RE: Is the generic "you" implied in error messages?

Subject: RE: Is the generic "you" implied in error messages?
From: SteveFJong -at- aol -dot- com
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
Date: Fri, 11 Feb 2000 18:15:45 EST

This issue first came up a number of years ago. Many sources single out error
messages as one area where passive voice is desirable. Why? Because passive
voice, which obscures the actor, in this case does not imply the user is at
fault.

The human-factors expert Ben Schneidermann noted, almost twenty years ago,
that AT&T telephone error messages ("We're sorry, your call could not be
completed as dialed") are wonderful because they're descriptive yet
non-accusatory. If a programmer had written the message, he quipped, it would
have been something like "ERROR 19305 ILLEGAL TONE, CALL ABORTED!"

So, better than "You cannot delete this item," which has a little whiff of
"--you moron!" floating nearby, is the passive "Item cannot be deleted,"
which isn't so accusatory.

-- Steve

Steven Jong, Documentation Team Manager ("Typo? What tpyo?")
Lightbridge, Inc., 67 S. Bedford St., Burlington, MA 01803 USA
mailto:Jong -at- lightbridge -dot- com 781.359.4902[V], 781.359.4500[F]
Home Sweet Homepage: http://members.aol.com/SteveFJong




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