Third-person vs. second person?

Subject: Third-person vs. second person?
From: "Geoff Hart" <geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca>
To: TECHWR-L -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
Date: Tue, 26 Oct 1999 08:29:10 -0400

Janis Hill works << a financial company writing and updating a
policy and procedure manual. Currently, the manuals in our
department are written in third person because various audiences
are addressed throughout each manual. Using second person with
more than one audience may cause confusion as to who is being
addressed in a given piece of writing.>>

If by "third person" you mean phrases like "must be done" or "is
done", then it seems to me that second person would be a far
clearer way to accomplish your goal: second person explicitly
identifies the actor as being the reader ("_you_ must do"), or if the
reader isn't the actor, explicitly identifies the third party who will act
in place of the reader. Whatever the relative theoretical merits of
these two forms of voice, it's more important to clarify who does
what so the reader will know; the failure to do this is the downfall of
most policy and procedure manuals.

<<How do I write in second person while making it clear who my
audience is in a given piece of writing?>>

Send us a few concrete examples of problematic text (name the
actors and what the actors must do) and we can provide sample

<<Each book addresses a specific audience with the exception
that one book includes information that is general for all audiences.
My thought is to include a flag at the beginning of each topic that
would state the intended audience (s). Then I could freely write in
second person.>>

That might work, but again, if it lets you avoid identifying the
actors, then it's not a good solution. I can easily see a breakdown
such as "Ch.1: Key points for managers", "Ch. 2: Introduction for
everyone including managers", and that might be effective.

--Geoff Hart @8^{)} geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca (Pointe-Claire, Quebec)
"If you can't explain it to an 8-year-old, you don't understand it"--Albert Einstein

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