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I'm creating some copy describing new web-app features for a number of different audiences (users, managers of sections of the site, owners of sub-sites which use our platform etc.).

I'm finding myself using 'users' constantly:

"Users will now be able to..."

"...opens up the creation of $feature to users..."

"...excited to see the creative ways our users will..."

I'm getting sick of the word. It feels ugly to me, and a bit jargony, and sort of unfriendly.

Any good alternatives?

In some cases I can replace 'users' with 'you'. But for two of these pieces, I'm addressing audiences who wont be using the features themselves, so the second person wont be appropriate.

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FWIW, I feel the same way about the words "code" and "coding"... –  rianjs Apr 13 '11 at 13:20
    
See also: ux.stackexchange.com/questions/7604/… –  Monica Cellio Aug 30 '11 at 21:22
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10 Answers 10

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Have you considered (re)using Personas?

A well defined persona can make it much clearer to talk about features as you remove a "layer of abstraction", making it easier for non-technical readers to understand.

Your examples might change (with a little introduced context) from ...

"Users will now be able to..."

"...opens up the creation of $feature to users..."

"...excited to see the creative ways our users will..."

... to ...

"Debbie from the Helpdesk will now be able to ..."

"... opens up the creating of Incidents to Tony the Help Desk Manager."

"... exciting to see the creative ways that Julie Homeowner will ..."

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4  
Nice approach! (Although poor Julie, who was teased incessantly about her last name in grade school, might not agree.) –  Lynn Beighley Apr 13 '11 at 12:39
    
I like the idea, it does detract from the technical feel but gives it a much more creative and original feel. It'll come down to how the creator wants the writing to come off. –  Adam Caverhill Apr 19 '11 at 19:39
    
I've seen this technique in the "For Dummies" line long ago... it's a very good one. –  iajrz Apr 21 '11 at 13:21
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Users are usually categorized by their role, so you could write:

"Managers will now be able to..."

Also, some processes use a hypothetical first person to write about features, such as:

"As a manager I should be able to..."
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Typically, a user is probably the best generic term since it is an accepted convention. However, depending on the context, look at using more specific words. For example, use the word "developer" when talking about something that is likely to be used by that particular group. Consider using "partners" as the term you use for the audiences you mention. When features overlap in usage with different groups you can then say, "developers and partners can then ...". Being more specific about who you are addressing will make your text more meaningful and personal.

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people

those using $feature

one (instead of "you")

we

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Well, you could say "visitors" but honestly I think it's better to stick to one name for users, namely "users", else a reader will certainly get somewhat confused:

"My God, he was talking about 'users' before, and now I read 'visitors'. Is there a difference? Certainly the words are different and can mean different things, but is there a real difference?"

"Users", consistently, gets my vote. Yes, you might be uncomfortable with its repeated use, but in this case clarity trumps stylistic nicety.

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Lately, I've been favoring the term "you" because, after all, the doc is addressed to the reader, to YOU, no question.

I've used employed written hidden behind the third-person "users," I think, because I haven't had the writing balls to address the target of the writing directly. For me, it takes courage to speak confidently and directly and sometimes forcefully to YOU but when I read something that's addressed to ME I'm happy and satisfied. There is no way I can misunderstand the writing. Second-person writing doesn't equivocate, it's not wishy-washy or queasy-squeezy or spongey.

Compare two versions that aim to instruct:

  • The actor should speak the speech as I pronounced it to him, trippingly on the tongue. But if the actor should mouth it, as many of our players do, I had as lief the town crier spoke my lines. Nor should the actor saw the air too much with his hand, thus ...
  • Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue. But if you mouth it, as many of our players do, I had as lief the town crier spoke my lines. Nor do not saw the air too much with your hand ...

Second-person writing is strong and direct. There's no missing the meaning behind YOU.

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Depending upon the type of web application the follow may all be useable:

Users, visitors, people, customers, associates, managers, professionals, developers, readers, advertisers, subscribers, employees, members, teammates.

Think of generic third-person ways to describe the people who would be using it and sprinkle those in. Keep in mind that users is probably the best overall generic word to use here, so it should be the most frequently used descriptor.

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I came across some advice on technical writing that said you should talk about users - that is, real people by using "you". You can then refer to the system in the third person.

The problem occurs often in the unix system admin world that you need to create user accounts for different purposes. For example instead of using "root" you may need to create a separate system account (for example, appuser) to own certain processes but that nevertheless does not have root level rights to the entire system. Developers often refer to these types of accounts as users as well just to confuse things.

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I often use "user account" for that. And since there are different kinds of user accounts (sigh) you might need an "system account" or a "database account." –  kindall May 2 '11 at 22:06
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Talk to the user, rather than about the user. Unless "the User" is someone other than the person reading your work.

I think users appreciate it more when it seems like the writer understands their problems and wants to help them be successful.

There's also the possibility of confusion if you talk about "the user" -- with potential safety implications: Exactly who is supposed to do what, when?

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When dealing with company people, I like to use colleague, associate, employee, coworker, etc. When dealing with customers, I like to say, customers, clients, vendors, prospective customer, etc.

For business writing, I feel it's very important to establish the relationship context of the interaction.

I might say something like this: "When a database administrator performs the nightly backup, the customer will either see delayed data or be alerted that the system is unavailable for maintenance. "

If it's a manual for the end user, I say "You": If you need to save at this point, click the "Save" on the upper right.

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