Rose is a Rose

Rose is a Rose
Inspecting AND Writing

You wouldn’t expect home inspectors to be discussing the fine points of misplaced modifiers or use of the passive voice when sharing report writing tips, but this is exactly the advice veterans gave to a newbie inspector asking for report writing do’s and don’ts, recently on a home inspector forum. Here is some more of what they say.

Buy and read The Elements of Style by Strunk & White,” said inspector Jim Katen. “Read it through, then read it again, one chapter at a time. It’s an easy read. I quite literally wore out two copies of it in college. It’s so succinct, so clear and so applicable to home inspection reporting that I can’t imagine a better text to start with.”

Katen continues, “It’s not enough to write your report so that it can be understood. You’ve got to write it well enough so that it can’t be misunderstood. For instance, I once wrote the recommendation, ‘Replace the gutters with the roof.’ I meant to say that they should replace the gutters at the same time that they replace the roof. Most people would probably figure that out. However, it doesn’t pass the ‘can’t-be-misunderstood’ test. I can easily imagine someone discarding their gutters entirely after replacing the roof based on this recommendation.”

Katen adds, “When writing about a particular problem, start the explanation with a description of the location. If you just jump into a discussion of the intricacies of a problem, readers are often lost because they’re trying to imagine it in their heads as you describe it. Without a location, they lack the foundation necessary to build the image in their heads. I start my paragraphs with, ‘at the master bathroom window,’ or, ‘just above the front door,’ or, ‘in the crawlspace under the kitchen.’ Once people have the location set in their heads, their imagination is ready to add images and they can more easily visualize the issue that you describe. This technique has the added benefit of automatically improving your writing style as every paragraph won’t start with ‘the’ or ‘there is.’”

“If you use boilerplate in your reports, just insert a placeholder of some type at the beginning of the boilerplate. For instance, use ‘L*O*C*A*T*I*O*N’ blah, blah, blah (a piece of boilerplate that I use to describe a problem that I see time and again). Before you finish your report, do a search for ‘L*O*C*A*T*I*O*N’ to be sure you haven’t missed any. With this technique, boilerplate sounds less like boilerplate and more like custom narrative,” said Katen.

Fellow inspector Bob Walker said, “I happened to think earlier today of an example of how a comma can make all of the difference. Consider these two phrases: ‘further expert evaluation is recommended,’ and ‘further, expert evaluation is recommended.’ I believe the first implies the inspector is an expert, the second not only doesn’t imply we are experts, but reinforces our role as generalists. And if you end up in court, one of the rules is that the inspector is held responsible for ambiguous writing. Inspectors are, like it or not, professional writers and need to have the skills to communicate well – not only to best serve the client, but to protect themselves.”

“The term ‘boilerplate’ can mean ‘overused and written by a hack,’ but it can also mean ‘bulletproof’ in the sense that it has been tested (e.g., in the courts) and found to accomplish what it is intended to accomplish. Eschew the first; embrace the second,” said Walker.

Another book recommended by the group for budding inspector-writers is: The Curious Case of the Misplaced Modifier by Bonnie Trenga.

Thanks to

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