Thursday, October 4, 2012

If you write "the equation," state the equation

Most people who like to write about “the equation” never state the equation they’re writing about. Here are a few examples:

This Bloomberg article about bond trading quotes a banker: “Now, at least part of the equation that favored Bush is changing.” But neither the banker nor the reporter states the equation, specifies the part that is changing, or states how that part is changing.

It gets worse: Here’s an organization that devotes a web page to “a major program” for “Changing the Equation.” But the organization does not state the equation that the major program is expected to change – much less the change(s) that the major program is expected to make.

But it gets even worse than that: There’s an organization that calls itself “Change the Equation.”

However, Change the Equation does not state the equation that Change the Equation presumes to change, or how Change the Equation presumes to change the equation.*

And possibly worst of all: ExxonMobil, which employs 14,000 scientists and engineers, all of whom know what an equation is, has joined the poor innumerate souls over at Change the Equation. ExxonMobil may have already picked up some bad habits from the relationship: Like Change the Equation, ExxonMobil states no equations or changes in equations when talking about Change the Equation.

The Takeaway: Writing about an equation without stating the equation is flimflam. If you mean situation, write “situation,” not “equation.” If you mean rules, write “rules,” not “equation.” Whatever you mean, write the word for it; don’t write “equation.” If you don’t know what an equation is, don’t sabotage your credibility by using the word equation.

See disclaimer.

*One full equation does appear on the organization’s web site: “And remember, 10 points roughly equals a grade level’s worth of learning.” However, it does not appear to be the equation. And on the bottom of the home page, a posed photograph shows parts of two equations on a chalkboard.

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