Using "You" in training

Today I was working on a written document that I'm hoping will eventually transition into an online course. I was told by the individual I was working with that it is bad to use "you" in instructions. She said it was a best practice thing in training. But I have never heard of this. I know you shouldn't use it all the time but never have I heard to not use it. 

But I may be wrong.... anyone can clue me in?

Sorry for the dumb question.

10 Replies
Christy Tucker

The research cited in Clark and Mayer's eLearning and the Science of Instruction supports using a conversational tone, including using "you." This is also tactic 9 in Patti Shank's Write and Organize for Deeper Learning.

Check out this discussion from two years ago. We were discussing more about contractions then, but the research is related.

Specifically, check Dave Ferguson's response citing Clark and Mayer.

Eric Benson

Thank you for presenting that question. I agree that there are benefits to using a more conversational tone. I suck at that sort of thing, so I have become an avid user of Grammarly.  

Thank you, Christy for providing the research links.  I have to say I cannot stand the term "best practice." Whenever anyone has said that to me it was used as a way to express authority without the evidence to back it up. It's kind of a "Well, you know what they say" statement. 

It is always good to question those statements and ask for any research to back it up. Otherwise, the "best practice" statement comes across as a personal opinion masquerading as an authoritative statement. 

That said, there are three instances I can think of where I would follow a "best practices" statement. 

  1. The statement came from my boss.
  2. The statement came as a non-negotiable request from a client or lead stakeholder.
  3. When following the "best practice" would help me stay in compliance with the world my team is doing for consistency's sake. 
  4. The statement seems reasonable to me.

Ok, rant over. I'm just not a big fan of corporate jargon and unsubstantiated authoritative statements. And yes, I drove my parents crazy.

Basically, I'm saying you should never feel intimidated to question when someone presents a "fact" to you without evidence.  

Marie McGuire

I develop compliance training for a state government employees and we frequently use "you," "we," and "let's". I am not sure if its best practice but making it personal to the learner by saying "you" or "your", and then sharing in the message by saying "let's" and "we" sounds a bit more personable and relatable to me.

Ray Cole

The research cited in Clark & Mayer mostly used 2nd person (you) but, frustratingly for us purists, did not exclusively use 2nd person--a few instances of 1st person plural ("we") were in the training examples in the cited experiments. I am not aware of research specifically distinguishing whether exclusive use of 2nd-person has better/worse/same results as a mix of 2nd person and 1st-person plural. 

In the absence of guiding research results, I usually adopt the following guidelines in order to make my point-of-view more consistent:

  • I never use "we" to mean the course narrator and the student, as in, "We'll learn more about that later in this course." Instead, leave the narrator out of it and just speak directly to the learner's experience, "You'll learn more about that later in this course."
  • do use "we" to refer to the organization as a whole: "Since we launched this program in 2008, our costs have plummeted and we now save over $1 million annually." In this case, "we" does not refer to the narrator and student, but rather to the company the student works for.

Of course, these guidelines only apply to the course narrator. If you've got two characters having an on-screen conversation, they can say "I" and "we" as necessary.

Russ Sawchuk


I am in the process of developing several simulation scenarios that will have multiple decision points to be made by the learner. The topic is about compliance with sexual abuse and sexual misconduct reporting.

So is it better to write the scenario from the view of a third person, i.e., "Mary is a nurse working in a continuing care center and observers what she believes to be sexual harassment of an elderly patient by another nurse. What should she do about it?"

Or ... "You are a nurse working in a continuing care center and see what appears to be sexual harassment of an elderly patient by another nurse. What should (would?) you do about it?"

I believe the latter approach in more engaging to the learners. A related issue is that most professionals know what they "should" do in a given situation, however whether they actually do it or not, is questionable. Any thoughts on the "best" wording for these types of simulations?