The Technical Editor as Diplomat: Linguistic Strategies for Balancing Clarity and Politeness

Jo Mackiewicz, Iowa State University
Kathryn Riley, University of Minnesota - Duluth

This article is published as Mackiewicz, J., Riley, K., The Technical Editor as Diplomat: Linguistic Strategies for Balancing Clarity and Politeness. Technical Communication Feb 2003; 50(1);83–94. Posted with permission.

Abstract

To work diplomatically with writers, editors need to be both clear (so that their suggestions are understood) and polite (so that good relationships with writers are maintained). However, linguistic strategies for achieving these goals are often incompatible because clear forms tend to be direct and polite forms tend to be indirect. Research in pragmatics can offer editors insights into three questions related to reconciling clarity and politeness: which particular linguistic forms best achieve this balance; what principles explain the effects of particular linguistic forms; and how linguistic forms might need to be modified when working with nonnative speakers. By helping editors become more conscious of strategies and principles for balancing clarity and politeness, linguistic research can therefore increase the effectiveness of editor-writer communication.