RE: Future tense use in technical documentation

Subject: RE: Future tense use in technical documentation
From: bbatorsk -at- admin -dot- nj -dot- devry -dot- edu
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 21 Jan 2000 14:28:04 -0500

Sybille,

Not to beat a dead horse too long, but it struck me that the trouble the
boss may be having with your sentence is that if "when" is not followed by
the future tense in the main clause, it's time-meaning is ambiguous.
"When" might indicate the future, but it might also indicate simultaneity,
so that "When you click the X button the X dialog is displayed." might, in
another context, actually mean the dialog is displayed at the (same?)time
as you click--indicating perhaps even the contrary of what you meant, i.e.
the dialog should be displayed before you hit the button. Of course here
the context helps to make clear that the sequence of the clauses is meant
to indicate consequence, but I too felt what your boss might be feeling:
that the consequence is clearer when re-inforced by the future tense.

However, I, too, would not use the future tense here. I would make any of
the revisions already given rather than use the future tense. I think the
sequence-consequence ambiguity is better resolved by the suggestions about
active voice, or using "after" instead of "when", or using the two-sentence
construction.

Barry Batorsky




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