Slide1.jpgA phrase like "a good policeman knows his duty" unnecessarily excludes women. While it might be excessive to read history as if every general use of "man" is overtly sexist, today's culture calls for alternatives. 

Using "police officer" instead of "policeman" is easy, but replacing every "his" with "his or her" will sound tedious in a longer document. Pluralizing is often a good solution ("good police officers know their duty"), as is rephrasing to avoid the problem altogether ("a duty-minded police officer serves the community").

Fall 1998, by Dennis G. Jerz
07 Jan 2011 (last updated)

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Examples and Quick Fixes
Revising to avoid sexist language will help make your message more accessible to readers who might otherwise feel excluded. But when you revise, avoid the easy edits that introduce stylistic clunkers such as "his/her" and "s/he," or the questionable grammar of a mixed version such as "one should wash their hands every day" ("one" is singular, but "their" is plural).

Gender-specific Gender-neutral Comment
Dear Sir,
Dear Sir or Madam, Okay, so "Dear Sir or Madam" avoids the problem of exclusivity, but it's stuffy and awkward. If an internet search doesn't turn up the person's actual name, try "Dear Admissions Committee," or just "Admissions Committee Members". 
policeman police officer The same goes for salesman, businessman, etc. Note that in some contexts, calling Sally Jones "a successful businesswoman" or referring to "Congresswoman Mary Smith" is perfectly acceptable. Still, such terms may subtly reinforce the idea that it is unusual for a woman to have that job.
gunman shooter The term loses a bit of specificity when "gun" is removed, and in fact journalists do regularly use "gunman" -- presumably after a witness or suspect is identified as male. When the gender of the person with the gun is unknown, writing a story about a "shooter" is better than referring to "the gunman or gunwoman" over and over.

Avoid Stylistic Clunkers (and even worse mistakes)

1) Over-correction of Historical Phrases

"Every man for himself." 

I can imagine using this image deliberately, because I wished to evoke an image from a bygone era (abandoning ship, giving up the battle). To change the phrase, then, would divorce it from its historical context. To many, of course, that's precisely the point of advocating gender-neutral language; if we change the way we speak, we will change the way we think, so that we don't perpetuate the imbalanced cultural view that shaped our language. Still...

Every man or woman for himself or herself 
Every man/woman for him/her self
The above examples are quick fixes that avoid sexist language, but the result is stylistically awkward.
Everyone for him- or herself.
  Correct, but still a bit awkward, though.
Everyone for yourselves.
  If you really needed to shout this while on board a sinking ship, the people around you would probably forgive the slight awkwardness.

The best solution is probably to avoid this cliché altogether.
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Interactive Fiction

Before the first-person shooter, there was the second-person thinker.

Documentary filmmaker Jason Scott will present GET LAMP, a documentary on word-driven computer games, at Seton Hill University, 7-10pm Tuesday (Oct 5).

Scott writes:
In the early years of the microcomputer, a special kind of game was being played.  With limited sound, simple graphics, and tiny amounts of computing power, the first games on home computers would hardly raise an eyebrow in the modern era of photorealism and surround sound. 

In a world of Quake, Half-Life and Halo, it is expected that a successful game must be loud, fast, and full of blazing life-like action.

But in the early 1980s, an entire industry rose over the telling of tales, the solving of intricate puzzles and the art of writing. Like living books, these games described fantastic worlds to their readers, and then invited them to live within them. 

They were called "computer adventure games", and they used the most powerful graphics processor in the world: the human mind. -GET LAMP "Introduction"
The screening is sponsored by the Division of Humanities and the New Media Journalism.

The film will be screened in the Media Sphere, a high-tech gaming space where students can unwind with the latest video games. Admission is free.

The Media Sphere is located behind Cecilian Hall.

Filmmaker Jason Scott is an entrepreneur with a Twitter account devoted his cat Sockington (with nearly 1.5 million followers).

Scott regularly gives convention speeches on such topic as Wikipedia and digital archiving.

After spending two years working on the film in his spare time, he posted an appeal on the fund-raising website Kickstarter. Over 300 supporters of digital history and fans of classic computer games contributed more than $26,000 to help him finish editing the movie.

