Re[2]: What to say to people who LIKE the passive voice (fwd

Subject: Re[2]: What to say to people who LIKE the passive voice (fwd
From: Bonni_Graham_at_Enfin-SD -at- PROTEON -dot- COM
Date: Thu, 3 Feb 1994 09:50:00 EST

There ARE some justifications for using the passive voice. Occasionally,
especially in software, there are times when the item being acted upon is more
important (sometime MUCH more important) than the actor. Equally often, the
action itself is most important -- both the actor and the actee (if you will)
can be shoved to the background. In the former case, it can be perfectly valid
to use the passive voice, since the way English orders words in sentences often
determines the word's importance.

BUT, mostly, you don't want to use passive. You especially don't want to use it
when addressing an audience who you expect to actually read the piece. Third
person passive gets real boring real fast. I can't cite any authorities for
this offhand -- you'll have to accept many years of teaching and writing
experience as my "authority". Rule number one, for me, when delivering
information is: Make It Real. Third person passive makes following that rule
very difficult.

Historically, especially at the turn of the century, many scientists who used
third person passive did so to distinguish themselves from "yellow journalism"
and the sensational travel and suede-o <grin> scientfic accounts of the day.
Using a dry tone and passive construction was the easiest way to identify your
work as "serious" and true ("If it's this boring, he can't be making it up").
Today, however, writing in the third person passive turns off most of your
audience and inhibits communication. Also, it tends to sound governmental, and
we all know how much we trust THEM.

However, as I've said before (in slightly different phrasing) "It depends on
your audience." If they're expecting third person passive with $20 academic
words and you write in first or second person active using $2 commonly-
understood words, they may discount your work.

What I do know for sure is that third person passive DOES NOT work in most
software manual audiences.

Bonni Graham |
Technical Writer | Most software is run by
Easel Corporation, ENFIN Technology Lab | confused users acting on
Bonni_Graham_at_Enfin-SD -at- relay -dot- proteon -dot- com | incorrect and incomplete
President, San Diego STC | information, doing things
| the designer never expected.
NOTE: apparently my email address needs |
to be typed exactly as it appears here, | --Paul Heckel, quoted
punctuation and all, or the system gets | by William Horton
upset. |

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