Re: Active/Passive and "displays"

Subject: Re: Active/Passive and "displays"
From: "Dennis Hays/The Burden Lake Group, Ltd." <dlhays -at- IX -dot- NETCOM -dot- COM>
Date: Sun, 21 Jan 1996 13:33:36 -0500

At 03:29 PM 01/20/1996 -0600, James M.Lockard <norton -at- mcs -dot- net> wrote:
>Techwriters,

>David Ibbetson writes, "I'd go further to say it's appropriate when the
>doer is irrelevant."

>I disagree. I'd agree with the fact that it's acceptable when the doer is
>not relevant, but to say it's appropriate is too much. The fact that the
>passive voice masks the "doer" means that, if you want to avoid stating who
>or what, then the passive voice is appropriate. I would always prefer the
>active voice unless there's a real reason for using the passive voice. The
>active voice is a cleaner, more direct method of communication. Over use of
>the noun-heavy passive voice is sloppy writing.


I think from the time I started tech writing, the sentence, "A meeting was
held and it was decided" rang every time I picked up a pen or typed. Before
my contracting years, and in another lifetime, I was Mr. Corporate America
(bugles playing in the background) and I remember memos with the above--in
many companies.

That sentence begs two questions:
"Who held the meeting?"
"Who made the decisions?"

This kind of "sloppy writing" as Mr. Lockard says, is actually more than
just sloppy writing. It's (IMO) a method of escaping the responsibility of
actions. One recent event shows how good, active voice writing solves a problem.
When the Chrysler Corporation drove cars off the assembly line and
put hundreds, if not thousands of miles on the odometer, some executive made
the decision to "roll back" the miles (making the extra mileage disappear)
and sell the cars as new. Somewhere, someone found this out and the news
media ran with this as a scandal. Within a day or so, Lee Ioccocca, the
President and Chairman of Chrysler, placed advertising in most newspapers,
saying he was ultimately responsible, this action was wrong, and those
buying these automobiles would be given a choice of cash or the replacement
of their automobiles with a similar one. He accepted both responsibility and
accountability. There was very little word from the press a day later.
"A meeting was held and it was decided," is sloppy and it's more.
And a good writer can certainly find methods of changing passive to active.
After all, if all we need is passive voice, most of the rest of the staff
is certainly capable. I would say the majority of the source material I use
in constructing my documents is passive voice.
"Once passive is written, the writer changes it to active," is a note
I've penned to my bulletin board above the monitor.


-------------> Dennis Hays, The Burden Lake Group, Ltd.
-------------> Voice: 518/477-6388 Fax: 518/477-5006
-------------> E-Mail: dlhays -at- ix -dot- netcom -dot- com
------------->"God doesn't want you to be certain.
That's why He gave you a brain."


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