Re: gender issues and tech.write

Subject: Re: gender issues and tech.write
From: Beryl Doane <BDoane -at- ENGPO -dot- MSMAILGW -dot- INTERMEC -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 11 Dec 1995 15:16:00 PST

>From Greg Cento:
>Now for my technical writing question to the list: Do you make much use of
>"you" in your technical documentation? Have you run into limitations? What
>would those limitations be?

Over the past 5 years, I have changed my writing to say "you" whenever
possible. I mostly write software and hardware manuals using a task-oriented
approach. "You" is second person, it is not gender biased, it is short,
simple, and direct.
It can be singular or plural, and it works well for my audience.

Technical writing is training and educating a user from a distance. If you
were to stand in front of a class to teach a new product, system, or method,
you would use "you" statements. You would not say "One needs to open his
book to page 3 for the first example." You would not say "Thou shall open
thy book to page 3 for the first example." You would say "Open your book to
page 3 for the first example."

He/She/They are 3rd person, formal constructions. There are times that 2nd
person is not appropriate. When I must use 2nd person, I rewrite to remove
any gender bias. For example, "the operator, your system administrator, the
user, the manager, etc."

I have also read books that set a convention in the front matter, just as
for any other special terms or conventions. One that I am comfortable with
alternates by chapter. "He" and "she" both refer to doctors, nurses, and
babies. If the baby was "she" in the first chapter, the baby is "he" in the
second chapter.

Technical writing is perceived in general to be written by authorities. What
we committ to print becomes the accepted "norm." If writers continue to
perpetuate the status quo, there cannot be a change (for good or for bad).
Until English has evolved to provide simple, easy to use alternatives,
writers need to continue questioning *any* use of gender-biased pronouns,
nouns, adjectives, verbs, phrases, etc. (ad nauseum).

Take the time to be creative. Maybe you will find a workable solution.
Beryl Doane
bdoane -at- intermec -dot- com
These opinions are my own.

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