GET LAMP had its first public screening at a standing-room-only event at the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) East in March.
"Who expects a documentary about text parsers to pull at their heartstrings? Yet the segment that focused on the appeal of IF to the blind was sincerely moving." --1Up's Retro Gaming Blog
Seton Hill University faculty member Dennis G. Jerz was one of the scores of gamers, digital historians, academics, and gaming industry professionals interviewed for the project.

"I enjoyed playing these games when I was a kid, and I find that they're a good vehicle for introducing certain new-media concepts to the classes I teach," said Jerz.

The New Media Journalism program regularly offers courses in "Video Game Culture and Theory" and "New Media Projects," and "Writing for the Internet."  Students in those courses learn to use the latest tools for telling their digital stories in a variety of formats.
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A thesis statement is the single, specific claim that your essay supports. A good thesis statement is not simply an observation, a question, or a promise. It includes a topic, a precise opinion, and reasoning. [More]
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This document is a set of instructions in order to format a paper in MLA style with Microsoft Word. (It assumes you know how to access MS-Word on your computer.)

This document covers the following:

Maintained by Dennis G. Jerz
Latest revision 01 May 2004
Originally submitted 08 Oct 1999
David Neis, UWEC Junior

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Choose a form, fill it out, and push the button... you will get an individual entry for a "Works Cited" page, which you may then copy and paste into your word processor. The BibBuilder is more like a guide than a full-fledged utility, but you may nevertheless find it helpful.

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RUR [ Intro & Summary | Image Archive | Review

R.U.R. was written in 1920, premiered in Prague early in 1921, was performed in New York in 1922, and published in English translation in 1923.  The following year, G. B. Shaw and G. K. Chesterton were among those in London participating in a public discussion of the play.  Capek responded, via The Saturday Review, to what he felt was the excessive thematic attention they and other critics paid to one of his devices: "For myself, I confess that as the author I was much more interested in men than in Robots." [1]

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Eliza (Weizenbaum 1966) is the first chatterbot -- a computer program that mimics human conversation. In only about 200 lines of computer code, Eliza models the behavior of a psychiatrist (or, more specifically, the "active listening" strategies of a touchy-feely 1960s Rogerian therapist).
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"Adventure" (also known as "Colossal Cave Adventure") is a forerunner of virtual reality, and as such, is a forerunner of hypernarrative. For a game that is so unfair, stylistically inconsistent, and frustrating, it has been tremendously influential.  This was the first of its kind -- using words to create a rich simulated world.  Nobody had seen anything like it; it spread quickly across the Internet.

In early 1977, Adventure swept the ARPAnet. Willie Crowther was the original author, but Don Woods greatly expanded the game and unleashed it on an unsuspecting network. When Adventure arrived at MIT, the reaction was typical: after everybody spent a lot of time doing nothing but solving the game (it's estimated that Adventure set the entire computer industry back two weeks), the true lunatics began to think about how they could do it better [proceeding to write Zork] (Tim Anderson, "The History of Zork -- First in a Series" New Zork Times; Winter 1985)


Note: Sources vary on the date of Crowther's original version, placing it anywhere from 1968 to 1977. In response to an e-mail query, Crowther put it at 1975, "give or take a year." Other evidence dates the composition to the 1975-76 school year, with Crowther probably abandoning the project in early 1976 (See "Somewhere Nearby is Colossal Cave: Examining Will Crowther's Original 'Adventure' in Code and in Kentucky." Digital Humanities Quarterly 1.2 (2007)).

[play Colossal Cave Adventure online]

Some sources date the origin of Colossal Cave to 1972, on the grounds that Crowther was at that time keeping a computer map of the real Mammoth Cave.  While Woods is sometimes credited for turning Crowther's map into a game, Crowther's original definitely had treasures and puzzles.  In an e-mail to me, Crowther noted that he originally intended for the magical elements to be buried deep within the cave, but that Woods introduced the magic much earlier.  


Fig. Adventure 1-1 (Gillogly?)

Welcome to Adventure!! Would you like instructions?

