Friday, June 01, 2012

Quality and Quantity

I've been rereading past posts on this blog and finding an annoying amount of errors. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, however, given the way the posts have been written. For the past few weeks, I've been writing 250-650 words in a 30 minute session, to be posted at 7:00 AM. Sometimes, I must admit, I've been pushing myself a bit too hard, writing right up until 6:59, and posting without really having proofread it. I often go back during spare moments to reread posts later in the day, fixing typos if I find them. What is annoying, then, is going back, weeks or months later, to find that even after all that, errors remain.

What I should be doing is to write for only 22 minutes and then edit for another five. I could then spend the last 3 minutes on technical issues, like links and formatting. Also, I could confine myself to a word limit. That's my plan for next week then. I'm still going to write for 30 minutes, but from now on I will write only one 200-word (or less) paragraph. (Notice that I'm already on my second paragraph in this post.) In short, I'm going to shift my focus from quantity to quality. And I'm going to practice more exactly what I preach also when working on this blog.

A blog is not really a place for scholarly writing. One of the reasons that I've been trying to write more than a single prose paragraph is to keep things light and playful around here. But I think I can accomplish that goal at the level of content, while still forming each post in an exemplary manner. So those are the new rules. Each post next week will take 22 minutes to write and five minutes to edit. It will consist of roughly 6 sentences and no more than 200 words. It will state a single fact I know and tell you how I know it.


fjb said...

Do you consider "amount of errors" (instead of "number") such an error?

Thomas said...

Not really, since it's not something I would have caught given only five more minutes. I think it would have escaped my attention on this argument:

"Amount is also used with plural count nouns when they are thought of as an aggregate:

- . . . who wrote the U.N. that he'd be glad to furnish any amount of black pebbles. --New Yorker, 20 Sept. 1952

- . . . the high amount of taxes. --Harper's Weekly, 29 Sept. 1975

- $6.5 billion: Amount of advertising dollars spent on pre-buys for the fall season. --Time, 7 June 1999

This less common use of amount is sometimes called incorrect, but the critics bring forward no cogent reason for condemning it. The use is well established in general prose." (Merriam-Webster's Concise Dictionary of English Usage, Merriam-Webster, 2002)

Errors populate my writing like pebbles on a beach. Given a bit more time and thought, while weighing "amount of error" against "number of mistakes" perhaps, and coming up with no cogent reason to condemn the first draft, I might even let it stand. Errors are individual things, but it is not their number that annoys me, it is their amount.

That said, if this is the sort of error you like to avoid (and/or you like to avoid this sort of criticism) then, yes, it would be the kind of error that you want to leave yourself some time in your writing to spot and correct before moving on to the next paragraph.

Andrew Shields said...

I think it's interesting that "amount of" with a plural noun is relatively common but "number of" with a non-count noun is pretty much nonexistent.