Technical Writing – Definition of GOBY and Writer’s Rough

Technical Writing – Definition of GOBY and Writer’s Rough

Frequently, when a writer finishes a document, there’s information the graphics people need so they can make it look like what the writer had in mind. Very often, this information has to do with what graphic illustrations look like and where they’re placed in the layout. As with most things in this business, there are terms we use for these kinds of information.

The problem is that not everyone everywhere uses the same terms. With our markets becoming more and more global, we have to be especially careful that we understand exactly what our clients expect. Some terms, as we’ve seen in previous Good Words, don’t always mean the same things from place to place even within the good old U.S. of A., let alone when we’re dealing across international borders.

When we got an email from a subscriber asking for a definition, I didn’t see any problem until I started to ask around among other writers I know. This article is the story of my quest for clarity.

The term is goby, GOBY, Go-By, or go-by, depending on who you ask. When I tried Google, I discovered that “the round goby, Neogobius melanostomus, is a freshwater bottom-dwelling goby of the family Gobiidae, native to central Eurasia including the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea.” Interesting, but not much help.

From some of the other sources I checked, I got the term writer’s rough which is used sometimes as a synonym for go-by and sometimes as a totally different thing.


1. A rough sketch or illustration that shows the graphics department what a finished illustration should be.

2. A master copy used to check for formatting, graphic consistency, and copy to compare the original against any additions or deletions.

3. A reference source for the proof reader.

4. A pictorial or verbal illustration that identifies what elements go where within a given medium.

Other terms

– comp or layout rough
– storyboard
– draft
– rough draft
– “for position only”

Writer’s rough

1. A document with indications of where, in the copy, graphics should be placed.

2. The first cut from the writer to the graphics folks as to how the writer visualizes the layout of the piece.

(As one writer put it, “The writers rough is something the graphics folk turn into a thing of beauty in spite of, not because of, said rough.”)

The area of agreement seems to be that writers have to let the graphics people know what type of illustrations should be used and about where they should be located. They’re not, however, in exact agreement what to call the way they do this.

Here comes the advice

It may sound unnecessary to tell people in this business that they must ask questions if something isn’t completely clear. But, because so many of us are human in other ways, we often have the natural human desire not to appear ignorant. So, we’re told something by the client that we don’t totally understand, and, instead of asking for clarification, we just nod and hope we can fake it.

Not a good idea. With so many terms and so many interpretations of what they mean, we can’t afford to be shy. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in the business. Old terms change meaning, and new terms come into use. If you don’t know, ask. It’s better for the client to think you’re ignorant at the beginning instead of thinking you’re incompetent later.