Pronouns and portfolios?

Subject: Pronouns and portfolios?
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 6 Apr 2001 13:58:45 -0400

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Janet Hamilton reports: <<After reading part of one of Geoff Hart's replies,
I got to thinking...>>

Hmmm... maybe I need a disclaimer: "Caution: Reading this material may lead
to undesirable thinking." <g>

<<...about the agreement issue in using the word "they" when you're talking
about someONE. For example, <snip> if the writer is blaming Word, sit down
with them and watch them write... </snip> I'm a student (and a tech writer
intern), and we had a discussion about this in a grammar class where the
teacher said using "they" as a pronoun for an unidentified someone may
eventually become common usage. Personally, I think it's a great way to
overcome the "s/he" conundrum, although I avoid it in my papers. What do
you think?>>

It's really an audience issue. Although "they" and "them" have been used for
centuries to represent single individuals (presumably for married folk too
<g>), there's was once a strong trend against it in modern usage, and
there's a large camp that considers it wrong, history notwithstanding. So
you have to be aware that some editors will consider this wrong, and plan
accordingly. For example, if you were to use this in English class, you'd be
well advised to solicit your teacher's opinion on the matter beforehand
rather than engaging in dueling style guides after you flunk the next
writing assignment. Similarly, if you were to present a "them" document in
your portfolio, be sure to include a note explaining your choice, and
justifying it as corporate style.

<<I will someday need to create a portfolio for potential employers. My
employer is very reluctant to let any documentation out of the company.>>

The solution? Emphasize the solution, not the deliverable. It's unlikely
that the approach you used to develop the documentation is anything unique
(if it is, please tell us!), and that being the case, you can take an
illustrative page from your actual documentation and using exactly the same
approach, insert your own text for a real or entirely spurious problem. Then
add a note to this part of your portfolio to explain the problem and how you
solved it. But better still, get permission from your employer to let you
use a small subset of their docs in your portfolio. It's been done before,
and the company's still in business, so you should be able to do it again.

<<Also, my most significant project has been online help. How can I put
THAT in a portfolio...?>>

Simple: on CD! <g> Of course, you still need to get permission to release
the help file somehow, and if you don't, put your resume in WinHelp (or
whatever) format and use that to demonstrate your skill with online
material. (Bonus: You can then e-mail the files to potential employers.)

<<PS to Geoff: I've heard of them, but only because I used to live across
the water from Victoria, BC. If you don't have cable there, all the news
comes from Canada. :-)>>

<g> And what a delight it is to hear about cultural imperialism flowing
south across the border for a change. <g>

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

"How are SF writers like technical writers? Well, we both write about the
things we imagine will happen in the future!"--Sue Gallagher


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