I am writing a quick-reference guide on how to use a software, and I am not sure where to place the verb while listing items as simple instructions. For example, I want to write:

  1. Create a new project

Should it be:

  1. Ein neues Projekt erstellen


  1. Erstellen Sie ein neues Projekt

These instructions are small steps under a bigger headline. Moreover, if it makes a difference, I am writing this for colleagues whom I am informal with.

Which of these formats is (more) correct to use throught the manual, or is there a better and more common structure?

  • The second version, with the verb at the beginning, is far more common in the (software) manuals I have seen. Moreove, the first version is not a complete sentence. Oct 16 '14 at 9:32
  • @painfulenglish I understand, but do instructions need to be complete sentences or can they be phrases?
    – Tymric
    Oct 16 '14 at 9:35
  • I think that depends on your taste. Either way is acceptable. I would expect sentences in detailed manual, but not in a get-started guide or flow chart. Oct 16 '14 at 9:39
  • @painfulenglish I'm aiming for a sort of quick-reference guide
    – Tymric
    Oct 16 '14 at 9:40
  • 1
    The first version is the literal translation of "Creating a new project". It's missing a subject, and therefore isn't considered a complete sentence. However, this style is very common for instruction manuals and the like, because it's very neutral. As @Veredomon described, it's best suited for short, bullet point style directions, or for headings. Phrasing longer instructions in this style can get awkward. The second one is much more personal, which may or may not be what you want. I think the passive voice suggested by @Veredomon is a good middle ground between the two.
    – Lukas Graf
    Oct 16 '14 at 23:01

Depends. If I do bullet point style instructions, listing one step after another, I use Infinitiv:

  1. Auf Start -> Programme -> WinSCP klicken
  2. Links den Server language.german auswählen

That is common for recipes, like "60 Minuten bei 220° backen". If I want to actually explain what the user should do, I use complete sentences, with a lot of Passiv:

Um ein neues Projekt zu erstellen, muss unter der Projektansicht das Formular ausgefüllt und auf "Erstellen" geklickt werden. Es sollte darauf geachtet werden, dass ein aussagekräftiger Projektname gewählt wird.

Then you don't have to decide between Sie/Du.

  • This is valuable advice. Especially the passive voice for longer explanations. Thank you
    – Tymric
    Oct 16 '14 at 10:42

As you list steps here you should use the first version. In the second version it sounds like you call the user to create a new project, but you do not want the user to really create a project, you just want to give more information about how to create a project.

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