Posted by: episystechpubs | September 22, 2014

Editor’s Corner: The last words on modal verbs

Where were we? Ah yes, the final bits and piece of modal verbs. This list and advice is continued from Thursday.

· You can use modals to indicate suggestions and advice.

o You should stop eating haggis; it could save your life.

o You should consider purging the following records each quarter.

Consider your audience and the message you want to deliver. In technical documentation we want to sound certain; however, in a consulting or advisory document, the modal term might be better.

o Purge the following documents each quarter. (Technical documentation)

o Consider purging the following documents each quarter (The implied subject is “you,” but this is an incomplete sentence or bulleted item for consulting or advisory documentation.)

o You should consider purging the following documents each quarter. (This is a complete sentence with the modal verb, which may be acceptable in a less technical document.)

· You can use modals to indicate permission.

o May I leave? I am not feeling well.

o You may want to use this function to process checks.

o Employees with the View All permissions may see confidential personnel information.

Again, in technical documentation we want to sound certain. Matters of permission and policy are generally left to our customers and clients, so it is better to tell them what a product does or what they can do with a certain function and let them decide if they want to use it or who among them has the permissions.

o Use this function to process checks. (This tells you what the function does, not who should have it.)

o Confidential personnel information is visible to all employees with the View All permissions. (This tells you what is visible when you have the permissions, not who should have the permissions.)

As I mentioned before, it depends what you are writing, but in technical writing we generally prefer text without modal verbs. Here are a few more examples demonstrating how much more direct the text is without them.

With modal verbs:

· You could use this option to calculate teller totals.

· You must delete the X file before you install the Y file.

· Employees should wash their hands before returning to work.

· This product will increase your productivity.

Without modal verbs:

· Use this option to calculate teller totals.

· Delete the X file before you install the Y file.

· Washyour hands before returning to work.

· This product increases productivity.

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: