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When writing or translating an operation manual for software (including game software) or hardware users are mostly addressed by the polite form "Sie". Increasingly however we can also find manuals where the "Du"-form is used.

In what context could it be appropriate (or even better) to address users by the "Du"-form, and in what context is the "Sie"-form mandatory?

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i see you adopted the idea from the meta discussion. Highly voted and many answers. I dont see how such questions could force huge drive away on EL&U?! Has someone a link to EL&U meta question where the cons of such questions were discussed? –  Hauser Jul 20 '11 at 14:07
    
Related. –  user508 Jul 20 '11 at 22:56
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4 Answers

up vote 16 down vote accepted

The simple answer is: "Sie" is always appropriate unless you are addressing a child.

However, there are a lot of situations where the "Du" is more common today; this includes most usages in forums, blogs or social networks, leading to the belief that it is accepted for general use.

Some companies use it as a form of corporate identity. Ikea and Apple come to mind with their notorious "Du" in ads and I think also in the quick start manual of Apple devices (the short paper thing that is in the box). The real manual, however, addresses the user as "Sie", so even in "Du" companies, it seems that this is more appropriate in operation manuals.

Know your audience. In most fields, "Du" is not apprioriate in manuals. Exceptions are typically lifestyle products, but even there you'll find the "Sie" in the actual manuals. When addressing children, "Du" is fine. This can also be used to distinguish between parts for the children and parts for the parents.


German board game rules often employ a form that has not been mentioned yet:

Der Spielplan wird wie in der folgenden Illustration aufgebaut. [...] Jeder Spieler erhält 5 Gold und 2 Aktionskarten.

This is a neutral form that uses neither "Du" or "Sie", nor "man". It is not really appropriate for a technical manual, however ("Der Benutzer drückt auf die PROGRAM-Taste." (; ). Interestingly, in a FAQ for such a game, you'll likely encounter "man": "Kann man nach einem Spielzug eine Karte abwerfen?"

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Ist es (in vielen Fällen) nicht möglich, einfach den Infinitiv zu benutzen: "Auf die PROGRAM-Taste drücken." ? –  Georges Elencwajg Jul 20 '11 at 13:01
    
@Georges Elencwajg: Ja, in einer Liste oder Aufzählung wird es auch häufig gemacht. Wenn man eher Fließtext schreiben will, wird es schwieriger, ist aber auch möglich. Das stimmt. Besonders mit vielen Bildern ist das wohl gar nicht so schlecht, gute Idee. –  OregonGhost Jul 20 '11 at 13:08
    
Never use "Du". Directly addressing the reader is uncommon in technical manuals. If it cannot be avoided, use "Sie". Quite often directly addressing the reader can be avoided by using the passive form, as OregonGhost said: "Mit dem roten Knopf wird das Gerät ausgeschaltet." ("To switch the device off, use the red button." (not word-by-word!). –  hvb Apr 7 at 7:35
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I prefer "Sie" and find it easier to understand. The many comments and suggestions were interesting, however when the objective is to clearly understand what needs to be done, using "Sie" seems to me to be the best choice.

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Additionally to Du and Sie afaik its quite common to use Wir in special parts of a manual, dissertations, thesis, tutorials.

But then you should only use it when e.g. writing a step by step guide for setting up a video recorder, a lab experiment, derivation of formula, installation of firmware/software, where no options arise.

Wir können A oder B jetzt tun

is not often used, here you would better use Sie.

If you explain specific functions etc. you should of course use Du oder Sie.

I personally quite like the Wir, doenst make you feel so lonely reading a complex instruction guide and you dont think every failure you make is only yours ;)

In a official manual/pdf of a serious company i dont think Du is good style and i never saw this.

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But "Kommen sie Frau Meyer, jetzt nehmen wir mal ihre Pillen" is just plain wrong, the medical assistant hopefully does not take Mrs. Meyers pills. Being addressed by "wir" makes me feel that the other person does not take me serious. Of course its just a personal opinion. –  Baarn Jul 21 '11 at 14:24
    
@walter this question is about technical manuals. In scientifc papers, dissertations, thesis its quite common to use we for explaining step by step something. Your example isnt my nor the context of the question. You can also say man is a bit discriminating for women from a etymological view and you should better always use Sie. Matter of taste... –  Hauser Jul 21 '11 at 14:55
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"Sie" is mostly used in a formal context, if you are writing a manual addressing older or business readers you would use that. "Du" could be used to address younger readers or gamers.

It's possible as well to avoid using either "Du" or "Sie" by indirectly talking to the user or using "man". eg "Du kannst das auf diese Art machen" and "Sie können das auf diese Art machen" is like "Man kann das auf diese Art machen".

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+1 for "man" - nice! –  Takkat Jul 20 '11 at 10:31
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There is another alternative: "Es kann auf diese Art gemacht werden". Using "man" too often can sound strange, but I think thats the case for Du and Sie too. –  Baarn Jul 20 '11 at 10:39
    
Feel free to edit your question and add this important additional information - this would make your answer even better! –  Takkat Jul 20 '11 at 10:51
    
@Walter: However, too much passive will make it less understandable. –  Hendrik Vogt Jul 20 '11 at 11:31
    
I like the two alternatives; at least for documentation and introductions, it's fine. However, in the main manual text, it might sound kind of strange ("Um den Videorekorder zu programmieren, muss man zunächst PROGRAM drücken. Dann wählt man mit den Pfeiltasten das Datum aus"), it can sound too indirect if used too often. I guess that's what @Hendrik Vogt also meant. The "Sie" form may be better, though more formal, especially for lists ("Videorekorder programmieren: 1. Drücken Sie die PROGRAM-Taste 2. Wählen Sie mit den Pfeiltasten das Datum aus"). Still +1 of course for the answer. –  OregonGhost Jul 20 '11 at 11:51
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