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

Subject: Re: a question about verb tense/is or was?
From: Bruce Byfield <bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 22 Mar 2001 09:01:13 -0800

"Cummings, Elizabeth" wrote:
> Which of the following phrases is correct/better/the one to use--and why?
> Nevermind the wordiness of these definitions; I'm well aware of it. I just
> need input on whether to use present or past tense here, and in similar
> scenarios (a rule of thumb is most welcome.).

Something nobody has mentioned so far:

One of the rarer tenses in English is the narrative present tense
("He gets out of bed. He goes to the window and looks out). It's the
standard for script writing, for example. It doesn't mean that the
action is happening right now; it's happening in the imaginary time
of the narrative.

Since so much of technical writing is sequential action, the
narrative present tense seems perfectly acceptable.

In the end, however, this is another of those grammatical issues in
which consistency matters more than correctness. Personally, I
prefer present tense, but I don't have many objective reasons for
the preference. If someone wants to use future instead, I won't get
too upset so long as the instructions are complete.

Bruce Byfield 604.421.7177 bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com

"We are not beginners, we will not be fooled,
The times have been our teachers, and they teach an iron rule:
We do our best work in the dark, we do our thinking on the run,
We will hang together till the longest day is done."
-Oysterband, "A Fire Is Burning"


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