Re: Future Tense Controversy

Subject: Re: Future Tense Controversy
From: dmbrown -at- brown-inc -dot- com
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 12 Mar 2004 00:38:14 -0800

marybl -at- libertymedical -dot- com wrote:

We have always written these in present tense,
active voice. The lawyers are now wanting us to write everything in future
tense (and thus putting it in passive voice).

Tense and voice are completely unrelated.

You can have present tense in passive voice ("The data is displayed") and future tense in active voice ("The report will appear on your screen").

Needless to say, the writers are not happy with this new edict, as we
believe that present tense and active voice should always be used in
technical writing.

There are times when it is desirable to shift the focus from the actor to the action. At those times, it is appropriate to use the passive voice.

The lawyers are saying what we do is not 'technical writing'!

The types of documents you listed are definitely considered technical writing (as are a lot of other things you don't list, of course).

My question is, can any of you direct me to sources...that define
rules for using present and future tense in technical writing.

Present tense is common in documents of the types you listed; but there are cases where future tense just seems more appropriate: "If you select the Save Outgoing Messages option, a copy of each message you send will be saved in your Sent folder" (future tense AND passive voice--wahoo!)

The point is that it's really just another *stylistic* decision. Like most styles, you just need to make a decision, then apply it consistently, allowing exceptions when the choice is inappropriate.

Life is short--move on!



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