Future tense (long-ish)/using "you"

Subject: Future tense (long-ish)/using "you"
From: Peggy Thomson <Peggy_Thompson -at- CCMAIL -dot- OSTI -dot- GOV>
Date: Thu, 27 Jul 1995 14:42:00 -0400

Regarding present and future tense in computer documentation
(hey--glad I started this thread!), Geoff Hart's sample sentence

After you select PRINT, your document will be sent to the

You can easily cast that in present tense:

After you select PRINT, your document is sent to the

But Geoff asked, "Are we oversimplifying by arguing for blanket
present tense?" I now think there's an argument for, AS MUCH AS
simplicity, grace, economy of style. If more information is
needed in the case of the above sentence, add it like this:

The yellow indicator light flashes to let you know printing
is about to begin. If the print job cannot complete, an
error messages appears in the indicator window on the front
of the printer.

Geoff said something about present tense just FEELING wrong,
sometimes, and that feeling has plagued me, too, as it does with
his sample sentence. But here's a fix that pleases my ear:

[When] you press PRINT, your document is sent to the

"After" makes me think in a linear, chronological, future-tense
fashion--"AFTER you do this, this WILL HAPPEN." "When" keeps all
the future tense stuff hanging together.

I will therefore argue that you can gracefully recast most
instruction in the present tense (a reversal of my previous
position where I often found the future tense very inelegant).

Can you submit examples of instructions or procedures that
should not be cast in the present tense, when the rest of the
document is written in present tense? I want to be able to
codify the exceptions for our writers.


USING YOU IN DOCUMENTATION: We do it freely here, in our
computer manuals, after a concerted lobby against "the user
this" and "the user that." It's friendly, informal, direct, and
clear. Go for it!

[Ignore the passive voice... the real issue is: When? Then
there's: How will I know when I succeed? How do I know if
there's a
problem that will delay printing? Which printer?]
Am I really missing something here, or are we just
overgeneralizing by
blanketly condemning all use of future tense?

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