TechWhirl (TECHWR-L) is a resource for technical writing and technical communications professionals of all experience levels and in all industries to share their experiences and acquire information.
For two decades, technical communicators have turned to TechWhirl to ask and answer questions about the always-changing world of technical communications, such as tools, skills, career paths, methodologies, and emerging industries. The TechWhirl Archives and magazine, created for, by and about technical writers, offer a wealth of knowledge to everyone with an interest in any aspect of technical communications.
Subject:You may From:mkale -at- GPS -dot- COM Date:Fri, 5 Aug 1994 09:52:30 LCL
Personally, I hate "You may," which is all over the manuals I'm editing now.
First, it's ambiguous--does this mean "you might" or "you can"? Secondly, it
sounds like we're granting the user permission to do something--why not just
tell them what they can do and let them make the choice?
Even worse than that, a lot of our procedures start with "If you wish..."
getting back to the old wish vs. want discussion. I say just tell 'em what they
can do. What does wishing have to do with accounting (our product) or computers?
(OK, I guess it does sometimes have to do with computers, as in "I sure wish I
could figure out how to load this code" or "I wish that bug hadn't destroyed the
boot sector of my hard drive.")
Other awful things our documentation does: All our error messages start with
"Sorry..." like the computer could really regret that it couldn't complete a
command. Then in our online help we alphabetize error messages for each window,
which means that all error messages are alphebetized under S. What sense does
that make?!!! All solutions for these error messages also seem to start with
"Please..." Managers insist that this is somehow more respectful then just
getting to the point of telling the user how to solve the problem.
Unfortunately, most of these solutions don't actually do that. Instead they say
useless things like:
Situation: Sorry, you've attempted to enter a code that is inactive.
Solution: You can't enter a code that is inactive.
My other latest beef: writers insist on describing numbers that aren't valid as
"invalid." Does an invalid number need a wheelchair?