15. March 2023 - Jeffrey A. McGuire

ANTE, the OSP editorial code. Podcast 10

Be clear about what pronouns refer to — "it," "this," "that," "they" can get confusing. Keep this in mind with ANTE.


In this episode, host Carl Richards interviews Felicity Brand, Christine Beuhler, and Jeffrey A. "jam" McGuire in a quick conversation about the Editing Code ANTE and how you can avoid confusing your readers by being clear about what you are referring to.

Welcome to the Open Strategy Partners podcast, "Communicate, Connect, Grow!" At Open Strategy Partners, we specialize in strategic product communication. We help you communicate the value of what you do, connect you with the people who need to know about it, and grow.

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About ANTE

ANTE­—from "antecedent"—seems straightforward enough on its face. "Be clear about what you are referring to." And yet, as we write about technology and the software industry, things can get noun-phrase heavy. This industry likes to verb-ize nouns, and noun-ize verbs. Sometimes it can be hard to be clear what is doing the doing, or what is being acted upon.

Another way this can get tricky for us at OSP is when we’re writing case studies for our clients. So we’d be writing a piece that describes our client’s client, and perhaps referring to *their* customers or users. So there can be long rhetorical distances between whatever we’re talking about and the next "this, "that" or "they" referring to it.

A more simple gotcha can be not defining the writer and the audience. Is the piece written in first person? Who are they talking to? Is the piece written in second-person address and if so, who is the “you”

Examples

Example One

Felicity: ANTE. In the first para we refer to marketers. Are they the audience for this article? When we say "your," do we mean, you, the reader, a marketer? If so, I would swap out the marketers at the end of the sentence for "organizations" or "projects." Or is "you" the CTO or the agency founder, and the marketer is a person in their team?

Ohh, I just scrolled up and read the brief :-) The target audience is marketers. So I think we should change this slightly to address the reader more directly. I will make some suggestions inline.

Example Two

Editing process comment thread:

Felicity: ANTE. Not sure what "this" refers to. The productivity?

John: Ah, yes, productivity - not too clear though. Maybe "these gains can quickly add up."

Draft text: Similarly, editors can be more productive with a smartly implemented Blocks strategy and for large, worldwide enterprises, this can quickly add up.

Revised text: Similarly, editors can be more productive with a smartly implemented Blocks strategy and for large, worldwide enterprises, these gains can quickly add up.

Using ANTE

As a writer

Be consistent with address and remember who’s talking and who you’re talking to. For longer sentences, or multi phrase sentences, check that each part makes sense in scope and context.

As an editor

You don’t have to work too hard to notice an ANTE — they usually trip you up fairly obviously. Try to resolve it by anticipating what the author was going for, but do flag and clarify. Using extra words to spell out something is better for the sake of clarity than keeping things brief but ambiguous.

As a reader

No one likes to be confused, or made to feel stupid for not getting “it” ;-) … so ANTE is important.

Creating clear communication takes practice — join us!

When you keep your writing clear, your readers have the best chance of appreciating what you have to share with them. Send us your examples or questions, read the OSP editing guide, or take a look at our other codes.

To get in touch with us, follow what we're doing, or learn about our Writer Enablement Workshops, email us at hello@openstrategypartners.com, or hit us up on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.

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Episode Transcript

Thanks to the hardest working robots in the transcription game, we bring you ... the transcript! We cannot guarantee the 100% accuracy of this, but we can see many of the words we said in this recording appear to be here.  

Carl Richards  0:07  
Hi, I'm Carl from OSP. And this is communicate connect grow the OSP podcast. On today's episode, we're talking about being clear what you're referring to in your writing with the editing code ANTE about our podcast. If you want to be a more effective writer, a more transparent editor, develop clear strategic thinking, or learn from our network of expert friends and colleagues. That's what we're here for. We divide our episodes across three themes, communicate, connect, and grow. This is a communicate episode, and we're talking about being clear what you're referring to in your writing with our editing code aunty.

Carl Richards  1:03  
The ANTE editing code falls into the word choice part of the editing process. It's about accuracy and terminology. In our documentation about this code, it says Be clear about what this that and they are referring to.

