Re: active vs. passive voice

Subject: Re: active vs. passive voice
From: Tim Mantyla <TimMantyla -at- nustep -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Fri, 28 Mar 2008 15:00:46 -0400

We're a minority of at least three, Michael and Mike. I avoid passive
voice as much as possible. I rarely find a good reason to use it. The
usual reasons are laziness or failure to find the "actor" in the sentence.
An actor *is* pulling the strings in *every* sentence--or it's not a

Rule #1: Impress your readers with easy-to-grasp writing. "Keep it short,
sharp and punch." (Jack Valenti, former LBJ speechwriter)

I use this format:

[company name/dept./software name] [verb] [result].


1) Robicon provides software, [software name], to help employees
record vacation time.

2) Sometimes [software name] updates automatically. If so, the Auto
Update module pops up:

[image of Auto Update module]

Click on Next.

Type in your User ID and password in the dialog box that pops up:

[image of dialog box]

Also, "appears" and "displays" are puffy words for "opens," "shows,"
"brings up" or "pops up."

I love plain English and short sentences. Dialog boxes pop up. Everyone
knows it, but some think it's unprofessional to say so.

It's like saying "Avoid the appearance of impropriety," instead of "Don't
break the law. Make sure everyone can see what you're doing." The
*appearance* of impropriety??? Uhh....what about the *actual* impropriety?
Nobody mentions that. Come on, people! Say it to me straight.

Too bad we learned to say "I have to use the restroom/facilities" instead
of "I have to pee" like the British. Overuse of Latin is an American
addiction that masks basic acts we all have to do with a veneer of
bulls**t. It's facetious, polysyllabic sophistication--to use Latin to
describe it. ;-)

My advice for Latin: Use it sparingly, and when trying to impress surgeons
and professors in an academic or medical job interview. After after you
get the job, shock them with plain English, except for specialized terms.
Shock them even more with feedback from people who love what you wrote and
understand it--after years of reading pap and gobbletygook. Shock your
support department with a downturn in user calls. Then crow about how much
money you saved the company on your resume and to your bosses.

Tim Mantyla

> From: Mike Starr <mikestarr-techwr-l -at- writestarr -dot- com>

> Even though I'm in the minority (possibly even alone) in rejecting the
> MMOS received wisdom, I avoid passive voice by using a phrase like:
> "<product name> displays an Add User dialog box similar to the one shown

> here."
> From my perspective, it reads much better and is much easier for the
> user to understand when I use this type of phrase. It also give me the
> added benefit of eliminating captions and figure numbers.
> However, I also believe it's important that all members of a team use
> the same approach. Get together with your team, thrash it out and come
> to an agreement on which approach to use. If there's a team lead, that
> person should listen to all sides of the discussion with an open mind
> and make a decision. Incorporate that decision into your corporate
> documentation style guide and move on.
> Mike
> --
> Mike Starr WriteStarr Information Services
> Technical Writer - Online Help Developer - Technical Illustrator
> Graphic Designer - Desktop Publisher - MS Office Expert
> (262) 694-1028 - mike -at- writestarr -dot- com -
> Michelle Vina-Baltsas wrote:
...One writer > > insisted that the use of "is displayed" should not be
used because it is
> > in the passive voice. To be honest, my head was spinning so quickly
that I
> > decided to refrain from offering my opinion. I did tell them I'd
> > investigate though.
> >
> > Is the use of "is displayed" passive voice?
> >
> > Thank you,
> > Michelle

> From: "Ronquillo, Michael" <mronquillo -at- equitrac -dot- com>
> I personally hate displayed as it reminds me of a store putting an item
> on display. My thinking is that shown or appears is better. Shown may be
> quite informal whereas appears could be formal.
> Michael Ronquillo

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