4

I am writing a tutorial that describes a configuration of a linux server. It will be published on the internet. Quite often I want to write something like this:

In this chapter we will configure service X...

or

This option can be omitted because we don't use feature Y.

I am not sure if it would be better to replace we with you. On the one hand you is more personal but at the same time sounds like an order ("You will now do this!"). On the other hand we is "softer" but sounds strange too because I will not be present during the configuration.

The third option would be to refrain from using personal pronouns altogether and write something like this:

In this chapter service X will be configured

or

This option can be omitted because feature Y is not used.

This in turn sounds stiff.

Which of these three options would you prefer?

I want the tutorial to appear serious but not too formal at the same time.

Disclaimer: I am not a native speaker.

  • Is this strictly a user experience question? I think it is probably better for this question to be answered somewhere else because it is about the writing style. Perhaps in the English or writing sections of StackExchange. – Michael Lai May 14 '14 at 22:59
  • I was thinking about this too. But since someone uses a documentation to get something done I decided to put it here. – problemofficer May 14 '14 at 23:00
7

There is no definite answer for this, as this is largely a matter of style. But I can give a few pointers.

Nearly all to follow is based on or from Trimble, J.R. (2000). Writing With Style: Conversations on the Art of Writing. 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall.

We vs You

The advantage of we is that it promotes a personal relationship between the speaker (author) and audience (a sense of togetherness, if you wish). This may or may not be desirable.

Although in the book the author uses we, there is a section that explains why "Never refer to the reader as 'you'" is a superstition (although the context is the alternatives of never referring to the reader, or refer to her as 'the reader'; we was not discussed there).

Although partially cultural, consider the differences between these two within an every day context:

Where did you leave the keys?

vs

Where did we leave the keys?

or

You might be doing something wrong here.

vs

We might be doing something wrong here.

The point is that you may come across as pointing, where we carries a bit more of a collective tone.

My personal verdict would be to use we.

Passive vs Active voice

The book is much more definite on this. It states:

Active verbs move us forward; passive verbs move us backwards. Active verbs give the actor up front; passive verbs make us wait to learn the actor.

Also notice that neither in:

In this chapter service X will be configured

nor in

This option can be omitted because feature Y is not used

any human is being involved - the phrasing is rather cold and technical.

Since it's a UX forum, and since the hot trend at the moment is emotional design, you can easily see the benefit of we or you.

Conclusion

I believe the argument here is in great favour of your first proposal:

In this chapter we will configure service X...

and

This option can be omitted because we don't use feature Y.

But, it's still a matter of style - it's about how you want to come across to your target audience.

  • Thank you for the elaborate answer. One thing that I miss in the logical impliciation is the step from creating a sense of togetherness to the tutorial is more efficient. I can imagine that the reader feels more accompanied and thus unconsciously is more resilient to failure because he feels that it is shared among him and the writer. Or that he might feel an imaginary social pressure in finishing the tutorial because, again unconsciously, he feels that someone is expecting him to do it, after the writer spent some time with him. – problemofficer May 20 '14 at 21:13
1

Usually one use "we" in a way to express one is working with the user (virtually as a team), and that's more personal than "you" and at the same time it's respectful.

Even as a suggestion, "Why dont' we do that?" is better than "Why don't you do that?".

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