She vs. he: audience and usage

Subject: She vs. he: audience and usage
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 09:28:08 -0500

The technical writing tie-in on whether to use gender-specific
pronouns (she and he, in this case) is that it's (i) an audience issue
and (ii) a technical writing style issue. Every time this question
arises, the vehemence of the opinions expressed on both sides of
the debate makes it clear to me that personal opinions
notwithstanding, a substantial portion of the audience finds the use
of "he" distracting or even distasteful. It's never wise to ignore the
needs of your audience, and that being the case, it's never wise to
use he or she when you can avoid the issue. In most cases, that
requires nothing more than a simple ( a _very_ simple) rewrite, and
with practice, you can make that approach part of your writing style
so that it doesn't even disrupt the way you work. Use he and she
judiciously (i.e., when the gender or sex of the actor is important;
to accord with a male or female name that you're replacing with the
pronoun), and not otherwise.

I liked the suggestion of eliminating the use of such pronouns
entirely, but though it's theoretically sound, it's not even a remotely
practical suggestion. Technical writers have little or no influence on
how the language evolves, and it's our job to recognize this and try
to use the terms our readers are familiar and comfortable with.
(That's the style component.) Anything less does them a disservice.

--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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