Passive/active voice in int'l documents

Subject: Passive/active voice in int'l documents
From: Stuart Burnfield <slb -at- FS -dot- COM -dot- AU>
Date: Wed, 10 Apr 1996 11:43:39 +0800

Bert Peterson <ITALNSCALN -at- AOL -dot- COM> wrote:

> My current work assignment is to write a series of pre-sale product
> fliers that will be used outside North America... I am getting some
> opposition from my company clients in England to the switch from the
> passive voice (part of our company tradition) to active voice.

Bert -

I work for an Australian company producing UNIX system management software.
We have a UK partner who produces other products based on our technology;
together we sell the whole family of products in Europe, Asia/Pacific and
North America.

In my experience, English customers expect manuals to be more formal and
conservative in tone and appearance than do US customers. Australian
readers are somewhere in the middle. I followed the principle that an
Australian style is a reasonable 'one size fits all' answer to the
problem of catering for all readers with a single set of manuals
(convenient, no?). In practice we ended up with recognisably English-style
manuals for the products developed in the UK and Australian-style manuals
for te ones developed here -- not desirable.

Recently we've decided to settle on a uniform style based on the North
American market, which after all is where the money is. The theory is that
non-US readers are used to American manuals anyway, whereas US readers
are not so used to other styles.

The short answer to your question is: yes, I prefer your rewording, but you
might consider going slowly if you want to keep your English clients on
board. Provide some variety by mixing active and passive voice. It's
similar to short vs. long sentences -- short is better than long, but if
*every* sentence is the same, the end result is boring and annoying.

Hope this helps.

Stuart Burnfield (slb -at- fs -dot- com -dot- au) Voice: +61 9 328 8288
Functional Software Pty Ltd Fax: +61 9 328 8616

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