Monday, September 16, 2013

The cumulative effect of errors (3)

There is a legal concept called the cumulative effect of errors. One description is: “In some cases, the cumulation [sic] of minor errors may amount to error requiring [a decision by a judge], even if individual errors, alone, would not.” (Via LexisNexis. Subscription required.)

You have probably noticed an analogous effect in your reading. If an author keeps making errors (or keeps using awkward diction or syntax), eventually you will conclude that he is careless and probably unreliable, even if none of his errors reduces clarity by much.

Example of cumulative effect

My example consists of the title and first five paragraphs of a blog post by Kris Dunn, Chief Human Resources Officer at Kinetix, a recruiting firm.

I’m going to use Dale Carnegie’s method of analysis: A portion of Mr. Dunn’s text, the reader’s reaction, the next portion of Mr. Dunn’s text, the reader’s reaction, and so on.
The 5 Managerial Responses to Sabotage At Work…

[Does that ellipsis mean there’s more to come? I hope so; this is only the title.]

Human behavior is so… well… human.

[More ellipses.]

How many times have you seen it?  The pressure’s on at work, and maybe even layoffs look like they might be around corner –
[Around the corner.]
or another round of layoffs, depending on your company’s situation. And when the pressure’s on, you can bet that questionable human behavior is right around the corner.

Self-Preservation 101.  I’m good, he’s bad.  Pick me, pick me!…

[Why would someone ask to be picked for a layoff? To get a fat severance package?]

[Will you stop with the ellipses?]

What type of human behavior?

[I thought you just answered that.]

How about the type who will cheat

[You just asked “what type of human behavior” and now you’re answering with a type of person.]

to ensure an edge is gained

[To gain an edge.]

against a co-worker you

[You alluded to a type of employee; now you refer to the employee as “you” (second person).]

are directly or indirectly competing against?  The type of behavior you see

[Now you’re using “you” to refer not to that employee but to me. You’re making this article more confusing with every line.]

when someone’s trying to keep his job

[Is this “someone” different from the employee who asked to be laid off?]

and will apparently DO WHAT IT TAKES TO CLOSE THE DEAL

[Please don’t shout, Mr. Dunn.]

vs. his competitor, who also happens to be a teammate.

How do you deal with that when it involves actions that are labeled as “sabotage”?

[Your title promised this article was about sabotage; and now, like a shifty lawyer, you’re squirming out of that promise by embedding the word sabotage in a sneaky, passive-voice circumlocution.]

You know the type of internal cheating I’m talking about – email tips, gossip about someone’s performance, misinformation and yes, even stealing the ideas of others and presenting them as your own.

[In one sentence, you’re using “you” in two different ways.]
The Takeaway: As you edit your copy, watch out for the cumulative effect of errors. The more errors you make, the worse you look, even if none of your errors reduces clarity by much. Eventually your reader stops reading – and may even vow never to read anything else with your name on it. Or your company’s name. Think about that.

See disclaimer.

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