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:Re: It is . . . . . From:Loren Castro <lfc -at- SOL -dot- CHINALAKE -dot- NAVY -dot- MIL> Date:Wed, 9 Aug 1995 08:23:40 -0700
Sherrill Fink raises an interesting issue:
> The whizbang is a ___. It is used for ____.
> It requires whoozies (see above).
> On my first day, I asked my boss (not a "writer" but pretty
> darn good with language) what his pet peeves were. Guess
> what--It is . . . topped the list! He says that you cannot
> always tell what the antecendent for "it" is supposed to be!
> Same goes for "This is . . ." and other similar constructions.
Using "it" when the antecedent is clear, as in excerpt 1, is legitimate and can
avoid tedium. For example, try reading "The Operational Flight Program (OFP)
Computer Software Configuration Item (CSCI) for the XYZ Missile" instead of
"The software" (or, yes, "It") to start EVERY sentence in, for example, Section
3 of the software requirements specification. Surely by then we know what the
subject is. Now if I had started my first sentence with "It is legitimate to
use 'it' when the antecedent is clear," I would expect Sherrill's boss to snarl
and Sherrill to edit me.
SECNAVINST 5216.5C, entitled _Just Plain English_, is a widely ignored
collection of good advice for making "naval writing organized, natural,
compact, and active." (All of you have read typical government documents, so
you know what I mean by "widely ignored.") It says, among many other things,
"Avoid 'it is' and 'there is.'" I quote:
No two words hurt naval writing more that "it is." They
stretch sentences, delay meaning, hide responsibility, and
encourage passive verbs. Unless "it" refers to something
mentioned earlier, avoid "it is."
For example, the typical naval officer will write, "It has come to the
attention of this command that . . ." instead of "I have learned that . . . ."
So--my judgement is to use "it is" when and only when appropriate,