Shall vs. Will

boxing-18th-century

In an earlier post, one in which I was trying to be funny, I mentioned shall or indeed, shalt, as a sign that god was a technical writer.

But, when do you use shall or will? What is the difference?

For most writing and in speech there is no difference. But, if you are English (from England) and tend to veer towards using shall – be careful! In other parts of the world, most notably America, shall sounds pretentious and can convey negative connotations. I consider will as the better word to use in most documentation.

But, when documenting technical specifications shall is always used instead of will. This is because IEEE adapted its use as a standard and the definition of shall in this set of circumstances is:

Indicates requirements strictly to be followed in order to conform to a standard and from which no deviation is permitted.

And that is why both will and shall are used in technical documentation. I have a simple rule for using them: Will for all user documentation except specifications and shall for only specifications.

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