Felicity Brand  1:18  
Hello, my name is Felicity brand. And I'm a Communications Consultant at open strategy partners. The editing code aunty is about word choice, and it's about being accurate. It's about being clear who or what you're referring to. And it brings to mind that comedy sketch who's on first, you don't want to confuse your reader. Technology communication can often be stacked with noun phrases, or complex clauses. And sometimes they can be long sentences, which makes it easy to lose the thread of who or what you're referring to. When you stack noun phrases, which is common in communication about technology. It increases the cognitive load on the reader. So they need to kind of remember the points that you've made. If you're not clear who or what you're referring to, it's very easy to get lost. So that's what this ANTE code is about. We don't want to confuse the reader, we want to be clear what we're talking about.

Christine Beuhler  2:26  
I'm Christine Bueller. I'm a Communications Consultant at open strategy partners and I do a lot of writing and editing. throughout my day to day work, though I'd say me personally, it's a bit more heavy on the writing. The ANTE code is just clarifying what this that and they refers to throughout the piece.

Jeffrey A. McGuire  2:55  
Me again, Jeffrey A. Mcguire call me "jam." I do a bunch of writing and editing here at OSP. And this code, Aunty, we spell it a n t e. I'm multilingual. And one of my hobbies, frankly, is deconstructing words and learning about their origins. If you know the word, anteatal, or antebellum, "ANTE" means before previous antecedent, all of these things mean something before antebellum before the word antecedent before death or change, and antenatal before birth, right. So And frankly, in American English, in its purest form, we use the word ante for the bet that you put in before you see your cards in poker or whatever game you're playing if you're if you're gambling. And in my mind, when we were capturing these writing principles, and trying to encapsulate them in the codes, this was another version of keep your context, clear what comes before to explain something that I'm saying Now

Carl Richards  4:00  
Let's explore how you use this code as an editor.

Felicity Brand  4:03  
As an editor, what we can do to try and resolve possible confusion in the text is to anticipate what we thought the author was going for, and flag it and get the writer to clarify that we can guess but it's much better to get the writer to review that piece. So one way to resolve that could be splitting a sentence into two. Alternatively, you can add extra words, we generally go for clarity, we're aiming for conciseness in our writing, but in this case, if adding extra words adds clarity, it's much better to do that than be brief and ambiguous.

Christine Beuhler  4:45  
When I'm using the ante code. In my work day as an editor. I don't always know what I'm coming into as thoroughly as the writer does. I might Do not have as much background on project or the client or, you know, a specific area of technology, making sure that like all the pronouns, all the this, that those that are being referred to, throughout the piece are really clearly defined, it just makes it easier for me as an editor to kind of grasp the purpose of the piece more quickly,

Jeffrey A. McGuire  5:25  
as an editor. Anytime I come across a vis or a vet, or a Vai, this means that so and so or they apply to a situation, I want to be so sure that the reader understands exactly what we're referring to. And that can be really hard. I said somewhere that the distance between whatever the subject is, and then adding a vis, that can be so far away, that it can be confusing for readers. And we'd like people not to have to think too hard or decipher what it is we're doing, we're trying to be clear. So instead of saying, this means so and so it means means these code factors imply that or not use a pronoun, but use a synonym or something just to be perfectly clear. Because we might have a situation where I am writing a case study for my client. And then so the case study is written from my clients perspective. My client has a client, who I've interviewed, perhaps, and they are speaking about something, and if I start to quote someone, and repeat things, I've got a client voice, I've got a client of the client voice, I have technology names, I have processes, I have implications, and that can all just get wild. So it's really important to get super clear about what is what, and make those connections as obvious as possible that this weird form of context that I tried to sum up as ANTE.

Carl Richards  6:55  
As a writer, how do you approach this code,

Felicity Brand  6:58  
As a writer, you consider ANTE, when you're thinking about your address, first person or second person address, you need to be consistent throughout the article at OSP. We do a lot of case studies, that can get tricky, because we are writing for our client's client. And that means there's a lot of points of view in play, which means it can be confusing, who you're talking about when 

Christine Beuhler  7:27  
I would say, as a writer, I use that ANTE code, like throughout the entire process of writing something, technology can be kind of obscure, you know, you have to keep like teams, processes, platforms, departments, tools, languages, all separate and clear. Sometimes, you know, I don't know what something is either. And so I think Auntie prompts me to ask more questions about anything I don't understand or that I may not know about. And so I think it helps for me to be more specific in my writing, and just, you know, more curious about what I'm writing.

