Re: Future Tense Controversy

Subject: Re: Future Tense Controversy
From: Bruce Byfield <bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 11 Mar 2004 19:44:21 -0800

marybl -at- libertymedical -dot- com wrote:

Our department writes training manuals, IS user manuals, and company
policies and procedures. We have always written these in present tense,
active voice. The lawyers are now wanting us to write everything in future
tense (and thus putting it in passive voice).

Umm ... using future tense does not automatically put the sentence into passive voice.

Needless to say, the writers are not happy with this new edict, as we
believe that present tense and active voice should always be used in
technical writing. The lawyers are saying what we do is not 'technical
writing'! My question is, can any of you direct me to sources regarding
what is and what is not considered 'technical writing' and also sources
that define rules for using present and future tense in technical writing.

There are no rules, only conventions. The convention is definitely to use the present tense in this sort of material, presumably because it gives a sense of immediacy. However, there is no Tech-Writer Gestapo that will knock on your door and question you if break the convention. I admit that I would feel odd using the future tense myself, because I'm a creature of habit, too. Still, at the end of the day, it's probably more important that your content is accurate and usable.

Also, I suggest you not worry too much about the exact definition of "tech-writing" here if I were you. That's a distraction from your main concern. If you really want to challenge this change, you need to develop solid reasons based on readability to defend your position - not to evoke conventions that may or may not have any relation to what your department actually does. A set of conventions won't win the case; you need practical reasons.

Bruce Byfield 604.421.7177


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