W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > www-qa-wg@w3.org > April 2004

Re: the prohibited "you"

From: Bjoern Hoehrmann <derhoermi@gmx.net>
Date: Sun, 25 Apr 2004 05:18:08 +0200
To: www-qa-wg@w3.org
Cc: lofton@rockynet.com
Message-ID: <409f0232.167665420@smtp.bjoern.hoehrmann.de>

* Lofton Henderson wrote:
>So I have a question, for one of our staff contacts who knows about these 
>things.  Why is "you" okay in this boiler-plate in the Status section, but 
>not okay in the body of the QAH itself?

Well, I would not say it is "okay", it should still be avoided, but the
status section is a bit different from the rest of a TR as

>>You may email comments on this document to www-qa@w3.org, the publicly 
>>archived list of the QA Interest Group [QAIG]. Please note that comments 
>>that you make will be publicly archived and available, do not send 
>>information you would not want to see distributed, such as private data.

you indeed directly address the reader in his role as a reviewer of the
document. I would however suggest to rephrase it, for example

  Comments on this document should be sent to the publicly archived
  www-qa@w3.org mailing list.

or probably even better

  Please send comments on this document to the publicly archived
  www-qa@w3.org mailing list.

You don't need to mention twice that the list is public/archived or what
the maintaining group of the list is, and it is also a bit odd if the WG
tells reviewers to send comments to the IG. And, of course, feedback
should be explicitly invited.

>Second question, for language experts.  What is the problem with 
>translating "you" to other languages?  Okay, in French one would have to 
>choose between vous and tu, in German between sie and du, etc.  I would 
>chose the more formal:  vous, sie, etc.  So what problem would that present?

Directly addressing the reader might be confusing, who is "you"? You
might have a broad audience, "you" might be a reviwer of the very
document, it might be a reviewer of another document using QA materials
as additional material for reference in comments, it might be an editor,
etc.

  "You should specify the character encoding of the document."

Who? The server administrator, or the author of the document, or both?
You should express what you mean rather than what you want to be done.
Also note that removing the "you should" does not solve this issue,

  "Specify the character encoding of the document."

The questions remain. It won't get much better if you use terms like
"take care", "ensure", etc. What is important here? Software needs to
know the encoding of the document in order to properly decode it. If
it is not specified, it might refuse to process the document or attempt
to guess the encoding which might fail or yield in broken data. If you
manage that the reader actually *understands* this and is *convinced*
that this is important, all he additionally needs to know is how he can
do it, he will then ensure that the character encoding is properly
specified for the documents he is responsible for, one way or another.
Telling readers to do it is basically useless, readers want to draw
their own conclusions from your input, and it is important that they do
this on their own. This is one of the two typical fundamental flaws of
guideline documents, they distract. The other flaw is that they do not
tell what *not* to do, while it is natural to learn from mistakes.

Concerning translations, the choice is not as simple as you put it. As
I've already pointed out, the document typically does not directly
address the reader and less so personally. It is uncommon to address
readers of mailing list or usenet postings, participants in an IRC
discussion, etc. using the formal german "sie" (and if you do it would
likely be percieved as offensive) hence using it in a translation of a
web document often feels odd for the translator. As does using the less
formal "du" as one does not address the reader personally. Whatever you
decide, you will probably be uncomfortable with it. You can try to avoid
the trouble through indirection (e.g., translating "one should" rather
than "you should") but that would end up in some odd results and you
would be uncomfortable with it since you basically changed the text...

You would have the same problem in the

  "Specify the character encoding of the document."

case, a german translation might be

  "Gib die Zeichenkodierung des Dokuments an."

or rather

  "Gib die Zeichenkodierung des Dokuments an!"

as it really is an imperative form, but even though this lacks a "du" it
is still less formal than

  "Geben Sie die Zeichenkodierung des Dokuments an!"

which sounds rather unfriendly.

It does not seem to add any value to directly address the reader in a TR
(it rather indicates some flaw in it, IMO) and it feels much better not
having to deal with it in a translation, hence I suggested the text to
this effect in the W3C Manual of Style. <http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/>
uses "you" in Appendix C, ("This appendix summarizes design guidelines
for authors who wish their XHTML documents to render on existing HTML
user agents.") It should be obvious that it is not necessarily the
authors obligation to make the suggested modifications, it might well be
an editor or a conversion tool. Of course, when authors use these tools
they indirectly make these modifications, but addressing them *directly*
for something they do *indirectly* does not make much sense to me.

regards.
Received on Saturday, 24 April 2004 23:18:35 GMT

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