On Writing – Please Don’t Say Please

One of my biggest writing pet peeves is the overuse of the word “please” in application instructions both onscreen and in the online help.

In heavily regulated industries, such as financial services, specifications for new software features often start out as legal documents responding to new or changing regulations. In rapid software development environments without well-established workflows, these legal documents quickly become product specs. Lawyers love to be polite in their writing. Please do this, please do that, and so on and so on.

Without the constant presence of a writer in the development process, programmers will copy and paste text from the spec written by the attorneys directly into the code. I don’t blame them – they’re not writers.

Software developers may also fancy themselves to be writers. I have seen this trait among programmers who are non-native English speakers. Using the word “please” is part of a more formal written English, and it’s not unexpected that non-native English speaking programmers who were taught formal English would use this writing style. I don’t blame them – if that’s how I was taught to write, I would do the same thing.

However, the end result of both of these scenarios is an application user interface littered with extra words. Please enter your information in the fields below. Please click here. Please send your completed form to the following address.

Please STOP!!

Look, it’s not that I want to be rude. In actual human interaction, I am always polite and respectful. But using a software application or reading information on a screen is a completely different situation. Users are busy and impatient and don’t like to read. The software doesn’t have to be so polite, it just has to get to the point.

As a writer, my job is to communicate the most useful information in the most efficient and user-friendly manner. My job is to get to the point. The word “please” is completely unnecessary and indeed, every extra word on screen has the potential to reduce usability.

So please – don’t say please in your writing.

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