RE: The 'user' in User Manual

Subject: RE: The 'user' in User Manual
From: "Sarah Bouchier" <Sarah -dot- Bouchier -at- exony -dot- com>
To: "Techwr-l" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 5 Feb 2007 18:28:29 -0000

>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

I believe that the only point Richard is trying to make here is that
while the word 'You' is not present in the second person imperative, the
second person imperative is still, fundamentally, in the second person.
You may be taling at cross-purposes.

In the course of this discussion we have ended up talking about grammar;
it's therefore useful to use the grammatical terms people know. There
is nothing +wrong+ with using alternative, but this discussion has just
proved what all technical authors already know; using nonstandard terms
is a fruitful source of confusion.

>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.

Nobody has suggested that 'neutral stance' is undersirable. All that
has been said is that the 'neutral stance' of which you speak is better
known as the imperative; specifically, the second person imperative.
The 'you' is not spoken, but it is implied; the 'neutral' phrase 'Use no
pronouns!' does not mean 'He must use no pronouns' or 'I must use no
pronouns'; it means that the person being spoken to must use no

This is worth knowing, since some readers may experience slight
cognitive dissonance if they are directly addressed using the imperative
during parts of the manual, but then spoken about in the third person
('...the user will notice slight confusion...') during other parts.

Of course, if you can keep from mentioning the user entirely that's
another thing entirely, but I've come across a few occasions when I
can't actually do that without rewording the part in question to be a
lot less clear.

> That means no "I," "You," "He," "She," "the User," etc.
>should be in the document.

It's a theory I've tried to follow, but I've been unable to manage it in
all situations. I'd appreciate any tips from those who fare better than
I :)

> Without specifying a direction toward author or
>audience, the document is neutral.

What do you mean by 'without specifying a direction'? The way I think
of it, in a document saying 'click the pretty shiny button' there is
plainly a direction; the document/author is telling me to do things. I
don't think I can be understanding what you mean; can you clarify?

> I really never expected neutrality to be seen as a new concept.

Avoiding the use of pronouns and pronoun-substitutes in a document is a
pretty old concept. But that is all your 'neutral stance' (the
imperative) is; it is simply a form of the second person in which the
persons are implied rather than actively spoken.

(Who hopes she is understanding correctly)

Sarah Bouchier
Technical Author


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RE: The 'user' in User Manual: From: Lauren

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