Generic "you" in error messages: Microsoft's idea

Subject: Generic "you" in error messages: Microsoft's idea
From: Geoff Hart <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "Techwr-L (E-mail)" <TECHWR-L -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 11 Feb 2000 08:58:26 -0500

Denise Lystad, musing about second-person error messages, observed
<<Originally I felt you should use the word "you".
After thinking about it (and reading a few error messages myself from other
software), I think it is best to use the passive voice because then it
doesn't sound so accusatory.>>

Good point. That's certainly something to be kept in mind for an audience of
beginners, who are more likely to feel accused or lack the confidence to
accept responsibility for an error and keep working. Perhaps a hybrid
approach would be to fall back on the passive where you can't phrase the
error in a non-accusatory manner?

<<By the way, the Microsoft Manual of Style also agrees with using passive
voice.>>

Three words: "Abort, retry, fail?" <g> Based on this an other error
messages, Microsoft hardly strikes me as a useful source of guidelines for
writing good error messages.

--Geoff Hart, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
"The paperless office will arrive when the paperless toilet
arrives."--Matthew Stevens




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