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The passive voice is a valid part of the language, not a
long-dead fish. However, I find that, in my writing, a
passive sentence tends to need a hard look.
In the specific usage below, I tend to use the wordy
option. I don't like it, because it introduces a dummy
actor just for form, but there it is. Actually, <Product
Name> isn't necessarily a dummy actor in some
of the software systems I document. There are often
several different applications cooperating, and it's
important that the reader know which one the dialog
belongs to. But at least %90 of the time, I end up
<Product Name> displays the <whatever> dialog.
where <Product Name> is the name on the cover of
I like it better when I can incorporate the cause and
effect into one sentence:
1. Bring up the Options dialog by clicking on the Options
One place I use the passive voice is when I describe
a parameter setting. For example:
When the frammitz box in the Options dialog is
checked, <PN> runs in frammitz mode.
because I have no way of knowing (and it doesn't matter)
how the frammitz box got checked - did the installer
use the option in the installation routine? Did the runtime
system designer set it? Did the system set it because
it's Tuesday? Did the guy reading the manual set it just
now? I don't know, and I don't care - the frammitz box
is now checked, therefore the software will act this way.
(I realize the example sentence is not entirely passive, btw.)
----- Kirsten Mercer wrote: -----
The specific usage is this (occurring in procedures where there
is a step and then a result below it telling the reader what to
1. Click Options.
o The Options dialog is displayed.
The issue is with the phrase "is displayed." Here are the options we've
The Options dialog displays. (displays what?)
The Options dialog opens. (opens what?)
The Options dialog appears. (appears out of thin air?)
<Product Name> displays/opens the Options dialog. (wordy!)
We also realize that this is a small issue to be concerned with, but
we've been receiving this comment for a few years now, and we want
to make sure we're considering all of our options. Anyone have any
suggestions? Oh, removing the whole result phrase isn't really an
option for us--that would be the easy answer. :-)
Feel free to send responses directly to me at kirstin -at- intercon -dot- com
InterCon Systems Corporation