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Subject:gender sensitivity and pronoun use From:DIGEST Deborah Snavely <dsnavely -at- SAVI -dot- COM> Date:Wed, 13 Aug 1997 09:26:25 PST
The simplest answer I have found that lets me retain grammatical accuracy is
simple. When you must write in the third person, don't write about The User.
Write about Users.
The operator needs to turn on the widget. Once the widget completes its
self-check and displays READY in the LED display, he must...
Operators need to turn on the widget. Once the widget completes its self-
check and displays READY in the LED display, they must...
Very rarely, I need to talk about a single user in the third person; sometimes
in that case I use the underused impersonal third-person pronoun: one.
An operator needs to turn on the widget. Once the widget completes its
self-check and displays READY in the LED display, one must...
This isn't great writing, or even how I would choose to work with the topic,
it's just an example, so please don't tell me how lame the structure is. In
general, in descriptive material I talk about hardware or software and user-
descriptors such as: "process engineers," or "maintenance technicians," or "fab
operator," or whatever is the job function of the person working with the
hardware or software.
In procedural material, of course, the issue becomes moot. Imperative doesn't
usually need pronouns, and when it does the only appropriate one is second
person "you." Of course, often the best answer to this problem is a more
colloquial style that allows second-person writing, but that's not always
Lead Technical Writer
Publications, Software & Systems
Savi Technology / a Raytheon TI Systems company
dsnavely -at- savi -dot- com