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Subject:passive voice - a collection has been collected From:Thom Remington <remingtf -at- DSSRV01 -dot- DS -dot- DUPONT -dot- COM> Date:Mon, 22 Jan 1996 11:31:40 -0500
After my initial post, I've been fascinated by the responses.
My first thought was to collect snippets from all the responses, reproduce
them here, and then post it. However, in the interest of brevity...
Responses fell into several categories. For my own work, the most relevant were:
o avoid passive voice by using 2nd person.
o OK. Use it, but recognize that you're letting someone off the hook
'cuz passive voice doesn't tell you *who* is
supposed to do something.
To respond to the responses:
I tried to change things to 2nd person, but I was informed, in no uncertain
terms, that it was unacceptable given our metastandards. I pointed out that
we're omitting responsibility, but my clients informed me that we're not
really letting folks off the hook. Most of my stuff deals with engineering
- chemical, mechanical, and civil - and the "engineer of record" is
ultimately responsible for everything.
I tried things such as "The installer must install the pump....." or, in
place of "installer," I used "contractor" and a bunch of other terms. Nope.
No good. So I write a lot of stuff in passive voice these days. Once you
get used to it, it's not that hard to take. Besides, they still pay me for
Again, I believe that the critical issue is clarity. A big problem with
passive voice is that it's incredibly easy to lose track of which subject
goes with which verb. That's a major place where TW skills come in.
I agree with the folks who pointed out that keeping lists parallel is
critical, and to avoid wording things in the negative. I never do a list
with a header that says "don't do the following." If I had a list like
that, I might say "The following items are critical." The subsequent list
contains enough information *in each item* so that the reader would know
what to do or what not to do. We also put cautions and warnings in our
documents, formatted in such a way that they do everything but flash on &