RE: Third-person vs. second person?

Subject: RE: Third-person vs. second person?
From: "Brad" <kiwi -at- best -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>, "Geoff Hart" <geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca>
Date: Tue, 26 Oct 1999 23:31:59 -0700

> Janis Hill works << a financial company writing and updating a
> policy and procedure manual. Currently, the manuals in our
> department are written in third person because various audiences
> are addressed throughout each manual. Using second person with
> more than one audience may cause confusion as to who is being
> addressed in a given piece of writing.>>

One time I had to write a manual for a product that Sales and Marketing had
wanted to publicize as being simple, easy, user-friendly, blah, blah, and
blah. But in fact, the product was so **convoluted** that the expertise,
requirements, and permission levels required to get the job done varied a
great deal from chapter to chapter. I would be too charitable to say that
the product was haphazard at best.

Since the audience changed from chapter to chapter, I stated the audience
requirements very clearly in the introductory chapter and at the beginning
of each chapter. With the audience clearly stated, I wrote each chapter in
the second person. I also prefixed some topics about the assumed audience.

This was not the prettiest, most elegant document I ever wrote. The product
marketing and engineering managers thought that the document would only be
10 or 12 pages, something that they thought I should "whip up" without specs
in a few days since the president of the company *really, really* wanted to
announce the availability of the product *next week*, in about 4 days, at
some trade show. Yea right. The product was delayed and they didn't tell me!
The document ended up being 80 pages, and I got the product done in
amazingly little time. Maybe I was in a trance when I did it. (Sorry, I got
on a tangent from the topic.)

(Back to topic)
In some cultures, it is rude to address someone in the third person; in
other cultures, it is rude to address someone in the second person
imperative (command) voice. But I always take the classical American
approach of second person imperative voice. It's direct and concise.

2nd person imperative: Click the OK button.
3rd person: The operator shall click the OK button.

If you make it clear who the audience is, then I see no need to go the wordy
3rd person route. Wordiness is inherently less effective.


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