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Here's at least one academic voice speaking up. While I don't agree with
your technial communication instructors, I can imagine at least two reasons
that they don't want you to use "you" in technical documentation:
1. They were taught that "you" is inappropriate in formal writing.
They've carried this convention over into technical documentation.
2. They are tired of trying to persuade students not to use "you"
in writing when they are not really referring to the readers. People often
use "you" when they really mean "one" or people in general. (For example,
if I change a few words of the previous sentence, it would read "You often
use 'you' when you really mean 'one'.") The use of "you" in the example
throws the meaning way off because I don't know what you, Joanne, really do
in your writing.
What do you mean by technical documentation? On-line help and users'
manuals? Technical specifications? I'd agree that second person is more
than appropriate in the former and may be seriously suspect in the latter.
And as for "right" and "wrong" in grammar, I think most people on this list
and other professionals would agree that grammar is an evolving human
construction, contrary to rumors that God handed grammar rules down to us on
Mt. Sinai. Usage conventions often depend on audience, purpose, and genre.
This doesn't mean that they are arbitrary, just dependent on the situation.
Marj Rush Hovde
Assistant Professor of English and Technical Communications
Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis
From: Brierley, Sean [mailto:Sean -at- Quodata -dot- Com]
Sent: Monday, November 29, 1999 10:48 AM
Subject: RE: Use of "You"
Tell the instructors that, while you understand they mean well and really
believe they know what they teach, they've been in academia too long and
have lost touch with the industry.
The implied 'you' only goes so far. The word 'you' has to show up. 'One' and
'the user' are stilted.
The thread you started might be more appropriate than the he/she thing
because you are addressing the state of the profession: academia versus real
world, is there a difference. I suppose, that's one of my beefs with the STC
Anyway, does one go into teaching with no real-world experience as a tech
writer and, if not, how does one maintain one's skills after one leaves the
tw workforce to become sequestered as an instructor. I suppose, all this
begs the question: are the instructors writers or other professionals, such
as programmers or engineers, by training?
Thanks, Joanne, IMHO, a good question.
sean -at- quodata -dot- com
From: Joanne Meehl [SMTP:Jmeehl -at- datum -dot- com]
Two of the instructors in my Tech Writing program at Northeastern
"NEVER use 'you' in technical documentation".
They don't mean the writer
should eliminate the implied "you", as in "Click the right mouse
They just don't like the sound of "you"--they say it's too casual or
But some of you are saying it works. What's a newbie like me to do?!
don't want to start a thread like "he/she", so please respond
particularly those of you who've had to make this decision and
between "you" and phrases like "the user". I want to do what's right
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