Re: passive voice (was RE: Numbering paragraphs

Subject: Re: passive voice (was RE: Numbering paragraphs
From: Lauren <lauren -at- writeco -dot- net>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Mon, 22 Oct 2012 13:11:45 -0700

On 10/22/2012 5:39 AM, Chris Despopoulos wrote:

I think the following from Lauren is awesome:


I think that in light of changing trends to overcome recession woes, we will likely see more passive voice within technical documentation. The active voice is one of authority and direction, while the passive voice is one of deference and question.

The world was driven to a recession by various investors and corporations with a pretense of authority. Doubt has become rather common now and many people and companies would prefer to avoid liability by not being in a position of authority.

Technical documentation must be authoritative and provide clear instructions so that users do not cause damage from following bad instructions. Also, consumers can sue manufacturers for defective instructions if the instructions were not clear about how to use the product. However, it may be a defense in some cases to say that a document never really said a product would work rather than say that the product did not work when the user followed directions.

Some technical writing will not subject a manufacturer to liability and may not require precision, so it may get used as a platform for certain marketing. Marketing benefits from passive voice where a document may allude to performance that is not really within the product.

For example, a document may read, "The bandwidth threshold is increased by using only the highest standards." Yeah, so? The reader may interpret this to mean use the highest standards to increase the bandwidth threshold, or the product was designed with the highest standards. The manufacturer may have only been using an allusive generalization that does not even apply to the product.

Passive voice can provide a marketing tool without incurring liability when it is well-written and used within the correct contexts. While I prefer active voice for most documentation, I think we all need to prepare for various passive constructs creeping in to technical writing.

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Re: passive voice (was RE: Numbering paragraphs: From: Chris Despopoulos

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