Don't "Should" on Me!

Subject: Don't "Should" on Me!
From: Dan Dieterich <ddieteri -at- UWSPMAIL -dot- UWSP -dot- EDU>
Date: Thu, 2 Jun 1994 15:35:57 -0600

What think you about the use of "should," "have to," "must," "need to," and
(sometimes) "WILL" in the instructions that you read and write?

I've nothing against the words themselves. Obviously enough, they work well in
many other contexts. But, I find it offensive when someone uses these terms to
get me to do something (e.g., "You must enter the correct password.")

By using any one of these terms in giving instructions, a writer-- 1. Treats
the readers as if they were children, 2. Treats the readers as if they had no
free will, 3. Sounds moralistic and preachy, 4. Makes statements instead of
requests, and 5. Needlessly lengthens sentences (e.g., "You need to enter the
correct password." is 75% longer than "Enter the correct password.")

I call the "should/must/need to" constructions parental language, because
parents often use them in talking with their children. Because I don't like
reading them, I avoid writing them. I write direct requests instead.

Because we spend such a large portion of our lives writing routine
instructions, this seems like an important matter to me. How do you feel about

- Dan

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