Re: passive voice (was RE: Numbering paragraphs

Subject: Re: passive voice (was RE: Numbering paragraphs
From: jimmy -at- breck-mckye -dot- com
To: <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Sun, 21 Oct 2012 02:15:02 +0100

I suspect academics favour the passive because they are often describing complex actions without specific agents. That makes it inappropriate to name a subject explicitly.

The other reason to use the passive is when the verb takes the 'weight' of the meaning rather than the subject or object. English constructions typically put the semantic 'load' to the end, and the passive lets the writer put the verb in that position.

As for organizational pressures, I must be terribly lucky to have never experienced something similar. Am I a fluke, or are most technical writers really given so little discretion and ownership of their work?

On 2012-10-20 23:26, McLauchlan, Kevin wrote:

Well, we've had the discussion before, but does anybody remember
(even confined to some niche) a good reason for using passive voice?

Unlike some, I don't shriek and begin to wither when I or someone
occasionally uses passive voice (sunshine on a vampire...).
Although, I admit, my skin begins to crawl when passive voice is
strung together through paragraph after paragraph, page after page.

So, not counting the minor writerly affectation of applying it sparingly,
to inject some variety into one's writing, is there any reason for employing
large gobs of passive voice that doesn't come back to avoidance of
responsibility?

As far as I'm concerned, and until I'm... ahem.... actively persuaded
otherwise, passive voice was (still is?) beloved of bureau'rats
(the "c" is silent) because it is embraced as a cloak of anonymity
and a way to deflect and diffuse (also defuse) blame.

Is there any other (legitimate) reason to prefer passive voice?
(And please don't say "because the customer/your boss wants
it that way" - because then I'll say, then what is THEIR reason
for wanting it that way. And you'll say "it doesn't matter, they're
the ones paying the bills", and I'll say, it matters to me or I wouldn't
have asked the question. I want to know if I should automatically
harbo[u]r diminished respect for whoever demands passive voice
as the default, or could they have a reason other than evasion of
blame/responsibility as a defining cultural trait?

It goes toward TW self-respect and not feeling like a total hack
in how you earn your daily bread.

Becca said
...
I do think that the numbered and indented paragraphs aren't the best
way to do things... but then, what people are writing and calling
procedures aren't what I would call a procedure... there's very little
"do this... do this next step" in them. Most of them are written
passive voice (and I'm getting a lot of push-back when I try to write
them in active).

I'm doing the best with what I've been given, but I have very little
(read,none) influence over the finished projects.



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