17. November 2021 - Jeffrey A. McGuire

PAX, the OSP editorial code. Podcast 06

How we create peaceful, clear, and colorful communication through one of OSP’s favorite Editing Codes: PAX.

In this episode, host Carl Richards interviews Felicity Brand, Christine Beuhler, and Jeffrey A. "jam" McGuire. We talk about how we use the Editing Code PAX to add connection, authenticity, and awareness to our technical communication.

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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Using non-violent language

The PAX editing code falls in phase C, the style and phrasing phase of our editing process. It’s about being aware and mindful of your audience, the words you choose, and using inclusive and human-centric language. Fun fact — PAX means “peace” in Latin!

Aim to use non-violent language by replacing metaphors around war, sports, and sex, with other, more peaceful, constructive ones like art, carpentry, and gardening.

PAX expresses a fundamental, underlying principle of OSP and our approach to words and work. It aligns with our authentic communication principles, which rests on the pillars of Empathy, Clarity, and Trust. It’s not a blanket ban on certain language. It’s more about intentional choice and being respectful, clear, and appropriate for your audience — and your own brand, image, or values. We write to help communicate the value of what we do; there are plenty of good reasons to stay away from controversy.

For writers in a technical industry, metaphors can be indispensable when explaining complex concepts. We endorse using analogies and metaphors to add color and energy to a piece of writing, but we’re also mindful of which ones we use. Nonetheless, violent metaphors are often so entrenched ... Hold up! That’s a war metaphor. We might have heard and used violent metaphors for so long that their origins don’t occur to us. We strive to avoid these and be mindful of writing and saying what we mean in the spirit we mean it.

OSP Partner, Jeffrey A. "jam" McGuire noted this unintentional tendency in this episode. "As a culture, the English-speaking world uses a lot of violent metaphors quite unconsciously. I think even unknowingly, this puts violence on our minds, or perhaps makes us less sensitive to the violence in the world. And we decided quite early on at OSP to try to avoid this."

Check out the other Editing Codes in our Quick Start Guide.


By the way, at OSP we also try to avoid judgmental language like "corrected," or "fixed" as editors. We can’t assume we’re always right, and all of us are always learning.


Before: Head-to-head comparison of content localization.

After: Side-by-side comparison of content localization.

Our reasoning: “Head-to-head” involves two parties confronting, or being in competition, with each other. OSP prefers to emphasize cooperation and collaboration over competition whenever possible, so we changed “head-to-head” to the less combative “side-by-side”.


Before: Using CMS [A] for a medium-sized blog is like a knock-around in the park for a Premier League footballer...

After: Using CMS [A] for a medium-sized blog is like Mariah Carey doing karaoke: it’s possible, it can be fun for a while, but CMS [A] thrives on big audiences and prime-time performances.

Our reasoning: We changed the sports metaphor to a singing celebrity metaphor. For one, sports metaphors are competitive in nature. Two, many sports are regionally relevant. Jam elaborates. “There’s an interesting side danger that goes along with having an international audience: the readers in question might not know or understand certain sports references like baseball, cricket, rugby, or sumo. We try in many ways, including with PAX, to be as inclusive as possible by using language that hopefully everybody understands.” 

Plus; the second metaphor is more fun!

Weapons and violence

Quick examples of violent phrases and potential non-violent alternatives:

  • Before: A metaphor is a weapon that should be wielded very carefully.
    • After: Choose your metaphors carefully.
    • After: The right metaphor in the right place can make all the difference.
  • Before: Translation support is a powerful weapon in your CMS arsenal.
    • After: Translation support is a powerful tool in your CMS toolbox.
    • After: Translation support is a highly valued CMS feature in international enterprises.
  • Before: This topic is a minefield.
    • After: This topic can be controversial.
    • After: We prefer to avoid that topic.
An OSP-internal chat about using PAX

Using PAX

As an editor

As an editor, Communication Consultant Felicity Brand acknowledges that being part of a distributed team with combined knowledge has its perks when it comes to PAX. "As an editor, you have to keep your eyes peeled for PAX because some expressions are so entrenched in our language that you don’t spot them. But at OSP, we have writers all over the world, which means other team members will spot words or phrases that might slip past.” 

