RE: The 'user' in User Manual

Subject: RE: The 'user' in User Manual
From: "Lauren" <lt34 -at- csus -dot- edu>
To: "'Combs, Richard'" <richard -dot- combs -at- Polycom -dot- com>, "'Techwr-l'" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 5 Feb 2007 10:04:18 -0800

I have never in my entire life heard, read, or been familiar with the phrase
"2nd person imperative." To be quite honest, I do not know what it means.
It has never been fully defined in this thread to the extent that I would
remember the definition and it is not used in everyday speech. (I am also
not interested in learning this term, once again, it is not used in everyday
speech.) I am, however, familiar with writing and voice. When I use
familiar terms to describe a concept, rather than textbook terms, then I am
not wrong. But your defense over terms that I have never heard is very odd
to me. What you are saying is that you cannot understand a concept, unless
I use a textbook term. All I can gather from this, is that nothing I write
will make sense to you because I am not familiar with the terms that you use
and you seem to lack the capacity to understand concepts that do not use
those terms. This is acceptable because I am not writing for you.

Please cite the message where, as you say, I said "Don't use 2nd person
voice." I said to not use "you" and that is in 2nd person voice. The
original discussion is about the use of the word "you" if you will remember.
I continued to say that it is best to take a neutral stance in
documentation. Neutral means that neither the author or the audience is in
the document. That means no "I," "You," "He," "She," "the User," etc.
should be in the document. Without specifying a direction toward author or
audience, the document is neutral. Neutrality was taught in technical
writing courses back when I studied technical writing in the early 1990's,
so I really never expected neutrality to be seen as a new concept.


-----Original Message-----
From: Combs, Richard [mailto:richard -dot- combs -at- Polycom -dot- com]
Sent: Monday, February 05, 2007 9:11 AM
To: Lauren; Techwr-l
Subject: RE: The 'user' in User Manual

Lauren wrote:

> I'm still not a grammarian. "Neutral Stance" as I used it was a
> concept that I was trying to convey and not a grammatical rule.
> Neutrality is necessary in technical writing. Grammar is used in all
> documentation.
> Names of grammar rules are important when studying grammar, but I
> don't know the names of the rules myself. Was the concept vague? Are
> you objecting to the content of my message or the form? Is it really
> necessary to discuss form over content?

I wasn't objecting, I was attempting to clarify and enlighten. Sorry if that
offended you.

Your approach to tech writing strikes me as quite sensible, clear, and
direct. But your repeated insistence that, like Humpty Dumpty, you can use a
word any way you choose invites confusion and misunderstanding.
What you insist on calling "neutral" is in fact the 2nd person imperative.
Your "neutral" sentences have a subject, that subject is implied, and it is

This isn't a matter of grammatical terms vs. concepts. The only way to
discuss a concept is by referring to it with some term or word that's the
agreed-upon _name_ of that concept. The trouble with making up your own
names for concepts is that you either have to go to a lot of trouble to
explain what your unique name means (as you had to in this thread) or be

If you tell a new writer, "Don't use 2nd person voice," you risk confusing
this writer and not getting the result you desire. If you tell her, "Don't
use 1st, 2nd, or 3rd person," and she knows that this makes no sense (there
is no 4th choice), you risk having her dismiss your other quite sensible
suggestions as well.

It's not that I'm a pedant who's memorized a bazillion arcane terms and
rules -- well, I am something of a pedant, I suppose. :-) But for this
discussion, for example, I had to do a couple of quick searches to make sure
I didn't confuse grammatical voice with grammatical mood (Wikipedia can be
your friend). You seem to value clarity and accuracy when writing technical
user manuals. I'm just proposing that clarity and accuracy are also valuable
when writing about writing.


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


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