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Subject:RE: Anthropomorphism is bad because... From:Odile Sullivan-Tarazi <odile -at- mindspring -dot- com> To:<Brian -dot- Henderson -at- mitchell1 -dot- com> Date:Fri, 18 Jun 2010 11:12:14 -0700
_Read Me First_ (third edition) has a useful discussion of this
point. The guideline there is to distinguish between
industry-standard ways of using anthropomorphism (these are the ones
we pretty much don't even see as "anthropomorphic" anymore) and
idiosyncratic, non-industry-standard expressions, which do call
attention to themselves.
The example offered illustrates this point nicely. No one is going
to bat an eye over this --
The network refuses unauthorized connections.
But this one calls attention to itself as odd --
The server refuses to boot.
Writers need to be aware of this point because it is common among
engineers to slip more and more into that "component as agent" mode
of thought. It's a useful type of shorthand, but when it strays too
far over the line, it's got to be translated into something more
standard before it makes for good user-oriented text. And even where
the end users are engineers themselves, it's cleaner for published
text not to engage in such shorthand in quite the same way that
behind-the-scenes engineering-speak often does.
I recently saw a piece that spoke exclusively of the application
wishing or needing to do something, of the application needing to be
aware, of the application facing issues, and so on. The effect was
very odd, and easily corrected, bringing the developer back into the
rightful position as the one needing to undertake tasks, to be aware
of incompatibilities, to face issues.
That was too much cognition being assigned the application. And in
this case it didn't render the discussion more direct. It just
rendered it peculiar.
At 10:27 AM -0700 6/18/10, <Brian -dot- Henderson -at- mitchell1 -dot- com> wrote:
>In theory, there are arguments to be made for both sides of the
>I can easily imagine hardcore techs/engineers frowning upon
>anthropomorphic documentation. Which could lead to (if only
>unconsciously) distrust of the information being conveyed.
>On the other hand, I think the "ordinary" person should not be
>unnecessarily subjected to overly dense and convoluted
>instructions/data. Here, anthropomorphism can be a useful "algorithm"
>for long-winded and unhelpful terminology.
>I think it always comes down to audience, audience, audience.
>-----Original Message----- From: Milan Davidovic
>2010/6/18 McLauchlan, Kevin <Kevin -dot- McLauchlan -at- safenet-inc -dot- com>:
>> I gather a little anthropomorphic fun/laxity is permissible in your
>> techwriting milieu?
>I've never heard it questioned, though that "little voice in your head"
>does ring some bells. But before we examine the position that
>anthropomorphism (or perhaps it's just metaphor) is bad, it might be
>good to see who (if anyone) actually holds such a position.
>Maybe that voice we're hearing is just our own...
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