Writing Carefully

August 27, 2006

Topics: Accessibility, Blogging, Personal.

The other day, in a Cre8asite Forums thread, I wrote the following as a tip for blogging:

DON’T:

Attack other bloggers. Although the flame war is an age old online communication favorite, the person who starts it always loses. Just don’t do it! Criticizing an article with a reasoned argument is GREAT – that’s dialogue. Attacking somebody personally is a big no-no.

And yet, I recently found myself on the defense because I did attack two people in a blog post. Was this because I had intended to attack Joe Clark or Jeff Croft? Certainly not. I admire both of them for their work in accessibility and standards issues. I read Joe’s blog regularly and enjoy it because of his unapologetically forthright voice. I only recently discovered Jeff Croft, but on reading some of his additional material I find his perspective worthwhile and enlightening. In that post, I didn’t think through my comments from the most important perspective – the readers.

Ultimately, your intentions are rarely what is read by your audience. Your words are – and if you haven’t carefully thought through every sentence, then you’ve left yourself wide open to making a mistake. In Jeff Croft’s case, I turned a disappointment in the words he wrote into an attack on his own perspective on accessibility. In Joe Clark’s case, I chose to attach a label to his attitudes and perspectives which was not justified, in a failed attempt to make an example. (It is inevitably a failed example, since the label was unjustified.) This is unfortunate; it turned an otherwise effective blog post into one which I feel is highly flawed due to my excesses.

I’m not going to alter my post – the context of the comments would be lost. My blog will continue to exist as is, warts and all. However, in the future, I think I need to take more care to consider the viewpoint of the reader. It’s always a possibility that the person you’re discussing will read your post. Have you written something that you’re comfortable having that person read? Some people go out looking to stir up trouble – they’re pursuing controversy for attention. That isn’t my goal – I intend to write reasoned commentary. Controversial topics, especially, require very careful writing. In this case, I fell short of my aims.

Today, Jeff has posted a follow-up to his previous controversial accessibility article. In it, he lays out his views systematically and clearly. His thoughts are very reasoned – and it does come down to practicality. Ultimately, the client is the boss – if a client says you can’t do something because he can’t pay for it, then you need to stop. From a business perspective, if a designer gives away “free accessibility with every design!”, that designer is heading for bankruptcy. Jeff does not have any hesitation about building every ounce of accessibility into a site which is reasonable and practical. But, like every designer, he has to draw the line somewhere.

6 Comments to “Writing Carefully”

  1. Wow, Joe – does that have anything at all to do with this post? Thanks for your comments, but if you’re not going to at least attempt to address the actual subject of the post, I’d rather you didn’t bother.

  2. Do you really think that any regular reader of your blog thinks that accessibility costs extra at every level and instance? Is there a client who pays so little you won’t use alt texts?

  3. Yeah, that’s exactly my point – I never felt like I was attacking anybody, either. However, the people I discussed clearly DID feel attacked. My realization is that my own intent isn’t necessarily clear unless I take the care to express myself in the best possible manner.

    Thanks, though, Mike.

  4. I never viewed your other post as an attack or felt you were being disrespectful if it’s any consolation. I felt you were just stating your views on the matter. But I do very much agree, attacking anyone using any public medium is strictly unprofessional and uncalled for and advising other not to do it is sound advice.

  5. Thanks – certainly, after a couple of hot-headed exchanges, the reminder seemed needed…I think a lot of people lost their heads last week. Many good points were made in the arguments, but because of tempers, a large quantity of undeserved blame and ill will ended up all over the place!

  6. Well-said, Joe. I think all of us can use a reminder about this once in a while.

    No hard feelings at all. 🙂