Gender Reference

Subject: Gender Reference
From: Richard Sobocinski <"Richard_G_Sobocinski%~WHC207"@CCMAIL.PNL.GOV>
Date: Thu, 26 May 1994 09:06:00 -0700

In writing technical documentation it has been generally taboo to use any
form of gender reference, such as he or she. Alternatives I have seen have
ranged from using the third person plural to the new form; (s)he.

I would appreciate any feed back from colleagues who use these, or
alternatives to these. I am reviewing our style manual, and am not happy with
simply stating that gender reference should not be used. I would like to be
able to provide examples/alternatives. Thanks in advance for your time.

As much as possible I avoid gender references in my technical
writing -- mostly because it has no relevance to content. In
those rare circumstances when it is necessary to use a
singular personal pronoun, I default to the generic male
"he", "his". I find that using variations of he/she, (s)he,
he (or she) to be distracting and burdensome to the reader.
It also comes off as being silly or offensively patronizing
(depending on your POV) when the audience is almost
exclusively male. [Naturally my "default" would be different
for a gender ratio tilted in the other direction.]

A common mistake that I notice is the use of "they", "their"
in a singular sense, which I believe is a lazy way of
complying with style manuals which prohibit, rather than
discourage gender reference.

BTW, I was flogged for this opinion in the copyedit-l mail
list, which is geared more to general writing.

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