As a writer

As a writer, PAX can help you become more conscious of how you wield language. Oh — did you catch it?? “Wield” might be an edge case, since it could refer to “wielding” a weapon or “wielding” power or influence. Still, to be on the safe side, we’d probably choose a different verb.

Christine Beuhler, another Communication Consultant at OSP, agrees that PAX helps her choose her words more deliberately. "As a writer, I love the PAX Code and I use it a lot. I think it really makes you reflect on how you use language. The PAX Code is also a really good concrete representation of our open source ethos at OSP. We are always aiming to encourage cooperation instead of competition."

As a reader

Switching to PAX may go unnoticed by readers, but regardless, reading language that de-emphasizes violence, competition, and aggression can be a welcome change of pace for many. Christine Beuhler says, "I can’t speak for other parts of the world, but violent language and metaphors about sports and war are very common in the US. And I’m sure that it has an impact on how we think about and process our world. The impact of the PAX Code for readers might be subtle, but I hope it makes them think more about the language they see and the kind of content they consume on a daily basis."

Creating inclusive communication takes practice — join us!

When you use PAX, you lean into connecting authentically, providing value instead of encouraging competition, and promoting inclusivity. Send us your examples or questions, read the OSP editing guide, or take a look at our other codes.

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Image Credits: Greenhouse and tools photo by Annie Spratt.

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Episode Transcript

From the robot transcription mines, we bring you at least some words from our episode in an order that might or might not reflect our intentions. 

Depending on the speaker, when our transcription robots heard "PAX," they chose to insert "packs," "PACs, "tax," and "pecs." Oh how we laughed.

Carl Richards  0:07  
Hi, I’m Carl from OSP and this is communicate connect grow the OSP podcast.

Carl Richards  0:27  
On today’s episode we’re talking about avoiding violent references in your writing with the editing code PAX. 

Carl Richards  0:35  
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 using non-violent language with our editorial code PAX. The PAX editing code falls into the style and phrasing part of the editing process. It’s about word choice and choosing to use inclusive and human centric language. In our documentation about this code, it says, aim to use non violent language by replacing metaphors around war, sports, and sex with other more peaceful ones.

Felicity Brand  1:25  
Hello, my name is Felicity brand. And I’m a Communications Consultant and open strategy partners. I work as a friendly house elf, I am awake while everyone else is asleep, and I edit their hard work so that when they wake up, they’re ready to go again, I find PAX to be a really interesting code it so it falls within our style and phrasing phase of editing. And it’s about choosing human centric language, and inclusivity. So PAX itself is about when we’re using figurative language metaphors, adding color, we choose to use positive imagery, and it aligns with, I think the fundamental underlying principles at open strategy partners. We’re all about empathy and understanding people PAX reflects that we write in a positive way we write with inclusivity. And we avoid combative language references to war. It’s surprisingly common in language very subtle, I find PAX interesting to identify opportunities to use alternative wording.

Jeffrey A. McGuire  2:42  
Hey, this is Jim from OSP. Again, and I’m really happy to be talking with you today about one of the more important writing and editorial codes that we have. And that’s PAX P-A-X, PAX is the Latin word for peace. And this editorial code, and applying it to our communications is one of the fundamental moral and ethical decisions that we’ve made around communication. There’s a couple of ways that we strive to be at OSP are things we strive to do and not to do. We won’t write negative copy. So there’s another code that I’m sure we’ll talk about at some point called FUD. We don’t do "fear, uncertainty and doubt" marketing or promotion for our clients or for ourselves. We want to highlight the good in whatever we’re trying to promote. We try very hard to be inclusive, we try very hard to be open to learning new ideas, and the PAX principle, encapsulate the idea that we don’t use violent language.

Christine Beuhler  3:52  
My name is Christine Buehler. I’m a Communications Consultant at open strategy partners. And in my day to day tasks, I write blog posts, I edit landing pages, and I also help craft social media. So the PAX code is about using non violent language by replacing metaphors that are more aggressive, more violent, you know, like about sports or war with more peaceful and constructive language.

Carl Richards  4:37  
Let’s explore how this code is used in the editing process.

