RE: active voice v. passive voice

Subject: RE: active voice v. passive voice
From: "Michele Marques" <marquesm -at- autros -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 20 Feb 2001 14:17:00 -0500

Jane Carnall complains of a co-worker changing active to passive throughout
the manual and gives the following example:
> New: Two topologies are available in defining Cats: pedigree or moggy.
> Old: You can define two types of Cats: pedigree or moggy.

I don't believe there are absolutes for all situations of active vs. passive
voice or second vs. third person. It depends on what I am trying to

I generally prefer active imperative forms for procedural parts of the
manual. Here I am emphasizing the action. For example:
For the cat topology, select either pedigree or moggy.

For reference sections (e.g., background information), I usually use active
voice, but not exclusively. I generally do not use second person for
background information. In this situation, I would probably prefer the "new"
phrasing cited above if I wanted to emphasize that there are two topologies.

For pre-requisites, I use active second person when the person who would be
reading/doing the procedure should have completed the pre-requisite
(emphasizing "you" are responsible for this action), active third person
when another person (whom I can identify) should have completed the
pre-requisite (emphasizing who the user should turn to when the prerequisite
was not met), and passive voice when I can't identify who should have
completed the pre-requisite (e.g., it varies by policy and procedure and I
want to emphasize the current state). Some examples:
* Before you create a new cat, you must define the cat topologies.
* Before you create a new cat, the database administrator must define the
cat topologies.
* Before you create a new cat, cat topologies must be defined.

Michele Marques
Technical Writer,
Autros Healthcare Solutions
marquesm -at- autros -dot- com

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