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Re: Use of the first person in messages from the computer

Ian Jackson wrote:
> I have just received a review by a l10n team of a package of mine.
> The reviewer seems to be under the impression that there is something
> wrong with the computer speaking to the user in the first person.  For
> example:
> > - If you approve, I will edit /etc/X11/app-default/XTerm for you, and
> > - save your old file as XTerm.backup.not-trad.  (Note that this is a
> > - conffile so you may get prompts from dpkg about it in the future.)
> The suggested alternative from the reviewer:
> > + If you choose this option, /etc/X11/app-default/XTerm will be modified
> > + and the old file will be kept as XTerm.backup.not-trad.  [...]
> Good plain English style is to use the simplest constructions and
> sentences that will serve, including avoiding needless use of the passive
> voice.

First of all, as pointed out elsewhere in the thread but not linked:

That recommendation does also say "However, try using active voice if
still possible", and I'd agree that the patch above needlessly uses the
passive voice.

How about:

Choosing this option will modify /etc/X11/app-default/XTerm, preserving
the old file as XTerm.backup.not-trad.

Simpler and shorter than either your original and the patched version,
with no passive voice and no "I".  More importantly, this removes a
layer of indirection: rather than saying that you want to take some
action with the user's approval, you effectively say that the user
performs the action by choosing the option, leaving the software in the
role of a tool the user uses to perform the action.  That seems like the
kind of thinking we want to encourage: users do things, software helps.

In general I don't see anything wrong with "you" in most circumstances,
though I think phrases like "this system" seem clearer and less
ambiguous than "your system".  However, I agree entirely with the
recommendation in the developer's reference to avoid "I" or "we".

- Josh Triplett

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