Re: Active vs passive voice

Subject: Re: Active vs passive voice
From: Lauren <lauren -at- writeco -dot- net>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Wed, 04 Sep 2013 13:10:55 -0700

On 9/4/2013 8:43 AM, Matt Gras wrote:

Anyone have good reasons why a company stylin' itself to be hip and modern would opt for passive rather than active voice in its user manuals?

Because they wanted to revive a recurring discussion that never leads to a definitive conclusion on a technical writer's list?

First, I agree with everything John says on this.

My experience is that those who use passive voice in a manual are accommodating for weaknesses in what the manual documents. They are deliberately leaving open the option for user error so they can deny accountability when their product, system, or process fails. Passive voice is apologetic and if you build something that doesn't work, then it is probably good to start with apologies as soon as possible.

Passive voice is very effective for marketing since passive voice is driven by ideals and can draw in the reader's emotions so those emotions can be manipulated by a sales pitch. Active voice is driven by facts rather than ideals and can very dry and emotionless, so it may not sell well if the product is weak or the reader is disinterested.

One modern trend is to interject marketing materials into user materials to help sell the next version of the product or other products. Passive voice will work well here but the writer will still need to balance the active technical writing against the passive marketing writing within the document. Document owners do not necessarily understand this need for balance and tend to encourage word mud or otherwise defeat the technical needs of documentation by demanding too much passive marketing.

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Active vs passive voice: From: Matt Gras

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