Querying the Author: Some Examples
Tipsheet from the January 16, 2001
Querying the Author: How To Do So
Getting the answer you want:
In 1991, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) implemented
Reaction: Huh what? Who are they to pass laws? Instinctive
query: Is legislation the word the NCAA really uses?
Final query: Could the preceding sentence say "regulations"
rather than "legislation"? If the latter is the word NCAA uses,
it should stay, but normally a nongovernmental body makes rules
or regulations rather than laws.
Stop right now and complete the Getting Results Assessment in Table
Reaction: Who writes on a table?
Instinctive query: Why is this a table instead of a worksheet? [The
book had lots of worksheets already.]
Final query: May we switch this table to a worksheet? It
feels much more like the latter.
Providing a sensible alternative:
Text: Institutional change is as pervasive
as it is rare.
Initial query (from another editor): That's contradictory.
What do you mean?
Revision: Institutional change is as pervasive when it occurs
as it is rare in the life of a society.
My query: Is preceding sentence OK? The original was so compressed
that it could be read as contradicting itself -- "pervasive" can
as easily mean "all the time" as "everywhere," and the former sense
sits very strangely beside "rare." Please clarify if this isn't
what you meant.
Or as the old adage goes, "In God we trust, all others bring data."
Reaction: That's bogus.
Revision: Or (to update the old adage), "In God we trust,
all others bring data."
Query: Is preceding sentence OK? The point is well taken,
but the familiar adage is "In God we trust, all others pay cash."
It is helpful to have a group discussion of the results after everyone
has filled out the chart prior to a meeting.
Reaction: I just got whiplash following that one.
Revision: It is helpful to have everyone fill out the chart
independently, then meet for a group discussion of the results.
Query: Do you like the preceding sentence? The point is easier
to appreciate when the narrative moves through time only in one
direction, rather than going back and forth as the original did
Taking as much space as you need:
Remember that from the little acorn grows the mighty oak of a problem.
Reaction: Point and snicker.
Query: The acorn/oak metaphor brings with it a whole cloud
of positive associations that seem out of place here. Could the sentence
say something along the lines of "Remember that small problems are
like shoots of crabgrass that can quickly grow and spread to engulf
your organizational turf"? Or some other wholly negative metaphor
-- a run in a stocking, a patch of mold on a stored fruit, a hairline
crack in an airplane part -- to bring the meaning and the tone into
synch.... Please mark up as needed.
While each worker's individual contribution is very valuable, their
ability to collaborate with others has a significant effect on organizational
Revision: Although each worker's individual contribution
is very valuable, the workers' ability to collaborate with each
other has an even more significant effect on organizational performance.
Query: Is preceding sentence OK? By a twist of grammar, the
original wound up with the contributions collaborating with each
other rather than the workers. It also presented two conditions
that were essentially equal ("very valuable" and "significant effect")
in a structure that implied some substantial difference or tension
Without due diligence, managers can unknowingly erect performance
barriers around any of the issues discussed in this book.
Revision: Without due care, managers can unknowingly erect
performance barriers around any of the issues discussed in this
Query: Is "due care" OK in the preceding sentence? For many
of the executives in your target audience, "due diligence" is a
term of art that has to do with sniffing out the true state of a
potential merger partner, and might be distracting here.
Refraining from explaining everything:
All of these hurdles will not be found in every company (and there
may be additional ones in your organization).
Revision: Not all of these hurdles will be found in any given
company (and there may be additional ones in your organization), but
it's important to know which ones you're dealing with.
Query: Is the addition acceptable in the preceding sentence?
The point seemed worth stating rather than simply implying. [The linguistic
twist that led the original to mean that no company would have any
of the hurdles under discussion would have seemed snide to this author,
so I left it out.]
Using AutoCorrect and AutoText:
The same kinds of problems tend
to crop up in manuscript after manuscript. When you come up with a
really good explanation for something, let Word remember it for you.
And if you find yourself using the same short phrase over and over
again in different explanations, let Word do the typing for you. I
use AutoText for long segments and AutoCorrect for short stuff; you
can tell what's what on the following list because the AutoText items
have names of four characters or more, to take advantage of Word's
automatic completion facility. Here are some samples from the boilerplate
library I've developed:
This author's name is spelled differently in text and Reference
section. Please fix as needed.
baddate: The only similar reference has a different date
-- please adjust as needed.
inhyp: In this hypersensitive age, it's useful to avoid 3rd-person-singular
pronouns where feasible so as to keep the reader's mind on the matter
at hand and off linguistic development and gender politics....
hh: Even relatively neutral usages such as "his or her" can
ip: Is preceding sentence OK?
ip2: Are the two preceding sentences OK?
nocite: There appears to be no citation to this source in
the text. Please either insert one or delete the reference.
noref: The Reference section lacks an entry for this citation.
qdate: Note query in text re date of this source.
reptqu: Note query re this source.
thp: the preceding sentence
th2: the two preceding sentences
thpa: the preceding paragraph
Copyright 2004, Hilary Powers.