RE: Future tense use in technical documentation

Subject: RE: Future tense use in technical documentation
From: "Brierley, Sean" <Sean -at- Quodata -dot- Com>
To: "'Sybille Sterk'" <sybille -at- wowfabgroovy -dot- net>, TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 21 Jan 2000 09:12:47 -0500


I avoid the future tense. It's not needed (in my docs, anyway), the present
tense will do <g>. "Click X. The Y window opens." I use the imperative, as
much as I can. It's simple and direct. Indeed, I try to avoid using too many
tenses, it muddles the document, makes it harder to read, and editing
someone else's 2,000 page book is undeniably more difficult if use of tenses
is all over the map.

Point out to your boss that not only *will* the dialog box display or open,
but it *does* display or open an, indeed, *displays* or *opens*. The order
of the actions in the sentence delivers this message, the future tense is
not really that important. You could, of course, use words such as after, or
then to make the time-line more apparent but, is that really necessary?

Thus, I believe not only is use of the future tense redundant, but I find
using more than one tense throughout my tech docs hinders later revisions
and editing and makes the document a tad less readable.

Of course, if you write about software, as do I, you might consider the
conditional. If the software *were* to work as advertised, then . . ..

Best regards,

sean -at- quodata -dot- com

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Sybille Sterk [SMTP:sybille -at- wowfabgroovy -dot- net]
> Dear all,
> We have a dispute at work. So far I have avoided the future tense wherever
> possible, because from what I gathered it is not used in technical
> documentation as it expresses a certain amount of doubt like it is
> expressed in "may" or "might". Now, obviously this is grammatically
> incorrect as my proof-reader, i.e. my boss (who, by the way is no
> technical
> author) pointed out.

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