RE: Taking active vs. passive voice too far

Subject: RE: Taking active vs. passive voice too far
From: Chris Despopoulos <despopoulos_chriss -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: "techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 10 Jul 2013 01:49:37 -0700 (PDT)

I agree with the previous comments -- Turning your statement into an active one is a good idea.  I want to point out that there's more to active voice than setting up a construct that begins with "To do X", and that directly tells the reader what to do.  Active voice compresses more information into fewer words.  A full active statement should identify the actor and the object of the action.  For example, the passive "An alert message displays" only identifies an object.  The active construct, "The foo process displays an alert message" gives more information...  Exactly which process warns for the error state.  The active example is longer than the passive one, but it conveys more information. 

To make a fully active statement, you often have to dig in and find out exactly who or what is performing the action -- not always apparent.  And you often have to find out more details about what causes the actor to spring into action.  This isn't always easy.  In my experience, much of the passive voice that I've seen comes from the writer not doing the extra work, for whatever reason (habit, assumptions, laziness, etc.).  As you go through this exercise, you will probably find instances of this kind.  More than anything else, you should try to fix those -- you'll know more about the product as a result.  And as a result you will be in a position to add more value to the team.


New! Doc-to-Help 2013 features the industry's first HTML5 editor for authoring.

Learn more:


You are currently subscribed to TECHWR-L as archive -at- web -dot- techwr-l -dot- com -dot-

To unsubscribe send a blank email to
techwr-l-leave -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com

Send administrative questions to admin -at- techwr-l -dot- com -dot- Visit for more resources and info.

Looking for articles on Technical Communications? Head over to our online magazine at

Looking for the archived Techwr-l email discussions? Search our public email archives @


Previous by Author: RE: Why is so hard to for [any company] to take documentation seriously?
Next by Author: Re: Taking active vs. passive voice too far
Previous by Thread: Re: Taking active vs. passive voice too far
Next by Thread: RE: Taking active vs. passive voice too far

What this post helpful? Share it with friends and colleagues:

Sponsored Ads