Re: E-Primer

Subject: Re: E-Primer
From: Mike Pope <mikep -at- ASYMETRIX -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 9 May 1994 13:07:00 PDT

>For example, how else could John Sununu (remember him?) have kept from
>implicating himself or others other than by saying "Some mistakes were
made"?

Well, for one thing, maybe he should have been a little more honest about
who was making the mistakes. I believe that one of the criticisms of the use
of passive is precisely that it allows the speaker to "hide". Even so: "Some
members
of the staff made mistakes", "People made some mistakes", all to avoid the
unlikely
"I made a mistake".

>How do you say "The program manager window is now displayed" without going
>into gory detail like "Windows now displays the program manager." This
isn't
>so bad once, but I'm doing a step-wise manual for a Windows application,
and
>if every other sentence starts like this, I think it would get tedious to
>read. Plus, I think people just don't care what's causing something to
>happen.

We err on the opposite pole: active, with the occasional passive as a
breather. In some
instances, active provides necessary clarification: not "An error message is
displayed", but
"Windows displays an error message", that is, Windows as opposed to your
program,
the communications program, or whatever. In cases such as these, I wouldn't
consider
it "gory detail" to name Windows as the agent.

The other prevalent example, and probably the one Andrs was referring to, is
the substitution
"you can" for passive, as in these examples: "The foo property can be used
to determine
the state of the bar" vs. "You can use the foo property to determine the
state of the bar", or
perhaps even "Use the foo property to determine the state of the bar". As
one of my editors
has occasionally scribbled under some of my passive constructions: "Involve
the reader!". The
downside of this type of construction, of course, is "you-can-itis": unless
you look up every
once in a while, every sentence in a paragraph starts out with "you can".

-- Mike Pope
mikep -at- asymetrix -dot- com


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