Jeffrey A. McGuire  8:12  
As a writer, I try very hard to stay away from converting too many nouns into verbs, especially, and to some degree converting verbs into nouns, because I don't want the ambiguity. So as I'm writing, I very much try to keep things straightforward, and non repetitive. So if I've said something once, maybe it's best not to say it, or to put things together into one sentence or a bullet list or somewhere where I can make things clearer. So these vague references this thing I mentioned that time, as humans, we mostly understand that it's mostly fair to use it, it's not a mistake. But it's not necessarily the clearest way we can say something. So I'm trying to be clear as a writer,

Carl Richards  9:02  
For the reader to have a great experience. Here's why this editing code is extremely important.

Felicity Brand  9:08  
And it is so important for readers because we don't want to confuse them. At OSP. One of our writing principles is clarity. That ANTE editing code falls into this clarity area. When you don't have ANTE, we can confuse the reader. They won't understand they may end up feeling Why Why can't I get it? We don't want readers to reread a piece of content to try and understand it, particularly when it's something that's avoidable, through good editing.

Christine Beuhler  9:44  
I think that the ante code is important to the reader because it's kind of another signifier that what you're about to read is clear and well researched. And it's like, quality work. I know that I as reader, if I start a piece, and there's a lot of this that day, that is not explained, I'm going to feel like that piece is not for me, maybe it's not for me as the intended audience, like, there's an acronym that I don't understand, I'm gonna be like, Oh, if I keep reading, I'm not going to understand what's going on what's being talked about. That's why ante is important

Jeffrey A. McGuire  10:24  
For the reader, we do a really functional form of communication at OSP, for ourselves and for our clients. We want to help people explain things clearly. And we want to help people understand things as quickly and easily as possible. And in both cases, the clarity of explanation in creation should make the ease of understanding greater and I want people to be able to not struggle to learn that my clients offering gives them all these benefits, they could get this and that. And the other thing for using whatever it is that we're that we're helping explain, it's an ease of consumption issue, I really would like people to come in and get the point and move on, better informed.

Carl Richards  11:27  
If you're familiar with that old Abbott and Costello comic sketch who's on first, you'll know how important this code is. We'd love to see your favorite examples of a confounding piece of writing where the ante was not clearly established. Share your examples or questions with us via Twitter at open underscore strategy or email Hello at open strategy partners.com. This was one of the editorial codes we use at OSP. We'll be sharing more of them as we go. If you'd like to learn more. In the meantime, come over to open strategy partners.com. Have a look at our writer enablement workshops, case study offering or get in touch to talk about your strategy or product communication needs. Thanks to everyone who contributed to this podcast, all the peas that OSP thanks to our clients who believe in us. Shout out to Patrick Golmaal for our high energy maple syrup flavored theme music and to Mike snow for additional horn arrangements. 

Carl Richards  12:30  
Thank you for listening and subscribing about our three themes on the podcast. You'll hear from different members of the OSP team hosting episodes over time, communicate all things communication. We share how we tackle writing, editing, word choices, formats, processes, and more. Connect in depth conversations with interesting smart people about who they are, what they do, and how they approach their life and work as communicators, technologists and leaders grow. We cover strategic approaches to understanding and expressing the value of what you do, including tools, templates and practical applications. We also feel strongly about building a mindful, positive human first culture at work that's bound to pop up from time to time to this podcast is us figuring out communication, connection, and growing together. Subscribe now on YouTube, Apple podcasts or the podcast channel of your choice. Follow us suggest guests and topics ask us questions on social media. We are at open underscore strategy on Twitter. Until next time, thanks for listening to communicate, connect grow the OS OSP podcast.

Jeffrey A. McGuire  14:30  
We'll have to we'll have to work out something that combines the words aunt, ant, anti with an I and ante with an E and pretend that we can be super clever that way


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