Re: Passive Voice is Discussed.

Subject: Re: Passive Voice is Discussed.
From: Robert Plamondon <robert -at- PLAMONDON -dot- COM>
Date: Sun, 21 Jan 1996 10:25:32 -0800

Gwen Barnes wrote:
> I would make a case for using a passive sentence directed at nobody in
> particular in this instance, so that everyone reading the manual is
> implicitly responsible for the correct installation of the pump.

That's the opposite of the usual effect. In polite usage, passive
voice is one of many indirect forms of address. It's more polite
to say, "The door has been left ajar" than, "Close the door!"

But delicacy in speech can lead to absurd over-delicacy in prose.
A series of instructions is essentially imperative, but written
instructions lack the implication of social difference that spoken
orders do. I don't think any of us would write:

1. If you would be so kind, remove the two screws at the back of
the case and lift off the lid.

2. You might find it helpful if you unplugged the disk drive cable to
afford access to jumper block below.

In bureauracy, on the other hand, passive voice is a basic tool for
dodging responsibility:

"The bomb exploded. Persons were killed. Buildings were damaged.
An investigation was held. Bribes were received. The case was
closed."

This is inappropriate in documentation, where the reader REALLY
needs to know the dividing line betwen what was done at the factory
and what he should do.

-- Robert


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