Re: Active voice / passive voice studies

Subject: Re: Active voice / passive voice studies
From: "Bonnie Granat" <bgranat -at- editors-writers -dot- info>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Sat, 26 Jul 2003 20:41:49 -0400

----- Original Message -----
From: "Michael West" <mbwest -at- bigpond -dot- net -dot- au>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Sent: July 25, 2003 06:37 PM
Subject: RE: Active voice / passive voice studies

> Nancy wrote:
> > OK, we all know that it's better to use active voice whenever possible.
> Well, sort of. Sometimes the passive voice is
> quite suitable. ("I was flummoxed.") It's certainly
> better to give *instructions* in active voice -- simply
> because it's clearer, more direct, and uses fewer
> words.

Technically, that is not an example of passive voice. "Flummoxed" is an

> > I'm interested in finding studies that support this claim -- specifically,
> > studies that address differences in the way readers comprehend active- and
> > passive-voice sentences. I vaguely remember one of my professors saying
> > that readers encode sentences in active voice regardless of how they're
> > written.
> Don't you do this? If I hear "the boy threw the
> ball" I can easily and instantly visualize the
> action. But if I hear "the ball was thrown" I
> have to do a lot more work to visualize what
> a ball looks when it's being thrown by an unknown
> thrower. And in fact, I can't do it.

And, importantly, you have to WAIT to hear if there's an actor.

I think that we instinctively translate passive sentences into active
sentences. That's what takes time (see below).

> Possibly not all readers instinctively visualize.
> Possibly not all texts are conducive to visualization.
> But it seems that this is a common enough phenomenon
> in most languages, ancient and modern, that the preference
> for the active voice prevails among educated readers
> and writers.
> > However, I also recall her saying that the "jury was still out"
> > on whether passive voice actually hinders the reading process.
> It isn't a matter of the jury being out. It's a
> matter of some constructions being better for
> some kinds of communication.

I think it *does* hinder the reading process if the reader has to wait for all
the information before she or he can translate the passive into active.

Bonnie Granat


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

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