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I'm working on a Wiki article that explains to new developers how our product life-cycle works.

Originally, my goal was to completely avoid the word "you" and use a more general description like "the developer".

The more I write though, the more useful I find the word "you."

And now I'm doing a mixture of both.

For instance, I may start a description of a new topic by saying the following:

This phase requires the developer to obtain a firm grasp on blah blah blah

Then, the first sentence of the next paragraph looks like this:

By the time you receive a Change Request, the A & D department will have a Functional Specification ready for review.

My general questions is this: Is it acceptable to jump between "the developer" and "you"?

When I read it, it seems to flow fine, but I would love some feedback on this approach.

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3 Answers

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I think it's fine, because you as a company are creating an instruction manual which is going to be used by specific people. It's not literally a public Wikipedia.

To make it as clear as possible, start with the kind of disclaimer you sometimes see in plain-English contracts: "You, Your, Yourself, etc. refers to the developer."

When you're done writing, go back and search for any instance of "the developer" and see if changing it to "you" makes it read more smoothly or makes it clearer.

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For formal writing, this should be avoided - consistency is key.

But wikis are new, and I'm not sure we've really decided how formal they should be, yet. How formal do you want your wiki to be?

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Currently, we have nothing for new developers to read and get an understanding of how our life-cycle works. So I don't foresee the formality (right term?) taking precedence. This will be one of many articles that aim to help team members get up to speed. Personally, when I read a poorly written article, I not only focus on violated rules but also question the material given to me. I don't want that to happen with this wiki. –  ray023 Jul 27 '11 at 16:33
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It would be bad style to publish documentation that did that, but since a wiki is designed to be edited by many people who will each have their own quirks and don't usually consult house style guides, doing this on a wiki probably won't raise eyebrows.

That said, you should go back and change those "the developer"s to "you"s as you can, to improve the readability.

The tech-writing circles I have contact with overwhelmingly prefer "you" to "the (user, developer, etc)" when speaking to the reader. This also allows you to more easily write to the developer about his users without ending up with constructs like "the developer should (do something) to allow the users to (do something else)".

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