RE: active vs. passive voice

Subject: RE: active vs. passive voice
From: "Sean Brierley" <sbrierley -at- Accu-Time -dot- com>
To: <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 28 Mar 2008 09:12:38 -0400

Grammar gets a lot of interest in here, doesn't it?

Active voice: the subject performs the action: Joe dropped the laptop.
The actor is known.

Passive voice: the subject receives the action: The laptop was dropped.
The actor is often unknown or is (revealed, appears, displays, shown)
using a "by" phrase: The laptop was dropped by Joe.

In the U.S., we prefer the active because it tends to be more clear and
concise than the passive. However, the passive has some useful
functions, such as avoiding the assignment of blame or deemphasizing the
actor when the actor is irrelevant. Of course, we use the imperative
mood a fair bit, too.

I believe using the passive in moderation is fine in technical
communication, including training, reference, and online documentation.
Above all, be consistent with your style guide.

While we are on the subject, I avoid the future tense when possible.
That's not because the future is hypothetical, or evil, I just prefer to
keep the documentation simple, and using fewer tenses is simpler.

What do I write?

Click File > Save as. The Save as dialog box opens.

Why? I find the imperative mood for the action is concise and clear, and
some description of the result of the action often helps the audience. I
use > as my convention for a string of menu selections. | works well, I
just don't use it, and -> is mighty fancy, but extra typing, etc.



Sean Brierley
Technical Writer

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Re: active vs. passive voice: From: Ned Bedinger

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