayed

prior to

Preferred

before

referenced

Avoid

a list of all sources referenced is provided at the end of the paper

Preferred

a list of all sources referred to is provided at the end of the paper

or

references are at the end of the paper

resource

Preferred

(when referring to a person) employee, staff member, or worker

right hand

See double click

set-up, set up

See login, log in

shut-down, shut down

See login, log in

singular or plural?

Often plurals can make for ambiguity. In the following example, it isn’t clear how many switches and how many routers there are per location. Using singulars with each can make things much clearer. Even when there isn’t any danger of ambiguity, switching to a singular can sometimes help the reader to form a clearer mental picture.

Avoid

At key locations, the XYZ devices are connected between the switches and the two routers.

Preferred

At each key location, an XYZ device is connected between the switch and each of the two routers.

slash (or solidus)

Don’t write word1/word2 just because you can’t decide whether word1 or word2 is the right one.

start-up, start up

See login, log in

terms

See in terms of

timeout, time out

See login, log in

utilise/utilize

Preferred

use

via

Preferred

by/through/using

web site

Preferred

website

According to a discussion on the AustechWriter list, website is becoming more common. But you could probably still use web site if you prefer. Sources advocating website include http://www.askoxford.com/asktheexperts/faq/usage/website?view=uk and the Macquarie dictionary, as well as various usage guides. But others favour web site, or even Web site. (The latter’s because Web is short for World Wide Web. However, The Times Style Guide and The Guardian Style Guide now even advocate world wide web and internet.)

who is/are, which is/are, that is/are

Avoid

users who are granted this role will have Support files, which are owned and controlled by …

Preferred

users granted this role will have Support files owned and controlled by …

within

Preferred

in