© 2009-2011 Ugur Akinci
One of the hardest things in writing English is to avoid using the third person singular pronouns, unless you are writing for an exclusively male or female group.
Every time I see a document with a sentence like “the operator must configure his or her machine according to…” I cringe.
Some writers switch back and forth between “he/his/him” and “she/her/hers” randomly to prove that they are impartial towards both genders. That may be also confusing if the readers do not know that there is a “method” behind the apparent “madness.”
Here are some tips to avoid the “sin of gender ambivalence” in technical and copy writing:
1) Use THEY and plural nouns
Example: The contractor must present his or her badge at the door.
BETTER: The contractors must present their badges at the door.
2) Use YOU
Example: He or she must fill out this form first.
BETTER: You must fill out this form first.
Example: The car buyer may cancel the sales contract and take the car back to the dealership within the first three days if he or she is not satisfied with the vehicle.
BETTER: After buying a car, you may cancel the sales contract and take the car back to the dealership within the first three days if you are not satisfied with the vehicle.
3) “I” is okay when you’re blogging. Similarly, “we” is okay for corporate copy.