Somewhere nearby is Colossal Cave, where others have found fortunes in treasure and gold, though it is rumored that some who enter are never seen again. Magic is said to work in the cave. I will be your eyes and hands. Direct me with commands of 1 or 2 words. I should warn you that I look at only the first five letters of each word, so you'll have to enter "northeast" as "ne" to distinguish it from "north". (Should you get stuck, type "help" for some general hints. For information on how to end your adventure, etc., type "info".)
  - - -
This program was originally developed by Will Crowther. Most of the features of the current program were added by Don Woods. Address complaints about the UNIX version to Jim Gillogly (

You are standing at the end of a road before a small brick building. Around you is a forest. A small stream flows out of the building and down a gully.

The transcript above is from one of many versions floating about the Internet. According to Adams ("A History of 'Adventure'"), Jim Gillogly "spent several weeks in 1976 porting the code (with Woods' and Crowther's blessings) from the original FORTRAN source into C for UNIX. Most UNIX systems run successors of this C version." As part of the Software Toolworks edition in 1981, Walt Bilofsky "added another puzzle, the stock certificates," (Gillogly, e-mail to the author, 15 Apr 2000) and the game was marketed under the name "The Original Adventure."  Gillogly recalls: "At my insistence the Toolworks paid them [Crowther and Woods] a royalty in exchange for their endorsement of it, and so far as I know these royalties are the only money they made out of the program."

The opening text, presumably written by Gillogly, gives more credit than usual to Don Woods.  "Most of the features of the current program were added by Don Woods" may be an exaggeration, unless Gillogly meant "features" in the sense "new features, not found in the previous version."   According to Gillogly:  "The original version I wrote was very much like the Crowther and Woods version: I used their Fortran source, and changed only one aspect of Witt's End, to make that point less obscure."  

Gillogly continues:

The original port was quite faithful to the original, including retaining the upper case text. As part of the port to the Software Toolworks version on the Heathkit H-89 I switched to upper and lower case, and changed the wording after victory to be more satisfying than just the "OK, it's over" kind of thing. Crowther and Woods played this version and agreed that it kept the flavor they had in mind.

Fig. Adventure 1-2 (Inform)

At End Of Road
You are standing at the end of a road before a small brick building. Around you is a forest. A small stream flows out of the building and down a gully.

>enter building
That's not something you can enter.

>open door
You can't see any such thing.

>go in
What do you want to go in?

That's not something you can enter.

Inside Building

To further complicate the matter, there are so many different versions of this game floating around the Internet, including versions that have been expanded by authors of uneven quality, that establishing the "definitive" version is still a bit tricky. A sequence of commands that works in one version of "Adventure" may not work in another version. 

For example, in the Gillogly version, typing "enter building" at the beginning of the game successfully moves the player inside. A 1994 reconstruction by Eckman, Baggett and Nelson (fig. 1-2) improves the formatting, makes the text much easier to read, and offers loads of new features (such unrestricted saving of in-progress games, an online hint system, and more), but the simple command "enter building" no longer works.

As the transcript shows, in this implementation of "Adventure", typing "in" will get you inside, but "go in" "open door" and "enter building" will trigger an error message that claims that the building is "not something you can enter". The unfortunate newcomer who gets this message will be unnecessarily frustrated.

While the Gillogly version does not have the "enter" problem, it and the 1994 version both share another problem concerning a stream. The textual description of the area mentions that the stream flows "down a gully," so one is naturally led to move in that direction, towards what appears to be a dead end.

Fig. Adventure 1-3 (Inform)

At End Of Road

You are standing at the end of a road before a small brick building. Around you is a forest. A small stream flows out of the building and down a gully.


In A Valley

You are in a valley in the forest beside a stream tumbling along a rocky bed.


At Slit In Streambed

At your feet all the water of the stream splashes into a 2-inch slit in the rock. Downstream the streambed is bare rock.


You don't fit through a two-inch slit!


You can't go that way.


