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I think there's something to be said about certain things happening "by
magic", although perhaps not without logical explanations.
I agree with avoiding using the 5 senses (hearing, tasting, smelling,
seeing, and touching) when you're talking about a
computer/system/program/etc. However, I see nothing wrong with saying:
"....the system displays...", or "...the window appears...".
In the Computers for Beginners classes I teach, I often tell the students to
consider the computer (the actual "box" on their desks) as a "black box", a
sort of magic box that will do whatever (nearly...) they tell it to do. They
like that analogy, and it clicks in their mind. I tell them a computer is a
"dumb machine", but a wonderful thing! It can do incredible things, yet it
is dumb, because it won't do anything without first getting instructions to
perform something. It doesn't think!
So, anthropomorphism is fine with me, as long as you don't make it seem like
the computer/system/program/etc. actually THINKS on its own. In this
respect, I gbelieve I agree with Judith Tarutz.
phantoms -at- accent -dot- net
At 11:00 AM 8/5/97 -0700, you wrote:
>I see your point. I have a great book here called Technical Editing: The
>Practical Guide for Editors and Writers bu Judith Tarutz. ISBN
>She claims that people don't want computers to think, understand, have
>feelings, or be their friends. By attributing human qualities to
>computers, we're somehow taking control away from the user. Also
>anthromorphisms imply that things happen by magic with no logical
>I would be interested to see if most users really feel this way
>though...It probaby varies, depending on the type of user (novice vs.
>expert) and which industry you're writing for.
>> From: Matthew J Long[SMTP:mjl100z -at- MAIL -dot- ODU -dot- EDU]
>> Reply To: Matthew J Long
>> Sent: Tuesday, August 05, 1997 7:47 AM
>> To: TECHWR-L -at- LISTSERV -dot- OKSTATE -dot- EDU
>> Subject: Anthropomorphic Phrases
>> This one's not in the archives:
>> I learaned and have always heard that using anthropomorphic phrases in
>> technical writing is a taboo and, in general, I avoid it, but I was
>> wondering what it is that makes it so bad? Any books that cover this?
>> Thoughts? Opinions?
>> Recently I was explaining how to use wild card characters when
>> a search in a database when I wrote "When you enter a word or phrase
>> one of the fields, the system will search for exact matches." What is
>> wrong with this phrase. It sort of gives the system a personality
>> but what makes that a bad thing? Maybe the users (who are primarily
>> attorneys and paralegals) would be more productive if they felt that
>> computer was more... well .... human like (anthropomorphic).
>> I am not looking for suggestions as to how to rephrase the statement
>> above--I can do that. I am just curious as to why I should want to.
>> should I avoid anthropomorphic phrases? Is it just for the sake of
>> so, or is there true merit to this practice?
>> TIA for you thoughts?
>> Matthew J. Long
>> Technical Writer
>> mjl100z -at- mail -dot- odu -dot- edu
>> matt -dot- long -at- justice -dot- usdoj -dot- gov
>> -When you can't be eloquent, choose brevity!
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