Re: active voice v. passive voice

Subject: Re: active voice v. passive voice
From: Christine -dot- Anameier -at- seagate -dot- com
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 20 Feb 2001 10:45:29 -0600

Jane Carnall gave these two sentences as an example of active vs passive
* Two topologies are available in defining Cats: pedigree or moggy.
* You can define two types of Cats: pedigree or moggy.

I wouldn't call either of these passive voice. Passive voice would be
something along the lines of "Cats can be defined by..." or "Two topologies
are used in defining cats..." IMO, the difference between those two
sentences is that one deals in abstractions, and the other is more concrete
and direct because it names "you" as the actor. The second sentence is
clear and concise, and it doesn't make the reader go through the "what does
this have to do with me?" cognitive step.

FWIW, the Microsoft Manual of Style (at least, the 1995 edition I have in
front of me) recommends using the second person for user documentation.

My theory on the discomfort with "you": most people were taught in grade
school not to write with "I" or "you"... well-meaning but misguided
teachers often encourage their students to write in a more formal, less
personal style, which has three effects: (1) their students' writing sounds
robotic, (2) their students see writing as a dry, lifeless chore, and (3)
their students grow up to be the kinds of coworkers and bosses who recoil
from writing that sounds like a real human voice. When I taught freshman
comp I used to spend the first week of classes each term trying to
eradicate some of the stuffy nonsense that the students had been taught in
high school English classes.


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