RE: a question about verb tense/is or was?

Subject: RE: a question about verb tense/is or was?
From: "Dick Margulis" <margulis -at- mail -dot- fiam -dot- net>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 21 Mar 2001 10:09:06 -0500


Let's hope that is not what Steve meant. The trap, as I think most people on this list would agree, is that we tend to write about software that has not been released. So a developer, acting as subject matter expert, tells us what WILL happen when the user clicks a button at some indefinite time in the future, once the feature is available.

But when the documentation ships, the software IS available. So we tell the user that clicking a button does something in the present tense. If we suggest that something will take place as a result of an action, we raise a momentary doubt in the reader's mind: When will it take place? Right away? Tonight after I leave work? On Judgment Day? This is not necessarily a conscious thought, but it can introduce some incertainty and lack of confidence in the reader; and so we avoid it.

That is not to say that the future tense is never appropriate. It is perfectly reasonable to suggest that pressing Enter sets a flag [now] that the system WILL react to during the nightly batch processing. Note the explicit qualification that answers the question When.


"Hager, Harry (US - East Brunswick)" wrote:

>Are you saying that you normally use the future tense when you write
>procedures for user manuals and other such tech writing?
>Please take a look at the following be examples:
>- When you click the ABC button, the ABC window will open.
>- When you click the XYZ button, the program will start the XYZ procedure.
>- You will select the XXX command in the ABC window when you want to perform
>the XXX procedure.
>Are these fair, although perhaps simplistic, representations of what you
>mean when you say you use the future tense whenever possible?


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