5

This is something I've wondered for a while, and the question which has prompted me to finally ask it is this one.

The first paragraph is

A couple of years ago I was reporting to J as one of ten developers, then moved under S, who is the manager of J. The reason was that I am looking after a piece of software (F) which required a higher scrutiny in terms of accepted change requests, and S had better visibility on this piece of software as well as the teams the change requests came from than J.

That's really hard to understand to me, despite being perfectly written English. I cannot associate the initials with a person in my head (and then some software also has an initial?), and if I wanted to understand this question I would have to read through it several times before I was sure what was happening. I really don't want to do that, so I'll just ignore the question instead.

Would it be appropriate to edit actual (made up) names in? For example, an edit I'd like to give to the paragraph above would be:

A couple of years ago I was reporting to John as one of ten developers, then moved under Sarah, who is the manager of John. The reason was that I am looking after a piece of software (Fsoft) which required a higher scrutiny in terms of accepted change requests, and Sarah had better visibility on this piece of software as well as the teams the change requests came from than John.

To me this would change the question to something I'd read and think about, while in it's current form I stop reading when the second or third letter gets introduced.

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11

I think it's inappropriate.

The OP has chosen to use initials for a reason. Any changes to those initials risk using an actual name, imposing a gender, imposing a cultural reference, making it more confusing for the OP, etc.

In your questions, use whatever names you choose.

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  • 3
    "The OP has chosen to use initials for a reason." - Yup, I think this is the correct analysis. Doing an edit to forcefully include names (although not with bad intentions) could perhaps fall into the "Conflicts with author's intent" category, which is a reason given to reject suggested edits. If readability is compromised, perhaps asking OP to consider including fake names instead of initials would be the way to go. – DarkCygnus Feb 25 at 23:12
7

I think it massively improves the readability of the question - initials are much harder to keep track of than names - if the gender of the initial isn't specified then it's probably advisable to use gender-neutral names, even if they are obviously made-up ones. Or use phonetic versions of the initials:

J => Jay

M => Em

etc.

If you're concerned about any biasing effect on the question it may be advisable to leave a comment reminding the OP that they can roll your edit back if preferred.

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  • 1
    "If you're concerned about any biasing effect on the question it may be advisable to leave a comment reminding the OP that they can roll your edit back if preferred." - This is a good suggestion. Giving the benefit of doubt in case OP really wanted to avoid names, but making a useful edit to improve readability. – DarkCygnus Feb 25 at 23:13
3

Ultimately I think this question could be broadened - besides initials for individuals, it seems common for some people to make up initials for companies, too. I've sometimes found myself halfway through an answer, but confused between what the asker called "Company A" and "Company B."

I do think it improves readability to use legitimate names, even if they're not the literal real names.

However, I also feel like it's potentially inappropriate to edit my own made-up names into the question, because of the potential for introducing bias or cultural implications.

So - personally - when I am confused by initials in a question, I will simply leave a comment on the question asking the OP to clarify, or asking them to substitute names. This way, you allow them to make up their own, in-context names, versus potentially skewing the question by introducing my own made up names.

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2

The selection of the names can add unimportant details.

  • Is there a cultural aspect to the question?
  • Does it matter that one or more of the people involved is female?
  • Does the choice of name somehow imply an age based issue?
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  • 1
    I'll grant you the gender aspect but "age based issue"? I don't imagine anyone is likely to opt for names like Lucinda or Ebenezer surely? Am I missing something there? – Lilienthal Feb 25 at 14:48
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    I thought of nicknames: geezer, snowflake....but who knows what somebody will read into a name. – mhoran_psprep Feb 25 at 16:49

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