RE: The 'user' in User Manual

Subject: RE: The 'user' in User Manual
From: "Combs, Richard" <richard -dot- combs -at- Polycom -dot- com>
To: "Techwr-l" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 2 Feb 2007 16:01:33 -0700

Lauren wrote:

> connotation. I take a neutral stance in my writing and avoid
> 1st ("I"), 2nd ("you"), and 3rd ("user") person voices.

There's no such thing as a "stance" or "person voice" in grammar, there
is only "person." English has only three grammatical persons -- see

> How about a simple save file process as an example of the 4 stances?
> 1st - I click "File," "Save As," and choose a name for the
> file when I want to save the file.
> 2nd - You need to click "File," "Save As," and choose a name
> for the file when you want to save the file.
> 3rd - The user needs to click "File," "Save As," and choose a
> name for the file when he or she wants to save the file.

Fine examples of the three grammatical persons. Not stances.

> Neutral - Click "File," "Save As," and choose a name for the
> file to save the file.

As Andrew noted, this is just another example of the 2nd person. This
time, the verb is in the imperative mood, so the subject is "you" and is

For more than you ever wanted to know about verb moods, see

Steve Cavanaugh wrote:

> literally impossible to tell who is doing what to whom! The
> primary reason for this is that the sentence is loaded with
> passive voice. In correcting this mess, without explicitly
> identifying to whom I am referring, it is very difficult to
> write a cohesive sentence about the procedure that I want the
> user to follow. In these cases, I tend to say "The Test
> Operator clicks here, the PC responds with this, the Unit
> Under Test does that..."

Address the reader! In your example, I sincerely doubt that the reader
will ever be the PC or the Unit Under Test, so you refer to them in the
3rd person. Presumably, the Test Operator is your reader, so you refer
to her or him in the 2nd person. But if you're writing instructions for
the Supervisor who oversees the Test Operator, then you refer to the
Test Operator in the 3rd person and address the Supervisor. Especially
for procedural information, you must identify the reader, and then
address the reader.


Richard G. Combs
Senior Technical Writer
Polycom, Inc.
richardDOTcombs AT polycomDOTcom
rgcombs AT gmailDOTcom


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