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I've been writing a friendly tutorial series for a small art software community. Somehow I decided to write it in first person plural, so the entire tutorial is "First, let's do this..." and "Now we can choose to do that…".

In the past I have written step-by-step tutorials in second-person voice "Step 1: Do the thing...", but this project has turned out to be more of an extended style guide than an instruction manual. I want to encourage the community to explore and come up with their own artistic choices. Most of all, I need to show underlying design concepts that crossover from a technical use of the software to grasp basic engineering concepts, the sort of thing that's learned better by doing. The community is all backgrounds from artist to programmer.

In a related issue, I've had run-ins with members of this group where they have criticized my communication as too abrupt, to the point they were offended a woman would talk in the manner that I do (which I perceive as their double-standard, since I talk exactly as they do). This part is bizarre and seemingly off topic, but it's made me hyper-sensitive of how I communicate within this group.

My issue is that this "We" voice has started to feel artificial and forced. I'm not an educator and this is a labor of love, but saying everything in first person plural is starting to feel condescending, like Miss Manners lecturing small children. "We don't jump on the furniture, Billy."

I think this is just an unfamiliar tense to me, and after editing too long it's starting to sound strange and annoying. My normal voice is sarcasm and wit. I'm also not use to being a cheerleader. I'm honestly not sure what is cloying and what is charismatic. Maybe I am also feeling resentment that I am suppressing my personal voice, but that was the choice I made when I started the project. It's for a community.

Is there a better tense to engage people in a creative activity? Do you have any advice when using this tense?

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In a related issue, I've had run-ins with members of this group where they have criticized my communication as too abrupt, to the point they were offended a woman would talk in the manner that I do (which I perceive as their double-standard, since I talk exactly as they do). This part is bizarre and seemingly off topic, but it's made me hyper-sensitive of how I communicate within this group.

Firstly, let me re-iterate what you already know, doing a friendly tutorial series is a wonderful and helpful pursuit. Your making a worthwhile and positive contribution is awesome and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. If a troll randomly chooses to take offense then that is entirely their problem so block them out and continue to contribute.

My issue is that this "We" voice has started to feel artificial and forced. I'm not an educator and this is a labor of love, but saying everything in first person plural is starting to feel condescending, like Miss Manners lecturing small children. "We don't jump on the furniture, Billy."

Regardless of other people's opinions, experimenting and experiencing different writing or teaching styles is a tremendous positive. I've written in first, second and third. Second person is my preference because I am direct and objective, first person feels too personal and third feels too distant. But that is my preference and I have forced myself to use each.

As for the best writing style for tutorials, and once you have become comfortable, it would depend what you are trying to convey. My kids watch youtube tutorials constantly and they seem to fall into the following categories:

First person "I"

Videos that are not so much about reaching out, but are effective autobiographing the authors actions are often in the first person "I". For example, "this is how I do..."

Follow along graphics

Follow along gaming

First person "we"

Videos that are teaching videos, talking to (and attempting!) to engage a class or a lecture theature are often in the first person "we". For example, "we as a group are all going to follow the steps ..."

Educational long addition

Educational Stampy Long Nose Wonder Quest

Second and Third Person

Videos that are referring to and describing other things are often in the second or third person. For example, here on the blackboard you see that the macrophage eats the bacteria and he seems to be enjoying it...

Educational Amoeba Sisters

So there is no wrong way to do it and don't be discouraged, think about what you are trying to convey and persist with the style until it becomes comfortable or second nature, and keep up the good work!

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  • Very good answer and I like your example, "We don't jump on the furniture, Billy." because I think that is how 1st person plural begins sounding too. I've written an entire book as a tutorial(Programming Windows 10 Via UWP - amzn.to/2FYC2zh) and I found that whenever I lapsed into that it sounded a bit haughty or overbearing too so I tended to change it. I like it better when the author just talks to me. – raddevus Jan 20 '18 at 20:20
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You can also switch, the "we" dynamic establishes you and another person, you can also address them individually, or impersonally, as a teacher might. I've done this in highly technical instructional documents (mathematical). But for an example consider some cooking project:

The first thing we need to do is Step A, then we can do step B, prepare the pan. But beware, after A many people are tempted to jump to step C, but you don't want to do that, because once you finish step C you cannot stop to prepare the pan. So once we have the pan prepared, then we do step C, and when that is blended we pour it right in the pan, don't [you] let it settle.

The emphasis isn't for reading, just to highlight the different forms of address, including an implied [you].

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Some observations:

  1. When you go to the doctor and he or she says: "How are we feeling today?", what is your reaction to the doctor including themselves in their concern? I feel this way of speaking is both belittling and confusing.

  2. In the past it was common practice to use the pluralis maiestatis to give weight to one opinions, but today most style guides demand that in scientific writing you must clearly name who did what, and not obfuscate the facts by talking of your single self in the plural.

  3. The best and most cherished art tutorials I know all have one artist explaining what they do ("Then I apply ...") and suggesting what their audience might do ("Apply ..." or "Try if applying ... works for you.").

Thoughts:

  • When you write that "now we do ...", this suggests that you know better than anyone else how things must be done and that your audience must do it the same way if they want to be good. This is both arrogant and false.

  • When you write that "now I do ...", this suggests that you have found a solution that works for you but that there are other solutions and that you are always striving to get better yourself. Your humility and implied eagerness to keep learning make you more likeable and your advice more acceptable.

Suggestion:

=> Read tutorials and see what style of teaching you enjoy the most. Employ that style (and attitude). Or in other words: Learn from the masters.

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