Re[2]: Future tense use in technical documentation

Subject: Re[2]: Future tense use in technical documentation
From: Harry Hager <hhager -at- dttus -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com, kweiner -at- positron -dot- qc -dot- ca
Date: 21 Jan 2000 09:22:18 -0600


Do not use future tense, especially when documenting procedures.

From the Microsoft Manual of Style for Technical Publications, 2nd
Edition, page269:


Use simple present tense. Try to avoid all other tenses. present tense
helps readers scan material quickly."

There is a very fundamental reason for using present tense when
documenting procedures. The target audience of readers will be
following the printed procedures as they perfom the procedure on their
PC. In this case there is no future, there is only the present, one
present tense action after another. Everything the user does when
following the documented procedures happens now, a succession of nows,
and nothing happens in the future.

I suggest getting a copy of the book mentioned above, ISBN
1-57231-890-2. It will help you with authoritative information when
you need to disagree with your boss again about tech writing issues.
It's about $30.00 in Borders, Barnes & Noble, et al, but probably
cheaper on and is worth every penny.

Another suggestion:

"The xxx dialog box opens."

Good Luck.

H. Jim Hager
Deloitte Consulting
Pittsburgh Solution Center

______________________________ Reply Separator _________________________________
Subject: RE: Future tense use in technical documentation
Author: kweiner -at- positron -dot- qc -dot- ca at Internet-USA
Date: 1/21/00 8:07 AM

Snip from Sybille Sterk:

"When you click the X button the X dialog is displayed" (this is
what I
normally write)
"When you click the X button the X dialog will be displayed" (this
is what
my boss wants me to write)

What tense would you use?


I prefer to avoid future tense. When I have edited documents, I have
suggested re-writes to avoid its use.

My reasoning is similar to yours, the future tense can lead to ambiguity. I
find that simple action-result is clearer in the present tense.

Our company style guide also states that the future tense should be avoided
in tech docs, but I can't find any external verification. Perhaps in the Sun
Style Guide?

I'd also like to point out that "is displayed" is an intransitive verb
construction (I believe. Am I right?) I'm not sure, but I've been admonished
to avoid verb constructions with "to be".

Perhaps the sentence could be rephrased:

"When you click X, the X dialog box appears." ????

Just My 2 cents...

Kandis Weiner.
Technical Communicator - Positron Public Safety Systems
mailto:kweiner -at- positron -dot- qc -dot- ca

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