Re: "Use" (Was: "Ability" etc.)

Subject: Re: "Use" (Was: "Ability" etc.)
From: Ben Kovitz <apteryx -at- CHISP -dot- NET>
Date: Tue, 22 Jun 1999 13:12:04 -0600

John Posada wrote:

>OK, the reason for the word "use".
>When my user picks a selection from the list, they are
>initiating a process, sometimes a step or two, other
>times, a procedure that may take them through almost
>two days of configuration, 15 different screens and 60
>pages of documentation.
>It's not a case of "Select this, this happens".

Ah, this might indeed be a case where "use" is appropriate. Any vague word
can be clear if it's surrounded by appropriate context.

But hey, let's not give up so easily! Have you considered my suggestion
for a two-column table? That also works for start points for big, complex
procedures. Another variation on the table technique is to provide a
mini-TOC. There are three columns: the left column has the buttons and the
heading "Click..."; the middle column has truncated sentences like "Define
the countries in which you operate" and the heading "To..."; and the right
column has page numbers and the heading "See Page..." Of course this kind
of approach also works if the left column contains textual items from a
drop-down list rather than icons.

Still another variation is to write in terms of navigation: "To go to [or
"enter" or something else] country-definition, click ..." or "To define
countries, select Countries|Definitions from the main menu." That would
work if you don't have enough of these to merit making a table, or maybe
you're writing the first sentence of a 60-page section on defining

An added bonus of these alternative approaches you don't have to use that
awful word "selection". (The previous sentence is one of many where I
think "use" is the best choice, btw.) Really, "selection" was what gave
rise to the whole "ability/allows" question. If you can avoid naming what
the user never calls by a name, you avoid a lot of ancillary complications.

>BTW...I "may" reconsider about that dangling participle.

What participle? Not to argue about grammar, but there are no participles
in "Use this selection to define the countries that you operate in." There
is a preposition at the end of the sentence, though. That might tick off
people who are still being bullied by those 17th-century grammarians who
thought that all languages should emulate Latin grammar whether it fit the
language or not. On the other hand, I do think that Sean Brierley's
suggested revision flows a little more nicely, though; that would be a good
reason to prefer it.

Ben Kovitz <apteryx -at- chisp -dot- net>
Author, _Practical Software Requirements: A Manual of Content & Style_

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