Re. Passive standards

Subject: Re. Passive standards
From: geoff-h -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA
Date: Fri, 19 Jan 1996 11:51:20 -0600

Here's an approach that mixes active and passive voice but
minimizes the passive: use a bulleted (or other) list. Use
the passive in a brief phrase that introduces the list,
then active voice in each list item. For example:

Writers of standards shall:
- use active voice everywhere,
- read techwr-l religiously, and
- hire a good editor.

A few significant warnings:

1. Never write lists in the negative; that is, don't
preface the list with "...shall not". [If you insist,
"Always write lists in the positive." <grin>] If you do
this, there's a great risk that readers will forget the
"not" by the time they reach the end of the list; worse
yet, they may never even read the preface, believing that
it probably says "shall blahblahblah". This can have
unpleasant consequences if the last point in the list is
(for ex.) "work with the device plugged in to avoid
electrocution".

2. If you split the list across two pages or columns,
repeat the introductory phrase at the top of the new
page/column, with some indication that you're continuing
from a previous list. Repetition ensures that the context
is present, and "continued" ensures that readers know the
list begins earlier. Some combination of the asterisked
elements in the phrase "*(continued from previous page) In
addition,* users shall:" works well in most cases.

3. Watch the parallelism. Don't mix "do this" and "don't do
that" in the same list, unless you use a warning box of
some sort (e.g., an icon followed by the explanation) to
alert the reader that you're changing from a do to a don't.

A few other gotchas that other folks will probably point
out, but the overall technique works.

--Geoff Hart @8^{)}
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca

Disclaimer: If I didn't commit it in print in one of our
reports, it don't represent FERIC's opinion.


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