Re: Needful things

Subject: Re: Needful things
From: mpriestley -at- VNET -dot- IBM -dot- COM
Date: Thu, 15 Sep 1994 12:24:33 EDT

Bill Brooks writes:
>During peer edits I always make sure to get rid of "you need...".
>A good example is the error message I kept getting when I changed
>hard drives:
> "Windows can't find VTDAPI.386. You need to run
> SETUP again."

In general, I don't have a problem with "need". In the above example,
it's not necessary (just say "Run SETUP again"), but I use it pretty
regularly in the "anthropomorphic" sense you warn against later in the note.
If a stew can "need a bit more salt" in order to taste good, why can't a
program "need file xxx" in order to run?

When referring to a user's actions, though, I think I've only ever used it
in the negative: "You no longer need to...". If they "need" to do something,
I just tell them to do it. If it suddenly becomes optional, "no longer need
to" seems like a quick and informative way to express that.

Re the anthropomorphic argument: I think this has been getting misapplied
a lot. It's a great guideline for avoiding messages like "Oops! (Tee hee)
Seems I formatted your hard drive... oh dear...". But just because a verb
can be used to describe a human action doesn't mean it can't be used to
describe a computer's action. Is it anthropomorphic to say the computer
"reads" and "writes" data? Maybe. It's also descriptive. Does the
program "need" data, or does it only "require" it? Well, what's the
difference, except that "require" is more formal, less familiar, and an
extra syllable? Webster's lists them as synonyms.

I'd balk at saying the program "yearned" for something, but I don't
have a problem with "needs".

Take care,

Michael Priestley
mpriestley -at- vnet -dot- ibm -dot- com
Disclaimer: speaking on my own behalf, not IBM's.

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