Re: Anthropomorphism [was RE Table punctuation]

Subject: Re: Anthropomorphism [was RE Table punctuation]
From: Janice Gelb <janice -dot- gelb -at- sun -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Sat, 14 Apr 2007 21:29:07 +1000

Yves JEAUROND wrote:
> David Chinell:
> You wrote: Finally, a nit-pick about "allows you to."
> I don't like that formulation [...] in our end-user material.
> I'd prefer "lets you."
> You bring up a very good point on usage. For some verbs,
> a human subject is a necesssity. :-) A user can allow software
> to be installed on a PC, but SW can't allow anything.
> And _The Microsoft Manual of Style_ [1st ed., 'allow'] agrees with you.
> I'd say the same for "to let", too. In a procedure, it can be
> just as clear to be direct:
> => Type data in field x. // Rather than "Field x lets you enter data."
> => Enter data using field x.

We prefer either saying "Use Field X to enter data" or
"Field X enables you to enter data." I don't see much
of a difference between "lets" and "allows" either.

> It helps to view the SW as a mechanical device,
> rather than as an ersatz clerk, typesetter or attendant
> awaiting your bidding.
> Empower users, not the SW :-)
> Bending the language to attribute human qualities to SW is
> kind of strange, even if for the sake of expediency.

Although I generally agree with you about the
misuse of "allows" and "lets," there is one
context in which software can indeed allow or not
allow certain behaviors. For example, saying "Write
access allows the user to modify the file" or "The
field allows entries using uppercase or lowercase
letters" seem acceptable to me. The problem is that
writers commonly use "allows" or "lets" in contexts
other than permission.

Common anthropomorphisms I see that I would strictly
prohibit are more along the lines of "the application
is interested in" or "the servlet knows" or "the C
processor doesn't understand FORTRAN."

-- Janice

Janice Gelb | The only connection Sun has with
janice -dot- gelb -at- sun -dot- com | this message is the return address

Create HTML or Microsoft Word content and convert to Help file formats or
printed documentation. Features include support for Windows Vista & 2007
Microsoft Office, team authoring, plus more.

Now shipping: Help &amp; Manual 4 with RoboHelp(r) import! New editor,
full Unicode support. Create help files, web-based help and PDF in up
to 106 languages with Help &amp; Manual:

You are currently subscribed to TECHWR-L as archive -at- web -dot- techwr-l -dot- com -dot-

To unsubscribe send a blank email to
techwr-l-unsubscribe -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
or visit

To subscribe, send a blank email to techwr-l-join -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com

Send administrative questions to admin -at- techwr-l -dot- com -dot- Visit for more resources and info.


Anthropomorphism [was RE Table punctuation]: From: Yves JEAUROND

Previous by Author: Re: Table punctuation
Next by Author: Re: Hyperlinks to Figure Captions... what do other people do?
Previous by Thread: Re: Anthropomorphism [was RE Table punctuation]
Next by Thread: RE: Anthropomorphism [was RE Table punctuation]

What this post helpful? Share it with friends and colleagues:

Sponsored Ads