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Monday, May 19, 2008

When Cars Go Bad

Actual Radio Tease: Man shot dead by own car!

That's funny. Jay Leno has published tons of these. This one our cousin told us about. We laughed. Recalled others that we've heard or seen. But I cringed, too. Someone who is paid to use words, whose job it is to get information across, didn't think or didn't bother to check what was being said.

Here's a term I came across in a piece I was editing last week: Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR, sed rate). This was on a Web page designed to help consumers with a particular health issue understand the types of procedures and tests they would be going through in the process of being diagnosed and treated. The idea behind such pages is the more a person knows and the more a person actively seeks information about his or her condition, the more proactive that person will be in terms of health care and management of his or her condition. The page was written by a writer who supposedly is expert at writing for health consumers. She even has coauthored several books that she often lists as sources. It was edited by an in-house editor, and reviewed by an MD who also writes material for health consumers. All this before it got to me.

Now if leaving a phrase such as "erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR, sed rate)" unexplained was an isolated occurrence in the document, there'd be no real problem. Editors are there to work with professionals and disarm such potential hazards. But it wasn't isolated. It was typical of the entire article.

When a news anchor proclaims someone's car has murdered its owner, or when the patient educator has said I'm going to throw terms at you that will make you stop reading, my thought is neither person bothered to think about the audience. And if that's the case, I wonder how much thought either one gave to the content.

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