Alrighty ThenA discussion list summary article by Danica Rhoades
Sometimes editors need to vent. They need to get a little validation for their feelings. They need to know the crazed need-to-scribble-all-over-a-document-before-shredding-it sensations that soar through their weary minds and bodies when they see the same â€œwrongâ€ writing repeatedly are normal (sort of)! Luckily, the Technical Editing SIGâ€™s discussion board gives editors the opportunity to do just that.
Recently, a frustrated member provided the following example and question:
â€œDo procedure A, then do procedure B.
Anyone want to guess what it is about this structure that is driving me nuts?â€
The language-savvy members of the SIG were quick to identify the issue: the use of â€œthenâ€ as a conjunction.
While the issue wasnâ€™t tough for the group to pick out, it was somewhat more challenging for them to identify how to deal with it (if in fact it needs to be dealt with). In all, the responses fell into three categories (each assigned a pop-culture title used as a heading below):
- Alrighty Then: â€œThenâ€ as a conjunction is okay, even necessary, in some circumstances.
- Then There Were None: â€œThenâ€ should never be used as a conjunction.
- And Then: â€œThenâ€ should follow â€œandâ€ to eliminate the issue.
Alrighty ThenMultiple discussion participants noted that they use â€œthenâ€ as a conjunction when the second sentence is short.
That said, with procedural writing, there was division among the group.
One member noted a preference for using parallel construction with numbered or bulleted statements, such as this example:
- Open the folder.
- Copy the contents.
- Paste the files into a new location.
Another member argued that the absence of compound statements could change the meaning in a procedural document, such as with these examples:
- Remove the four screws securing the print engine to the applicator and then remove the print engine from the applicator.
- Remove the four screws securing the print engine to the applicator.
- Remove the print engine from the applicator.
This member noted that when the fourth screw is removed, the user needs to have something supporting the print engine or it will crash down, damaging the user and/or the print engine.
Then There Were NoneGrammatically speaking, â€œthenâ€ is an adverb, a noun, or an adjective.
Another reason cited for not using â€œthenâ€ as a conjunction was that it hinders readability/comprehension. There can be nuances in meaning in certain contexts or environments. Editors who know their audiences well might elect to use â€œthenâ€ in this manner, but this often slows comprehension.
And ThenThe supporters of the â€œand thenâ€ construction share the previously mentioned notion that compound ideas are sometimes necessary. For example, simple steps are often combined in prose in this fashion:
â€œOpen the document, and then click File > Save As.â€
A related problem was also identified; using â€œandâ€ to connect to elements that are not simultaneous:
â€œType the file name and click OK.â€
Some international readers and translation software read this sentence to mean:
â€œType the file name while you click OK.â€
The â€œand thenâ€ facet of the group noted the most common way to deal with both the â€œandâ€ and â€œthenâ€ issues is to use â€œand thenâ€:
â€œType the file name, and then click OK.â€
Other Issues to ConsiderRegardless of your personal stance on whether â€œthenâ€ is acceptable as a conjunction, there are additional issues that can complicate the situation. For instance: documents that are translated. The irregular use of â€œthenâ€ can create issues for the person translating and for the users of that document. In other situations, â€œthenâ€ can lend ambiguity if there is no â€œifâ€ preceding the â€œthen.â€
Overall, the general sense was that it is most important for the editors to understand their audiencesâ€™ understanding and needs. Many documents work well with less-formal language, while others could cause injury or result in broken products if the language is not extremely clear and precise.