Christopher Pratt (cpratt) wrote,
Christopher Pratt
cpratt

Work post (boring)

Although I'm primarily a highfalutin' support agent, I do a lot of other things at work that range from tech writing to loc testing. At a company conference last week, I mentioned in passing that I felt that a brochure we were sending to our customers contained a couple of mistakes; both of them involved the word affect.

Today, the author of the brochure responded to my comments with a really nicely written E-mail with her side of the story. Check it out (only if you're really, really bored):



Back when we were debating it here, we touched base with a contact who is a professional editor for web and magazines, having spent several years editing publications in NYC and is currently in Los Angeles.

She replied to our inquiry as follows:

Affect, as a verb, means to have impact upon (or to assume or take on, but that's irrelevant to this discussion).

Ex: It affects your long term goals a great deal when you don't save a little each week.

Effect, as a verb, means to make something happen.

Ex: The only way to effect change is to take action every day.

Where the confusion comes in is that when you take an action, it affects things and the result is called an effect.

Bottom-line she stated that affect is the correct word to use in the brochure.
Of course, I had to respond... and here's my response:

Great hearing from you!

Let me whip out my English degree and experience as a tech writer for a minute here…

The two sentences in the brochure I didn’t like are these:

Replacement parts are available to affect repairs on customer owned devices
Class attendees will learn to affect repairs to the assembly level

If you diagram the sentences, you get something like this:

Subject-verb-object
Parts-affect-repairs
Attendees-affect-repairs

In both cases, we’re talking about “affecting repairs.”

Affect – when used as a transitive verb – means to produce an effect on, to produce a material influence upon or alteration to, to act upon (or influence). I don’t think it’s correct to say that parts affect repairs – that is, repairs aren’t there before the parts are available: you use the parts to make the repairs. Similarly, attendees don’t affect repairs – that’s because the repairs aren’t there before the attendees arrive.

Effect, on the other hand, means to cause to come into being, to bring about by fixing a problem, or to put into operation. Therefore, the only correct way of looking at is this:

Parts-effect-repairs
Attendees-effect-repairs

There are no repairs before the parts arrive or the attendees learn how to make them. Therefore, it can be said that the parts cause the repairs to come into being and that the attendees learn to bring the repairs about.

Your contact is right in terms of the difference between affect and effect. I think she’s missing the point, though: there’s a difference in time between the two. Affect changes something about a thing (that’s already there); effect causes something to happen (that wasn’t there before).

Anyhow, I hope that explains my point of view here. If anything, I’m feeling good now that I’ve actually written something today that came from my academic background (which I chose because it was interesting to me) and not a VMware ESX server, JMS messaging queue, or something along those lines. I needed a break. :)

Hope you have a great weekend yourself,

Chris

----

And that, my friends, is the lighter side of my job. Now, please excuse me while I dive back into SQL Server Management Studio for the last hour of the day...
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