Grammar Q

Subject: Grammar Q
From: "Kelly Keck" <kkeck -at- imagine-one -dot- com>
To: <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 18 Jan 2008 09:18:19 -0500

Janice wrote:

>I find "you" much the best choice of the alternatives available.
>I've seen people try to "solve" this problem by establishing a
>name like Fred, and then referring to "Fred" and "he" and I
>find that really klutzy. And as I strongly believe in gender-
>neutral language, "you" and "their" win out.

I tend to favor the second person, as well, although I use "you" in small
doses. Usually, sentences are imperative. Click this, select that. The
subject is still "you" but it's implied--there's no clumsy repetition of
"you do this, then you do that." If necessary, I might write something like
"When you click X, the blah-blah window does such and such." "Click X. The
blah-blah window does such and such." also works, but I think too many of
those constructions would get choppy.

I also agree that using names throughout would become very clumsy and
distracting. I think it works well in specific situations, though,
especially if you want to provide a concrete example of a process that has a
variety of choices.

The example that comes to mind is documentation I wrote for a courseware
access system for military personnel. They had to select folders matching
their squadron, wing, then job description to find their assigned courses.
So, I used numbered steps, but also included an example. (LT Smith is a
mechanic in such-and-such squadron, Wing 7. To find his courses, he
selects....) To me, that seemed clearer than the steps alone. This use
seems common in training materials and much less so in user manuals, from
what I've seen.

As Janice pointed out, "you" and "their" also have the advantage of gender
neutrality. So do imperative sentences with no written subject. Of course,
using "their" brings up another can of worms--whether it's permissible to
use "their" to essentially mean "his or her" or whether a plural subject is
needed. (My vote is for the plural subject, but that strays a bit beyond
the original question...)

Kelly Keck


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