科技寫作中處理性別的現代方法是什麼?


94

回到我的時代,我被教導使用男性代詞。

The user chooses a password, and then he types it in the text box.

我很好。但是一位男性同事堅持要使用他/她,我發現這不必要地分散了他們的注意力和復雜性。

我討厭使用它們和它們。當您要談論一個人在做一件事情時,我發現這太令人費解了,不夠清晰。

我喜歡"你",但是你不能總是擺脫它。有時您是在告訴某人他的用戶可以做什麼。

在某些事物中穿插"他"與在其他事物中穿插"她"也很分散注意力,但也許我能想到的最接近"公平"的事物。

目前對此有何想法?最可接受的方式是什麼?

(坦白說,我希望我能擺脫它的困擾。就像"將乳液塗抹在皮膚上一樣。"令人毛骨悚然,對吧?)

20

Very few use he/she. In academia, there is currently a movement toward using the feminine pronoun at all times. That said, it is far more common (and less remarkable) to alternate pronouns as you suggested. As long as you stick with the same pronoun per example you'll be technically correct, although it is increasingly un-PC to use only male pronouns. Until we get a gender neutral (and animate) pronoun, that's as well as I can do.


74

A few additional options:

  • Introduce a named person (perhaps fictional), and use that person's name. "Terry wants to create an account. She chooses a password and types it into the text box. No, wait, Terry is a man. I think. Damn, that's a lousy example. Pat wants to create an account. Um, I mean Chris. No, wait. Maybe Dale. Er..."
  • Use the imperative mood, with an implied you (as I'm doing in most of these examples). "Choose a password and type it into the text box."
  • Drop the pronoun whenever you can: "The user chooses a password and types it into the text box." This can make the remaining pronouns less troublesome. In some cases you'll have to recast the sentence to make this work.
  • Use passive voice, and don't refer to the actor at all. Yeah, I know you've been warned against this. But sometimes it can be used with good effect, in a natural-sounding way. (Heh.)

[Edited to add:]

Here are some additional tips from Val Drummond's Elements of Nonsexist Usage. Chapter 4 is all about pronouns.

  • Make the subject plural. Then use plural pronouns.
  • Replace gender-specific possessive pronouns with "the." Instead of "When the user types his password..." try "When the user types the password."
  • Use the word "one." I personally hate this. It usually reads like a desperate attempt to claim objectivity, or add plausible deniability ("Oh... I meant people in general should pick up their socks, not you specifically, sweetie"), or some other such nonsense. Not that I have an attitude about this, mind one.

29

They/their can be used in a singular context

The user chooses a password, and then they type the password in to the text box


9

The easiest rewrite is to change the sentence itself to use a plural noun. I find myself doing this a lot.

 The user chooses a password, and then he types it in the text box.

to

 Users choose a password, and then they type it in the text box. 

Reference: Handbook of Technical Writing. Brusaw, Alred, Oliu.

The phrase "he or she" is OK IMHO if used sparingly. While "they" as a singular pronoun may work, enough people dislike it that I wouldn't go that route.


5

Gender-Neutral Pronouns.

ze.

Hir.

See "Invented pronouns" & summary chart on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender-neutral_pronoun

& defeat gender conventions working 9-5. :)


13

I can't say this has ever been a significant issue for me in twenty years of technical writing. You are rarely if ever writing about the user, but are generally writing to them, and thus the operative pronoun (often implied) is generally "you."

In some situations, you might end up writing to one user about another user—for example, when your audience consists of system administrators or developers, who will be concerned about users of their systems or applications. But even here, the need to use third-person singular pronouns comes up less frequently than you might think. For example:

User:  Class representing a user account on the system.

       FIELDS
       name          The user's full name
       mail          The user's mail address
       password      The user's password
       groups        List of groups to which the user belongs
       permissions   List of permissions available to the user
       expiry        Date on which the user's account expired or will expire
       admins        List of users who may edit or delete the account

       METHODS
       register()    Registers a new user account in the system directory
       update()      Writes a modified user account in the system directory
       delete()      Permanently deletes a user account from the system directory

The only pronoun used in that snippet of API documentation, which is about a user class, is "who." It is not at all necessary to write it like this:

User:  Class representing a user account on the system.

       FIELDS
       name          His or her full name
       mail          His or her mail address

... etc.

In fact, saying "the user" each time is arguably better because it allows the reader to skim for the information they're interested in without having to keep track of possible antecedents for pronouns. The phrase "the user" in a computer manual is like "said" in fiction: mostly invisible, and almost always far less intrusive than attempts to avoid it.

In my experience, the gender issue simply comes up infrequently enough that the well-worn workarounds suffice. I typically just use "he or she," or else recast the sentence to be plural and use "they," or rewrite the sentence in some other way that usually is even clearer.


2

In IT books, I frequently see he being used in one chapter and she in the next.


3

I can only speak from my own experience in Australia but we have been taught to use "They" wherever applicable. It is the appropriate word in the English language to use instead of he/she. Indeed the use of "he" or "she" would be considered discriminatory in publications from the government and is very rarely seen now.

