Re: "Shall" & "Will"

Subject: Re: "Shall" & "Will"
From: Mike Pope <mikep -at- ASYMETRIX -dot- COM>
Date: Sun, 5 Jun 1994 14:45:00 PDT

Well, I respond to this as a private posting, so I guess I'll do it again as
a public posting. Unfortunately, I didn't keep a copy of my original
reply to Rich, so I'll have to try to remember what I said.

>Mike Pope said:
>>In the US, "shall" is NOT USED. If you doubt this, try to
>>find references in any current major US publication illustrating
>>the use of "shall".
> ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
> Wow, that's a pretty strong statement, Mike. As noted
> previously, "shall" is used a lot in some fields. These may
> not be in "major US publications" but this IS the Tech Whirl
> list. I don't think that there is much tech writing that
> qualifies as "major publication"

My point was to note that "shall" is not the style for pubications that
are likely to be read "normally" by any given target audience. I'll
state this point a different way: why not write documentation using
the language you think the reader will understand? We figure that
people read newspapers and magazines comfortably -- why not
stick with the language used there? Why use "shall" when one person
in 100 knows or cares about any supposed distinction? Will using the
word "shall" be CLEARER to the reader?

>Mike continues:
>>say "corrupting", by the way; television reflects the way people
>>actually speak. To say "corrupting" implies strongly that there is
>>one correct way to speak English. Nope.

> Again, Mike, we are discussing technical writing here. Do
> you recommend the use of slang and colloquialisms that have
> different meanings in different regions? Maybe I'll write my
> next manual in iambic rapameter :)

I didn't bring television into the discussion, I was merely responding
to a complaint I feel is wrong-headed, namely that the media
somehow corrupt language. I don't think so; they are, after all,
media for how people actually speak. I also am personally
very uncomfortable when people start talking about "corrupting"
language. First, it's elitist. Second, it reflects a certain
ignorance about the history of language -- or could we term
our dialects as "corrupted" forms of Shakespeare's, Chaucer's, and
the Beowulf author's English?

I have no beef with a standard style for written materials, nor
do I think that written language can't adhere to a style slightly
more formal than spoken language. But again, I don't see the
percentage in making text needlessly complex or in including
archaic constructions. Sure, in legalese lots of terms are retained
because they have very specific meanings. But most people don't
need contract language when all they want to do is learn
how to run the widgetybob that they're reading about.

-- Mike Pope
mikep -at- asymetrix -dot- com

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