Ripped from the body copy

I was just reading a post from the blog of a prominent trade publication, and was stopped cold by this sentence:

Lastly, if your archaic brand franchise agreement stipulates a business center, inevitably you will have to decide whether it is time to test your metal.

(Oh, yes he did.)

I count at least three errors, one of which is egregious. One or two others are things I stumbled over that I would definitely word differently, but about which I would have to do some further research to determine if they are truly grammatical errors, or just matters of clarity.

Here’s how I would word the sentence:

If your archaic franchise agreement stipulates the inclusion of a business center, inevitably, you will have to decide if it is time to test your mettle.

Now, I’ll break down my changes.

  1. The egregious: metal/mettle. Since the author isn’t talking about jewelry design or G26-2Tmetalsmithing, I assume he meant “mettle.”
  2. The big: whether/if. Use of the word “whether” in place of “if” is rampant, and incorrect. When you use “whether,” the phrase “or not” must appear somewhere behind it in the sentence, as in the following examples:Whether or not you’re interested in hearing it, I’m going to tell you the truth.

    Whether
    you like vegetables or not, you should include some in your diet.If the writer had used the phrase to completion, his sentence would have read, “Lastly, if your archaic brand franchise agreement stipulates a business center, inevitably you will have to decide whether or not it is time to test your metal.” Since this option is unnecessarily wordy, it’s better to replace the whole phrase with the one, small word that should have been used in the first place: “if.”
  3. The minor, #1: stipulates. Usage information about the word “stipulates” isn’t easy to find quickly. I did a cursory search, and found some examples that support what I’m about to state, but no clear, easy-to-understand rule. I’m sure it exists; I just didn’t feel like spending any more time searching for it. But here’s my thought process.It sounds strange to me to use the word as the writer did, which is “stipulate [an object].” I think you can stipulate a behavior, but not a thing. For example, you can stipulate in a contract that X be done, or that X be present in your dressing room (because you’re a renowned rock diva, and you get to stipulate such things). So, while you can stipulate that your dressing room be stocked with pink lemonade, you can’t stipulate pink lemonade. You’re stipulating the stocking of the lemonade in the room; stipulating that lemonade be in the room when you arrive.

    In the writer’s sentence, what he means to convey is that the franchise agreement may stipulate the behavior, or act, of creating a space somewhere on hotel property to be designated as a business center (a.k.a. the inclusion of a business center). Stating so outright is far more clear. And if there is a hard-and-fast grammar rule somewhere that does allow for the writer’s usage, then grammar be damned. Clarity should always trump grammar.

  4. The minor, #2: lastly. First, since the post doesn’t include a reference to a “first” point, there’s no reason to reference a “last” either. Second, for the same reason you wouldn’t say “firstly,” you should’t use “lastly.” It may be appropriate in more formal writing (I’d have to look that one up), but definitely not in a blog post, or anywhere online.

One change I made that I didn’t count among the errors was the removal of the word “brand.” It’s just unnecessary. If any franchisors exist who have titled their franchise agreements “Brand Franchise Agreement,” they have done so in error. As a franchisee, you enter into an agreement with the franchisor, not the brand. The brand is not an entity; therefore, it can’t enter into any type of relationship. The franchise agreement should and most likely does include information about your rights to use the brand, how the various brand elements are to be used, your responsibility to follow the proscribed brand standards, and any penalties for not following those standards. But that is simply one part of the franchise agreement.

Conclusion

Does the word “inevitably” really need to be there? And are you really testing your mettle by asking a franchisor if it’s time to consider revising the agreement? I don’t have enough information to answer these questions, so I have to assume the writer knows what he’s talking about. But because of these other errors, his credibility is questionable, and is why I think those questions even arose. If the writing were clear and error-free, I wouldn’t have reason to question the accuracy of the information contained within it.

But it isn’t. So I do.

I consider this final point to be proof enough of why clarity in communications is essential. A writer can ignore as many grammar and syntactical conventions as they like, and their meaning many still come through. But by not taking care to be clear, and to use the correct words in the correct fashion, they call into question their own credibility, and the truth of their message.

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