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Subject: Re: [office] Question of writing style?


The writer's point does not address the absence of such language from 
all W3C standards (with the one exception I noted earlier).

Note that I can't search ISO standards with similar ease, but there are 
0 occurrences of 'you can' in the HyTime and 3 occurrences in SGML (ISO 

So, given the actual usage in WG3 (as detailed in my earlier post) and 
ISO (admittely only two samples from ISO), I would say that 'you can' is 
not customary usage in standards.

I don't disagree with the need to use active voice, but the question 
with 'you can' is one of informality, which is generally frowned upon in 
formal writing. Implied you, such as 'see section ***' is generally 

As stated at the Purdue University Online Writing Lab, 

"In sentences written in active voice, the subject performs the action 
expressed in the verb; the subject acts."

Note that the active versus passive voice is not relevant to the issue 
of informality.

Hope everyone is having a great day!


Michael Brauer wrote:
> Hi all,
> I got in contact with the technical writer that did some work on the
> OpenOffice.org specification some time ago. I have asked her about our
> "you can" style question and whether she thinks it is an issue for a
> specification. That's what she said:
>>Regarding the "you can" phrases, you are right in saying that I used
>>the active voice such as "you can include" or "you can associate" in
>>the rewrite that I did for the XML specification. As I recall, the
>>original specification contained a lot of passive voice, such as "can
>>be associated with", "can be included", and so on. The passive voice
>>tends to be ambiguous, which is not a good thing in a specification,
>>it is difficult to translate, and is more difficult for non-native
>>readers to understand. The use of the active voice in technical
>>documentation is indeed in line with all modern technical
>>writing standards. As your specification is destined for an
>>international audience, I would recommend that you retain the use of
>>the active voice throughout the specification to retain the clarity of
> I suggest that we continue the discussion of the topic in our con call
> on Monday.
> Best regards
> Michael
> David Faure wrote:
>>On Sunday 14 November 2004 23:53, Patrick Durusau wrote:
>>>Since I won't be on the call tomorrow I thought I should tender a few 
>>>written comments about the 'you can' style question.
>>(Same problem here)
>>>It is not improper grammar but a question of the style one uses in 
>>>writing technical standards.
>>>I am not surprised that a native American introduced the phrase, most 
>>>writing in the US being first person and bordering on the familiar.
>>>Not that such a style is necessarily a bad thing, in the proper place 
>>>but I would argue it is inappropriate in standards.
>>My guess is that the person Michael refers to, was writing a user manual - Michael, is that correct?
>>In a manual that explains how to use an application, using "you" seems perfectly fine to me.
>>But indeed in a standard specification things are different, and it would be better to avoid using it.
> To unsubscribe from this mailing list (and be removed from the roster of the OASIS TC), go to http://www.oasis-open.org/apps/org/workgroup/office/members/leave_workgroup.php.

Patrick Durusau
Director of Research and Development
Society of Biblical Literature
Chair, V1 - Text Processing: Office and Publishing Systems Interface
Co-Editor, ISO 13250, Topic Maps -- Reference Model

Topic Maps: Human, not artificial, intelligence at work!

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