Felicity Brand  4:42  
As an editor, you have to keep your eyes peeled for PAX. Some expressions are so entrenched in our language that you don’t spot them. A quick example that comes to mind is we wrote a comparison piece we titled it a head to head comparison and using this PAX editing code, we really looked at that and changed it to a side by side comparison. It’s essentially saying the same thing. But it’s removing that combative element, because we’re all about peace and love and harmony. Another thing to be aware of with PAX as an editor is geographic or cultural differences. Some things may be more acceptable than others in different parts of the world. At OSP, we are a distributed team, we have writers all over the world. And I think that PAX helps make me a better writer and a bit editor, because it compels me to be aware of these differences, which I think is a good thing for everyone.

Jeffrey A. McGuire  5:44  
Not using violent language is avoiding using war metaphors, sex metaphors, violent metaphors, sometimes even competitive or sports metaphors, when we can describe something in a different way. As a culture, the Anglo Saxon world, the English speaking world, uses a lot of violent metaphors, effectively violent language, quite unconsciously. I think even unknowingly, this puts violence on our minds, or perhaps makes us less sensitive to the violence in the world. And we decided quite early on at OSP. To try to avoid this.

Christine Beuhler  6:29  
I would say I actually don’t use PAX that much in my role as an editor just because I think I will the other writers are very aware of this and tend not to use it. But there are infrequent occasions where like a more violent metaphor is used, like sometimes things slip through the cracks. I think that some violent metaphors can also be geographical or regional. Because we have a distributed team. Sometimes we are pointing out violent language that other people in other parts of the world don’t recognize. That’s one place where having a remote distributed team is really an advantage.

Carl Richards  7:25  
When writing, there are many different ways you can approach this code.

Felicity Brand  7:30  
As a writer, it’s important to understand that figurative language and metaphor is really useful, you’re adding color to your writing, we certainly endorse that, that OSP, however, PAX is about being discerning when you’re choosing those metaphors. I think as a writer, it’s important not to think about PAX, if you’re in the flow, don’t interrupt your flow. And if you want to paint a word picture, let it all come out. And then come back on your your second read through as a writer to just look for any any word choices that you think could be improved or find a more positive example, if you can’t find an alternative, flag it for your editor, you no help, I can’t think of anything better. And get your editor to do the work for you, I think as a writer for PAX is be discerning, but don’t let it interrupt your flow, come back to it or let someone else do it.

Jeffrey A. McGuire  8:32  
So when I am writing a piece, when I am editing a piece, when I’m having a conversation with someone, I would rather talk about being at the coalface than being in the trenches or on the frontlines of something I like to talk about things that one finds in the wild or in the field, I’d like to talk about planting seeds and reaping the benefits and reaping harvesting things fruiting and growing and so on, I really strongly feel that using growth and and peaceful ways to describe things has an effect on our on our day and our mood. And I want to say that just staying away from sports and competition metaphors. On the one hand, if we talk about head to head and toe to toe, and then you know like boxing kind of stuff, it’s really aggressive, right? And we can talk about side by side comparisons, for example, or go another route with that stuff. Frankly, with sports metaphors. There’s an interesting side danger that goes along with having an international audience and that international audience doesn’t know baseball or doesn’t know cricket or doesn’t know rugby, or doesn’t know sumo or doesn’t know where whatever it is that you love where you come from. We try in many ways, including this way to be as inclusive as possible by using language that hopefully everybody understands or that You know, the vast majority of people who might read everything, avoiding sex metaphors and dirty jokes, and whatever it is simply an issue of respect and professionalism. And that sort of stuff has absolutely no place in anything that OSP comes near at any time. And I don’t have to mention any of the difficult, problematic relationships that our societies in the world have to these issues. It’s just off the table here. There’s no point we don’t need to. So ...

Christine Beuhler  10:30  
I actually really love the PAX code, and I use it a lot. As a writer. I just love it because I think it’s very thoughtful. And I think it really makes you reflect on how you use language PAX is a really good concrete representation of our open source Ito’s at OSP. We are always aiming to encourage cooperation instead of competition. I think the PAX code fits in really well there.

Carl Richards  11:09  
Why is this editing code important to readers? How do they benefit from it?

