USAGE: Enables?

Subject: USAGE: Enables?
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 12 Jan 2001 10:14:46 -0500

Dave Spiech reports a disagreement over <<"...the Web Assistant wizard
allows/enables you to generate Hypertext Markup
Language (HTML) pages from SQL Server 2000 data..." ... the client's
in-house technical editor objected. He states, "I don't need the wizard to
do this, but the wizard makes it easier.">>

Even though the author uses "helps" or "facilitates" a lot, then that's the
correct sense; you shouldn't change this to "enables" simply to vary the
pattern of Word usage. If the author is writing about a lot of helpful
things, then "helps" is going to appear a lot in the text, and there's not
much way to get around that without major surgery.

<<Is there any justification for saying that "enables you" denotes a strong
causal connection?>>

If the book is aimed primarily at inexperienced creators of Web pages,
"enables" is correct: many probably won't be _able_ to create HTML at all
without the wizard's help. So I have no problem with "enables", other than
that "enables... to" is the $10 version of the plebeian "lets". You
mentioned that it's too late for major surgery on the manuscript at this
point, but when I write instructions for users, I tend to use imperative
voice and second person: "To do X, do Y". Avoids the whole "help every third
sentence" syndrome, engages the reader more actively in the "dialogue" with
the author, and saves words too.

--Geoff Hart, FERIC, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
"User's advocate" online monthly at

"Quebits took the art of manual writing to such extremes [that] the first
human scholars who'd tried to decipher their written language had spent a
lifetime working through what they hoped would be a definitive piece of
Quebit culture. No one was quite ready to say it wasn't, but the huge
ancient text had proved to be a manual for installing a sewage system within
a city."--Julie Czerneda, "Changing Vision"

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