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We have a term for a process, "defect source assessment".

We want to describe a set of processes that are not related to that process.

Which of the following (if any) would be correct?

  • non defect source assessment processes
  • non-defect source assessment processes
  • non-defect-source-assessment processes
  • non-defect-source-assessment-processes
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Doesn't 'assessment' make 'process' redundant? – Edwin Ashworth May 1 '14 at 15:05
@EdwinAshworth No, because he's talking about processes that are not related to a specific process, namely, that of defect source assessment. – Kyle Strand May 1 '14 at 20:03
@Kyle Strand Right – so not all these processes involve assessment. – Edwin Ashworth May 1 '14 at 22:12
@EdwinAshworth Correct; and the ones that do don't have "process" in their names; they're just called "defect source assessments." – Kyle Strand May 1 '14 at 23:29
up vote 17 down vote accepted

While I would say the third of your options, "non-defect-source-assesment processes", is most correct, I would strongly suggest trying to rephrase the subject for clarity. The hyphens can be used to indicate at what level the negation applies, so in this case "defect source assessment" is being negated, but "processes" is not. This is appropriate because you are talking about processes (not non-processes). In the second example, "non-defect source assessment processes," the implication is that "defect" is being negated and "source assessment processes" is not.

The problem is that punctuation is sometimes a bit more subtle than you can expect your readers to understand. If you don't want them to get confused, "processes not related to defect source assessment" might be a clearer noun phrase.

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Agreed. I'll add that this is the kind of place where acronyms become handy. If at the start of a document you introduce the acronym "DSA" to stand for defect source assessment, then it becomes immediately clear what a "non-DSA process" is. – tobyink May 1 '14 at 14:19
Good idea, @tobyink. That could make things clearer. – frances May 1 '14 at 14:20
Good call, @tobyink. I was thinking of introducing DSA as an acronym in the document, especially since we've started referring to it as such in conversations. – Phil Downey May 1 '14 at 14:39
+1 for the last paragraph alone. – John Lawler May 1 '14 at 15:31
Yes, the hyphens indicate the scope of the negation, but more generally they connect multiple words into a single modifier: "non-defect-source-assessment" modifies "process," which is why there is no hyphen before the last word. If, however, you were describing an assessment process that was "non-defect-source" (whatever that would mean), you would leave off the hyphen before "assessment" as well. – Kyle Strand May 1 '14 at 20:04

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