Felicity Brand  11:14  
As a reader? PAX is important. Metaphors make content fun to read. They can help explain complex concepts. We choose to use positive metaphors, avoiding violent language. Because that’s part of the ethos at OSP. We believe that positive messages good. We want to kind of embed a subconscious pick me up. I think it’s important to note that it’s not every organization is going to choose PAX. I mean, for some people, this idea of avoiding violent language is important like it is for us, for others maybe not so important. It’s not a hard and fast rule. And I think there is room for gray area. I think as an editor, if you call out language that you think may be violent, the writer should have input and you know, it’s a conversation, the writer should get to say, well, this is right for my client. This fits with the voice and tone of the brand I’m writing for, we believe at OSP, that it’s worth working harder to find a positive message because we want to be the change we want to see in the world Be the change you want to see in the world.

Jeffrey A. McGuire  12:35  
As a consumer of content. I watch for this because this is one of those things that I’ve thought about for a long time. I think sports metaphors are pretty much fine in a sports article. And I guess if I am reading something historical that talks about a battle or talks about a conflict or talks about an actual war, that’s an appropriate spot to use that sort of thing. But I don’t want to use that language. When I’m trying to convince someone to adopt an open source solution. I don’t want to mix up violent language with highlighting the benefits of selecting a particular solution to a problem, or trying to convince someone to join a community and make a contribution. I don’t think it has any place. And I think I’m left with more column with something with a more peaceful result. In my mind, if I read something where that’s been avoided, I noticed now and it bothers me a little bit if I see that sort of stuff in a context where I wouldn’t put it in PAX is really important to us. And I’d be very curious to hear from, from you, from our audience, what you think about this stuff. And to hear more examples, we have more examples. And there’s all sorts of interesting ones like bite the bullet in English is not a war metaphor. It’s just talking about how old medicine worked, you know, in the beginning days of surgery when when they didn’t have anesthesia, lots to say. And I would also have fun, maybe creating a resource with people of other metaphors that we can choose. We’ve noticed carpentry, gardening, mining, farming, growing flowers, trees, there’s lots of ways to go. So I’d love to know more. And I’d love to hear about this for everybody

Christine Beuhler  14:11  
for the PAX code. As a reader, it may not always be obvious that what you’re reading, we’ve specifically aimed to use non violent language. I think it’s a really good practice that should be more widely adopted. I mean, I can’t speak for other parts of the world, but violent language and metaphors about sports and war are like they’re very common in the US. And I’m sure that it has some sort of impact on how we think about and process things in our world. I think the PAX code for readers. It might be subtle, but I hope it makes readers think more about the language they see and just the kind of content they’re consuming on a daily basis.

Carl Richards  15:09  
Here are a few additional thoughts our teammates had about the PAX editing code.

Felicity Brand  15:13  
He’s a subtle example of using the PAX editing code. I was editing a colleague’s written piece and they use the word foray. I called out for a, because it does have in its background, a military connotation. And I suggested alternatives, extend, explore, investigate, develop. And the writer said, thanks, I didn’t even realize that this was a war word. I think this is a good example of one that sits in the gray area, for a is probably acceptable to a lot of readers. However, I was the editor, I called out PAX, and it’s up to the reader to make that decision. 

Christine Beuhler  15:56  
I like the PAX code. Because once you become aware of it, of you know how often more violent metaphors are used, you just kind of start seeing it everywhere. You know, like when someone points out a yellow car, and then you start seeing a yellow car, everywhere. It’s kind of the same thing. I think we don’t realize how surrounded we are by that kind of competitive or destructive language, you know, with the PAX code, once you start seeing that and being more aware of it, I think it can kind of open your eyes.

Jeffrey A. McGuire  16:32  
Not that it comes up so often. But I would also strictly avoid religion in the sort of communication I do. I would save that for you know, if I had the chance to write a what I think about a given theology, for example, but religious metaphors, also avoiding them as a really easy way to avoid offending people.

Carl Richards  17:08  
I hope we’ve successfully navigated our way around this topic. Does violent language standout for you? Perhaps you’ll find yourself choosing a more neutral or positive option in your next piece of writing? 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. If you’d like to learn more in the meantime, come on over to open strategy partners.com Have a look on our writer enablement workshops case study offering for 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, flavor theme music and to Mike snow for additional horn arrangements. Thank you for listening and subscribing. About our three themes on the podcast, you’ll hear 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 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, I’m Carl Richards and this is the OSP podcast

Felicity Brand  19:24  
and jam I’m still waiting for my Heinzelmännchen t-shirt, please!


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