However it is definitely true that documents name the person and then use a gender pronoun specific to the named person: "Tony wants to sign up for a license. He goes to the front counter and fills out the XYZ form."

One of my teachers once said to me that every word in the English language is there for a reason, if it's the appropriate one to use then you should use it.


8

Just use singular "they". People who bleat on about it being somehow gramatically incorrect need to educate themselves, either by doing a modicum of research, or just looking up the word in a dictionay.

@spence one of the problems I've encountered in the UK is that many people have been mis-educated to be indoctrinated with this rubbish that

  • "they" is only plural
  • it's OK to use gender exclusive language

and it's hard to turn around 12 years of defective schooling.

I note the irony in Lauren Ipsum's comment above "just because people have been doing it wrong for four hundred years doesn't make it right" Sorry old bean, grammar and syntax of language evolve over time; since "they" has been used as a singular pronoun over hundreds of years, then it has become part of our language and, ipso facto, correct.


2

I suggest using singular "they".

If you don't like that, include in your preface "mention of one gender implies all other genders" (which covers non-binary gender), and alternate between using "he" and "she" (but for the same subject).


2

The whole thing is way too much trouble so I just gave up: I always use she/her. But I try also to find a way to get rid of extra pronouns: "The user chooses a password and then he types it in the text box." Which is more economical anyway.


13

For technical writing, there are really only three rules.

Rule 1) Write short sentences that are easily understood. Rule 2) Punctuate correctly and avoid semicolons; they make sentences longer, are almost always unnecessary and can be potentially confusing to the reader. Rule 3) There are no other rules.

That said...

The third-person singular pronouns in English take four classes of gender: masculine, feminine, neuter, and indeterminate. The indeterminate happens to share the same form as the masculine. This happens all the time in English, where a single form of a word performs more than one duty. Heck, the second-person (indeterminate gender) English pronoun shares the same form for singular and plural!

"He cut the wood." Is that past or present tense? You only know if you add context. Was the worker male or female? You only know if you add context.

"The wood was hard so he worked hard to cut it."

Here we know that cut is past-tense because the context is past-tense (worked). We also see the adjective "hard" and the adverb "hard" share the same form and yet convey distinctly different meanings. The adjective describes tensile strength and the adverb describes intensity and effort. If we had followed regular usage and had added -ly to the adjective, the meaning would have changed dramatically. Same forms, different meanings. Of course, we still don't know the gender of the worker because the pronoun "he" is indeterminate (rather than neuter) in the absence of context. If gender is important, then add that content into the sentence. Otherwise, leave it alone.

Write clearly. Everything else is just noise.


15

Funny, no one has mentioned the MS Manual of Style for Technical Publications ...

Avoid the generic masculine pronoun. Use the instead of his, or rewrite material in the second person (you) or in the plural. If necessary, use a plural pronoun such as they or their with an indefinite singular antecedent, such as everyone, or with multiple antecedents of different or unknown genders, such John and Chris. Use his or her for the singular possessive case if you can do so infrequently and if nothing else works. - MSTP v3, page 107

2

I am facing somewhat similar problem (How I should handle gender-neutral pronoun in technical writing?) as stated in the title question, below are the links I have gathered which should help.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singular_they

http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/words/he-or-she-versus-they


3

Don't use pronouns:

The user chooses a password, and then he types it in the text box.

...becomes:

User chooses password, types it [or "password"] in text box.

"They" is the next best thing in English.

Finally: given that this example actually has 2 steps, consider splitting text into smaller steps:

  • User chooses password.
  • User types password in text box.

This repetition (of words, not content!) avoids the need for grammatical reference.

Use some factual references to make it clear how many passwords (!) and which text box.


3

(I would much more prefer to post this as a comment, but reputation.)

(Frankly, I wish I could get away with "it." As in "it puts the lotion on its skin." Creepy, right?)

It seems that you actually have a chance to get away with it. I got to this question after asking my own about usage of "it" to describe "contributor", which is done by MPL (section 1.1 for definition, sections 2.1, 2.3, 2.5 for usage).

2.5. Representation

Each Contributor represents that the Contributor believes its Contributions are its original creation(s) or it has sufficient rights to grant the rights to its Contributions conveyed by this License.


1

I was taught to use a job title as a subject, then use singular "they" for every mention until the next one, ie:

The pharmacist puts the pills into the bottle, then they give the bottle to the customer. The customer then pays the pharmacist using their money.

You can get away with the order in sentence#2 because "pharmacist" is the object of "pays," as well as "money." It's also fairly easy to translate to other languages this way, ie in Spanish:

If the money were to belong to the customer:

Pagan al farmaceutico con su dinero.

If the money were to belong to the pharmacist:

Pagan al faracuetico con el dinero del farmaceutico

Does this really matter? I find using "he" or "she" to be faster reading than "they," as well as saving line and page space ass well as ink. "He or she," "he/she," or even worse, "s/he," are all clumsy to read, and using the job title every time is as well. Follow whatever conventions your manager gave you, and if there aren't any, then have a team meeting to decide on one convention to use.