Re: Active voice / passive voice studies

Subject: Re: Active voice / passive voice studies
From: Jan Henning <henning -at- r-l -dot- de>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Sat, 26 Jul 2003 08:11:18 +0200

However, passive voice is fine
in situations where the actor is unknown ("The file was
corrupted") or if the actor would be redundant or is obvious

Danger, danger, danger! Obvious to whom?
There's the rub.

The trap that so many novice writers fall
into is to assume that what is obvious to
them is obvious to everyone.

I would put Janice's suggestion a bit differently, to circumvent the danger Michael has pointed out: Instead of using the passive voice when the actor is obvious, I'd say you can use what the actor is immaterial.

For example, in describing an order processing system, you could write smething like "After the data has been entered, the application verifies it against the a set of plausibility rules."

Here, it doesn't matter whether you have entered tha data, the CEO has done so, or the secretary - the application verifies it in the same way. Thus, there is no benefit in mentioning the actor (who has entered the data), and doing so can in fact lead to confusion because the reader might assume that the verification of the data is tied to the entering person (when it is not).

In cases like this, the passive voice may be preferable to the active voice. (Although I do not have studies to prove it.)

Jan Henning

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RE: Active voice / passive voice studies: From: Michael West

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