Don't "Should" on Me!

Subject: Don't "Should" on Me!
From: Dan Dieterich <ddieteri -at- UWSPMAIL -dot- UWSP -dot- EDU>
Date: Mon, 6 Jun 1994 10:22:49 -0600

Thank you for exploring this topic with me. Some more thoughts on it:

1. When Heli asked how to "tell users that they must have system administrator
privileges to perform an operation," Kelly suggested, "The following
procedures require system administrator privileges." That's a good statement
of fact, but it doesn't tell users to do anything. If something hit the fan,
and I had to defend what I had written before a judge, I'd prefer to walk into
court with a document that said either "Don't perform the operation unless you
are a system administrator" or "Perform the operation only if you are a system
administrator." I'd feel a lot safer with either of those.

2. Bonni writes that she uses "should" or "must" only when a program disaster
will happen if her readers don't do what she wants. For my money, that's the
ideal time to use commands instead of statements. It might well be in the
user's best interests to interpret what she says as a statement rather than an
instruction (e.g., "I thought 'The switch should be turned off.' meant that it
was already turned off!"). If Bonni writes commands, however (e.g., "Turn off
the switch."), the user will have a hard time convincing a judge that she was

3. I respect Steve's right to use parental language [and am fascinated to
learn that his mind is alive on the shelf]. But, when he writes the sentence
"You must declare a macro before you can use it," he includes three
unnecessary words. And when he writes "Valid substitution symbols must begin
with a letter," he does so hoping that his sophisticated readers will
translate that into "Begin each substitution symbol with a letter." If they
don't make that translation, then his comment about substitution symbols is
worthless, since it's a statement of fact--not an instruction.

- Dan

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