Re: Help! passive/active (long)

Subject: Re: Help! passive/active (long)
From: Karen Gwynn/Datatel <Karen_Gwynn -at- DATATEL -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 30 Jan 1996 11:18:17 EDT

I think that in the situation that you described, passive voice is perfectly
acceptable. In the instance of a dialog box being displayed, the user is not
displaying it, the computer is. We use the same terminology in our
documentation (we'll say "The abc screen is displayed").

We also use passive voice when it is clearly not the reader, but someone else,
who did the action. Our software is for colleges and universities. In many
modules, something that someone from one office did affects what the user in
another office sees or does. But they know that they did not initate the
action. Therefore we will use passive voice to indicate that the action was
done by someone else. (Its a lot clearer to say "when the room assignment is
made" than "when someone from the residence life office makes the room

Karen Gwynn
kwg -at- datatel -dot- com

---------------------Beginning Text from Originial
Should we (the Publications department) continue to use the
passive voice in certain areas of our software documentation
if it is the best way to convey information to the reader, and
perhaps the easiest way for the reader to understand the information?

We have received several comments from different judges in the
local STC pubs competition criticizing our use of the passive voice
in one specific usage in our manuals. We genuinely appreciate
the comments we receive from the judges each year after the
competition and our documentation improves each year due in part
to the judges' feedback.

We all realize that it is generally a "no-no" to use the passive voice
in procedure-oriented manuals (we document software), but we
think it's the best way to go in the instances we use it. Like I said,
we usually implement many of the judges' suggestions, but in this
instance, even though we received the same comment several times,
we are concerned that the judges are reading the manuals from
a writer's standpoint (where the passive is "wrong") instead of from
a user's standpoint (where the passive may clarify further). We're
looking for more opinions, and I know this is a group with opinions! :-)

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
thought of:
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

Kirstin Mercer
Technical Editor
InterCon Systems Corporation

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