Guest Blog: How to resolve Present Tense vs. Future Tense in Policies & Procedures?

Tuesday, October 1 2013 @ 12:03 PM, By Maxwell Hoffmann

In this guest blog, Policies and Procedures expert Raymond Urgo shares highlights from his recent webinar, “P&P Sess 2) Addressing the Debate of Future Tense in Policies & Procedures Communication.” (Click in the title in previous sentence to view the webinar recording.)

At first glance, you may think that this topic is somewhat “academic.” However, litigation and high penalty costs can come into play depending on misunderstood intent in Policies and Procedures (P&P) so a change of tense from present to future can make a huge difference.

You will definitely want to view the webinar recording, but in this brief blog Raymond gives a good overview of the guidelines he covered in his webinar. Please note that if you click on the URL above to view the webinar recording, you will be presented with what appears to be an “Event Registration” page. You can use your Adobe.com credentials to log-in, or create a new Adobe.com account if you don’t have one.

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Present Tense vs. Future Tense: How Serious a Matter in P&P C FUTURE gazerCommunication?

In summary, the issue is not all that serious, but deserves special attention:

  • Not a serious matter.
  • It’s a “house rule” matter of
  • when to use future tense and
  • how to use future tense.
  • The answer is in applying common sense and style.

Review: What Are “Shall” and “Will”

Shall and will are auxiliaries to verbs used to denote futurity. (Their cousins are should and would.)

Shall is used with 1st person:
I / We / Our shall verb

Will is used with 2nd  and 3rd person:
You / He / She / It / They  will verb

Advice for Recommended Rules on Use of Present vs. Future Tense in P&P

  • Use present tense unless one of the following is intended:– futurity– a strong promise, or– a threat or warning.
  • When using future tense, use will (not shall) regardless of 1st, 2nd, or 3rd person.
  • Never use should; would is not applicable.

Examples of Futurity, Strong Promise, and a Threat Using
the Auxiliary “Will”

 

Use shall or will to indicate…

For example…

futurity

If you are not satisfied within 30 days, Acme Corporation will refund your money in full.

a strong promise

If you are not satisfied within 30 days, Acme Corporation will refund your money in full.

In hiring and staffing, Acme Corporation will not discriminate based on age, race, creed….

a threat or warning

Violators will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

 

Reasons/Causes Why Future Tense Is Frequently Used Inappropriately

  • Choosing tenses unconsciously.
  • Not writing in user’s timeframe.
  • Creating an imperial tone.
  • Not customizing external-party content for end users.

B head chartReason/Cause: Choosing Tenses Unconsciously

  • Many writers write and edit to themselves, not their audiences (users).
  • Many writers write and edit according to “HII”:
  • Habit,
  • Imitation, and
  • Ignorance.

Reason/Cause: Not Writing in User’s Time frame

When writing P&P for use by your audience in the future, think and write for their timeframe – the present tense.

Change from:

Input your password and then press EnterResult: The Welcome screen will display.

Change to:

Input your password and then press EnterResult: The Welcome screen displays.

A crownReason/Cause: Creating an Imperial Tone

Using future tense, especially  excessively, gives information an “imperial tone” causing P&P to sound legal, bureaucratic,  or even biblical.

Example of imperial tone: Thou shall not leave early from work without permission.

Consider: Today’s workplace culture is less formal than 50-60 years ago.

Reason/Cause: Not Customizing External-Party Content  for End Users

  • External-party content defined
  • Role of IntermediaryP&P Analyst defined
  • Implications if future tense is communicated to end-users:– for users– for audits

Example: ISO’s Use of Shall and Should

  • ISO defined
  • Use of shall andshould in standards
  • ISO does not require organizations to use the auxiliaries shall, will, should, or would.

Related Article and References Sources Related to this Webinar Subject

Related article: The following link is to the “Our Resources” page on the Urgo & Associates website: The Use of Shall and Will in Policies and Procedures Documents

Reference Sources: The following sources were quoted in this webinar:

  • Shipley Associates Style Guide
  • Leslie H. Matthies
  • Ralph Robinson

About our guest blogger: Commonly known as “Mr. P&P”, Raymond Urgo holds the honorary rank of fellow in the Society for Technical Communication for his contributions to Policies & Procedures Communication. Urgo, who has observed and studied the P&P marketplace for more than 30 years, provides consulting to a variety of industries through his firm, Urgo & Associates. Urgo’s previous webinars with AdobeTCS have drawn record attendance!

 

An excellent solution for Policies & Procedures: RoboHelp 10!

Many customers have discovered the dramatic time and cost savings of authoring and managing dynamic P&P content with RoboHelp. You can link or import Word or FrameMaker files as your source files. Many other file formats (even PDF) may be used to import source contents. After watching this recorded webinar, you may wish to have your own hands-on with RoboHelp. The quickest way to do this is to have use a trial copy of Tech Comm Suite 4, which includes FrameMaker 11 and RoboHelp 10. You can try your own hands-on by clicking here. This link also includes a link to a Quick Start Guide for RoboHelp.

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