he/she redux

Subject: he/she redux
From: "Dick Margulis " <margulis -at- mail -dot- fiam -dot- net>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 26 Mar 2002 09:12:23 -0500

I usually find discussions of non-gender-specific pronoun choice tedious, and they are usually off-topic. I mean we've solved that one already, haven't we?

But yesterday I was helping a pediatrician friend with some instruction sheets that she hands to mothers of newborns, and this presented an interesting challenge.

First, the audience is cognitively impaired. I'm not being facetious. New mothers are almost always sleep-deprived. Further, their brains are soaking in high levels of all sorts of wonderful hormones that help them bond with their babies but that do nothing for their reading abilities. (Think about writing for people who have to understand written instructions while they are inebriated and everyone around them is screaming gibberish.)

The question on the floor was how to refer to the baby. "Baby this" and "Baby that" and "Baby the other thing" gets tedious and does not aid readability. The pediatrician's simplifying convention of always referring to mother as she and baby as he, which is fine for professional literature, does not work when you are addressing the mother of a girl. (Aside from the fact that politically sensitive mothers would be offended, cognitively impaired mothers would just be confused.) And using they, while I can justify it on historical grounds and don't mind using it in business writing, similarly won't cut it with mothers.

The solution? Two versions of every handout, one for boys, one for girls. We'll cross the bridge of boy-girl twins when we come to it.

The cost? Nothing. These are produced a few copies at a time, not printed by the thousand; or they are emailed as PDFs.

Maintenance? Well, I suppose I could use this as a practice exercise for XML. Yeah, I think I'll do that. But, in the meantime, these are one-page documents; so it's not a big deal to revise one master version and then use search and replace to do one for the other gender. (I'd have said the other s_x, but you know those email filters.)

I was kinda pleased with myself for coming up with this workaround, and I wanted to share ;-)


PC Magazine gives RoboHelp Office 2002 five stars - a perfect score!
"The ultimate developer's tool for designing help systems. A product
no professional help designer should be without." Check out RoboHelp at
You are currently subscribed to techwr-l as: archive -at- raycomm -dot- com
To unsubscribe send a blank email to leave-techwr-l-obscured -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
Send administrative questions to ejray -at- raycomm -dot- com -dot- Visit
http://www.raycomm.com/techwhirl/ for more resources and info.


Previous by Author: Re: More on Validating documentation
Next by Author: RE: he/she redux
Previous by Thread: Re: Manual.dot template in Word 2000
Next by Thread: RE: he/she redux

What this post helpful? Share it with friends and colleagues:

Sponsored Ads