Checking Assumptions at the door

Subject: Checking Assumptions at the door
From: "Lin Sims" <linda -dot- sims -at- verizon -dot- net>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 4 Jun 2001 08:34:53 -0400

NOTE: Originally this was a follow-up to a message Tracy
Boyington sent me about whether or not "he" is gender-neutral and
all-inclusive, part of a thread that has been banned. Eric very kindly
said that my response was appropriate for the group but that I
should start a new thread. Here it is. :-)


Once upon a time, I did think of "he" as being all-inclusive. I was
young and ignorant then, and thought that the Political Correctness
movement was getting ridiculous in many ways (OK, I still think
that last bit). These days I use the singular "they", which has a
long history behind it, or I rewrite to avoid the pronoun--which last is,
I suspect, what most of us do, anyway. :-)

Luckily, my tech manuals rarely require the use of third-person
singular, and I, having tired of the whole second person vs. third
person argument, generally try to phrase my sentences so that
neither "you" nor "the user" is required anyway.

Bryan does raise a valid point, though. Implicit in the first sentence
("The man went berserk and killed his neighbour's wife.") is
the assumption that the victim has no identity outside of being married to
the killer's neighbour. Implicit in the second sentence ("The man
went berserk and killed his neighbour.") is the assumption
that the victim lives in the killer's neighbourhood.

One of the things I dislike about a lot of the manuals I've seen is
that too many of the procedures assume that the user has a
particular piece of knowledge or has already done some other task.
In my manuals, I list a set of assumptions before every single
procedure with references to where a particular piece of information can
be found or where a required procedure can be found. This leads to a
certain amount of repetition, but at least I know that if you want to
framholtz the jibber-jabber, you know that you must have grekked the
blurgh first AND where to find out how to grek the blurgh if you haven't.

Sometimes I think that frustration over assumptions is why I got
into tech writing in the first place.


Knowledge is Power.
Power Corrupts.
Study Hard. Be Evil.


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