Re. Future vs. present tense

Subject: Re. Future vs. present tense
From: Geoff Hart <geoff-h -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
Date: Wed, 26 Jul 1995 09:47:02 LCL

It seems to me that Techwhirlers who advocate doing computer
documentation in present tense only may be oversimplifying. The
unifying thread seems to be that future tense is unsuitable
***primarily*** when it doesn't specify duration; thus, the issue
isn't a problem with tense, but rather a problem due to vagueness.
Would there really be a difference between the following two phrases:

1. After you select "type size" from the "font" menu, the selected
text increases in size.
2. Select "type size" from the "font" menu. The selected text will
increase in size.

Neither is a great example of tech. writing, but they illustrate the
sort of example we've been seeing to support the recommendations to
get rid of the future tense. I don't see any functional difference
between the two (the result will generally be so immediate that
there's no risk of confusion); moreover, there _seems_ to be a
grammatical problem with the present tense in the second part of the
first example. (No, I can't state what the problem is. It just "feels"
wrong, perhaps too "stream of consciousness" or insufficient coffee?)
There _is_ a really good justification for replacing the future tense
in the following example:

1. After you select "print", your document will be sent to the
printer. [Ignore the passive voice... the real issue is: When? Then
there's: How will I know when I succeed? How do I know if there's a
problem that will delay printing? Which printer?]

Am I really missing something here, or are we just overgeneralizing by
blanketly condemning all use of future tense?

--Geoff Hart @8^{)}
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca

Disclaimer: If I didn't commit it in print in one of
our reports, it don't represent FERIC's opinion.

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