I'm a native speaker of French, and even though I think I have a rather good level in English, I always try to keep an open mind. (I learned English by absorbing from a lot of sources: TV, movies, video games, etc.) The problem with an open mind is that people always try to stuff things inside.

Recently I was writing some documentation for a tool we sell, and on two specifics instances, a colleague corrected what I wrote by changing a big part of the sentence. When I asked what motivated the edits, he answered that he found my sentences too "written" (i guess they didn't roll off the tongue? or that they were not really elegant). I'm ready to admit my english may be a bit stilted at times, but here i'm not really sure it's the case.

Specifically, would you say that his is a valid point? Here are the two edits in question, first my version then his.

  • In our example we would for example check the cache statistics with the powershell commandline for AppFabric, but you can use whichever tool you’re most comfortable with
  • In our example we would for example check the cache statistics with the powershell commandline for AppFabric, but feel free to use the tool you fancy

  • This information is not readily available without knowing the ins and outs of every part of the program you’re using
  • This information is not easily accessible without knowing the ins and outs of every part of the program you’re using

But to use my question as a launching pad towards something less specific, how can i find out if a turn of phrase is pleasant/good/valid? In this particular case i resorted to a simple google fight; it worked (kind of) for the "readily available" vs "easily accessible" which seemed to support my phrasing but this solution breaks down quickly when you don't have a readymade saying versus another. Are there other metrics than the "gut feeling" me and my colleague are resorting to?

  • 2
    Your colleague isn't doing you any favours here. In fact, I think in both cases your original is slightly better. I suspect your colleague is simply looking for (possibly pointless) changes to justify the fact that he spent time "proofreading" your words. I think "fancy" is somewhat colloquial for most technical documentation. And "readily available" is a very common set phrase used in relation to information, so your choice is better than his there also. Commented Nov 4, 2011 at 15:01
  • Apart from the political aspects of the situation ( it's not the first time i have had some document "edited" by someone wanting to worm in the creation process, even in french) i do know i may have a tendency to use very formal and/or rigid phrasing. The question is really about what's best in this case, and how can i check what's best in the future.
    – samy
    Commented Nov 4, 2011 at 16:00
  • Well, I don't think there's any single "one-stop shop" you can go to. Your English looks excellent to me anyway, but we can all improve, obviously. Ask a few people in the office, use things like google books, maybe ask here sometimes (for specific usages), but in general just follow your nose. Commented Nov 4, 2011 at 16:08
  • To your concerns about topicality, this question is formally off-topic, (it's about foreign language learning in general, or about those two very specific sentences). But I think the answers are extremely useful here at ELU so I think that is why there's no problem here at all.
    – Mitch
    Commented Nov 4, 2011 at 18:02

3 Answers 3


Re "How can i find out if a turn of phrase is pleasant/good/valid?", writers.stackexchange will serve if you phrase your questions properly. Per its faq, one may ask about "Non-fiction, technical, or scholarly writing" and "Copywriting", among other genres, so long as you are not asking about "strictly interpreted correctness of English grammar or syntax rules".

In the first collegially-rewritten example, "In our example we would for example" is quite clumsy. Consider instead "In our example, one can check cache statistics with an AppFabric powershell command, but use whatever tool you most like".

Re the second example, advice to prefer readily available to easily accessible seems wrong. That a phrase is frequently used carries no weight if it's the wrong phrase. The information in question evidently is readily available, and the actual problem is it isn't easy to access without knowing all about some program.

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    Picking up on the clumsy repetition of for example, which OP didn't specifically ask about, steers us closer into the "off-topic" territory of proofreading, which the FAQ rules against. But you are right, of course! Commented Nov 4, 2011 at 18:49
  • That's funny how i completely missed this repetition. Clumsy indeed. Thanks for pointing it out. Thanks also for pointing me to writers@SE
    – samy
    Commented Nov 4, 2011 at 23:36
  • @FumbleFingers it's not your first use of OP and i couldn't find a definition in the faq. What does it stand for on ELU?
    – samy
    Commented Nov 4, 2011 at 23:39
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    @samy OP means Original Poster, i.e. the person who started the topic. Commented Nov 4, 2011 at 23:42
  • @jwpat7: I don't know about anyone else, but I sometimes think of it as Original Post (when I put my post-modernist the text is all hat on). Commented Nov 5, 2011 at 3:23

I'm not sure this question is exactly "on-topic", but anyway...

Firstly, per my comment above, I suggest OP doesn't take too much notice of this particular colleague. Having said that, it always worth asking native speakers for their opinion, even if you don't always take their advice.

Another possibility is to use Google Books. In the case of OP's second example, my gut instinct was to prefer OP's readily available over the suggested "improvement" of easily accessible. A quick check confirmed that the former is indeed significantly more common. A few more seconds looking at some of the actual usages seemed to further confirm my suspicion that readily available is used more in respect of information, and easily accessible more in respect of raw materials and such.

  • about being "on topic", i thought that my question fell in the middle of the "Usage, word choice, and grammar" entry in the faq. However if i'm wrong i'm sure the community will redirect the question towards its correct destination. I'm pretty sure this question doesn't fall in the "unwelcome here" section
    – samy
    Commented Nov 4, 2011 at 16:01
  • I think the text of the question itself is on-topic, in that you seem to be asking whether the two specific changes suggested by your colleague are justifiable. But the title of the question suggests you're looking for a general approach (or resource) to help you decide on such matters, which is probably off-topic. Commented Nov 4, 2011 at 16:14
  • thank you for your input, and thank you for the idea of using google books to check for usage and context, but i think jwpat7's answer will be more helpful in the long term as a starting point for checking word/sentence usage. So 'im accepting his answer and there can be only one :/
    – samy
    Commented Nov 8, 2011 at 8:26
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    Well I certainly don't disagree with anything in @jwpat7's answer. But I will say that even though I consider myself to be a reasonably competent native English speaker there are always usages I'm not too sure about. I personally wouldn't ask at writers.SE until I'd at least checked Google internet/books to see if there was clear consensus on usage among others. Commented Nov 8, 2011 at 13:26

One issue that hasn't been addressed in this discussion is the balance of a pleasing style versus the general accessibility and clarity of the informational content.

In principle, elegant prose is a desirable commodity; in practice, elegance (in particular, the avoidance of repetition) sometimes needs to be sacrificed in favour of terminological consistency and the avoidance of any possibility of creating ambiguity.

That is particularly so with a technical document, where readers may find themselves puzzling over whether object 1) is actually the same entity that is being referred to by the near-synonyms 2) and 3), especially if no diagrams are included that would enable them to clarify the point. It's better to stick to the same terms unless there is absolutely no chance of misinterpretation on the part of the reader -- and even then, such deviations ought to be used sparingly. Unless you're writing something like The Dummy's Guide to PowerPoint, where (I presume) the author is given an explicit brief from the publisher to write his explanations as entertainingly as possible, you will probably want to establish a fairly consistent tone as well as consistent terminology.

All that being said, where repetitiveness can be eliminated without sacrificing the more important objectives already mentioned (and I'd certainly agree with jwpat7 that "In our example we would for example check the cache statistics" is one of those situations), it should be.

So for this kind of documentation, you could sum up the ideal approach thus: "Write as inelegantly as you must; otherwise, as elegantly as you can".

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