I am not a picky person when it comes to spelling and grammar, but when I see a report or memo which has repeated errors I immediately question the ability and dedication of the person who wrote it. Why didn't they take the time and effort to do it right? Most of the successful engineers I know write clear, well-organized memos and reports. Engineers who can't write well are definitely held back from career advancement.

Richard L. Levine, Manager, Bell Northern Research, 1987.

There arises from a bad and inapt formation of words, a wonderful obstruction of the mind.

Sir Francis Bacon, 1561–1626.

Errors in writing, causing what Bacon calls “a wonderful obstruction of the mind,” are traditionally called faulty mechanics but can be viewed as sporadic or intermittent noise. Enough sporadic noise in a document, such as repeated misspellings or numerous sentence fragments, can easily turn into constant noise. Such noise will give your reader an impression of hastily, carelessly produced work undeserving of the response or feedback you hope for—as is bluntly expressed by an engineering manager in the opening quotation to this chapter.

To help you eliminate intermittent noise, this chapter shows where it is most likely to occur: in spelling, punctuation, sentence structure, and technical usage. This chapter also shows you how to edit your writing in order to remove sporadic noise.


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