Re: Passive voice -- a story

Subject: Re: Passive voice -- a story
From: "Virginia L. Krenn" <asdxvlk -at- OKWAY -dot- OKSTATE -dot- EDU>
Date: Fri, 26 Jan 1996 11:39:27 -0600

> I once wrote an entire manual in passive voice. (gasp!)

> We called it "programmer documentation." Essentially, the manual was
> a running narrative of thousands of lines of code -- what the code
> was doing as it was doing it.

> I began writing in passive voice, but found every sentence included
> "the system" or "the program." [The system validates checks the
> input number. If the number is not valid, the system displays an
> error message. If the number is valid, the system retrieves the next
> unused index number and assigns it to the record. Next, the system
> copies the record to the XXX database... etc., etc.]

> After reviewing the first two chapters, my boss (an excellent tech
> writer) and I agreed that anyone would go batty trying to read the
> thing -- even a couple of paragraphs of it -- with this repeated
> element. Therefore, we decided after much thought to rewrite in
> passive voice. [The input number is validated. If the number is
> not valid, an error message appears. If the number is valid, the
> next unused index number is retrieved and assigned to the
> record...]

> In the end, we felt comfortable that we had made the best choice.
> Anyone else ever done this? Or chosen another route for the same
> type of task?

> Emily Skarzenski
> Deloitte & Touche/ICS - Chadds Ford, PA > eskarzenski -at- dttus -dot- com
> 71220 -dot- 341 -at- compuserve -dot- com

Yes, Emily,

That's how programmers and analysts have written documentation and user
instructions ever since I can remember which was thirty-two years ago.
(However, we said "is displayed" instead of "appears".) It's only been
in the past couple of years that I have heard about using active voice
and second person. They still seem unnatural to me. I've had *much*
less trouble adapting to the use of a single space after periods.
PS: I consciously put the period after the above quotation mark.

Virginia Krenn
asdxvlk -at- okway -dot- okstate -dot- edu

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