Although the description of "At Slit In Streambed" includes the word "downstream," when the player tries to go down again, the computer responds with a "cute" refusal message. When the player tries to go back "up," another error message results. While part of the "fun" of any game involves discovering the rules, most players would probably agree that, if you were "really" exploring the area around Colossal Cave, you would not need to strike out in random directions to learn that one has to go south in order to move from "At Slit In Streambed" to the bare rock mentioned in the text. The textual descriptions of the various playing spaces do not provide enough of the information that the user needs in order to navigate the space. Hence, the "puzzle" of finding the grate is contrived and annoying.

Note: A reader who wishes to remain anonymous (out of respect to the creators of the 1994 edition) points out that the original version of Adventure recognized commands such as "go downstream."  Hence, the original game did not require the player to intuit which direction to go. The reader writes:

I recall the momentary sense of wonder at this "powerful" program that could understand "GO DOWNSTREAM". And then, I forgot about the programming challenge and was immediately drawn into the story (OK, game). It was my first taste of mimesis. I'm sad for all those who've only experienced the port and not experienced this moment of magic right at the beginning of the experience. -- An anonymous commenter, in a personal e-mail to me, 23 Mar 2001.

"Colossal Cave Adventure" created a new literary genre, provided a generation of programmers with their first taste of a natural-language interface, and, with its focus on exploring and collecting treasure in an underground setting, continues to influence computer games.



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Technical writing is the presentation of information that helps the reader solve a particular problem. Scientific and technical communicators write, design, and/or edit proposals, reports, instruction manuals, web pages, lab reports, newsletters, and many other kinds of professional documents.

While technical writers need good computer skills, they do not necessarily have to write about computers all their lives. "Technical" comes from the Greek techne, which simply means "skill".

Every profession has its own special specialized forms of writing. Police officers, lawyers and social workers all write specialized reports -- and someone has to learn, perform, critique, and teach each one. Every major politician hires staff members to design, administer, and analyze surveys -- and to write the secret reports that get leaked to reporters. Somebody has to design tax forms and the accompanying instruction books, assembly instructions for toys, and scripts for product demonstrations or multimedia presentations.

For a large project, a technical writer may work with a graphic designer, an interface designer, several computer programmers, and a staff of freelance writers to design a huge web site. For a small project, or for a small company, the tech writer may be expected to do all of the above, all alone.

The first rule of technical writing is "know your audience." Writers who know their audiences well are in a position to suggest and implement solutions to problems that nobody else identifies.  Whenever one group of people has specialized knowledge that another group does not share, the technical writer serves as a go-between. But technical writers are not just translators, accepting wisdom from experts and passing it on unquestioningly; they also are in the business of generating truth, by choosing what gets written, and for whom, with the full knowledge that later readers will depend on the accuracy of what has been written. 

Whoever writes the first draft sets the agenda.

  • Whenever I find myself writing the first draft of a collaborative document, about 80% of it gets published more or less as I drafted it. When other people show me their first drafts, I tend to change very little -- unless I really care about the topic, or I have a lot of time on my hands.
  • My sister is a computer programmer who, when she just started out, happened to distinguish herself by being very good at taking notes during meetings. Her colleagues began stapling her notes to the official minutes.  As a result, she was in a key position to resolve disputes about what did or didn't happen at a particular meeting, or to offer opinions about how a particular project was progressing. (These are the skills that enable employees to move out of the cubicles and into the offices with windows.)
  • On the web, where the most senior people in an organization typically spend the least time on the Internet, younger webmasters can have a disproportionately large effect on the way the world perceives the organization.
  • The web is mostly words. See: How Users Read on the Web.

Technical editing may involve working with brilliant researchers and scientists, who may be world-class experts in fluid dynamics or swine reproduction, but who may not know a paragraph from a participle. Some of these will be eternally grateful for your help, and others may resent your interference.

Good technical writers are also good teachers. They excel at explaining difficult concepts for readers who will have no time to read twice. Technical writers have an excellent eye for detail. They know punctuation, syntax, and style, and they can explain these rules to authors who need to know why their drafts need to be changed.

Although they typically work on their own for much of the time, they also know how to coordinate the collaborative work of graphic artists, programmers, marketers, printers, webmasters, and the various "subject matter experts" (SMEs), who know all the answers but have never bothered to write them down anywhere.

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