Re: Old thread, hopefully new spin on "allow" v. "enable.

Subject: Re: Old thread, hopefully new spin on "allow" v. "enable.
From: Harry Hager <hhager -at- dttus -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com, nmerhar -at- charlesindustries -dot- com
Date: 10 Mar 2000 09:07:59 -0600


Listers,

"USE"

I've been reading this thread for a few days and I want to go off in a
tangent and add something that has not been mentioned: the use of
"use" as the action verb in technical writing.

I consider "use" to be a very weak action verb and I try to avoid it.
It's an all purpose action verb that we use when we don't think about
the real action that is taking place. The reader can usually figure
out what we mean when we say "use" but I don't like to take that
chance. I try to be precise about the action taking place.

Examples:
- You use the xxx command to xxx.
- You use the xxx window to xxx.
- You use the xxx program xxx.
- You use the xxx button to xxx.
- You use the xxx checkbox to xxx.

I prefer the following:
- You select the xxx command to xxx.
- You open the xxx window to xxx.
- You start the xxx program to xxx.
- You click the xxx button to xxx.
- You select the xxx checkbox to xxx.

You get the idea by now.

"LET"

In this context, I also prefer using "let" instead of allow or enable
because let is more informal and has a more casual tone and a less
controlling (allow) or a less techie (enable) tone to it.

I may be getting in deeper that I can defend, but if allow is okay,
then why not permit? The point is that allow is a very close synonym
to permit. However, let, while a synonym to both, has a more informal
and less threatening and controlling tone than allow or permit.

I try to avoid enable in most user documentation. Enable is a techie
term and is new to the scene (relative to let). There are many users
who don't have the foggiest idea what it means. (And might even be
confused by all the psychobabble in the current media about enablers,
enabling, etc.) If your target audience consists of techies, enable is
fine.

I also like let because while the user needs to feel in control, the
user can only do what the program is designed to do, nothing more. Let
helps identify to the user where the boundaries are for the program
(window, command, etc.).

"CAN"

One more thought: I do not use the word "can" anywhere in my
documentation, as in "You can select the xxx command to xxx, You can
click the xxx button to xxx." In these cases "can" is not needed and
really adds nothing to the sentence, it's just an extra word. You do
not change the meaning of these examples if you eliminate "can."

H. Jim Hager
hhager -at- dttus -dot- com





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