In training documents and manuals, we often have to tell the reader what will (or would) happen if they do (or did) a certain action. For example, suppose you want to tell the reader the consequences of pressing cancel. Would you use sentence a or sentence b below?
- If you press cancel, the document will not be saved.
- If you pressed cancel, the document would not be saved.
Both sentences are grammatically correct. Notice that with a present-tense verb in the if part of the sentence (press), will is correct. With a past tense verb (pressed) would is correct.
So how do you decide which to use? It depends on how iffy the situation is. If you actually do expect the reader to press cancel, use sentence a. Present tense in the if clause means the reader perfectly well might press cancel. And if he or she does, then the result will definitely happen.
Sentence b is in the subjunctive mood, meaning you are supposing something that you do not really expect to happen. The past tense in the if clause means something like "If you pressed cancel (which I do not expect you to do) the document would not be saved (but I don't think that will happen, because I am strongly implying that you should not press cancel).
Here is something to remember: will is used for something that will definitely happen. Would is for things that are more iffy.
Are you an eLearning developer who has been tasked with creating an effective voiceover script? If so, consider attending my Writing Effective eLearning Voiceover Scripts class. I also teach the Writing Training Documents and eLearning Scripts class.
About the Author: Jennie Ruby is a veteran IconLogic trainer and author with titles such as "Editing with Word 2003 and Acrobat 7" and "Editing with MS Word 2007" to her credit. She is a publishing professional with more than 20 years of experience in writing, editing and desktop publishing.