Re: gender issues and tech.write

Subject: Re: gender issues and tech.write
From: "Susan W. Gallagher" <sgallagher -at- EXPERSOFT -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 11 Dec 1995 16:33:11 -0800

At 2:36 PM 12/11/95, Greg Cento wrote:
>Basically, I do as much writing as I possibly can using the second person
>singular pronoun (actual or implied): "First you do this=8Athen you do
>that=8Atweak here=8Atwist there=8A" I find that this way I am able to avoid =
>he/she/they constructions that some find awkward and others find insulting
>(you know, that reverse discrimination/sexism song (grin)).
>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?

You're right, Greg. 99% of my writing addresses second person singular
audience, so gender-specific pronouns are not a problem. About 1% of the
time, however, I find it necessary to sidestep the issue.

For example, when writing to a target audience of programmers and speaking
about their end-users, I try hard to speak of the end-user in the plural --
"When your users encounter an error message that they don't understand..."

The trickier situation is in speaking to end users about a significant
person in their organization -- the system administrator, for example.
"Create your file vault on a network drive, then ask the system administrator
to include it in *the* regularly scheduled backup" (rather than *his/her*
regularly scheduled backup).

Using these techniques, I have avoided using gender-specific pronouns
in my technical writing for the last 4 or 5 years. And I really don't think
any of my users have ever noticed! ;-)

Sue Gallagher
Expersoft Corporation
San Diego, CA
sgallagher -at- expersoft -dot- com

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