Usage and Grammar

Q. I’m a technical writer who is also reviewing documents translated into English. An American consultant is totally prohibiting the use of second-person you in all technical documents that are intended for engineers. I am not against the use of you. I would only recommend using it sparingly. Any advice?

A. It’s rarely wise to ban a construction entirely. The second person is useful in technical writing, especially if there are imperatives in which you is implied (do this; don’t do that). The second person is less formal than the third person, but it allows the writer to avoid the even more formal use of the passive (this should be done; that should not be done). One caveat: using you “sparingly” might not be a good solution, if it results in a mixture of persons. Better to commit.