Eliminate the "you"?

Subject: Eliminate the "you"?
From: "Geoff Hart" <geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca>
To: TECHWR-L -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
Date: Tue, 30 Nov 1999 08:57:50 -0500

The blanket proscription against using "you" in technical
communication is typical of all absolute rules: simplistic, and
replaces understanding of a process with a rule that requires no
understanding. I find that particularly disturbing coming from a
university teacher; at that level, I feel that teachers should be
teaching students how to think, not providing rules (often
unsupported by research with a real audience) that are to be
followed blindly.

It's true that using "you" in instructions is rarely useful. "You
should now press the red button" is no more useful than "press the
red button", plus it's longer. That's not to say that you <g> can't
use "you" effectively in documentation outside of procedural steps.
The criteria for making this choice are (i) is there no other way to
identify the actor? and (ii) is there no shorter, clearer way to
accomplish the same result? A possible third criterion is whether a
chatty, personalized tone is appropriate for the audience. That's
rare, but not nonexistant.

--Geoff Hart @8^{)} geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca (Pointe-Claire, Quebec)
"If you can't explain it to an 8-year-old, you don't understand it"--Albert Einstein

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