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How could this technical sentenced be improved for better clarity?

Cannot translate the ‘name1’ concept1 to the ‘name2’ concept2 because the higher
precedence ‘name3’ concept3 also exists, which overrides it.

This is a technical message to a user of a computer program where I have eliminated the jargon as it is not relevant to this question. The idea is that there are two things (concept1 and concept3) that both would translate to a single thing (concept2) and we can only use one and are picking one (concept3) and warning about the other (concept1) not being used.

For style consistency with other messages, I wish to retain the structure of the pattern:

Cannot <do something> because <of something else>.

The 'name1' etc. are names to uniquely identify a particular object and the 'concept' is the category of objects which 'name' chooses one. So the original could be recast (nonsensically) as:

Cannot translate the ‘Fred’ apple to the ‘John’ orange because the higher
precedence ‘Julia’ tangerine also exists, which overrides it.

In this case, we have a machine that takes fruit and converts it into oranges, if you supply both an apple and a tangerine, only one is used, the tangerine, to create the orange, and the apple is ignored because tangerines are given higher priority over apples.

So my question revolves around the use and placement of the phrases: 'higher precedence', 'also exists', and 'which overrides it'. Could these be rearranged for better clarity or substituted with other phrases that might be clearer?

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migrated from english.stackexchange.com Sep 9 '11 at 14:31

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5 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

If you want to keep the same format, I would go with:

Cannot translate 'name1' concept1 to 'name2' concept2 because an existing translation from 'name3' concept3 to 'name2' concept2 takes precedence.

Using your fruit example, it would look like this:

Cannot translate the 'Fred' apple to the 'John' orange because an existing translation from the 'Julia' tangerine to the 'John' orange takes precedence.

I have a strong feeling that this error message will cause a lot of confusion to someone who is not already familiar with your precedence rules. It might help to add more information (especially information that will help resolve the issue). For example:

Cannot translate the 'Fred' apple to the 'John' orange because an existing translation from the 'Julia' tangerine to the 'John' orange takes precedence. This error occurs when you create translations with different sources that have the same result. You should remove the lower prededence translation or re-evaluate your order of precedence.

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Firstly, it's always a good idea to clearly indicate whether the message reflects an actual error, or simply a warning which the user may choose to ignore.

Secondly, try to minimise use of "jargon" terms such as translate, higher precedence, and overrides.

Warning: The 'name1' concept1 is assumed to be a type of 'name3' concept3, not a 'name2' concept2.

Warning: The 'Fred' apple is assumed to be a type of 'Julia' tangerine, not a 'John' orange.

Depending on the exact context, it might be better to replace the "not..." bit at the end with something like "(did you mean a 'John' orange)".

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Relative clauses ("which overides it") make the reader work. They have to go back and forth in the sentence trying to match up the "which"s and the "it"s.

By the sounds of it, you are doing something very abtstract and technical so the reader is working hard enough already. Don't worry about dumbing it down! Without the relative clause it might go like this :

Cannot translate the ‘Fred’ apple to the ‘John’ orange because the ‘John’ orange is blocked by the existance of the higher precedence ‘Julia’ tangerine.

Instead of "the existance of", maybe try "the presence of", or just leave it out altogether:

Cannot translate the ‘Fred’ apple to the ‘John’ orange because the ‘John’ orange is blocked by the higher precedence ‘Julia’ tangerine.

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Cannot translate the ‘name1’ concept1 to the ‘name2’ concept2 because the higher precedence ‘name3’ concept3 also exists, which overrides it.

If there are more ‘name3’ concept3 than ‘name1’ concept1 then ‘name1’ concept1 cannot be translated to ‘name2’ concept2 .

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Sorry, but you really haven't eliminated all the jargon from here. Based on what your question actually says, I think it would be "Cannot translate concept 1 to concept2 because concept2 has already been defined as concept3."

Is there a difference between 'name1' and 'concept1' (except in the White Knight's sense of "The name of the song is called... but the song is called something else entirely")?

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Thanks for attempting an answer. The 'name' is a unique name of an object whose category is 'concept'. –  WilliamKF Sep 9 '11 at 13:59
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