"The dialog box will appear"

Subject: "The dialog box will appear"
From: Bruce Byfield <bbyfield -at- AXIONET -dot- COM>
Date: Sat, 22 Mar 1997 13:02:39 -0500

Geoff Hart <geoff-h -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA> writes:

> At least a year ago, we discussed how to communicate the
> results of an action to software users. The debate focused
> on two alternatives: "The dialog box will appear" vs. "The
> dialog box appears". The main logic brought to bear against
> the former was that it doesn't tell users _when_ the dialog
> box will appear, and moreover, it's one word longer than it
> needs to be; the arguments against the latter were that the
> dialog box may not appear immediately, and moreover, many
> readers stumble over the verb and wonder "appears to do
> what?"

The most common argument I've heard in favor of the present tense is
that it directly reflects users' experience as they follow instructions.

As for the arguments agains the present tense: you can always follow the
sentence with another one starting, "if the dialog box does not appear .
. ." Also, "appears" could be replaced with another verb, such as
> At the time, there was a slight majority in favor of
> "appears", but I'd like to revisit this debate and get some
> more feedback on the issue. Are we choosing one over the
> other based on urban legend, or based on established,
> successful techniques?

As someone fairly new to the field, I can tell you that every recent
textbook I've read favors the present tense--I've never seen another
view. So the present tense is a convention among those who write
textbooks, anyway :-)
Bruce Byfield (bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com)
Technical Writer
Burnaby, BC, Canada
(604) 421-7189

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