Re: Phrasing recommendations

Subject: Re: Phrasing recommendations
From: "Steven J. Owens" <puff -at- NETCOM -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 21 May 1999 10:03:46 -0700

Paul Strasser writes:
> I'm a little uncertain about the use of "recommend" -- Is the recommended
> course of action simply the best of several worthy options? ("... because of
> XYZ, we recommend taking the scenic route rather than the Interstate")
> Anyway -- if there is a recommendation, it means that someone is doing the
> recommending. With this in mind, "We recommend" is preferable. "It is
> recommended" is not as strong -- Who is doing the recommending, and why?

"I/We recommend" is active voice, "XYZ is recommended" is passive
voice. Active is generally recommended as the default writing voice,
because it's easier to read and usually more straightforward. Passive
voice has its uses, however, because it focuses attention on the
object of the sentence, rather than the subject. In recommendations,
if you use passive voice, you'll focus attention on what you're

In general, I dislike "we recommend" unless there really is a
"we", otherwise it sounds too high-falutin'. If the recommendation is
coming from the writer, I'd say use "I recommend". If it's coming
from the company (XYZZY, Inc.), I'd say "XYZZY recommends using a
setting of blah". This is assuming you choose disregard my comments
about useful applications of passive voice...

> In either case, an explanation of why a certain course of action is
> recommended or preferable is a good idea. Whenever I see "we recommend" I
> like to know why.

I completely agree with this, particularly for software or
hardware; so many technical boks are too vague. Explain the
recommended course of action, and why it's recommended, and even what
other course were considered and why they were rejected. Sometimes,
as in the example about defaults given by the original poster, it's
easier to give valid alternatives to the recommendation. For example:

"Leaving the username set to the default is recommended, unless
you need to set up multiple user names for organizational reasons -
for example, if you're running a full-fledged database installation,
you may need to have one username for the DBA, one for the developer,
and one for the user."

Steven J. Owens
puff -at- netcom -dot- com

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