RE: Future Tense in Tech Writing

Subject: RE: Future Tense in Tech Writing
From: "Susan W. Gallagher" <sgallagher -at- kinzan -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 16 Nov 2000 11:13:10 -0800

Harry Hager wrote:

> In the thread "display vs. appears" there were a few
> responses suggesting
> the use of future tense...
>
> How many of you use future tense in your technical writing?
>
> ...I alway use present tense when I document procedures. (In
> rare cases, I'll
> use future tense if ...
>
> ...I've always considered this (using present tense) as one of
> the basic rules
> of technical writing.
>
> Am I wrong?


In my book, you are absolutely correct and scouring the future tense
from technical manuals is one of the first things I teach interns and
beginning writers. When I read instructions that include lots of
future happenings, I can't help but ask _when???_ ;-)

Occasionally I find it necessary to use future tense -- mostly in
situations where you set a parameter now and when you generate the
file later, something will happen. Even so, I try to avoid future
whenever possible.

When I write, I imagine the reader walking through my documentation.
I want to keep the reader going forward, so I endeavor to write
forward-branching sentences. And I recognize that when I describe
an event, the reader is already there, so the event is happening
in the reader's present.

Good call, Harry!

Sue Gallagher
sgallagher -at- kinzan -dot- com

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Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy


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