Re: Use of "You"

Subject: Re: Use of "You"
From: Johndan Johnson-Eilola <johndan -at- purdue -dot- edu>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 30 Nov 1999 07:29:05 -0500

Joanne -

Perhaps the issue here isn't really a blanket prohibition against "you" ever appearing in technical documentation, but on its overuse. In the tech comm and computer doc courses I teach, it's common for people new to the field to use "You" to start every instruction:

To complete this meaningless procedure, you follow the steps listed below.

1. You press the green doohicky.

2. You put your nose against the grindstone.

3. You [verb] ....


I often tell students to drop the "you" in order to get to a more direct (and more commonly seen) style:

To complete this meaningless procedure, follow the steps listed below:

1. Press the green doohicky.

2. Put your nose against the grindstone.

3. [verb]

There are other problems with the example, obviously, but you get my drift. So it's not so much that "you" is *never* appropriate, but as a starting point, it's often useful to force new writers to avoid it at all costs. Then, as with most rules, as they require more expertise they learn when it's appropriate to re-introduce the term as needed.

- Johndan

At 10:17 AM -0500 11/29/99, Joanne Meehl wrote:

Hi all,
Two of the instructors in my Tech Writing program at Northeastern Univ. say
"NEVER use 'you' in technical documentation". They don't mean the writer
should eliminate the implied "you", as in "Click the right mouse button".
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?! I

[line deleted to get past a filter on TECHWR-L]

particularly those of you who've had to make this decision and choose
between "you" and phrases like "the user". I want to do what's right without
doing flavor-of-the-month.

Thank you!
Joanne Meehl

"If you do what you've always done, you're gonna get what you've always got,
and sometimes that's nothing". -- Steven Tyler

- Johndan Johnson-Eilola
Director of Professional Writing
Department of English voice: 765.494.3772
Purdue University <mailto:johndan -at- purdue -dot- edu>
West Lafayette, IN 47907-1356 <>

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