David M. Brown's Blog

October 28, 2010

Dawn of a new sub-optimally drafted memo

Filed under: Editorial services,Language and grammar — davidmbrowndotcom @ 2:38 am
Tags: ,

Ray Ozzie’s “Dawn of a New Day” memo to soon-to-be former Microsoft colleagues is full of sentences like this: “Yet, for all our great progress, some of the opportunities I laid out in my memo five years ago remain elusive and are yet to be realized.”

The phrase “in my memo” is superfluous, since Ozzie has already stated that he discussed these opportunities five years ago in a memo. But worse is the claim that some opportunities both “remain elusive” and “are yet to be realized.”

First, if the opportunities are there, they’re there. It’s not the opportunities that have proven elusive but the successful exploitation of them. Or one could simply say that some opportunities remain unexploited. Or that some potential remains unfulfilled. But setting all that word-dicing aside, let’s consider what kind of opportunity could both remain elusive and be realized. That is to say, once the writer indicates that certain goals have proven elusive, what is added by noting that they also haven’t been achieved or realized? If a goal has eluded you, you haven’t reached it by definition. Goals that you have reached have not eluded you. You made it. It’s done. I hope I’m not being repetitive and saying the same thing over and over and emptily reiterating here.

This is just a snippet from a memo that could use blue-penciling throughout. Ozzie also talks about “new usage scenarios,” “internet-centric social interaction,” etc. He is too ardent a fan of the semi-colon. It’s not a big deal that a draft memo by an industry exec whose forte is software design or management or the vision thing should be a bit lumpy and replete with varicose-veined software-industry bureaucratese. But if your memo is important, your swan song, something you hope will be influential and be quoted in news stories and be honored and studied by future generations of Microsoft execs, and so forth…why not make sure it’s in the best shape possible? Run it by a copy editor.

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