RE: you or he/it

Subject: RE: you or he/it
From: "Joe Malin" <jmalin -at- tuvox -dot- com>
To: <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 21 Jun 2006 10:39:30 -0700

Some notes, echoing what others have already said.

These notes apply to English *for American readers*:

In proper English, "you" can be both formal and informal. This is simply
part of formal English grammar. While other languages (German comes to
mind immediately) might have different words for formal "you" and
informal "you", English does not. From a grammar point of view, the
project leader is not correct.

>From a rhetorical point of view, instructions that we as writers direct
towards the reader should use "you", or use the imperative that implies
"you". This is a standard rhetorical form for proper, modern English. No
other form makes sense. Even a scientific paper giving instructions to
the reader would use the imperative form.

I am not clear on the point of replacing "you" with "he/it". "He" and
"it" are pronouns and can not be used properly unless they refer to an
explicit antecedent. We often see the usage "it is well-known" with a
"dangling" pronoun, but I don't particularly like it and try to avoid
it. I would also like to note that if you use "he" instead of "he or
she" to refer to a noun of indeterminate gender, you are using a bias
that we do not accept in modern technical writing.

These notes apply to English for readers *outside the US*:

English readers outside the US may expect language that is quite
different from American readers. All standards of language must be serve
the primary goal of understandable, effective, and professional
communication. If that means a much more formal tone than we would use
in the US, then that is what we must do.

I confess that I am puzzled by your plan to write *English* manuals for
a European audience. Is this deliberate? I think that translating
documentation is more important than translating user interfaces!

Joe Malin
Technical Writer
jmalin -at- tuvox -dot- com
The views expressed in this document are those of the sender, and do not
necessarily reflect those of TuVox, Inc.

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Hello group,

I'm in the midst of a (major) disagreement at my place of employment.
Since beginning my career as a Technical Writer, I've had it pounded
into me that we are to use the "you", eliminate "it/he/she", keep it
informal and to the point, and use present tense WHENEVER possible.
Make it simple and easy to follow.

We now have a new Japanese Project Leader who wishes me to create a
completely new, FORMAL format, eliminating you, sprinkling it/he
liberally, and generally, creating a document that (in my opinion
only) would be very difficult to read through, especially for our Target
Audience. (Admininstrative IT personnel)


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