Re: Use of Second Person

Subject: Re: Use of Second Person
From: K Watkins <KWATKINS -at- QUICKPEN -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 14 Dec 1995 10:02:00 -0300

Mercedes Abels {maa5906 -at- GRIFFON -dot- MWSC -dot- EDU} wrote on 12Dec95:
>I work in a utility vehicle industry, writing documentation for vehicles
>that will be used for work on live wire electrical line repair.
>Documentation has to be very precise and clear. We have one writer who
>refuses to use a he/she convention on the grounds that it is
>cumbersome and unrealistic because "most" line repair operators will be
>male. We also operate under a policy mandate that "you" is not appropriate
>in a manual because it is too familiar. (a silly reason in my opinion, but
>hey, even in a team environment where each employee is empowered, we
>don't always get to do what we believe is best)

>So. I am looking for support for the use of you instead of "the operator"
>or "the person in the platform," etc.

I write all documentation in the second person, with the full approval of my
employers. I strongly support the use of "you." It's not familiar, merely
direct. The most respectful and formal situations I've encountered in
spoken English still use the second person when directly addressing the
person(s) concerned. Thus using the third person in written instructions
may even have the submliminal effect of implying that the instructions
aren't _really_ directed to the reader (regardless of gender)!

Exception: If you are writing about a procedure which includes instructions
for several people, you may have to use third person. I recall a recent
posting to this list (sorry, I've forgotten whose) saying that in these
circumstances you should create separate instructions for each of them, and
in general I heartily agree. However, you might still need some kind of
overview. For instance:

Instructions for the person in the lift:
- Before the operator at the lower lift controls presses the OPEN button,
you must unlatch the clasp on the gate.

Instructions for the operator at the lower lift controls:
- After the person in the lift unlatches the clasp on the gate, press the
OPEN button.

Overview of the procedure for a supervisor:
Step 1. The person in the lift must unlatch the clasp on the gate.
Step 2. The operator at the lower lift controls must press the OPEN button.

K Watkins
kwatkins -at- quickpen -dot- com
speaking for myself, not my employers.

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