Thursday, 10 May 2007

The importance of precision

The first thing that Mr Siva said when we came to work was to ask us to check our mailbox. So we did and found out that he had informed us that he had just set up a blog about book reviews: RBZ Book Reviews, from past issues of the Raffles Bulletin of Zoology ( This once again shows the convenience of technology such that information can be conveyed without the need to meet face-to-face (see post here).

However, I believe that we also learnt another valuable lesson, that information need not be communicated to us verbally. Instead, we have to find out knowledge by ourselves. In other words, we have to take our own initiative instead of absorbing passively all the time. This can be further demonstrated later on, when Mr Siva requested for us to subscribe to the mailing list of Habitatnews and Ecotax (it acts as a medium to announce latest updates). As interns in the museum, we are supposed to know the events occurring at the present moment, and we cannot expect our supervisor to keep on informing us about it. Instead, we are supposed to be familiar with it, and if not, to find out by ourselves.

This then brings me to my next point, the idea of precision when conveying ideas, whether verbally or in writing. Mr Siva asked me what is Habitatnews, and I replied that it was an online journal. He corrected me and said that using the word "journal" is not precise. The definition of "journal" on the web is "A type of periodical, often issued by a society or institution, containing news, proceedings, transactions and articles about work carried out in a particular discipline. Intended for a scholarly audience" (From University of Connecticut Libraries). It is quite apparent that Habitatnews is not a periodical as it is not updated at stated intervals (it can be updated several times a day, or every few days), and also, Habitatnews is meant for "the busy Singaporean", which naturally includes both the scholarly audience and the layman. A news blog for natural history will perhaps be a better description.

Precision is important as it prevents our language from being open to misintepretation, which will mislead people. This is important in today's world where there is so much knowledge and so little time to verify it. Precision allows for one to absorb knowledge at the most efficient rate accurately. I must admit that I am very imprecise in my language, be it verbal or written, and I will work hard to correct this problem.

Precision can be achieved in a variety of ways, for example, when describing the nature of a thing, such as Habitatnews, we should try to use the correct word or sentence. However the example Mr Siva highlighted to us was when we are doing citations. The four elements which we should at least include in a correct citation of an online resource are "author", "title", "address link" and "date (last referenced on)". The providing of the full amount of information with regards to how the online resource was obtained is a form of precision, as it allows the reader to access the online resource easily if he wants to. It allows for greater convenience to the reader. Besides that it also reflects on the authority of the paper. The example given to us was that an article which cited sources from university research will have more credibility than one that cited sources from a layman.

Besides that, precision can also be achieved through presentation. For example, when we were updating the blog "RBZ book reviews", the title of the book that was reviewed, together with the author(s) and date of publication was shown as the heading. Right below it was the source of the book review itself, which was from RBZ. This is a form of imprecision and incorrect formatting, as it misleads the reader to think that the source of the book to be reviewed came from RBZ, which was totally wrong. It was more accurate to cite RBZ right at the bottom with the words "First published in The Raffles Bulletin of Zoology (volume) (page) on (date)." Whereas, the source of the book was posted below the header. Indeed, this allowed for more clarity with regards to both the source of the book and the source of the book review.

However, even though Mr Siva emphasized on precision, he also mentioned that we should be flexible as well when doing a citation. It depends on what kind of material we are writing about. For example when writing a scientific article and doing referencing we should always follow a consistent format, which is sometimes dictated to us by publishers in "Instructions to Authors". Yet, when writing a report in which the aim is to provide basic information only, "author", "title", "address link" and "date (last referenced on)" will do, and the order may change to suit the purpose.

For example:

Retrieved from Government Gazette: Current Notices:
Notice - Environmental report for disposal of dredged material at designated containment site east of Pulau Semakau. 02 May 2007.

(Example taken from Habitatnews,accessed on 10 May 2007)

This citation contains all 4 elements mentioned above, but rearranged in such a way that it conveys to the reader that it is a report for laymen to read, and not a scientific article. Thus, we should cite accordingly depending on the situation.

As a conclusion, precision is important when conveying information, and can be achieved through a variety of ways such as in citations and presentation.

PS: Actually after reading this entry, Mr Siva pointed out to me that the correct title was not "HabitatNews", rather, it was "Habitatnews", which was rather ironic as this post is basically about precision.

1 comment:

Sivasothi said...

Erm link for "the Raffles Bulletin of Zoology" is incorrect.

Raffles Museum News doesn't have a mailing list. What list was I referring to?

"prevents our language from being open to ambiguation" - use "misinterpretation" instead - check a dictionary for the difference.

"I will work hard to correct this problem." - I believe you! :-)

"...when we were updating the blog "RBZ book reviews"" - link to the blog in question. Remind me to discuss the reason for this with you.