Avoiding personification of things?

Subject: Avoiding personification of things?
From: Geoffrey Hart <Geoff-h -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
Date: Wed, 24 Mar 1999 08:12:44 -0500

Lauren Merritt is <<... stalled against the following sentence:
"To fire the triac pulse at the proper time, the ASP driver must
know which phase powers each lamp block."... I'm really
trying to avoid the personification of this ASP driver>>

The proscription against anthropomorphizing "things" doesn't
really apply in your situation: the reason behind this rule of
thumb is that giving something like software human
characteristics (e.g., "MSWord happily renumbers the items
in the list") creates a misleading metaphor for the user of the
product. In particular, it leads novice users to expect the
software to behave to some extent as if it were human, and
this inevitably leads to incorrect assumptions and
disappointment. Conversely, advanced users find this cutesy
and distracting.

In your example, the problem isn't nearly so serious because
the user won't be interacting with the ASP driver, and thus
won't be misled by the metaphor. In fact, this kind of
anthropomorphizing is ubiquitous (and generally harmless) in
technical writing: consider "the software _reads_ the
necessary information from drive C", for example.

Nonetheless, it's easy enough to write around most such
problems by focusing on the essence of what's happening and
avoiding any reference to "needs", which are implicitly
human things. You can almost always replace "need" with
"must" or "should", as appropriate, and doing so generally
suggests a simple rewrite. Here, the ASP driver "must receive
information on the phases of the lamp block before it can..."
and that's your solution right there.

--Geoff Hart @8^{)} Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca

"Patience comes to those who wait."--Anon.

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