Re: Future Tense Controversy

Subject: Re: Future Tense Controversy
From: Dick Margulis <margulis -at- fiam -dot- net>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 12 Mar 2004 07:04:25 -0500

marybl -at- libertymedical -dot- com wrote:

Hi, I'm new to the list and am hoping to get some feedback on an issue
that has come up with our corporate lawyers.

Our department writes training manuals, IS user manuals, and company
policies and procedures. 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).

What everyone else said, more or less, and . . .

I think you can persuade (present tense, because I am asserting that you already have the ability) the lawyers to leave the training and user manuals to your capable hands, because they explain how to do something with the software in its present state. They are not marketing claims about products to be available in the future and thus there are no legal implications they should be concerned with.

On policies and procedures, though, the lawyers have a stake. There is case law. There are legal exposures. And the lawyers, not the users, not your fellow employees, are the customers for these documents. It matters less whether a policy is written in a user-friendly way than that it stand up in court. So follow the lawyers' guidance on these documents if the reasons they give you are legal reasons.

That said, there is a lot of confusion in this thread that stems from your description of what they want you to do. As others have noted, future tense does not imply passive voice. However, not every use of the words will and would involve the future tense. A lot of policies and procedures are written in what I seem to remember being called the imperative mood (but it has been a long time since I was in ninth grade with Mrs. Klein and I may have this wrong, so someone help me out). The sentence, "The employee will dress appropriately," is not a prediction; it's an order. (You vill sit down, Ms. Block. Now!) The problem is not the tense but the person. If you can put it in second person, ("Dress appropriately."), the _will_ goes away.

Maybe you can come to an understanding with the attorneys to shift policies and procedures to second person. They can keep the imperative mood; you can lose the _will_ and _shall_ and _would_ and _should._ And the reader can have clearer instructions regarding what the company expects.


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