RE: active voice v. passive voice

Subject: RE: active voice v. passive voice
From: Chris Gooch <Chris -at- lightwork -dot- co -dot- uk>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 21 Feb 2001 12:09:47 -0000

Jane writes:

A co-worker has gone through a manual and, among other things, carefully
changed active voice to passive voice.

I think people tend to think this way because of badly remembered lessons at
school, usually from science teachers. At my school (Britain in the 80s) I
recall being given any advice on writing in English lessons (that would be
free expression and, er, stuff) but in Chemistry we were taught to always
things like "The test tube was held over the bunsen burner and it was
that the liquid changed colour. It was further observed that the
burned his fingers" etc. I think the intention behind this kind of thing
was to
give the appearance of objectivity.

What people remember though, is that that is how you should write official
sounding stuff, and so think that "Using tongs, hold the test tube over the
bunsen burner until the liquid changes colour" is somehow over-familiar.
Which is unfortunate, since if the teacher had written this in his
to the class, I would not have burned myself. :-)

Perhaps an example like this would clarify things for your co-worker. The
intention of your writing is (probably) to instruct users, not to sound
That said, there are cases where a mixture of voices is appropriate; for
example in a longish section about the topology of polygon meshes
and their use for approximating non rational B-Spline surfaces, complete
with the maths, it's gonna creep in. I like to bring it all back to Earth
the end though with something pithy like "You can create such a polygon
mesh using the LiPrimitiveCreateMesh API function.".


Christopher Gooch, Technical Author,
LightWork Design Ltd., Sheffield, England.
chris -at- lightwork -dot- co -dot- uk

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