re: futur tense use in technical documentation

Subject: re: futur tense use in technical documentation
From: Brian Martin <martin -at- sodalia -dot- it>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>, Arthur Schweke <tekritelist -at- hotmail -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 24 Jan 2000 08:57:11 +0100

It may be a happenstance case of the "TWO BRIANS" agreeing, but I think
that the verb display is far too heavy a verb to use in this case. The
verb appears is more direct. My concept of "display" is of a peecock
spreading its feathers. If a program or product is in some way making
some kind of presentation, then display is correct. This is not the case
for most widgets that come on screen.

Now let's get more into detail. You give the following examples:

"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)

The use of the more direct use of the present tense is typical of
procedures: 11. Click the X button. The X dialog appears.
I would argue that the use of the present tense is correct in that at
the moment the user is reading, the user is also quite likely applying
the procedures. So, in fact, the present tense is a precise description
of time.

However, you didn't state that the sentence is used in a procedure. If
the sentence appears in a background description of some kind, then the
first sentence (yours) is a likely candidate. I prefer to use "will"
in cases such as the following: "If you click the X button, the X dialog
will be displayed." Here, the use of the future tense doesn't get into
conflict with the "may"- "can" - "could" issue. Rather, it denotes a
determinate course of events.

How's that for Monday morning?

PS just for Arthur: Depending on the kind of boss you have (One who
wants to be right vs. One who's interested in your professional
opinion.), choose to use the tense you best think meets both your
professional and personal income needs. ;-)





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