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: Sun, 27 Jul 2003 10:51:07 -0400

See <rant> below, or click Delete.

> > ---> Well, this can be rephrased as "The application verifies it
> > against the set of plausibilty rules, after you enter the data."
> But this is different - you introduce an acting person and the reader -
> as I tried to explain - could think that data is not verified when
> somebody else (than the person mentioned) enters it.
> > "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)."
> >
> > --> Well thats the reason why almost everybody use "You" in active
> > voice instead of saying the "user", "administrator", "Mr.X" or "Miss.
> > Y" ;).
> Yes, but there are systems with many different potential actors. Think
> about large ERP systems with all kinds of different roles. The "you"
> addressed in the manual may be the system administrator who does not
> enter, e.g., order data him- or herself.


There are so many variables in these situations. It would be helpful to both
posters with questions and those who respond to them if posters would provide
a sense of the context of a question. One sentence cannot be evaluated for
effectiveness, appropriateness, or any other quality when it is isolated from
the surrounding text.

The subject sentence above may be perfect for its context, but I have no way
of knowing that. I think it is impossible to judge whether active or passive
is best for the sentence because virtually nothing is known about the purpose
of the sentence and its context.

I have also mentioned this on the copyediting list from time to time, but
people continue to post single sentences -- and I continue to respond to them,
often tagging my lament to my response.

How can we expect to get informed judgments from our peers about sentences
when we are not providing the fundamental factors to them that we ourselves
consider when we are writing? Who can possibly comment on a sentence in
isolation from its context? Everything depends on what comes before and what
goes after a subject sentence. To analyze a sentence in itself, separate and
apart from its actual context, is an instructive exercise in the dynamics of
miscommunication. It ends up being frustrating to all parties, or at least
*confusing,* because people have a context in their minds that they are
*assuming* exists for the others, but which in fact may not exist at all.

The above sentence might be exactly right for some situations, but who can
tell if it's right without seeing how it is related to its context?


Bonnie Granat


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Re: Active voice / passive voice studies: From: Jan Henning

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