Re: The second person in user guides

Subject: Re: The second person in user guides
From: Beth Agnew <beth -dot- agnew -at- senecac -dot- on -dot- ca>
To: "List,Techwriter" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 02 Dec 2005 19:08:48 -0500

It always comes back to audience. What is the best style for your customers? While the "you" is implied in the imperative, you may have occasion to address the reader directly. For example: Click the New Record button. Enter customer data into the fields provided. In the Notes field, you may want to add information that helps you remember details about the previous meetings you have had with this customer.

The style you choose will depend on the publication, the audience, and the tone you are trying to set with that particular user group. A guide is just that, a set of good practices that it is recommended one follow for consistency. If there exceptions, as long as they are applied consistently, your publications will work.

Sagendorph, Wallace wrote:

Some have suggested that to engage the readers, we should write the
companion guide in a breezy, casual style using the second person ("you
should do this," you should not do that," "your document should
include," blah, blah). Others say this is tantamount to an approval of
such usage in formal documents, and is unnecessary in any event --- the
imperative mood ("do this," "don't do that") works as well or better,
and it does not imply that "you" and "your" should find their way into
documents released to publications or the public.
Beth Agnew
Professor, Technical Communication
Seneca College of Applied Arts & Technology
Toronto, ON 416.491.5050 x3133


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The second person in user guides: From: Sagendorph, Wallace

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